IT exec can make or break your career

February 15, 1999


Who should be your "best friend" if you want to succeed as a marketing executive? Should it be your advertising agency account representative? Those 30-second spots can make or break your brand. And commercial shoots in Hollywood can be a lot of fun.

Should it be your financial analyst from the accounting department? Counting the beans can keep you one step ahead of management and give you the numbers you need for compelling presentations in the boardroom.

As a packaged goods marketer, my best friend was a market research analyst who could bring me unique, independent insights about my customers and the competition.

Some aspiring interactive marketers dream late at night about their venture capitalist being their best friend, but wiser heads know that venture capitalists don't have any friends.

If you want to succeed in marketing today, your best friend and closest ally should be the information technology executive or the chief information officer.

What a difference 20 years can make. When I broke in as a brand manager, the "CIO" term hadn't been coined. In those days, nobody in marketing spoke with anyone from IT at the annual Christmas party or summer picnic, except by accident. You just wondered why it was so hard to get your sales reports customized and why they never came out on time.

Now your teammate in the IT group can make or break your career. And, in some cases, the CIO could even become your boss.

Some high-profile examples include Jim Barksdale, former CIO of Federal Express, who had moved to senior management from a technology background. He left FedEx to be president and COO at McCaw Cellular Communications, then became CEO of Netscape Communications. Or there's Pete Solvik, CIO of CISCO Systems, and perhaps the leading business-to-business practitioner of interactive marketing. Solvik supervises CISCO's entire Internet business.

But, you say, "Those guys are in technology-intensive businesses. The CIO doesn't matter in my business."

Not so. Look at the Walgreen Co. in Deerfield, Ill., and Harley-Davidson, Inc. in Milwaukee, leading marketers in their categories that have both scored breakthroughs in interactive marketing. Both have influential CIOs. And neither organization would be as well known on the e-commerce circuit as, Ebay or etoys.

Walgreen's is a $15.3 billion retail drug-store chain operating more than 2,500 stores in 35 states. The company estimates another 500 locations will open before the end of 2000, and that it will have 6,000 stores by the end of the next decade.

Last year Walgreen's achieved a 14.5% growth in revenues combined with a 17.2% growth in net income. How is it achieving top-line growth and bottom-line profitability? In part, through smart telephone-based interactive marketing.

Walgreen's "Prefills Service" enables customers to refill prescriptions automatically. The pharmacy even calls you when your prescription's about to run out. Or, you can call and refill the prescription using a touch-tone phone. You can also refill on-line, if you like. The system dramatically reduces the customer's waiting time, and it improves pharmacist productivity in the store as well.

According to Walgreen's CIO, David Bernauer, "We have 120,000 prescriptions per day entered on the touch-tone telephone system. We also have about 500 prescriptions refilled each day over the Internet. The phone is really a lot faster for our customers."

"The customer wants simplicity and control," says Bernauer, whose resume reads like a corporate Renaissance man (see the interview on the next page). The marketers and technologists at Walgreen's are working shoulder-to-shoulder in a team-oriented environment to deliver on that customer requirement.

Customers aren't the only ones to recognize the value of Bernauer's work. Walgreen's just promoted him to president and chief operating officer.

A visit to the Harley-Davidson Web site is a Zen-like experience. Some of the best "brochure-ware" on the Web can be found there ( The company's 95th anniversary site was a Web blockbuster, but that's not why they're break-through interactive marketers, although a hint can be found on their Web site.

If you browse the home page, you won't be able to buy anything on-line, but you'll have lots of opportunities to connect with its network of 1,200 dealers.

The marketers and the information technology executives at Harley-Davidson know the company has two critical customers, the Harley-Davidson dealer and the Harley rider, including more than 300,000 loyal members of the Harley Owners Group or HOG.

Top Harley-Davidson technologist David Storm turned this potential channel conflict into a strategic opportunity. His team uses the consumer Web site purely as an informational tool for end-customers. Meanwhile, Storm created a set of proprietary interactive tools to share information with his other customer-the Harley-Davidson dealer network.

He says, "We have a dealer management system that we offer our dealers. We can poll the system to find out what's selling at retail. It has information about what inventory is moving. It has information about how our dealers are running their service departments. We can tap into data from most of our dealers to get closer to our end customer."

Such interactive marketing tools helped the company increase revenues by 15.1% last year while growing profits 4.9% over the year before. Maybe that's why Storm is vice president of planning and information services.

What advice does Storm have for marketers and technologists at other companies? "I'd coach both groups to educate each other on what is possible and what is doable. You have to get a real support mentality in information services. And you may have to add some people who understand the potential of information technology in marketing."

His ideal marketing executive is one who "takes a long-term view," not one who "focuses solely on the quarterly results."

Listening to upwardly mobile CIOs like Bernauer and Storm, you start to understand why today's smart marketers want to spend time in friendly conversation with these executives. These technologists are doing lots more than delivering the sales reports. They're helping create tomorrow's sales and profits.

Hey, wasn't that the marketing department's mission?

Michael Krauss is a partner with Diamond Technology Partners in Chicago.
He can be reached at







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