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An Executives View: Managing an Internet Marketing Department

In 2007 we made the decision to start an Electronic Marketing department. It was a big discussion for the company. Throughout our history we were and still are a marketing company. We spent upwards of 20% of our revenue on marketing and 99% of it was spent on direct mail marketing, basically brochures and catalogs going out in the mail. We realized solid returns, and we still do.

As most marketers know, the biggest challenge with direct mail marketing is risk. You spend a significant amount of money upfront in the hopes of generating revenue 6+ weeks later. You make a mistake and you pay for it dearly. So, although it works and is VERY repeatable, scalable and measurable, it is risky and expensive. So the allure (siren song) of a less expensive way to generate leads and sales became too great and we jumped.

The first thing an executive must realize when starting an Internet Marketing Department is there is absolutely no way you can learn what you need to learn fast enough to be considered knowledgeable in this space. So you must go into the development of this team with more trust than you might normally. To mitigate your risks you may try the following start up strategies:

  1. Invest in the training and growth of a trusted marketing resource that is technically competent and very interested in Internet Marketing. This is a slower process, but will pay large dividends in the long run
  2. Select a trusted recruiter who knows your company’s culture and give them a very specific profile of what you are looking for. You want to make sure when recruiting that you are hiring integrity, as well as talent
  3. Do not try to start up a relationship with an agency without having a properly skilled resource in place. This personally burned me in 2006 to the tune of $12,000. An agency is NOT a silver bullet. They can conduct the work, but they need content and direction from you. If you do not know what you are doing, they can’t do their job. I think an agency can really help support your growth, but you must have an experienced and knowledgeable internal professional directing that agency before taking that step

Once you get your resource in place they need a budget to start testing. Realize that you will NOT see instant return from this testing process, but as with in anything in marketing, if you can capture the data you must test to learn. So during this process you have to continue to TRUST your resource. Remember you are not the expert in Internet Marketing, but you are the expert in your company, and hopefully in management skills. So your job is to provide this resource CONTENT and solid direction.

One of the key terms I learned to use with our Internet marketing team is ROT (Return on Time). Some Internet marketing tactics can be VERY time consuming. A good Internet marketing practitioner has to watch out for those time suck activities and keep them in balance with other activities that are quicker and more scalable and repeatable.

An example of this is the difference between work on twitter and work on email marketing. It is very quick and easy to start up an email marketing process and returns happen pretty quickly. Twitter, although easy to set up takes a lot of care and feeding to begin to generate conversations and conversions, but once you do generate traction those contacts are sticky. Both are just a part of an overall Internet marketing strategy but some practitioners get caught up in one or another and waste time.

There is a tendency with practitioners to focus initially and exclusively on the social media tools (like twitter) because they are fun, cool and different, and miss out on the quick initial returns of email marketing and PPC. A good executive will watch for this and help direct the team to diversify their time and strategy to manage their ROT (return on time) with a good mix of quick time on return but less sticky activities with long time on return but ultimately very sticky activities.

An executive starting up an Internet marketing team must suppress the typical executive tendency of leading like a dictator and must lead like a coach. A coach understands they can’t perform for the team. They don’t have the skills of the players. But a coach does understand they have experience and perspective the players do not, and a coach needs to use those tools to support and motivate the players.

In this model the executive turned Internet marketing team coach must pick out a trusted professional to lead the Internet marketing team, and provide this person with training and education to grow as a practitioner. They must allow their chosen ‘captain’ to make the agency decision, then provide the captain with a budget to begin testing and learning. From there the ‘coach’ needs to be patient and not expect instantaneous resources, but at the same time make sure the captain is looking at ROT (return on time) and keeping their efforts diversified.

If you take these initial steps from here you will move from a testing and learning budget to a production budget where you can begin tracking metrics and seeing strong returns. We have yet to prove that Internet marketing can replace the scale and repeat of direct mail marketing, but it does a tremendous job of adding high margin incremental revenue, which is a fantastic start.

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