By Zack Rosen February 04, 2020
At Pantheon, we think marketing should own the company website. Marketing. Not engineers or IT. You may have heard me say this somewhere else, but this isn’t just our opinion. We’ve learned this from listening to CMOs who’ve smashed their goals, like Elissa Fink, who grew Tableau from a small startup to over $1B in annual revenue (and eventually a major acquisition via SalesForce). As she says, you need to be a master of your martech stack to drive growth, and the foundation of that stack is your website.
In this digital age, the web is where all your marketing efforts go to die—or, where you convert visitors to customers. It’s the virtual food you serve to keep those visitors coming back for more. If you don’t have control over what’s being served, you aren’t going to be able to deliver the right experience, nor will you be able to innovate.
It goes beyond ownership, though. To provide the food that satisfies, in a setting that makes each visitor feel personally acknowledged and served, you need budget. To obtain—and retain—that budget, you need to prove that your slice of the corporate pie is driving corporate growth, consistently. Because really, that’s what matters to the folks doling out the cash. As Elissa says, being agile and innovative are important, but those are ultimately a means to an end; these are critical attributes in service of growth.
Cost Center or Growth Driver?
All website teams are seen as one of two things:
A cost center: This is where most web teams fall. Costs add up when maintaining developers, designers, redesign budgets, software licenses, hosting, data platform investments, and so forth.
A driver of growth: This is what the leading web teams are seen as. These teams drive the principal way an organization attracts and converts its customers—online.
As technology becomes more and more efficient and expectations rise, teams in that cost center position will have increasing pressure put on their budget. As formerly innovative tactics become commodified, there’s constant downward pressure on what people expect to pay for a given capability. Simultaneously, there are diminishing returns as the market becomes more saturated, making it harder and harder to justify maintaining existing outlays. Not a comfortable position to be in.
However, if you’re responsible for growing the business, you get to set the strategy, you get to eat first, and you get the budget you need to make your strategy successful. But, that’s not easy.
According to Gartner, “CMOs remain positive about budgetary growth despite marketing budgets dropping to their lowest levels since 2014. The writing has been on the wall for some time: Marketing budget growth has stalled.“1
At Pantheon, we believe that CMOs have work to do to convince their CEOs of the return on investment for increased spend. They also have work to do to convince their CIOs that they can handle the responsibility. If this sounds familiar to you, you need to secure a seat at the table.
Where’s Your Seat at the Table?
Okay, so you want to own the website, to be accountable for results and use it to drive growth. You want to set the menu that attracts and feeds visitors via SEO/SEM, social media, and paid campaigns. What are the challenges to getting that seat?
#1 Things are on fire.
The website is slow, or it goes down. Fire.
You can’t get anything published, and your campaigns are languishing. Fire.
Your team is constantly working to correct errors and bugs that show up unexpectedly in production. Fire.
It’s hard to do anything, let alone sit at the table and have leaders take you seriously, when your kitchen is on fire. If you don’t have this stuff under control, you don’t have credibility.
Many marketers are (rightly) concerned with being on the hook for mission-critical technology that’s under constant public scrutiny. They dread the late night call from the CEO asking why there’s downtime, or pointing out a bug on a new campaign landing page. That’s why so many continue to abdicate ownership to IT, or accept a status quo that delivers stability at the expense of velocity.
#2 You are perpetually behind the expectations of stakeholders.
Everyone cares about your website, from your C-level executives to your sales teams, human resources, product development, product marketing, and interns. They all care deeply, because this is the face of your organization to the world.
This is a great thing, except when it isn’t—which is when they all have high hopes and expectations for how great the website is going to be, and you can’t meet them.
That’s the problem with solving a “burning platform” problem by locking things down, whether that’s by outsourcing to IT or doing so yourself: you immediately fall behind. A website that’s unreliable is a black eye on marketing, but so is one that’s frozen in time.
If you can’t be responsive to requests from stakeholders, you aren’t credible. More importantly, when you’re buried under their backlog, you don’t have any bandwidth to push forward your own ideas and prove your mettle. If you aren’t able to demonstrate the value of your creativity, you’ll never have your seat at the table.
#3 You aren’t tied to a growth goal. (This is the most important one, but who has time for it, given #1 and #2.)
Imagine it’s the end of next year, and you are sitting down with your boss to talk about how great the year was and what you and your team accomplished. You aren’t explaining issues with quality or reliability, or re-hashing deadlines and difficult triage decisions. You’re not talking about outputs (or the lack thereof); you’re talking about the outcomes you were able to drive.
If you were at the table, those things you accomplished would be key performance indicators (KPIs) associated with growing the business. People at the table own growth KPIs. That’s why they are at the table.
For companies, it’s leads and revenue.
For nonprofits, it’s usually fundraising or list-building.
For media companies, it’s content engagement and visitor loyalty.
You get the idea.
Do you own a KPI? If yes, amazing. You’re one of the lucky few. That’s in part because websites have so many stakeholders, and because many websites are still seen as legacy tools. Even highly effective web teams often lack this kind of “north star” goal to guide their activities.
If that’s the case for you, then we’ll probably see each other again in a future blog post. If you’re earlier on your journey and looking for a partner to help you take control and get ahead of your stakeholders, we’re here to talk.
1 Gartner for Marketers “CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020: CMOs Double Down on Digital Channels and Analytics, but Fail to Plan for Tough Times Ahead,” Ewan McIntyre, Anna Maria Virzi, 2020. https://www.gartner.com/en/marketing/research/cmo-spend-survey-2019-2020
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