I’ve found many articles written online about how marketing and IT teams within the same company should collaborate better—so many generic posts about teamwork, and how both sides need each other. The articles aren’t wrong. They just don’t address the entire issue. Companies work with agencies and consultants. How does the relationship between marketing and IT change when a digital agency is added to the mix? Digital agencies vary broadly in their capabilities, experience, communication, organizational maturity, technical expertise, and the list goes on and on.
Some digital agencies provide great design, but weak project management, others aren’t as technical or well-versed in security best practices. We want every company that hires a web agency to look at these factors. If the agency and the business that employs them don’t have the right alignment on the vision, implementation, and the needs of ALL the stakeholders, including IT, the project and ultimately, the relationship is hard to maintain.
Your digital marketing agency should advocate for the marketing department, giving them the flexibility and tools they need. They should also partner with your company’s IT department and ensure that both groups are sufficiently supported.
Why marketing directors hire digital agencies
In small and medium-sized businesses, the marketing department typically consists of one to a handful of people. This team is responsible for many critical business activities, like generating leads for sales, providing essential data to leadership, research, market positioning, event planning, you name it. Many marketing teams also have direct P&L responsibilities. So marketers’ jobs are already challenging, and they have trouble doing it all on their own. It’s an agency’s job to support them and help deliver on as many company goals as possible.
The best digital agencies empower the teams they work with by providing flexibility, support, and access to decision-making data.
Communicate your Brand
Website redesigns start as a way to communicate a company’s brand, products, and services online. It’s crucial to position a brand well online and give potential customers the best experience possible.
Flexibility and Agility
We’ve had countless calls about why companies left their previous agency, and we hear things like, “It took them two weeks to change some text or add a button to our site.” Digital agencies must provide solutions that are flexible and understand that a happy client is one you don’t have to contact you for every little thing. Need a landing page? They should be able to add one easily. Want to add a form? That should be painless too.
Many marketers have a responsibility to the sales department. They generate leads, traffic, brand awareness, and collect social proof through reviews and referrals. It’s a hard job, and a lot is at stake. Many strategies are deployed to generate leads, and in our experience, the pressure to create demand is what drives the decisions around innovation and 3rd party software integrations. Collecting data for further review is extremely important.
Access to Data
Marketers want access to as much relevant data as they can get. The challenge is that sometimes data is collected but not readily available. Working with an agency can provide out of the box ideas to gain access to the data required and also build tools to help marketers work with the data.
Marketers come to web design agencies to help them achieve results that are not attainable solely with an internal team (or they would have done it). Many companies hire agencies to get a sense of what type of options are available for innovation. They want to be pushed, brought new ideas, and outperform their competition. Agencies work on many projects and with many companies in general. They are hired to bring their previous experience, expertise, and best ideas to their clients.
Return on Investment
Leadership teams need justification for marketing budgets. For marketers to get more money to spend, they need to prove that their methods worked. Every effort should maximize the performance of their campaigns and return good news to their leadership team. To succeed, it requires the measurement of key performance metrics that make an impact.
The challenges IT teams have when working with marketing teams and outside digital agencies
While marketing teams are trying to push the envelope and maximize their capabilities, another group in the organization has an entirely different job. The role of IT in an organization is to keep all of the systems running, manage security, compliance, and support their users. Of course, this description is an oversimplification. Still, if it were your job to help all the users in your company and manage every piece of technology, you would have some strong opinions about adding new applications to your environment.
The struggle between the groups is real. In our experience, marketers are not thinking about things like security, compliance, resiliency, and support. We understand differences in thinking and want IT teams to know that we have their back.
Cyberattacks happen continually, and some are quite nasty. Before IT signs off on new products or services, they want to make sure that personally identifiable information (PII) and their company’s proprietary data are protected.
- Data encryption: The IT team should feel comfortable that the application is appropriately handling the data collected by its users. If a threat is inspecting the data, is it encrypted at rest? Is the data encrypted during transit? If the data moves to another server, was it anonymized?
- Asset Protection: Protecting your digital assets is just as important as protecting your physical assets. Are there backups running on a known schedule? Where are the backups located? Are the backups protected? How frequently is the data backed up? Is it easy to restore a backup in case of a problem?
- Incident Response: IT teams want to know what they should expect in the case of an incident. It might be a security incident, or it could be unplanned downtime. No matter what happens, IT departments want to understand the process for reporting and remedying the situation. They want a process and a plan.
- Access Controls: Sometimes, it’s not feasible to manage permissions and user accounts across a large number of software applications. Many IT teams now require that Single Sign-On (SSO) be supported so that they can manage company permissions in one place.
- Digital Agency Security Capabilities: If you are working with a digital agency, your IT team needs to feel confident that the agency follows industry best practices. They should have the correct controls in place and certify that they are following web security best practices and have a certain level of organizational maturity. Your agency will have access to your data, and when not careful, you put your users at risk.
You are trusting your web development agency to provide products and services that fill the needs of your customers. Your web agency should be reliable. You need to make sure that your systems can scale to meet the needs of your business. They need to be able to fix complex issues related to downtime. In the event of system failure, they need to restore service as soon as possible with limited data loss or downtime. Most importantly, you need to trust them when they report on the incident and discuss what happened.
IT teams have to support an incredible number of people. IT systems are complicated to use, yet they help so many people. Poor software choices can lead to years of pain. It’s in the web agencies’ best interest to make the software as efficient to administer as possible.
The price of a new software solution is not just the license or charge to build it but also the overhead internally of supporting the solution. IT teams should evaluate the effort that they will need to put towards a project, in addition to the hard costs. Sometimes the most successful outcomes have a higher initial cost but a lower cost of ownership overall.
The Role of your Digital Agency
It’s essential to work with an agency that has experience working with both the marketing and IT teams. When your partner has both group’s goals in mind, they can be very beneficial to the success of the project, and when they aren’t involved or inexperienced, then agencies can create a problem where one didn’t exist. When Solid Digital works with companies, we focus on the following goals.
Demonstrate alignment of shared goals
Once the vision and plan are understood from both IT and marketing, the next step is to prove that you understand. You do this verbally, written, and creatively (with charts or diagrams). If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then create one to prove you understand, it will go a long way. If a diagram isn’t needed then at least be consistent with your language, start using your clients’ words for the implementation, if you feel that you are not on the same page, make sure to stop and clarify. When in doubt, create a glossary.
Act as an interpreter
Well established agencies have both marketing and technical team members. They work together all the time, and agencies also deal with both technical and non-technical companies. It’s essential to speak the correct language to the group you are talking to, in addition, it’s vital to facilitate conversations between the departments as many times IT teams use words or concepts that marketers don’t know or understand. When an agency can clarify points during an interview or translate the requirements to non-technical team members, then the project can move along smoothly and quickly.
Communicate your expertise and process
Trust in any relationship is key, especially when you are providing technical consulting. Most likely, when you are introduced to an IT team, they will be skeptical. Remember that it’s their job to protect and support the company’s technology systems. They need to be convinced that the solution is required and that the vendor selected will not cause more problems for them in the future. Throughout your communication with IT, your agency should reassure them by demonstrating their expertise and providing proof that they can do the work at the expected level. We work hard at sharing our experience with similar implementations and the challenges that came with those implementations, as well as how we solve any issues that are raised.
Illustrate your plan
Having phone calls is excellent to determine if, at a high level, you are on the same page. Once that call is over, your agency should create a written plan. It should communicate the method and approach. Agreements made on a phone call are tricky. Sometimes they are forgotten entirely, and small details are lost, different attendees had different thoughts about the implementation, etc. Create a clear, written plan, and be ready to discuss and negotiate.
Update the team regularly and transparently
After you have a plan, the teams should be kept up to date regularly. At Solid Digital, we don’t decide when we need to send updates. Client check-ins are all scheduled out in advance. We have a protocol for our discussions, and we spend time determining if we are aligned or need to close the loop in the future and schedule the next check-in. During your status updates provide a clear and transparent report of your progress and if there are issues discuss them as well as possible solutions.
I hope that we presented the case for working hand in hand with both IT and marketing teams. It’s our experience that agencies are not always hired with an understanding of the entire scope of the engagement. These topics are rarely discussed during traditional sales processes. If you are a company hiring an agency, please ask about how they work with IT teams and what kind of support they will provide. If you are an agency, make sure that you invest in these focus areas and remember that it’s our responsibility to keep our client’s data safe and free.
At Solid Digital, we provide technical discovery as part of our engagements with a focus on infrastructure and security. We’ve passed reviews from larger companies like 3M, Hilton, Motel 6, Priceline, and others. The experience gained from working with large IT teams means that we can advise small to mid-sized companies on how to best be flexible and safe.