There's a problem plaguing far too many companies in our technology-driven age. Simply put, the IT department is affecting critical decisions in departments such as marketing/sales.
We've seen it time and again. CEOs, marketing VPs, sales managers, and other powerful, intelligent people turn into quivering Jell-O heads around the tech-savvy and oh-so-knowledgeable IT department.
What does this have to do with marketing and return on investment (ROI) on the Internet?
More than you might imagine.
Playing off the technological ineptitude of department heads in sales or marketing, IT departments make decisions that directly influence customer behavior on a site. But knowing codes, protocols, software, and all those other high-tech thingamabobs doesn't qualify the IT department to create persuasive sites.
Don't place blame on the IT department, though; the responsibility lies solely with the marketing department. And the solution is simple: Get the best out of your IT department by educating yourself about technical processes.
In this highly technical age, it's unsurprising those with little technical knowledge have a misplaced reverence of those in IT. Sometimes they even fear IT staffers, who actually know the difference between XML and XHMTL.
The result is a relationship that looks a lot like that of a driver who knows nothing about cars with the only known mechanic for hundreds of miles.
The good news is this relationship changes the minute the driver learns some mechanical basics.
How the Story Usually Goes
Here's how things usually go: The marketing department, based on marketing goals and objectives, plans and storyboards a new customer experience on the site, such as a new shopping cart process. Obviously, this plan includes changing and developing new technical processes.
The IT department, resisting change (or perhaps trying to stay within its comfort zone), offers a litany of technical reasons why the plan cannot be implemented as is. Sometimes, it'll quietly deliver something different than the original plan.
For example, IT delivers a Web page template that requires a certain length of page copy on each and every page. Marketing cowers to these meaningless and counterproductive limitations because it isn't educated enough to insist upon something different.
All that carefully planned persuasive work is unraveled. The end result is poorly implemented navigation, content management systems, and shopping cart processes. Almost inevitably, sales are affected.
We've seen an IT department fight to keep the email registration process before the price quotation form on a lead generation site. Visitors were forced to register before getting a price quote. In this case, marketing stood its ground. Once the registration requirement was removed, leads increased by over 700 percent.
Sometimes IT uses the old "we don't have enough time" excuse. In one case, during a redesign project the developer took a little too much liberty in describing how hard it would be to implement a new shopping cart in only 10 days. When the redesign didn't perform as expected, the new shopping cart was quickly integrated with little to no problems. And it only took IT seven days, three days fewer than the "impossible" 10.
Most of this isn't IT's fault. Marketing and sales' complete ignorance of anything technical makes these scenarios possible. It's time for marketing to wake up.
Which Came First, the Sale or the System?
Can you imagine the printer at the print shop calling up advertising master David Ogilvy and telling him why the copy he just sent over won't work and shouldn't be printed?
How about a TV camera operator calling up an ad agency and telling it to change shots and copy?
Or a lighting grip on "The Lord of the Rings" set telling Peter Jackson how to direct his actors?
Yet that's exactly what happens when IT dictates and influences marketing decisions.
The prevailing attitude in marketing is it needs IT to support its sales efforts. But the other half of this truth is usually invisible in many company environments: Without sales, there would be no systems for IT to support.
One IT department simply refused to integrate a Web analytics solution. No matter the reason, this is unacceptable. How can your improve business without Web analytics? Sales will drop, and eventually department budgets will be cut. We suggested the first axe fall on IT. After all, it, too, is responsible for company revenue. It should be more focused on business goals than protecting its turf. But in this case, IT is still only a small part of the problem. Marketing and sales should never give up when sales and business goals are at stake.
Not Picking on IT
I'm not picking on IT. It's an integral part of the team in any tech-driven business. Instead, I want to challenge the marketing status quo of just watching as IT preferences win out over great Web and marketing plans. Marketing and sales truly have no one to blame but themselves.
Getting the Best From IT
Learn some IT basics. You don't have to learn how to code PERL scripts or anything drastic. Pick up a few books about the systems and software your company uses. Learn about the strengths and limitations; learn about some systems your company doesn't use.
Simply spending time with people in IT and asking questions is time well spent. Many in IT are not only willing to explain the systems but are eager to share how much they know.
When you know more about IT, you can better communicate the importance of your marketing plan. You can even get IT excited about creating, adapting, and tweaking the systems to increase sales.
We can learn a lot by swapping IT/marketing conflict-and-resolution stories. What are some of yours?
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Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.
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