Ten Ways Marketing and Technology Teams Can Collaborate to Harness Customer Data

May 14, 2015

Left and right human brain vector illustration

The marketing and information (IT) departments share a common goal of harnessing customer data to focus on the customer and to deliver relevant experiences across channels, whether online, in the store or on the go (mobile).

It has become increasingly clear that the IT and Marketing teams need to forge a strong relationship to make this happen. The data integration challenges are formidable, and IT cannot solve these without understanding the business requirements driven by the marketing department. At the same time, IT is in a key position to guide technology initiatives across the organization, ensuring reliability, data privacy, security and compatibility with the corporate technology stack amongst others.

In this blog we have summarized ten tips to ensure successful partnerships between the marketing and IT teams. Our advice is based on observing success stories such as Harris Farms and Lilly Pulitzer.


1. Don’t go it alone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                A study by the CMO Club found that 88% of marketing executives admit that projects run outside of IT control “sometimes” (53%) or “often” (35%) run into problems. According to a 2014 Accenture report, only one in ten marketing and IT executives say collaboration between the two departments is at the right level. As a marketer, you can play the role of “chief experience officer," but accept IT as a strategic partner with marketing, not just as a platform provider.

2.    Talk often and early.

Early in the project, get together and discuss requirements. Schedule a discovery meeting to define the use cases and business requirements, identify the data you will need and find out where this data resides. Also, don't be afraid to get a drink together. Reach out and ask for each other’s ideas on what is missing, how you could simplify or improve your project. Trust helps.

 3.    Be clear in what data you will need.

Marketers should show the IT team what data they will use and what impact it could have. Be prepared to parse out what you need versus what you want just for the heck of it. You'd be amazed at how much you can achieve when you are focused and aligned behind common objectives.

 4.    Think about self-service access to the data.

Too often IT builds a customer data warehouse that can only be accessed through SQL queries. This is bad for IT because now each time that marketing has a question about customers or needs a segment; IT will have to do work. This is also bad for marketing, because with each request you submit you might need to “wait in line” behind other projects. It would be better to architect a solution that everyday marketers can access independently, run queries, and export insights or segments to their campaign management systems without IT having to get involved each time.

 5.    Consider your existing technology stack.

This advice is equally true for marketers and for IT professionals. For marketers, make sure IT knows what you ultimately want to do with the data. If you want to run campaigns based on the data and insights, make sure that the analytics stack talks to your existing marketing campaigns tools. From the IT point of view, of course you want to make sure that the technologies selected to build your customer data warehouse match the security, manageability and reliability requirements and architecture of the rest of your infrastructure.

 6.    Discuss ongoing requirements.

Don’t only focus on the initial development and deployment, but understand your needs for ongoing updates. Historically, when contemplating a customer data warehouse, the requirements were around a quarterly analysis of the data for management and strategy decisions only. However, the requirements to personalize experiences based on the data change everything: now daily or even near real-time updates are required and the whole process of collecting, cleaning and analyzing data has to be more automated.

7.    Start small and iterate quickly.

Marketing and IT need to work together and come up with a roadmap for initial implementation and rollout that makes sense. Perhaps you don’t need to collect all the data upfront. Start by capturing all digital transactions and interactions, and get your feet wet with campaigns that use just these data sources. After you have proven success, it will be easier to justify the incremental investment to add other data sources such as your store transaction systems or loyalty system.

8.    Be empathetic to the IT team.

Marketing needs to acknowledge the challenges of the IT team. Of course each department, marketing included, wants their needs met instantly but the IT team is serving the entire organization. It is good to be realistic about what your true deadlines are and to be aware of other priorities the IT team might have.

9.    Get outside help.

Outside vendors may have expertise in ongoing data integration, cleansing and analysis – and may already have built connectors to many of the systems housing your customer data. There is no need for you to re-invent the wheel. Data integration is a specialized skill and it may not be something that your IT group does every day.

10. Assign dedicated resources.

Treat data integration as a separate project deserving of its own project manager. The project manager can be in IT or marketing. In either case, make sure there is one specific, named, person in IT to work with on scoping your project, selecting a vendor and seeing the project to completion.