As the IT agenda gives way to the Business Technology agenda, marketers and technologists are working together more closely and more often than ever before, but many of them don’t feel like those collaborations are going smoothly yet. In fact, lack of communication is the No. 1 reason cited for a very poor relationship between developers and other parts of the company, according to our data.  

One of the reasons for this miscommunication is that marketers and technologists often use very common words differently. We experienced this ourselves a few months ago at a large gathering of analysts at Forrester HQ, with both marketing and business technology analysts represented. First, there was plenty of acronym and abbreviation confusion: Did DR mean direct response or disaster recovery?  Was CRM customer relationship management or change request management?

But there was also confusion around very common terms that both marketers and technologists use, but which mean slightly different things for each. This is the kind of misunderstanding that you might not even know in happening because you have no reason to think you mean different things until some brave soul raises her hand and admits she doesn’t understand something. (Think the meaning of “database” is obvious? Think again!)

A few weeks ago, we published a report that looks into this further and our research revealed that these conversational mishaps are having huge repercussions on projects and business results. For example, one brand we spoke with had a half-million dollar project go nearly totally off the rails over a misunderstanding of the word “strategy.”

To help avoid these problems in the future, we’ve identified three categories of misunderstood words to look out for. When you’re talking with your colleagues on the other side of the fence, think about common words that have:

  • Different meanings. Like the word “customer.” Yes, "customer" means the person who buys your goods or services. However, internal BT teams may still use that term to refer to you, or other internal teams to whom they deliver their work.
  • Multiple meanings. Consider “agile.” Many marketers know that Agile is a particular development methodology, but may know what that entails. And sometimes the conversation may just be around the need for flexibility and speed rather than strict adherence to a framework.
  • Different applications. Here’s where “strategy” rears its head. The word generally means a plan of action. However, when a marketer uses it she typically means the motivation behind and the plan to execute a marketing program; when a technologist uses it, she probably means the plan for technology implementation that will execute the program.

In the full report, Forrester clients will see a starter list of the most commonly confused words in each category. But more important than the words we’ve identified is having the processes—and the courage—to clear up the confusion when it happens. If there’s one thing we learned from this research it’s this: Never assume that everyone is on the same page with even the most banal language. The best collaborators will establish definitions– that take into account the particular context in which that language will be used—for their company, for projects, and even in individual meetings.