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3 Best Practices for Marketing Your IT Department to BI Users (Part 2 of 2)

A united effort to implement basic marketing concepts in-house will earn your IT team a reputation as experts, servants, and leaders.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

IT departments have so much to offer their business users and the business’ bottom line, but most minimize the opportunity to demonstrate their benefits because of their infamous communication habits, which are based in thought habits.

Part 1 of this series showed four critical areas IT faces and why a marketing initiative must be developed to address these problems, from increased competition (business users just don’t have to tolerate age-old hassles with IT any more) to communication problems.

This article reveals three fundamental principles of marketing that any IT department can implement to confidently showcase its visibly vital role in the company and help enable IT staff to play this role.

In building your in-house marketing strategy, the following three best practices will help you demonstrate your value over other IT options, enhance user communication, work as a team with business users, and repair a damaged image.

Best Practice #1: Narrowly define your market

Defining a market is one of the hardest things to do in marketing. Developing a narrowly defined market is harder still. It’s natural to want to reach everyone, and if your IT department is interested in building great lines of communication with all other departments in your organization, you will most likely start to think in terms of reaching them all right away.

That would be a mistake.

Think big, one department at a time -- just as a good BI plan targets one person of influence. Expand later. Starting narrow allows you to gather information, develop and revise your plan, and advance in an agile way.

Seek input from user management to determine who will be your strongest sponsor and best ally, and what project will be your most likely success story. Who is committed to fact-based management? Who is a likely cheerleader? The answers will have a major impact on your in-house marketing.

Narrowly defining your target market is a basic early step in BI, and yet it is an extremely difficult challenge when you shift your mind to marketing any other product or service. By initially limiting the scope of your outreach, you set yourself up to make optimal use of the next two best practices.

Best Practice #2: Get inside your customer’s head (to show you care)

This is the foundation of great marketing, and the more narrowly you have defined your target, the more precisely you can deliver messages that make your target think, “This is what I need. These people understand me.” IT’s reputation for not caring about users indicates that it doesn’t recognize users as customers.

Here are several fundamental questions to consider about your target market:

  • What do they want and need?
  • Do you have what they want and need?
  • Can you help them get it, or are you trying to make them need what you have?
  • Will they admit they need something?
  • Do you need to rephrase the deliverable?

This last point may be the most important and can be incorporated into your communication strategy. Effective BI teams don’t sell a better data framework to a sales team. They ask the sales team to help them discover a way to deliver good information that supports sales strategies and projections. Similarly, people who sell personal jets don’t sell technical specifications such as horsepower. They sell seating and space for the owner’s three friends and their golf bags. That’s getting into the customer’s head. You need to get into your business users’ heads.

Look beyond your own fascinations to see where you can “wow” your target customer. The greater the benefit and business foresight your IT department provides, the more your customers will forget about your competition. You will be seen as a true team player. You will project an image as technologists of insight and action.

Take a case I’m currently watching, in which patient data entry has not kept pace with the patient care schedule. The hernia center needs a data framework that allows more surgeries to be scheduled, returning better dividends to the investing surgeons.

A sneaky variable at the front end of the data system went unattended by IT until recently. Nurses had been frustrated by a tiny circle on their computer screens which, when clicked, saved patient information to the database. Nurses, the largest user group in the company, spent excessive time trying to position the mouse cursor over that tiny circle. Many times every day they disparaged IT for telling them two years earlier, “Oh, you’ll get used to it.”

IT finally agreed to enlarge the circle and they aren’t getting any kudos for it. They don’t see opportunity in the situation. They think they’ve removed an insignificant irritant.

Imagine if IT had spent time with its users and recognized that the circle had a direct impact on the facility’s clockwork schedule and prevented adding another surgery on many days. With such a simple understanding of user productivity, IT could have demonstrated (1) improved communication skills, (2) behavior as a team player, and (3) an image of leader, servant and expert looking for ways to improve data gathering. It could have shown its understanding that more surgeries raise the company’s bottom line and keep nurses and other staff employed during a tough economic squeeze.

When you’re inside your customer’s head this way, your competition is irrelevant. Instead, IT’s actions demonstrated that the department’s stubbornness and lack of business knowledge had cost the company money for two years.

Best Practice #3: Choose the image you want to convey

It’s human nature to treat people according to the image they present. The IT department can be geek or glorious, incompetent or incredible.

As caretaker of the company’s information, you can choose to be the problem solver people yearn for. When you consider how much of their lives people spend on the job, it’s no wonder they will practically worship the person who makes that part of their lives more bearable, successful, and enjoyable. The opportunity knocks on IT’s door every day.

Your contribution to your enterprise’s bottom line is restricted or advanced by the image you present to your customers. Offer your unique set of knowledge and skills by choosing a compatible image and start every day with it in mind.

Present an image that allows you to:

  • Do your best work
  • Earn quality feedback
  • Deserve admiration
  • Enlist cheerleaders
  • Lead users into greater things
  • Be solicited to help determine business solutions

The advantages of an effective image are illustrated by the case of an insurance company executive who participated in a major BI project. She knew enough about her industry to see the potential in the BI team. The BI team’s image was that it could do anything that needed to be done, if it only knew what needed to be done. The executive’s image was that she knew exactly what to do with good data, if only someone could deliver it. Success with that project turned her into a cheerleader, and other executives lined up for BI. They had become believers in BI and in that particular BI team.

That’s what in-house IT needs to do -- eliminate competition by delivering business solutions involving user input, built upon ever-stronger communication skills, and opening doors of opportunity with an image that matches the customers’ needs. This includes finding and incorporating outside resources and not letting those resources run away with the credit for your success.


In a time of increasing alternatives to in-house IT, your IT department must learn how to market its vital contributions to your business. It must see users as customers. It must “get inside their heads” to figure out -- with their help -- what IT can do to contribute harmony, improve productivity, and increase the company’s bottom line.

The department should determine -- with user management’s guidance -- who will be the first target of IT’s effort to rebuild relationships with users.

IT’s image should include harnessing technology to serve users every single day.

Max T. Russell is the owner of Max and Max Communications. He is a direct-response marketer who works behind the scenes to provide communications to individuals and businesses in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can reach him at

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