Building opportunities

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I've been working at the intersection of IT and marketing my whole career. I've felt the pain of marketing teams circumventing IT and buying technology only to discover that they don't have the technical knowledge to implement and use it. I've felt the pain of IT folks derailing projects for fear of losing control. This can't continue! Why? Look at your customers today. We've entered what Forrester Research calls the “age of the customer.” Your customers are so empowered by information and technology that they have a whole new level of expectation for what it should be like dealing with your company. This is your new competition, not those direct competitors you stress over. CMOs and CIOs have to band together to make sure their teams are obsessed with customers. They have to figure out how to use technology to know exactly what customers want and how they prefer to get it—and to figure out how to deliver exceptional experiences at every touch point. Caterpillar does this well. Yes, we're talking about an old-time manufacturer with a business model based on a network of dealers. Luckily for Caterpillar, it realized its buyers are going online to learn about and buy construction equipment. Rather than replace 100 years of success selling through dealers, Caterpillar saw it needed to build a bridge. It has aligned its business and IT folks around the customer experience life cycle, which identifies 12 touch points in the experience of shopping for, buying and owning construction equipment that drive value and customer loyalty. The businesspeople involved IT from the very beginning in the development of “use cases” of how technology can give customers exactly what they need at each touch point. The use cases were driven by deep customer insights, not from preconceived notions of the people at corporate. And they were validated by the people who are in the dirt with Caterpillar's customers—the dealers. The marketers were advised by IT in the definition of capabilities architecture to support the new customer interactions and in the evaluation and selection of technology. As a result, IT has shifted from being a coding provider to a trusted adviser to the business, helping build a competitive advantage in the relationship with customers. If you're a marketing leader, this is a wake-up call. You can't continue to go around IT. You must partner with IT to become technology disrupters rather than risk being the disrupted. Jeff Ernst is a principal analyst at Forrester Research, serving CMOs and other marketing professionals. He can be reached at
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