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Get Social Done by Getting Social With Your Development Team

  |  January 25, 2011   |  Comments

Five tips for creating an effective relationship between marketing and software development teams.

Let's be honest: maintaining a healthy relationship between marketing and development teams can be challenging. As CMO Magazine wrote several years ago, "Marketing vs. Technology is a cage match between ignorant marketing people who expect technological miracles immediately and the propeller-heads who talk only about the benefits of some coding philosophy that no one this side of the Klingon Empire really understands."

The biggest trends in marketing in recent years - social, mobile, user-generated content - illustrate the convergence of marketing and technology and the speed at which we need to move. The need for a healthy and effective relationship between the two departments is increasingly important in today's market.

There are many reasons for this head-butting, but I think a few generally hold true for many businesses:

  • Development has ideas on functionality and technologies which may or may not meet customer or business objectives
  • Marketing has ideas for meeting these objectives which may or may not be possible with the technology and resources available
  • Neither department fully understands the other's job or language

Like most challenges between two groups, this interdepartmental conflict comes down to communication and relationships. The result is an "over the fence" interaction culture: marketing sends requirements to development, and development sends deliverables back, without ongoing communication in between. The resulting miscommunications end in finger-pointing on both sides of the fence.

Remedying this miscommunication requires both sides to be informed, interested, and accountable. From a marketer's perspective, here are five tips for creating an effective relationship between marketing and development.

  1. Share business goals and customer insights with your development team. Close the understanding gap by teaching development about your customers and goals. Share how customers make purchase decisions, what they want, and where the business is going. Whether it's a brown bag discussion or a quarterly business review, sharing marketing knowledge with your development team is the first step toward real collaboration and understanding.
  2. Agree on a prioritization process. A developer once told me, "Anything is possible." He paused to give me a glimpse of excitement before adding, "With enough time and resources!" Development's vocabulary is scope, time, and resources, and this is where a lot of the pain between the departments starts. The business will always ask for more, delivered faster, and done with less. Tradeoffs are a big part of the marketing-development relationship, so prioritization is essential. Agree on how prioritization will occur to minimize disagreement later.
  3. Hold frequent operations and project roadmap reviews. Project leaders, development leaders, and management should meet periodically to discuss progress on deliverables. Give updates from previous projects and on where the business is going, and establish a formal, recurring cadence of accountability between the two groups. If anything is "yellow" or "red," everyone should leave the room knowing exactly what actions to take.
  4. Frequently communicate owners, deadlines, and status for deliverables. Launch dates are only reached after many interim project dates. Check that everyone is on track and knows the owners of these interim projects. If something goes wrong, how quickly do both teams find out? Over-communicating responsibilities helps to make sure no one can cry foul.
  5. Get to know your developers. In the '90s, I managed the product roadmap at a startup where the CEO paid for any lunch between marketing and development. That was a productive perk. Later, when I managed the product management team at a Fortune 50 company, I explained to my team how much progress one manager made with her development team by inviting them to the occasional happy hour. Now, I didn't pay for those happy hours, and I fell short of making that an MBO, of course. But let's just agree that effective communication, trust, and accountability start with a good relationship!

I've been lucky to be part of some very productive marketing and development relationships, as well as some dysfunctional ones. With the same time and resources, an effective marketing-development team produces better quality deliverables and increased scope - even doubling or tripling scope from what I've seen. With the increasing convergence of technology and marketing, developing an effective relationship between marketing and development will be more important than ever.


Sam Decker

Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.

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