Most corporate tasks have clearly identifiable owners who maintain accountability for those areas of the business. Have a problem employee? Confer with the HR manager. Accounts receivables lagging? See the controller. Network down? Talk to the CIO. It’s not that important who in particular is responsible for what, but rather that someone smart is accountable. However, that’s not always the case at many small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) when it comes to the company website and Internet operations. And the result is usually an underperforming asset.
No Easy Answer
The reason why so many organizations have trouble assigning the website to one individual is because the Internet plays multiple roles within the enterprise. Companies that use the Internet strategically apply it in several areas of the business, including:
• Marketing – The website serves as the organization’s face to the world, and it’s often the first encounter people have with the company, so it serves as a powerful marketing tool. With interactive techniques such as search engine marketing becoming ubiquitous, websites are playing an increasingly important role in lead generation. Other marketing activities that depend on the website include customer relationship management, thought leadership, branding, and public relations.
• Sales & Customer Service – Online sales continue to increase in both the retail and business-to-business sectors. The Internet has emerged as a reliable backbone for many types of purchases, especially recurring ones, and usage is forecast to increase. Websites need constant attention to promote hot products and optimize usability. If users have trouble finding what they want or making a transaction, they go elsewhere.
• Operations – The Internet can be used to streamline HR communications, training, project management, supply chain management, knowledge management, and a variety of other tasks that generally fall under an “operations” umbrella.
Large Company Structure
At large companies, one of the following three groups usually “own” the corporate website:
1. An autonomous “Web” unit that reports to the Chief Marketing Officer.
2. The information technology group.
3. A matrix reporting format that rolls up into both IT and marketing.
Large companies have additional considerations when thinking about the corporate website, such as investor relations or integration with supply chain management systems, but they still need to consider the basics when thinking about Internet strategies: marketing, sales, customer service, and operations.
And even the largest companies continue to wrestle with Web ownership issues. “Web site governance is a tangled, often highly political affair,” commented Senior Vice President David Schatsky, head of research at JupiterResearch and author of Web Site Spending and Governance Trends. “As a result, even very sophisticated companies are challenged to extract the most value from their online presence.”
The SMB Solution
SMBs can learn from the experience of larger companies while benefiting from their relative nimbleness and lack of overhead when it comes to online operations. The Internet should be playing a significant role at SMBs, though its complexity usually doesn’t rival the Web operations at large companies. That means teams can get up to speed quickly on the most salient issues and be able to manage them effectively over time.
Our most successful Web development and marketing experiences at Pixel Bridge have been while working with client teams that consist of a senior executive and a junior staffer. The executive has final decision-making power and the staffer is available to address requests and gather information from all parts of the organization.
The study from JupiterResearch confirms this trend at the big company level: The report recommends that “a single executive be charged with responsibility for maximizing the overall business value of a company’s site, beyond supporting the goals of individual departments or business units that have a stake in the site.”
Though executives at SMBs are typically stretched to the limit, Internet operations require a senior resource to be successful. SMBs that make the Web a priority enjoy real competitive advantage in areas such as general marketing, lead generation, sales, and overall performance.
To that end, we believe Web operations are most effectively managed by a marketing executive at SMBs. The marketing department’s primary functions are lead generation and sales support, and the corporate website should be playing an integral role in those efforts. Marketers have an intimate understanding of website visitor (customers, prospects, press) needs, which are constantly evolving and therefore necessitate regular attention. Internet projects aimed at improving operations can be addressed by the most appropriate groups within the organization, but the website owner should almost always be closely involved in their planning and implementation.