Web Marketing, Management and Metrics: Questions, Not Answers

Many clients find themselves making critical marketing decisions without having enough data. Even very smart people make bad decisions when they look at a small data set and extend the conclusion across the entire website, or the entire marketing strategy. One client’s marketing team was frustrated by an investor’s insistence that he knew the important keywords for the site optimization…despite detailed research which showed that there wasn’t any search on his search phrases. A CEO promptly lost 17% of his search traffic when he decided what language would go on the U.S. home page. Neither of these men’s decisions could be questioned by their teams, but they certainly got talked about internally.

As the person responsible for the company’s performance, whether in sales, operations or finance, there are ways for your marketing team to contribute significantly to your goals. Web analytics help us understand how prospects are finding you, how they evaluate a purchase decision, how many times they visit before conversion, and where they get confused and abandon the site. But unless you are asking your marketers the important questions, the ones that uncover patterns and smooth the way to purchase, much of this intelligence is not brought to the top. We recently showed a CFO that the month’s sales from paid search exactly matched the cost…a simple coincidence, but it spurred some rethinking which allowed the company to move that investment where it could be profitable in the long term. To his great credit, he is ignoring the need for immediate sales in favor of greater market share.

How Can You Inspire Top Performance?
An anecdotal story about Professor Henry Kissinger tells of him repeatedly returning a paper with a scrawled question, “Is this the best you can do? — K” After two rewrites, including a completely original new thesis and supporting research, the paper still came back: “Is this the best you can do? — K” The poor grad student storms into Professor K’s office, indignant. “Sir, I don’t know how this paper can be improved. I have done my absolute best on it.” Dr. Kissinger says: “Now I will read it.”

The challenge for many leaders today is to ask your direct reports the questions which inspire top performance. “What would you like to try?” “What incentives can we offer to get more traffic?” “Which marketing tactics are leading to sales?” “Where is the website performing poorly?” “What are we doing to improve our performance with mobile?” The smartest person in the room should have questions that take time to answer, and none of us is as smart as all of us. Too often, as the decision maker, the C-level executive thinks a quick decision makes him or her appear to be a better leader. In a marketing environment which is changing constantly, none of us have all the answers…and it doesn’t hurt your image to admit it! For top performance, your company should start by looking for disconnects…when you get a prospect to the site, why do they not opt to become a lead? This is a question with a complex answer, and it may take time and experimentation to find a solution, but it is the one question that must be answered.

As an old Texan marketer taught me, “Success in marketing is all about filling the bathtub. Before you try to get more water out of the faucet, you better figure out how to plug the drain.” In the case of web marketing, all that search traffic is looking for a good solution to their problem. They’re asking the question the best way they know how, and if they found your site, it’s because you say you have an answer. If those sales leads are constantly leaking away, then stop…and start asking your own questions. Better yet, ask the web marketing team to come up with the questions you should be asking!