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Webinar Recap: Bridging the technology and marketing divide for ecommerce success

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8 minute read

This post is a recap of Elastic Path Software’s January webinar Bridging the technology and marketing divide for ecommerce success ( <--- you can watch the replay by clicking this link). Our guest speakers were Smart Destinations’ CTO Matt Higgins and CMO Rob Schmults.

Agenda

  • A Modern Fairy Tale
  • Marketing Needs to Step Up
  • IT Can Do More
  • Good News For Everyone

A Modern Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, marketing lived in a happy place where 50% of its efforts were wasted (but no one knew or cared which 50%). IT only had to work with logical, process driven folks who understood the value of fault tolerant systems. Their two worlds were buffered by a handy layer of finance and operations.

But things changed in a hurry, the arrival of the web created the need for new organizational dynamics. From skunk works operations to…spin-outs to…an integrated sub-department to…a free-standing business unit. Very quickly, relationships between IT and marketing changed, forcing a high degree of collaboration.

Collaboration or When Worlds Collide?

View from “IT”

  • Rolling 90 day plan
  • Change = Risk
  • Enterprise systems rightly get top priority
  • IT a cost (and blame) center, any time you draw attention to yourself the budget axes come out
  • IT views Marketing as fickle, prone to overpromising, and not held accountable

View from “Marketing”

  • Short term focus
  • “We’re the guys paying the bills – view themselves as top dogs
  • It’s all about being nimble and cutting edge
  • “Do it/Fix it”
  • Enterprise systems are utilities like plumbing or electricity, they should “just work”
  • IT a gate keeper (almost as bad as legal)
  • IT is slow, a source of unnecessary complexity

The Challenge for Both Marketing and IT

These two worlds need to work together. Senior management is hearing that IT needs to be nimble and markting needs to be accountable, rather than the status quo of marketing being nimble and IT accountable. Both departments need to wear both hats. This forces the two sides to work together to be successful.

  • Web raised expectations of executives and customers to new heights
  • Growing source of profits dependent on a whole new set of systems that move at an unprecedented pace
  • While legacy systems and channels still need to be supported (increasingly integrated with online)

Marketing Needs to Step Up

Marketing Needs to Sharpen its Game

Marketing needs to recognize the world has changed. In the same way you see customer centricity and ROI based campaigns have become the norm, similarly marketing needs to adapt and change the relationship with IT.

How?

It’s critical to take time to get basic hows and whys around requirements and risk management down.

Just because you now have some projects under your marketing belt, don’t forget projects are a means, not an end. Demand for project time that is not commensurate with value of that demand (features/functionality that don’t have a significant impact on business) should be recognized. Focus on what matters. Treat IT like scarce resource which is what they are, and you’re going to get more help.

  • Marketing cannot afford to be ignorant of how development and delivery works
  • Building is ceasing to be equated with running a web store
  • It is now possible to understand which 50% is wasted – so focus on what matters

Why Are Projects Always Late?

  • Andersen study showed that 50% of projects are OVER 50% late and over-budget
  • Easy to point fingers at IT
  • Two main areas projects get derailed:
    • Up-front requirements ill-defined
    • Scope change during project

The best way to solve this problem is for marketing to nail down up front what the business goals are – what marketing is trying to DO. This way IT can propose alternative solutions that will work better with existing systems, processes and resources. And, when things change (and they inevitably will), marketing should not say “great, make this change” and walk away, but rather understand the tradeoffs.

Building vs. Running: Shiny Objects

Arms Race Mentality

“Gap’s new sites leapfrog every other retail site out there today,” said Carrie Johnson, a retail analyst with Forrester Research, an online consulting firm. “They’re providing a customer experience that other retailers will quickly try to figure out how to copy.” – NYT 9/12/2005

This quote in the New York Times led many retailers to jump on the “mini-cart” bandwagon after Gap launched its new website. The mistake was these retailers didn’t do their homework. They didn’t ask “how does this apply to my business?” or “how do I know Gap’s research was done with enough rigor?” Many mini-carts got launched and were soon taken down.

Building vs. Running: Missing What Matters

Pixels or Inventory?

Focus on the right things instead of the trivial. An example given was of a leading apparel brand’s web team’s obsessive focus on image pixel counts. While 3-4 people were busy worrying about pixels, no one worked on restocking core sizes of best sellers.

A dirty store can hurt sales, but stock-outs eliminate them. Physical store managers obsess about inventory and merchandising, not about upgrading window glass or installing talking price tags.

The Great Cop-out is Over

  • World of budget based marketing ending with marketers increasingly stapled to a bottom line
  • Dev efforts increasingly given the level of scrutiny marketing campaigns have started to receive – what is the ROI?
  • News used to be just about ecommerce leaders rising – now they are falling too

IT Can Do More

Avoid Us vs. Them

  • Marketing not actually the enemy
  • If they are, then what does that make the customer?
  • Easier for an engineer to become a marketer than vice versa, so meet them more than halfway
  • Wear a company hat rather than a silo hat
    • Help drive the trade-offs vs. use them as an anchor
    • Managing risk still important, but put it onto the scales or risk/reward rather than blindly guard

It’s IT’s job to get out of the corner of coding and look to the rest of the organization to find out how they can meet marketing half way.

Provide alternatives instead of just saying NO. Instead of “that’s really hard” or “I don’t have time,” try to say yest more often with alternatives. Step back and consider how the changes being asked for may have an impact on the business or serve the customer better. Become more customer centric in your thinking.

IT Cannot Simply Be Order Takers

  • Doing exactly is what asked (when we know it’s not an optimal solution) gives a passive aggressive thrill…but it’s better to be a thought partner
    • What are the goals? Find the root of the requirement
    • Force rank priorities

When it comes down to it, it really is hard to build a rocket ship. We can’t build it in Q1 but we might be able to get you a booster and a shell and some other parts. This goes back to the collaborate effort. Find a real solution with marketing and help them understand some things are really hard to do, while working out what’s possible.

Good News For Everyone

Landscape Changes

  • ASP phenomena: minimize IT involvement
  • Lighter weight skill requirements to integrate and manage

    Support and upgrades someone else’s responsibility

    • “Marketing interfaces”
    • Technology not just for technologists

      Let marketing serve itself

    • Fading of the “shiny object?”
    • Recession may have been at least a partial cure for marketing’s confusion of could with should

Good news is we don’t have to build everything from scratch. We can pull in other solutions, integrate with other service providers (rating and review tools, etc).

Personnel Changes

  • Increasingly have people with varied backgrounds in key roles, lessens myopia
  • Contact has breed an understanding, with IT understanding marketing and (increasingly) marketing understanding IT
  • Elapsed time since Al Gore’s invention (aka the Internet) allows for more specialization, expertise, and lessons learned

How it Works in Practice

Smart Destinations’ experience developing their ecommerce solution:

  • Marketing put product reviews on priority list
  • Didn’t micro manage beyond requirements definition
  • IT able to present recommendation that balance implementation effort and cost with capability
  • Reviews successfully launched within 2 weeks

Q&A

Any tips for helping Marketing better understand IT?

If you’re in marketing, raise your hand and ask your IT colleagues to help you understand where IT is coming from. IT folks have their focus on risk management, schedules and plans for good reason. The approach is important, give IT guys the time to respond too and take time to understand what they are saying.

I’m in marketing. Our programming team writes great code, but is about 8 months behind on a key project. Cash incentives haven’t worked. How do we motivate them?

Sometimes IT people will go into the corner and code, and be very guarded. You need to communicate what is at stake — that there is a real business need, not just the carrot of a bonus. Being part of bettering the business can be a great motivator for IT people. Also, make sure you as a marketer think of the tradeoffs, what can you do to reduce scope.

Should we have a liaison role between IT and marketing?

Reminds me of the Office Space movie, the guy who takes faxes to engineers. If you are in a really big organization, and you need someone who needs to liaise, go ahead but the best way is to break down tthe “us vs. them” and create a “we.” When you have spent face time with a colleague it’s harder for them to flame you or come back with “I don’t want to do it” because you have built a personal bond. This approach is much better than relying on an arbitrator.

Many Marketing types bring in SaaS solutions as a way to get around IT. What is the role of SaaS in the IT/Marketing relationship?

The good thing about SaaS point solutions is both IT and marketing can look at the same solution and can talk aout it together. E.g. “here’s this tool called Salesforce and here are the 10 reasons why it will solve our business problems with minimal IT involvement.” It brings it home that technology has become a lot more accessible. Going rogue is possible, but what happens is nobody gets what they want. Even SaaS decisions should be collaborative. Whatever solution that goes over the head of IT will not be the optimal one.

If IT is used to being told what to do by marketing and has become jaded, what are some good exercises in creating more involvement?

I don’t think IT is used to being told what to do (nor will they ever be) as that is a more subservient role, which may bring out more passive aggression and defiance. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and adopt a collaborative approach. Rather than IT always saying “no,” you’ll get “hey, I think there are some issues here, but here are some possible solutions.”

Next Webinar

Ecommerce for Packaged Software Vendors: Maximizing Your Online Channel

Join Linda Bustos to discuss how both B2C and B2B packaged software companies can improve conversion rates and average order values to maximize the return on investment for their ecommerce projects.

Date: Thursday, February 25th, 2010 Time: 9am Pacific/ 12pm Eastern
Register at www.elasticpath.com/software

Linda Bustos
Linda Bustoshttp://www.elasticpath.com
Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst she specializes in conversion optimization for enterprise digital goods and media companies.
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