Growth-Stage Start-ups: Aligning Your IT and Marketing Needs Now

In August 2013, Accenture published a detailed report titled "The CMO-CIO Disconnect," about the importance of marketers and information leaders collaborating, and the un-stellar level to which they're doing that in enterprises today.  Enterprise marketing leaders and CIOs at the U.S.' largest 2,000 companies probably gobbled up the report. I would bet, though, that very few CEOs of growth-stage tech start-ups have paid any attention to it. It's not marketed to them, not considered relevant. They probably don't even have CMOs or CIOs yet.  Listen up, entrepreneurs. You should pay attention to the report. Its wisdom is absolutely relevant to you.

Here's why: A CEO of a growing tech start-up has all of the upside to gain from aligning IT and marketing interests early in the company's evolution -- combined with none of the legacy baggage that makes the alignment difficult to achieve. Start-ups enjoy a nimble agility that enterprises don't have. Only 1 in 10 enterprise marketing and IT executives interviewed by Accenture say the level of collaboration is where it needs to be. You want to disrupt a larger competitor as you vault your company through its growth phase? Knock this alignment out of the park from today forward.

Let me summarize the three strategic imperatives from the report that strike me as most relevant to CEOs of start-ups, especially if there's no CMO or CIO in your company yet.

1. "Identify your CMO as your Chief Experience Officer. "

Okay, so you don't have a CMO yet. That's fine.... as long as the CEO -- or someone -- is passionately stewarding the quality of your customers' and partners' experience in using and interacting with your company and its products.  Who is looking out for things like:

    • how easy it is to find what you have, understand it, try it, and buy it?
    • how easy it is to use it, from the day of purchase until it's time to replace it with something else?
    • how easy it is to support and sell it, and to collaborate with you, for your channel partners?
    • how easy it is to transact and collaborate with you, for your supply chain partners?
    • how these external stakeholders' point of view is represented in your brand, your communications, your strategic decisions?

If no one in your company owns this critical function today, get it assigned, preferably to someone who brings a passionate point of view to it. (The responsibility can get passed down to a marketing leader later in your evolution.) Then, move on to the second bullet point below.

2. "Agree on key business levers for marketing and IT alignment."

In other words, decide what drivers will govern who prevails if marketing and IT have conflicting needs.  This may seem far ahead of where you are if you're a growth-stage start-up, but you're designing now the architecture that is going to become your "legacy" later -- with all its benefits and limitations. Anticipate that IT and marketing conflict will tend to converge most at two intersections:

1) Where marketing's need for transparency of customer and company data will intersect with IT's need for information security.

2) Where marketing's need for third-party, best-at-what-it-does software intersects with IT's need to control system standards and protect the sanctity of its infrastructure.

Here are some questions your CEO and leadership team can ask yourselves today, to ensure what you're building will meet your needs as you scale and reap new and loyal customers and partners:

    • What kind of customer data, and how much, will our company eventually need to exploit to gain new customers and keep existing customers? To deliver on that great experience we're designing for them?
    • What kind of company data will our company eventually need to make transparent in order to support the ideal experience we are creating for  our customers, channel partners, and supply chain partners?
    • What third-party software demands are we going to have in marketing this business -- keeping in mind things like mobile marketing and mobile service delivery, mobile payments, targeted marketing campaigns, customer relationship management, information management, etc? How will emerging trends like NFC and biometrics impact these needs?
    • Given the countries in which our target market exists, what kinds of data security and consumer privacy legislation are we subject to? How is the legislation evolving in these countries?
    • Where do we fall on the spectrum of conservative to aggressive when it comes to data privacy and infrastructure standards? Are we certain we can scale, market, and interact with customers and partners effectively and profitably given our answer?

3. "Change the skill mix to ensure that both organizations are more marketing- and tech-savvy."

This one's easy to adapt to growth-stage tech startups. Just change the sentence to read: "Hire people who are both marketing- and tech-savvy."  Be smart. Build the team right from the ground up.

When it's time to bring on a CIO or similar functional leader, ask candidates for their point of view on how their job intersects with marketing needs. Ask them for their point of view on how digital marketing is most effectively enabled, and what it might look like within your organization.

When it's time to bring on a marketing leader, ask candidates what they need from their IT partners in the organization.  Ask them for their point of view on how the balance should be struck between data access and information security.

**

You can download and read the full Accenture report here, if you want to know what other recommendations .... and the data that shows how your enterprise (future) competitors are performing against them.