I just presented the keynote at the European Conversion Summit in Frankfurt, Germany. It was the best attended conversion-oriented conference I’ve attended to date. In a discussion with the conference organizer, André Morys, about the number and backgrounds of the people attending, André apologized that Germany was at least two years behind the United States. Baloney! I told him I couldn’t agree and that I was very impressed with the number and quality of people in attendance.

Nevertheless, I told André the biggest obstacles his conference and his company face when focusing on conversion. How many people in the room actually have “conversion” in their title? For search conferences, you have directors and managers of search; PPC managers. At social media conferences, you have those whose titles include social media or community. At web analytics conferences, you have marketing analysts.

But who owns “conversions” in your organization?

Do a search on Indeed.com for a job listing with:

“search” – 165,252
“search engine”- 11,467
“SEO” – 7,966
“SEM” – 4,592
“PPC” – 1,996
“social media” – 29,170
“online community manager” – 17,401
“web analytics” – 16,691
“conversion optimization” – 2,348
“landing page optimization” – 907
“multivariate testing” – 885

E-commerce managers may be responsible for revenue; merchandisers for the product selection and presentation; user experience and development teams for the experience; and analytics for measurement, but it’s unclear who owns the crucial multi-disciplinary function of conversion.

I have seen a handful of companies with individuals who have conversion in their title but they are quite rare. In those companies that do, their conversion people have access to tools and resources that demonstrate a very different corporate metabolism than those that don’t have them. These companies are also passionate about being customer focused and data driven, testing continuously, understanding lifetime value, and are quick to act. Most companies aren’t structured to make conversions a core responsibility. They may assign “conversions” to the PPC manager or even the director of analytics, but they only look at it from their narrow vertical and they aren’t given the resources needed to gather the insights, to create and modify landing pages, and to set up personalization and go beyond landing pages into complex testing of customer paths.

An Econsultancy study found that 48 percent of companies do not think they have direct control over conversion. In fact, this is why most companies spend about $92 to drive visitor traffic but less than $1 to convert them.

When my brother Jeffrey and I first began evangelizing for conversion optimization in the late 1990s, most companies had dreams of the “new economy” and accompanying fantasies of “eyeballs” being the most important metric; we naively saw this as a C-suite responsibility. Today, most organizations have many people responsible for driving traffic but virtually no one responsible for converting that traffic into revenue. In the offline world’s equivalent, there is an executive responsible for sales (conversions) and an executive responsible for marketing, but online marketers have no counterpart.

We do know how and why this responsibility has escaped the C-suite’s notice – they don’t understand that they can control conversion. How else can you explain the average e-commerce conversion rate at 3 percent while market leaders consistently convert 15 percent and upwards?

The C-suite doesn’t know how to get their organizations there, and there aren’t really a lot of people out there with the skills and experience to train departments to become masters of the various disciples required of conversion optimization. Most are afraid to raise their hands and ask the right questions out of fear of demonstrating ignorance. It isn’t all their fault.

Online success and the meteoric growth rate the online channel has enjoyed masked the need to “grok” conversion. But as today’s paid traffic experiences cost inflation and as traffic continues to fragment with the growth of social media channels, companies are coming to the realization that conversions can’t be ignored.

In my first ClickZ column on January 8, 2001, I wrote:

For all that’s being written about various marketing strategies, success in e-business, as in any business, isn’t about marketing or about design; it’s about sales.

Ultimately, it’s about the conversion rate: the percentage of visitors your site can turn into buyers. Lots of dot-coms have turned into dot-bombs because even though they spent tons of money on “sexy” designs and tons more driving traffic to their sites, they overlooked the tiny fact that they needed to sell to visitors once they arrived at the site. The sad thing is, many of those visitors would have bought happily and could have left delighted.

Many struggling dot-coms would be successful if they woke up to e-sales, and many failed dot-coms would still be around if they had done the same. Don’t get me wrong. Marketing is an essential part of the e-commerce equation. Marketing paves the way for sales. But it’s only where sales and marketing overlap that buying happens.

Are conversions and sales your job? If so, please introduce yourself.

If not, what are you doing to increase your conversion rates, and do you wish your company would and could do more? Please let me know in the comments below.