The IT director holds key to sales

We live in a multi-channel world. Gateway's stores have become showrooms in which the shop assistant expects you to buy elsewhere...

We live in a multi-channel world. Gateway's stores have become showrooms in which the shop assistant expects you to buy elsewhere and coaches you through the website.

Conversely, department store Allders estimates that its website generates four times as much revenue for its stores as it takes online.

With the maturing of marketing channels such as the internet and the call centre, channel strategy has become as important a source of competitive advantage as product strategy.

First Direct bank, for instance, has found that customers who use its website as well as its call centres are more likely to buy additional products and less likely to defect.

This presents companies which once took the route to market for granted with an unfamiliar challenge: how best to develop technology to support a multi-channel strategy. But it is no good IT managers complaining that their marketing counterparts have not yet developed a coherent multi-channel business strategy so the IT department cannot support it.

In fact, marketers are ill-equipped to develop this strategy without the involvement of their IT colleagues as equals.

Analytical approach

The analytical approach of IT staff can help to deliver the right solution for the job. General Motors Europe is tearing up the rulebook about how to sell cars, building one-to-one relationships with prospective customers through direct mail and e-mail to complement the car dealer relationship.

IT staff can also provide crucial knowledge of what is possible within different channels: 80% of Cisco's technical support requests are fulfilled electronically through a creative mix of diagnostics, configuration tools and so on.

This is good news for costs and for customer satisfaction as 98% of problems are resolved first time.

Technical integration

Strategies work if those who have to make them happen are involved in their creation. Not least, the technical integration between marketing and sales channels which is crucial to underpin innovations in multi-channel sales. The IT director had better be clear on its strategic rationale.

A recurring debate has been how the IT director can become more central to the business. But marketing directors are often just as neurotic, complaining of their lack of influence with the accountants, operations and even IT.

As the scope for differentiation on products becomes ever narrower, the truth is that both have more power than they realise. Neither can achieve their goal of being at the heart of the business strategy without the other.

Hugh Wilson is director of the Multi-Channel Marketing Best Practice Club at Cranfield School of Management. Matt Hobbs is CRM solution lead EMEA at IBM Business Consulting Services

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