Imagine a chief marketing officer (CMO) personalizing customer experience without analytics technologies and tools. Or think of a CIO creating a sophisticated big data infrastructure without a finger on the pulse of the customer.
We all need each other, right? If you are shaking your head while saying "but we can't get along," let me offer a simple example from my own experience.
We started working on the idea of a customer engagement portal at HCL when we noticed major gaps in how various teams at outsourcing companies report results and processes to their clients.
For one, they alter reporting mechanisms to suit their stakeholders and project goals. As new managers join, they add or drop several practices and further complicate the reports. Sometimes, when the final annual reports reach the customer, they can't believe that all of them came from the same company.
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About two years back, when I joined HCL as CMO, I saw a clear need for a centralized reporting platform. How did I begin the process? I approached the CIO's team to build a customer engagement portal, a one-stop platform for all things HCL. And I wasn't surprised when our CIO decided to form a top-notch team to develop a solutions platform immediately.
Together, we created a joint accountability and incentive structure, with interlinked Key Responsibility Areas (KRAs). We had clear lines of communication and well-defined service level agreements. My team took the lead in redesigning the customer experience, and the technology team took ownership of infrastructure and systems, app platforms, and their integration.
It took several cross-functional orientation sessions, but we came to understand the working and objectives of the other team. Both teams continued to meet weekly to discuss and iterate progress.
The CIO-CMO partnership worked. Within seven months, 54 of our top accounts had onboarded our HCL Engage portal without calling for any special provisions or budgetary allocations. That's not all. It has 224 repeat users from the clients.
Work It out Together
What made this process work was our practical approach in creating a partnership and structure designed to enable all participants to share responsibilities and rewards. Each team brought its domain knowledge and perspectives. While the IT team had experience in designing internal engagement platforms and apps, the marketing team brought insights on customer behavior and the market.
HCL Engage is not a one-off project. Even before I arrived here, our marketing and tech teams had been playing together for a while. Three years back, the marketing team partnered with the CIO's office to implement Excalibur, a cloud-based Salesforce automation platform.
We saw an immediate 3% to 4% increase in sales productivity, and doubled the number of large deals signed within a couple of quarters. About five years before that, marketing and IT collaborated to create an award-winning sales portal. Our Wikiportal was used to onboard the entire target audience in the first year of its launch. The method shortened the overall sales cycle by 30% for large deals.
Don't get me wrong. It's not easy to bring the two teams together. Here a few things we learned along the way that made our partnership work:
- Shared business objectives. CIOs and CMOs need to co-own the customer experience and set milestones together in order to check progress. They might have their own KRAs, but both need to agree on joint business objectives and joint accountability and to create incentives that reward collaboration.
- Structure for collaboration. Moving towards a collaborative approach might not be intuitive to either marketing or IT. Both sides need to deliberately involve team members in joint efforts and hold to a regular meeting schedule, while setting up strong cross-functional teams.
- Invest jointly and build transparency. IT and marketing teams needs to consult each other to decide which technologies to invest in. Without this collaborative approach, it's easy to make missteps which could cause longer-term damage, as in hampering business analytic efforts, holding up new product and service development, or getting in the way of an M&A integration.
The best relationship advice I ever got was "to work it out together." That's sound advice for CIOs and CMOs in our era of digital everything.