At most businesses, it's the marketing function to build and nurture a robust sales pipeline of qualified prospective buyers.

This particular requirement highlights the pressures facing marketers and the opportunity IT has to help its creative counterparts convert click-through rates into actual revenue-generating sales opportunities.

Marketer's challenges
The pressures facing marketers are familiar to many of their cross-functional peers, in that the economy has forced cutbacks in budgets and other supportive resources — at least according to data collected by Aberdeen Group among more than 450 marketing executives. See Figure 1 below.

However, what makes the marketing function peculiar is that the job function so closely tied with sales, yet so distant from its ability to correlate its impact to the company's bottom line.

This must change in 2011 and the office of the CIO needs to play an integral role in that endeavor.

Figure 1: Pressures on Marketers in 2011

Source: Aberdeen Group, August 2010

The pressures shown above are reflected in internal challenges that continue to loom large over marketers.

This research among marketing executives also revealed three internal challenges that IT may be best-positioned to help address:

 - Measuring the impact of, or return on, marketing investment
 - Prospect or customer data management
 - Demonstrating marketing's contribution to the forecasted sales pipeline

Becoming a strategic business partner to marketing
Customer or prospect data that is disparate and not readily accessible has crippling effects on a company's ability to connect with the right audience at the right time and place, and with the right message or information.

As businesses strive to expand their customer base so must marketers be able to reach and influence an expanded base of customers and prospects via new channels, such as mobile or social networking.

Yet, our research shows that only 11 per cent of marketers that currently pursue social media marketing are able to validate it's impact on the business.

Organizations that capture and access customer and prospect data that is both accurate and timely achieve much greater results. The impact of customer data on the business was quantified in Aberdeen's research entitled The 2011 Marketer's Agenda.

That research revealed that best-in-class organizations — the top 20 per cent of aggregate performers in three variables:

 - Marketing's direct contribution to sales pipeline forecast
 - Year-over-year revenue growth 
 - Closed business as a direct result of marketing-generated leads

 — also had much greater proficiency at customer/prospect data capture and dissemination. See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Capabilities and Technologies that Distinguish Best-in-Class

Source: Aberdeen Group, April 2011

In comparison to all other organizations, the best-in-class in that particular study averaged:

 - Nearly four-times more sales pipeline that was generated by Marketing
 - Nearly six-times more marketing generated leads that converted into closed sales

Effective implementation of these types of data-driven efforts requires the help of CIOs ensure that marketing automation initiatives are based on streamlined processes that report to a strong platform that can integrate with other enterprise solutions.

Key steps
As Marketing strives to become a more data-driven function that contributes to overall business in a tangible manner, there are a few key steps CIOs should take to support Marketing's strategic intent;

 - Collaborate with peers in marketing and males to understand the process and workflows in place to support the lead management process from capture to closure
 - Ascertain methods to capture information on performance of marketing campaigns; and facilitate and improve customer and prospect data management processes.

For more research from Aberdeen Group that applies to the CIO, please click Aberdeen's CIO Tookit.

See also:

How to work with sales
How to work with the finance department

Kevin Martin is senior vice president of research operations at Aberdeen Group

Omer Minkara is Research Associate at Aberdeen Group

Pic: eurok cc2.0