Don’t Expect Technology to Solve Your Organizational Problems


solve-organizational-problemsTechnology has long been viewed as the panacea for what ails the modern marketer, especially when it comes to customer engagement. Want to better manage relationships over social media? Add a social media management tool to your marketing stack. Need to know how well you’re engaging with customers? Deploy an analytics solution and you’ll be off to the races.

This approach to technology is part of the reason marketing stacks evolved the way they did, eventually becoming an array of disconnected point solutions that fragment the customer experience and store relevant data in channel-specific silos. Now, a customer data platform (CDP) can solve the technical problem of data silos quite handily – in fact that is what the CDP is purpose-built to do. What a CDP can’t do, and what you shouldn’t expect it to do, is solve any of the underlying organizational issues like persistent data silos and a lack of organizational alignment.

Data Silos Are Fine with Business as Usual

Every company has data silos, and once upon a time this division of data functioned perfectly well. It allowed sales to sell, marketing to market, and service to provide service. Within those groups, different subgroups claimed ownership over yet more specific data like web metrics, the data management platform (DMP), email marketing, call center data, or the customer relationship management (CRM) system. Large organizations, like multinationals, have silos in spades – including some geographic silos based on local laws and regulations.

Most, if not all, of these siloed departments don’t like the idea of sharing data with other functions. The prevailing view is that this data is “theirs,” and they see no reason to share with anyone else. It’s common to have siloed departments – even when there is agreement that something needs to change – resist any effort to share data in a new technology deployment. I’ve heard “we’ve always done it this way” more times than I can count over the years.

To be fair, sharing data isn’t exactly easy. Each silo has built up complex data and people inter-relationships in their respective areas, making even small changes to the data or the organization take a long, long time to achieve. Sometimes the changes you must make are so complex that you’ll often get resistance from even the most ardent supporter.

Politics First, Then Technology

In more than 30 years of deploying software, I haven’t met a single marketing technology problem that couldn’t be solved without applying a little elbow grease. No matter how complex your data, or how challenging the underlying architecture, there is no technology problem on earth that can’t be overcome. If anything, the technology side is the easy part of deploying a CDP, or any new solution, at a company with multiple data silos.

The more pernicious problem is organizational. There are a substantial number of entrenched interests in every company, ready to resist any encroachment on “their turf” or any initiative to take control of “their data” – regardless of any long-term benefits. Gaining organizational alignment will take a lot of negotiating on priorities, including determining who is ultimately responsible for the customer experience. CMOs tend to have the greatest success in this capacity, but only if they are given the organizational heft (and the budget) necessary to pull everyone in the same direction and strong-arm entrenched silos into sharing their data. It also works best when the CMO’s lead person on the project is a great communicator and collaborator, so that person can see the political obstacles and effectively work across the silos to get alignment.

Gaining organizational alignment is a thorny task, and one that can take a long time, but the alternative is worse. Trying to implement a CDP, or any technology, without stakeholder buy-in will cause no end of consternation – most visible in how long the project takes to finalize. Implementation will lag because other teams drag their feet, and you’ll get frustrated at the length of time it’s taking to deploy what seemed so easy during the sales cycle. I’ve even seen some companies “de-scope” the solution because certain areas of the company refuse to invest in the changes required to join the larger whole, even after they initially agreed.

You’ll also experience organizational entropy the longer the project takes. Passive resistance, where the siloed departments simply refuse to cooperate, and implementation fatigue are two of the biggest project-killers around. To add insult to injury, you could also suffer more staff turnover than you expect because of how long the project takes.

Start with fixing the organizational issues, however, and you’re likely to enjoy a much smoother implementation. Technical problems may still arise that take a long time to solve, but companies that solve their organizational issues first, and have their priorities aligned, tend to have a much easier time solving these issues than organizations that didn’t solve the internecine conflict before the technicians started implementing.

CDPs are very good at unifying data across functional and channel-specific silos to create a central point of data control for the organization; they’re the best at that, actually. But what a CDP, or any technology really, is not good for is gaining agreement from internal stakeholders on a project. If you want to succeed at any technology deployment, you must bake in the time and energy to get all the stakeholders on the same page. The alternative is trying to solve a political problem with a technology solution, and that isn’t going to help anyone.

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