I rarely get new questions I haven’t written about before in this column – as I approach my 11th year as a ClickZ columnist. Yet, at SES Chicago this week, one of the attendees asked me how you go about building out a marketing optimization team. What kind of people do you need? What kind of backgrounds should they have? I know I’ve discussed this with clients but I haven’t written about it before.

First, please notice that, I did not call the team the landing page optimization team or the conversion optimization team. This organizational monstrosity is part of the we-work-in-silos-but-pretend-to-cooperate mentality that produces poor and disconnected experiences for customers. For digital marketing efforts to maintain consistency across all channels, traffic generation needs to be intimately connected to your website and if appropriate your offline experience – after all those are the experiences promised. Never forget that your website is the glue that binds all your channels together.

Jeffrey Eisenberg, my brother, likes to remind people that in our increasingly transparent experience economy marketers are no longer paid to make promises that the business has no intention of keeping. If you’re still in an organization that thinks they can promote their way to success, bail now. Experience is what matters and you better deliver better than what you promise or the world will quickly know.

Is building a successful optimization team possible? Yes! Based on my experiences working with and training successful optimization teams and the research I have seen from eConsultancy and MarketingSherpa on the topic I can tell you how to make optimization succeed.

The first and most critical position is to have someone at a Vice President or above level that is in control over conversion rates directly responsible for your optimization efforts. They along with their staff (we’ll discuss shortly) should all be incentivized directly based on their results of improving conversion rates and revenue. The KPI should relate to marketing efficiency. There are a few ways to calculate this but gross margin over marketing expenses is my favorite.

This leader should be the online equivalent of your offline VP of Sales. This executive should have direct accountability to someone in the C-Suite who supports the effort. This person should be both extremely curious and driven. This person should also possess a high degree of empathy for the customer and the customers’ experience. This person is also a competent jack of all trades with significant understanding of online marketing methods including: search engine marketing (SEO & PPC), affiliate marketing, display, social media, etc. They’ve probably been reading a bunch of the books on this list I put together. They will need to work collaboratively with all those teams and the web analytics group to segment and continuously tweak both the traffic driving efforts along with the site experience efforts.

I’m not done. This person should be comfortable working with a variety of methods of identifying insights and optimization techniques. Econsultancy’s 2011 Conversion report found that companies whose conversion rates have improved over the previous 12 months are using on average 26% more methods to improve conversion than those companies whose conversion rates have not improved.

Irrespective of the leader of the team; it is very important that the culture of your organization allow for intelligent risk taking so that this person is empowered to try radical efforts to improve conversions and not simple methodical efforts. A strong analytic background is truly not required. Nevertheless, this person should have the ability to be able to use data to tell the story of what is happening to your visitors based on that data they gather themselves or they get directly from an analyst. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much more important it is to be connected to the narrative of the experience than the data it leaves as residue.

This is generally why most traditional web analysts don’t make for good optimization team leaders. They love the data diving but not the storytelling and brand value.

This person must also have the authority to draw upon a steady stream of talent ranging from web analysts, creative resources (designers, copywriters, videographers, merchandisers, etc) as well as IT resources in order to be able to execute on a continuous basis. Ideally there are resources dedicated to the optimization team but they can be shared as long as there is a strong value placed on prioritization and execution in the organization. This team should not exist as a vacuum within the marketing organization but should draw upon the knowledge and experience of the media team including search, display, email, affiliates and even offline media. The research shows that organizations that have more people dedicated to improving conversion rates tend to improve their conversion rate the most. Not a big surprise I am sure.

Lastly, in order to be successful you need the tools in place to have the agility to gather insights, create ads and landing pages (or paths), refine marketing campaigns and pages, launch tests, & segment and personalize web site experiences and are not restricted by the company IT department. Allow this person to be trained and train your team in the art & science of marketing optimization and allow them to create a structured approach to conversion and you can virtually guarantee you’ll squeeze a lot more conversions from all your marketing efforts.

The reality is I have only met a few dozen of these individuals who have this experience over the past decade. I’m sure there are some I haven’t met yet but they are a rare breed. These leaders are going to have to be trained and mentored in order for more companies to see the massive traction that these leaders have brought to their organizations. You can’t outsource this core competency or downplay it.  It’s a serious commitment but one that has a high payout over the long term.

P.S. Ever wonder why the leaders in conversion out-perform the average conversion rates by a factor of 500-1000%? Think compounding! For example a 5% improvement every month for a year is an 80% increase. Steady disciplined optimization is not a project it’s a core competence for industry leaders.