How to build an in-house marketing team for conversion optimization

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As a conversion optimization consultant, my purpose is to help in-house marketers understand and apply the principles of conversion optimization to their professional endeavors.

Today’s in-house marketer has a huge job in the digital world.

To quote my favorite conversion optimization expert, “[D]igital marketing today has an ocean’s breadth, so it’s impossible for a single human being to be a ‘master’ of digital marketing.”

Yeah, okay, that comes from a piece I wrote awhile back called “7 Skills That Every In-House Marketer Should Possess.” In it, I wrote that the in-house marketer’s role differs according to the needs of the organization but, in general, a digital marketer must have skills in:

  • social media;
  • analytics;
  • SEO;
  • PPC;
  • conversion optimization;
  • A/B testing; and
  • landing page optimization.

Today, we see all of these as facets of conversion optimization, which, for the e-commerce marketer, is the job at hand, day in and day out.

Additionally, in many cases, the lone in-house marketer is seeing colleagues begin to occupy desks nearby. Many companies now have multiple people dedicated to conversion optimization, if not full-fledged CRO (conversion rate optimization) teams.

In this blog post, I’m going to explore the process of building a conversion optimization team and discuss what kind of people you should put on it. I’ll also take a look at agile marketing, one approach to implementing conversion optimization with a team able to respond quickly to new ideas and iterations.

Do you have a team dedicated to conversion optimization?

Power Rangers team photo

About a year and a half ago, SiteTuners.com’s Tim Ash wrote that if your conversion optimization efforts aren’t paying off, the lack of a dedicated team is probably one reason why:

Organizations that are seeing the most success with conversion optimization have a dedicated CRO team that consists of full-time CRO employees that support company-wide strategies.

But, Ash said, many companies were still going without full-time conversion and analytics expertise on their marketing teams. He pointed to a survey showing that a large majority of marketers said their departments lacked appropriate knowledge or training and did not have the technical and creative resources required for conversion optimization.

That was 2014. Maybe this is the year you get your team.

“I expect there to be an increasing desire to embed greater CRO capabilities in e-commerce teams,” Stuart McMillan, deputy head of e-commerce at UK shoe retailer Schuh, wrote in December for “Predicting the biggest e-commerce trends in 2016” at Econsultancy.

Or not.

McMillan also said he expects demand to outstrip the supply of skills available in the marketplace.

The pertinent skills he sees as in short supply are in consumer psychology, digital analytics, statistics, user experience (UX), customer experience (CX) and interactive experience design (IxD).

McMillan also cites an Econsultancy survey in which 40 percent of “senior staff” said the most significant barrier to digital progress for their organizations was finding staff with suitable digital skills. This was up from 37 percent in 2013.

So if you’re thinking about putting together a conversion optimization team, act now — before those who have the skills you need are snapped up.

Or not.

WiderFunnel, in its predictions for 2016 marketing trends, applauds the growth in development of in-house teams dedicated to conversion optimization. But the problem is not just a lack of skills — it’s a lack of knowledge:

Without a proven process and strategy, these teams are getting inconsistent results. The best approach to CRO in 2016 is a hybrid between in-house and specialist agencies. In our experience, companies who do this get the best results by using their in-house teams to run a high volume of tests while simultaneously leveraging specialist agencies to provide a fresh flow of new ideas.

On the other hand, if you read on, this “trends for 2016” post becomes a sales pitch for services WiderFunnel provides. Hilarious. (And not at all uncommon, unfortunately.)

But they are not without a point. It’s not enough to throw a bunch of sharp pros together and say, “Optimize this stinkin’ website!”

You do need a proven CRO methodology. A team needs to pull together around a shared understanding of what conversion optimization means and how it is done.

As you build a team, and while it grows and matures, augmenting your abilities with outside help is a valid approach.

Assembling your team of CRO pros

Join our team

Lucky you: The C-suite has bought into the need for a real conversion optimization effort and has funded a team. It’s time for you to hire some help.

Let’s take a look at the positions you need to fill and the kinds of people you need to fill them. In addition to my own experience, I’m drawing some ideas below from Metric Makers, Conversion Sciences and a series of articles by Michal Parizek at Online Behavior.

• Analyst. You have to have an analytics guy or gal, an expert at multiple analytics tools. This needs to be someone who can dig into and manipulate the data to get some answers from what’s there.

Remember: Analytics numbers don’t tell you anything; the person who knows how to use and interpret the data does.

He or she must be able to creatively use analytics and other data to measure what’s going on with the breadth of your marketing efforts and to identify problems and determine where the solutions to problems lie.

An analyst must be able to turn data into insights and data-driven insights into proposals for changes that can lead to progress.

• Testing manager. Your analyst might also preside over your quantitative testing program (A/B and multivariate testing, primarily). But having a separate professional to focus on a rigidly conceived and executed testing program ensures ideas can be scientifically vetted before they are implemented.

He or she would be expert at setting up and running tests, analyzing test results and communicating what’s been learned from testing to the executive team and other internal stakeholders. A testing manager needs to understand consumer psychology and would also oversee qualitative testing, e.g., user and usability observations.

• Developer. Someone has to be able to put digital ideas into action. There are many tools online that you can use to put together and run a website, from WordPress to Shopify, and on and on, but they are essentially templates.

You will eventually want to do something with your site that they are not set up to do. You need a developer who can write and tweak code and create workarounds and solutions from whole cloth. A good developer also understands and cares about creating good UX.

• Designer. As your developer ensures your site’s functionality, your designer must make it appeal to the user. Website design is crucial to UX.

Again, there are tons of templates available, some of which are pretty good, but your site will look better, and look the way you want it to, if you have a talented designer on board.

Many designers also have photography and video skills, which will allow you to run original, professional-quality images of your products or people.

• Copywriter. By and large, your marketing message will be conveyed through words. The copy in your PPC ads, email, headlines and sub-heads, descriptive text, calls to action, checkout instructions, shipping options, SEO metadata and follow-up customer thank yous and on your site should be professionally written.

Your copywriter needs to understand SEO and some basics of marketing and advertising.

Those are five positions I would want on an in-house CRO team if I owned a large e-commerce company and if I were counting on my marketing department to effect true conversion optimization.

If I had the budget, three more staff members I might add would be in these roles:

• Project manager. A project manager would serve as the team coordinator, making sure everyone has what they need to get the job done.

A project or team manager is a luxury; an analyst with knowledge as described above would normally manage a conversion optimization team. But a CRO project or team manager who makes the trains run on time and serves as liaison to the marketing director, the C-suite, customers and other stakeholders allows other CRO team members to concentrate on their work.

• Digital marketer. Another potential plus would be someone to concentrate on the core mission: getting your sales message out to the world through multiple digital channels. He or she will have a thorough knowledge of internal marketing objectives and how to communicate them clearly and persuasively.

He or she also must have the broad knowledge I outlined in the article referenced at the top of this piece: general conversion optimization skills, including analytics, testing, SEO, use of social media, creation of PPC ads and campaigns, what goes on a landing page and so on.

• Data scientist. Data scientists are like senior analysts who gather and analyze all kinds of data, including analytics and other marketing data to company, industry and economic trends, consumer demographics and more. They make sense out of “big data” — huge volumes of numbers about every aspect of our lives.

From this data, he or she makes predictions for where the industry is headed and how your marketing and business initiatives can keep you out in front of competitors. This means they need to be strategic thinkers and know how to effectively communicate their findings.

Some say having a data scientist on the marketing team is a must. Others say most companies aren’t ready to deal with big data. I side with the former argument.

The function and fit of your in-house CRO team

finding the right fitOne of the obstacles keeping companies from making use of big data, according the article I linked to above, is politics. The article quotes the senior VP overseeing the international poll the report is based on:

Lots of companies have turf wars going on around data collection, and an entrenched bureaucracy that keeps relevant information from reaching the decision makers who need to see it… In many places now, functional silos get in the way.

Let’s face it, functional silos get in the way all over the place.

One way to break down functional silos also happens to be the hottest approach to marketing these days. You’ve probably heard of “agile marketing.”

Agile marketing stresses collaboration and being able to move and change quickly to capture the moment vs. adhering to a “forward-looking,” sequential marketing plan handed down from on high.

It is named well…

definiton of agile

The second “value” in the Agile Marketing Manifesto (yes, really) says:

Collaboration, focused on the needs of the customer, produces better marketing than siloed, departmental turf wars and strict adherence to hierarchical decision making.

Agile marketing also stresses accountability and transparency. As an agile team works on a project, each team member’s progress and setbacks on assigned tasks are reviewed before the entire team. At the end of projects, post-mortems are conducted with team members, stakeholders and anyone else who is interested.

There are tons of blog posts, articles and sites on the web devoted to agile marketing and how to use it. Here’s a pretty straightforward explanation of how agile marketing works day to day.

Done right, developing an agile culture creates employees who are autonomous, yet responsive to company needs and unafraid to take creative risks.

Of course, this type of an environment requires — and appeals to — a certain kind of employee.

Several discussions of agile marketing refer to “T-shaped” people as the type of pros you want on your team. I discussed the T-shaped marketer in my seven-skills post referred to above.

A T-shaped worker has a singular area of expertise (the vertical stroke in the T) and broad knowledge of and ability to collaborate across several related disciplines (the crossbar).

A Moz article from 2013 describes a T-shaped e-marketing Superman:

t-shaped-web-marketer

Your team’s digital marketer, of course, would be a T-shaped person.

To some extent, everyone on an agile CRO team would possess qualities of the T-shaped worker, but you’d certainly populate a new, small or tightly funded team with T-shaped employees capable of multi-disciplined work.

In addition to the T-shaped, there are:

• I-shaped people, who have very narrow, but expert, skills in one specific area. An analytics specialist or a data scientist might be I-shaped.

The kind of narrow focus you’d see in an I-shaped colleague is not a great fit for agile, but it is a plus for application of highly technical skills or the ability to take a deep dive into reams of data.

• Hyphenated people, who have no specific area of expertise, but possess broad skills applicable to a variety of disciplines. Hyphenated people are typically team or division/department managers who can keep all of the plates spinning but don’t — and in many cases, can’t — actually do the hands-on work. They don’t really fit an agile environment, but as I said earlier, having an administrator to look after a team is a useful luxury if you can afford it.

• A-shaped people, who are well-versed in two specific skills and have broad cross-domain skills, as well. They are also referred to as “polymaths” or pi-shaped people.

A developer who is also a copywriter, or an analyst who is also a UX designer would be A-shaped. Naturally, having multiple areas of expertise provides greater flexibility to the team, which is especially valuable to organizations that have limited resources.

The rare conversion pro with three or more areas of cross-functional expertise, I suppose, represents virgin territory.

Conclusion

The in-house marketer has had a rough go of it over the last several years. The explosion of digital platforms has ramped up conversion optimization requirements and expectations time and again.

The basics have changed, and new rules have come out of nowhere.

Marketers fortunate enough to work with or build a team need to surround themselves with colleagues who possess cross-functional skills and are open to collaboration in a fast-paced, constantly changing environment. (And if that sounds like a thousand want ads you’ve seen, there’s a reason why.)

Here’s hoping that 2016 is the year you get your dream team of CRO professionals in place.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jeremy Smith is a serial entrepreneur, trainer and conversion consultant, helping businesses like IBM, Dow Chemical, American Express, Panera Bread, and Wendys improve conversions and strategically grow their businesses. Jeremy’s experience as the CMO and CEO of technology firms has given him a powerful understanding of human behavior and profit-boosting techniques.

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