Open Letter to the CxO: Can You Survive the Age of Integration and Collaboration?

Collaboration integration and peopleHere’s the golden rule I always followed as an IT business guy, marketer, publisher and digital strategist: I only care about the customer of the customer. No matter how you look at it: no business can succeed if it doesn’t make sure that its customers can make their customers succeed. In the social era we have started calling this the audiences of audiences of audiences, etc. The only way to make that success happen is integration and it requires a collaborative culture. An open letter to the CxO.

Let me give you an example: if I work for you as a consultant you’re just one of my customers. Your people and teams are my customers too. If they don’t feel compelled to do what makes you succeed, as a manager or a business, you will not succeed and I will not succeed. They must feel comfortable and gratified in their life, work and experiences.

A customer culture is a collaborative integration culture

It’s my role, your role and that of management to create engaging experiences for employees. And, guess what: that’s what employees expect from IT as this recent blog post by Forrester indicates. Of course, it’s not just about IT. Employee engagement is customer engagement and is the task of everyone in the business. If you know how to engage employees, you know how to engage customers. And engagement is what makes people productive, passionate and collaborative.

Expensive words, I know. It requires change, processes and lots of time. And some employees can’t be engaged at all. That can be a sign it’s time they look for a more gratifying job.

On top of your internal customers, you have your external customers. Those that buy, for instance. Other businesses partnering with you. Consultants, bloggers and the ‘external’ workforce of freelancers, etc. Some of them can even be hybrid such as the employee in the new ways of working and the customer in a peer-to-peer relationship. In order to make you succeed, I need all of them to succeed as well. To make people buy from you, you need to be their business partner in the true sense. You need to help them achieve the goals and the very reasons why they work with you to start with.

Everything is integrated and connected. This is the age of integration and without a collaborative, holistic and unified approach it simply doesn’t work, especially in a digital business reality and increasingly real-time economy. 2013 is the year the digital business evolutions start showing everywhere and I’m not the only one to say it.

From a marketing viewpoint, a unified digital marketing/business approach requires several changes:

  • The customers want consistent experiences, a challenge for marketing, customer service and all customer-facing functions, including the ‘voices’ of the company.
  • The brand message and touchpoints need to be unified and consistent.
  • Technologies (back-office and front-office) have to be integrated (with a clear role for a tailored cloud approach).
  • Teams, processes, communications, marketing, etc. must be integrated and unified.

And in the end it’s all about customer experiences, cross-channel and cross-divisional collaboration/optimization and, indeed, a very connected and integrated economy.

The Age of Integration and the connected and unified customer-centric imperative

The Age of Integration and the connected and unified customer-centric imperative

Let’s take a closer look from two perspectives: internal organization/management (the role of the CxO) and marketing. The reason I pick these perspectives is not a coincidence as you’ll read below.

The collaboration between C-level executives and the lead over digital

There is a lot to do about who will take the lead in this integrated era where digital is more pervasive and game-changing than ever before.

As you might know Gartner predicted a while back that the CMO would drive IT investments more than the CIO by 2017. And immediately the already existing discussions regarding the ‘lead over digital – and IT – debate’ multiplied.

  • Some analysts made the case to get a Chief Digital Officer on board. Some say that’s the future role of the CIO, others see it as a new role.
  • Other analysts said the lead over IT/digital should remain with the CIO and that the CIO had to become a business leader, an evolution that is de facto happening in many cases and as research shows. But it  is far from actualized – despite the rosy picture some surveys depict – as Edwin Hageman, CEO of BT Benelux wrote in an excellent post yesterday, referring to research and market feedback (disclaimer: BT is a customer but I fully stand behind the blog post).
  • Another (new) role that often gets mentioned is that of the Social (Business) Strategist, who then often gets a role in the collaborative and digital decision process as well.
  • Some analysts see the lead over IT – partially – moving to the Chief Customer Officer. After all, and as explained, it’s all about the customers, both the internal and external ones. And the customer is very ‘digital’ today.
  • Finally, other analysts think the role of IT and digital technology has become too important to leave it to the CIO. As Edwin points out, there is a disconnect between CIO and other members of the C-suite and there’s also a huge perception problem.

The customer doesn’t care who leads

The lead over digital and IT in practice is a debate without a one-size-fits-all answer as each company is different and the CEO, CIO, CMO, and CxO have a name and a face. You don’t hire job titles, you hire people. And which of all these new management roles should you have in your organization? Furthermore, the customer (and his customer etc.), around whom our businesses are revolving and the debate is partially about belongs to everyone as Edwin writes. And at the same time he belongs to no one. He expects optimized experiences, respect and service and doesn’t care about who takes the lead. It’s the task of all C-level executives to understand how digital technologies enable the business to ensure those experiences, internally as well, and how they can contribute to the bottom-line in so many ways you can’t even imagine.

Integration is a matter of collaboration and collaboration a matter of processes and technologies enabling these processes in a customer-centric way, especially for the internal customers using them. And this brings me to marketing, my core business.

The age of integration and the digital marketing priority

People sometimes ask me what it is I do exactly as they get confused. Am I some professional blogger? I write about so many topics that seem so disconnected at first sight: IT, digital business, interactive marketing. No, I’m not a blogger. However, I do blog. Am I a social media strategist? An email marketer? A B2B marketer? A social business thinker? No, I’m a marketing and digital business consultant. By definition that means I focus on the customer and by definition that means I work in an integrated way, more than ever in this age of integration.

The reason I mention this is that people like to be able to categorize and label you. It’s comfortable and reassuring. But it’s also a sign that thinking in a customer-centric and integrated way is not common-place yet. And that’s exactly the reason why many digital marketing and business projects still fail: because we can’t look beyond the tools, tactics and channels.

It reflects the business culture and how hard integration and a collaborative mindset and – more importantly – way of working is. By not having that integrated view we miss out on important issues. Because, guess what: IT, management, collaboration, social media, digital business, technology, etc., it’s all connected.

Examples of the disconnected culture: content marketing

A while back I started a blog on content marketing. Why yet another topic (and who needs another blog about that)? Well, content is crucial in everything we do and it has always been so. But in that content marketing space the exact same thing is happening as in all other – digital – marketing areas before: we don’t look at it from a customer-centric and integrated perspective enough.

But that’s exactly what we need. Some examples.

  • The integration of digital and offline marketing and the buyer journey. Most customers – certainly in my area, B2B – use search engines in their buying journey. So we invented search engine marketing and started optimizing for search engine rankings. What determines your rank in search engines on top of all the technical details today? The content you provide to people across their buying journey (here you have content marketing), how relevant it is for them, the social interaction around it (social media and community come into play) and the relevance of the content for the search query of the buyer (here comes the overall customer experience). And we haven’t even touched what to do with those prospective buyers once they interact with us yet.
  • How do you get a ‘culture of content’ as some call it? Well, if you have a collaborative structure and work in an integrated way you don’t have to look for all the content you have in your company because you know where it sits. If you have a customer-centric perspective you know what content and channels people need to prepare the buy. And if your teams work in an integrated way, you can nicely integrate everything you do and what your customers need, regardless of the channels or labels.
  • How do you choose a content marketing software (and why do you even need it)? First of all, it needs to serve your business goals and these goals depend on what customers are looking for in order to solve their challenges and buy from you, with all the intermediary touchpoints (and sharing etc.) in mind. But it also needs to serve the needs of your internal customers: the people that are expected to work with it. And why do they have to work with it? Because content marketing is not an island. And guess which department really needs to be involved? Indeed, IT. And your digital marketing team. And your social media team (that often drives the demand for content marketing). And the people that will create content. And sales that will follow up on leads. And customer service etc.

These are just a few random examples from my marketing perspective but I think you see the picture: everyone is involved and everything is integrated. IT is connected with social business. Social business is connected with content marketing. Content marketing is connected with…IT.

And this goes for EVERYTHING as it simply but apparently hard to implement about the customer. In the broadest sense.

The role of the CxO in the age of integration

The role of the C-suite? To create the conditions in which it can all happen, taking into account the needs, problems, challenges and collaborative realities of everyone involved. And that’s a message for the CEO, as much at it is for those CxOs protecting their silos.

Make it happen (and don’t expect a consultant to do it entirely for you).

Here’s the definition of management in very simple words: getting things done by getting people doing things. Enable people to do things. Get it done. Dear CEO, the CIO, CMO and all the CxOs are your allies if you allow them to and if they have that collaborative mindset required in the age of integration. If they don’t have it and don’t want to focus on the customer and getting their teams aligned with overall business, you know what to do.

The role of the CIO and the CMO is changing. But so is that of the CEO. Connect and integrate. You have no choice.

Join us on June 10th in Antwerp, Belgium, for the Content Marketing Conference Europe. With confirmed speakers such as Jay Baer, Lee Odden, Mike Corak, Doug Kessler, Kelly Hungerford, Dado Van Peteghem, Tristan Lavender, Guido Everaert, Tom De Baere and Xaviera Ringeling (more to be announced), we'll take you across a learning experience leading to tangible insights and actionable inspiration, moderated by media expert Jo Caudron!


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