When Marketing Meets Retail Information Technology: Improving Cross-Department Collaboration

By March 25, 2020 March 27th, 2020 CCG Retail Marketing Blog

Try these 8 tips to create a cohesive team that can more effectively reach your goals for your next retail marketing technology initiative.

Marketing Meets Retail Information Technology

Article Highlights

  • Marketing is increasingly taking the lead on retail information technology projects
  • Different marketing and IT objectives create collaboration challenges
  • Regular communication can help cross-department collaboration
  • Limiting jargon opens the door to increased understanding
  • Leverage available resources to help smooth project progress
  • Remember, the customer experience always comes first

When I started focusing on customer retention in 1990, the word “omni-channel” didn’t exist. Sometimes it seemed that we spent as much time explaining the basics of this new-fangled thing called CRM (customer relationship management) as we did executing it.

Fast forward three decades, and it doesn’t just seem like we’re in a new world. It feels like a different universe. Retail marketing has virtually exploded in the last decade. In fact, the infamous “Martech 5000” graphic updated each year by chiefmartec.com now has over 7,000 logos of retail technology companies just within the U.S. market.1

Marketing Is Increasingly Taking the Lead

But that’s not surprising to you, is it? You only have to look at your own marketing stack to see the proliferation of retail information technologies.

Not only are you collaborating with your colleagues in the IT/IS area on a more frequent basis, but there’s also a good chance that you’re the one responsible for the project. And it only makes sense that marketing is leading the charge with discovering and selecting new technologies because of its pivotal role in designing and delivering the customer experience.

In reality, though, we’re often only knowledgeable in the specific technology or software we use the most — whether it’s an email platform, attribution software, rewards engine or CRM database. Our knowledge and experience are limited when it comes to the other internal martech — never mind the new ones hovering on the horizon.

And our IT teammates are out of their depth, too. They are also specialists within certain internal systems. And data isn’t tuned into the multitude of new martech options that are emerging, nor the types of data that are being collected.

Which only adds to the traditional communication issues and sometimes outright conflict between the marketing and IT areas within retail.

Differences Make Collaboration in Retail Challenging

This disconnect between the two areas is grounded in the fundamental differences in the structure of the two areas. In general, IT will seek stability and standardization, which includes minimizing the costs and risks. But retail marketing is based on enhancing the customer experience and reacting to a constant demand for more — more prospects, more customers, more sales, more influence, more channels, etc.

This creates a culture of chasing the next new thing. The explosion of digital marketing has only exacerbated this problem, making marketing increasingly dependent on single-purpose leading-edge technologies to realize its objectives. And the software that is the cheapest or easiest to buy may not be the most effective for marketing’s purpose nor meet the required performance standards.

It’s easy to see how marketing and IT are focused on different objectives from the start. So how do you ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page? Following are eight marketing and IT collaboration tips we’ve learned after working on multiple project searches and implementations with dozens of retailers.

1. Understand different objectives of individuals.

As mentioned earlier, IT resources are tasked with reliability, ongoing support and maintenance, security and capital cost efficiency. They are also responsible for standardization, including data integrity, and strategic management of the technical infrastructure. Their perspective tends to be broader and includes understanding where this initiative fits into the overall data flow and system architecture.

Marketing, on the other hand, particularly digital marketing, is usually under a tight timeline and has a very different agenda:

  • Cost-effectively acquire new customers
  • Increase LTV of existing customers
  • Enhance brand experience (user experience)
  • Create differentiation in the marketplace
  • Address speed-to-market of new tactics

Marketers tend to be focused on a specific need, such as attribution or loyalty points, rather than the larger picture of where a project fits within the marketing ecosystem or whether it matches the IT roadmap.

Going into a project understanding and respecting each other’s objectives can make a huge difference in cross-department collaboration success. Take the time to share your objectives and concerns, and discover the rest of the team’s. Ensure that both are documented.

2. Provide context to enhance cross-department collaboration.

In addition to sharing objectives, it’s also helpful to provide context for the project, including where it fits in your overall marketing strategy. It’s important for the team to understand how this will affect the customer experience so they’re not just focused on the backend systems. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by showing your existing customer journeys and identifying the gaps you’re trying to fill or the new journey you want to create. Sharing competitors’ journeys is also effective.

If you don’t already have a customer data flow diagram in place, it’s worth developing one to understand the numerous ways you’re collecting customer data and to understand where it’s being stored. It typically starts with a data audit. This often goes hand-in-hand with developing a customer marketing strategy.

You should also share any reports or performance metrics that are related to the project or similar to what will be needed. This can help prevent issues on the backend by ensuring that required data elements are mapped to the reporting function.

3. Provide regular and consistent communications.

You’ve started off your IT and marketing collaboration on sound ground by sharing your objectives and providing context for why it’s needed and how it will affect the customer experience.

Keep that positive momentum going by holding regular meetings with the team, even if they’re just short, 15-minute status recaps. Be sure to provide the team with a summary of the meeting and ask them to share it with their areas, particularly if there are stakeholders who need to be kept in the loop. Keep track of the status of the project and any outstanding issues to ensure accountability and avoid surprises if milestones are slipping.

4. Avoid jargon.

There are a lot of acronyms used by both marketers and technical specialists that can interfere with collaboration in retail organizations. Do your best to avoid using them or at least explain them to the group. And don’t be afraid to ask for a definition if you’re not familiar with a word or phrase. This is also true of any vendors that you’re working with on the project.

Some of the typical IT acronyms used in retail include:

  • API: An application programming interface allows different applications to talk to one another. For example, logging into an app using your Facebook credentials is done through an API.
  • SaaS: Software as a service is a subscription-based software licensing and delivery model that is especially popular for email and social media applications.
  • UI & UX: Both terms refer to how customers interact with your website. UI stands for user interface, which is how users communicate with the site, while UX stands for user experience, which is the overall way users can interact with your site.

5. Utilize available IT resources.

Chances are, your IT/IS area has project management resources. But they may not be assigned to your project because it may be exploratory or because it is considered a marketing assignment.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t utilize what resources are available or ask for help for certain tasks. One of the best things you can do to further cross-department collaboration is to develop a relationship with a project manager. They have processes and tools that you may be able to emulate or even borrow. Plus, they’re accustomed to operating as a liaison between departments and may have some sound advice.

Business analysts are another resource worth cultivating. Since they have one foot on the business side and one on the technical side, they can provide valuable insight and clarification. Even if you don’t have a business analyst on your team, you may want to consider creating business requirements for the new or upgraded software/system. This is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your needs as the business owner are met. A review by an analyst can help ensure that the technical aspects are correct.

Business requirements can also aid with testing. Too often, testing is regulated to the vendor. The requirements can help you do your own testing or enlist the aid of a tester in the IT area.

6. Consider a marketing technologist.

The accountability so widely promoted in digital marketing has put marketers in the crosshairs to deliver results. But not all of us have the technical depth to tackle these responsibilities. To alleviate some of this stress, some companies are now hiring marketing technologists, a rare breed that has a broad knowledge of most of the martech stack.

One of the primary responsibilities for this position is to act as a liaison between the marketing and IT departments. If you’re interested in learning more about this innovative new position, including a fairly comprehensive list of responsibilities, check out chiefmartec.com’s blog post, “8 Things Every Marketing Technologist Should Know.”

While most retailers are still a long way from having this position in place, it may be worth exploring the concept to determine if it could alleviate a lot of the stress involved with working on retail information technology initiatives.

7. Leverage third-party partners.

Sometimes you just need to call in the cavalry to save time and provide additional resources with the right expertise to effectively complete your retail information technology initiative. Some companies can provide third-party consultants to manage the project from beginning to end. Other companies, such as ours, provide the flexibility to manage the entire project or just lend a hand where needed. This type of expertise works particularly well with CRM databases, loyalty engines and other larger initiatives. These resources can also help identify potential vendors, manage the selection process and help score the finalists.

 8. Encourage IT collaboration even with SaaS.

Many of the leading technologies and software in the marketing arena are software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. These virtual “plug-and-plays” have led many marketing areas to set up their own technology sandboxes, so the entire implementation requires minimal dependence on IT.

But to avoid last-minutes issues, include a representative from IT during the initial stages of the search since integration with existing systems is still required. You’ll find that it will save headaches in the end.

As Always, Customers Come First

With technology changing so quickly, one thing is certain: IT and marketing collaboration is essential to continue optimizing the customer experience.

CCG’s retail marketing consultants have extensive hands-on experience with multiple CRM platforms and digital marketing automation systems, as well as marketing and IT collaboration. We are perfectly positioned to assist your team with solution search and implementation. Our retail marketing solutions also include providing experts who can step in to support your team with implementation steps, such as documenting requirements and process, and assisting with blueprinting, functional requirements and creating use cases. Schedule a free consultation or call 303.986.3000.

Free Consultation

1 “2019 Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic,” chiefmartec.com, posted April 2019, https://cdn.chiefmartec.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/marketing-technology-landscape-2019-slide.jpg

Lane Ware

Author Lane Ware

Lane is CCG’s former senior vice president, consulting & account services. She combines strategic expertise and experience in multiple industries with implementation and project-management skills. Her involvement in projects has ranged from building loyalty programs from the ground up to implementing long-range CRM initiatives to refining existing strategies.

More posts by Lane Ware

Leave a Reply