Do More with Less: Positioning your Marketing Department as Profit Center Enablement

Communicate your program's value to defend or grow your marketing budget

My last post in the Do More with Less series focused on exploring different budgets to fund your SEO program.

In this post, I’ll share some ideas on how to communicate the value of your program differently in order to defend or grow the budget you already have.

The central point we’ll explore is:

How can marketing align as closely as possible with key profit centers, as well as be defined as a critical profit center itself?

Table of Contents:


What's the difference between a profit center and a cost center?

Profit Center

Per Investopedia, a "profit center" is defined as:

"A branch of division of a company that directly adds or is expected to add to the entire organization’s bottom line.”

Profit Center Examples:

- Sales
- Product Development
- Customer Support

Cost Center

Per Investopedia: 

“a cost center is a department or function within an organization that does not directly add to profit, but still costs the organization money to operate.”

Cost centers are often critical functions of a successful business, but not ones that directly drive revenue and so often these are the first areas explored for cuts when budgets shrink.

Cost Center Examples:
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
- Accounting
- Finance
- Legal

Is Marketing a profit center or a cost center?

The classic SEO answer: It depends.

This can be defined from organization to organization, and often depends on the ethos of the leadership team. Two examples:

Profit center marketing team

Supporting direct transactions of revenue.

Example: optimizing web pages that directly convert into revenue, that speaks to a direct line of profit.

Cost center marketing team

If marketing is supporting lead generation for revenue.

Example: optimizing web pages that convert and then need to be nurtured and closed by a Sales team, you can argue the path isn’t direct.

It depends on how you communicate your value

Given this, the first priority for those exploring this concept is to ensure you are communicating your value in a way that connects your work to direct revenue.

Think about the role your team plays in acquiring new customers, but also the role it may play in retaining customers or growing the LTV of customers (profit-driving activities).

Connect your work to direct revenue by enabling agreed upon profit centers

Once you have all the basic outputs and outcomes of profit-driving activities broken out to communicate your department’s value, it’s time to take the next step.

Your program's value story should be more nuanced than the revenue or leads driven from the website.

Start to think about the role you do (or can) play in enabling your organization’s core profit centers like Sales or Customer Service.

How can Marketing Enable a Sales Department?

The sales team is typically an agreed upon profit center, as it's easily measured in revenue. Tying marketing to sales can be a valuable way marketing teams latch on to supporting profit of the business.

What are the common needs of a Sales department?

  • Leads that close (measured in win rate)
  • Leads that close quickly (measured in avg. close time)

How can marketing help be an accelerant for Sales?

  • Improved quality of leads (so they win more of them)
  • Increased efficiency (so they're won more quickly)

Increase your sale's team's win rate by creating content that qualifies

How can your marketing team improve lead quality? When business is booming, bad leads are worse than noise. They become a distraction that may prevent a sales department from reaching their full potential. When business is struggling and lead volume slows down, the bar quietly lowers and that same sales department may be willing to have conversations with a different quality of lead.

The question is, how can marketing support this? How can you update web content as opportunistically as possible to allow users to self-identify if your solution is right for them? Again, this can be achieved by focusing on the user journey and the content strategy that exists within that user journey.

Measuring Impact: Goals should shift as priorities of the business shift. In good times, lead quality may be the prime KPI we’re optimizing towards. In difficult times, we may shift to lead volume. We know a good SEO strategy is more of a cruise ship than a speed boat: It’s very difficult to pivot on a dime. But this is less about taking a hard right towards optimizing for different keywords, and more about how we speak to the users already finding themselves on the site.

Decrease your sale's team's close time by creating content that closes

How can your marketing team save the sales team time? What are the concepts they spend the most time explaining? What are the most common objections heard and how do they approach those objections? What are the most common disqualifiers that slip through the cracks?

Content marketing teams are distinctly qualified to create solutions to these problems. What content can be created and integrated into your current user journey? How can we improve current pages to speak to nuances that take a while to spell out in the sales process?

Measuring Impact: Work with your sales department on some common assumptions. If Concept A often takes a heavy 60 minute call to work through, and we can create content that sets the stage enough to turn that into a 30 minute call, let’s consider that 30 minutes saved for the Sales team. Caveat the assumptions to the degree that they are both representative of the impact but realistic.

How can Marketing enable a Customer Support department?

Customer support is often the red headed step child of the organization (and as a red headed step child myself, I feel comfortable using that language). It’s often understaffed and underfunded, but it plays a critical role in the success of an organization. This is a group that is no stranger to the idea of doing more with less, and so how can we help as a marketing department?

What are the common needs of a Customer Support department?

  • Solving customer issues
  • Solving customer issues quickly

How can marketing help be an accelerant for a Customer Support department?

  • Get solutions into the hands of more customers
  • Get ahead of common issues

Decrease the amount of issues your Customer Service team needs to solve by creating solution content

How can your marketing team collaborate with customer support to reduce calls and emails altogether? Helping make their calls easier is great, but avoiding calls altogether is even better.

There should be a strong feedback loop between marketing and customer support. If this is an effort to position your department as profit center enablement, then meet them where they are.

[TIP] Take the initiative to create and maintain the feedback loop

Here are some ideas on what can be shared back and forth:

Marketing can share: relevant site search data with customer support, focusing on site searches that don’t yield results (or don’t yield quality results). Quickly analyze and bring ideas to the CS team: Which of these questions and topics do you get the most questions about? Marketing can then create content to answer these queries

Customer Support can share the most frequent issues they hear about. Some we won’t be able to support (i.e. how do I track my package) but others represent opportunity (is Product A or Product B a better fit for my needs).

Measuring Impact: For new pages or newly optimized pages, track how many conversions take place where one of these pages is touched as part of the journey. Establish a fair assumption for the role that page may have played in the overall conversion funnel, and take credit for it.

Decrease the time it takes your Customer Service team to solve new issues with data

How can your marketing team empower your customer support team to get ahead of new trends? Customer support teams generally know their audience better than anyone in the organization, but in times of great labor turnover, the knowledge transfer can be difficult.

Luckily, there’s another team mildly obsessed with tracking trends: Your digital marketing team. Whether you’re investing in sophisticated market analysis or doing quick and dirty monthly MSV tracking, your SEO team likely has some ideas for when interest spikes for certain categories.

This can help your CS agents be better prepared for new questions that may hit their team.

Measuring Impact: This is highly dependent on how your customer support department is currently tracking and measuring impact. These teams today are often understaffed and overworked, and so setting up a new measurement strategy is not likely in the cards. Something as simple as a recurring survey to the team to speak to how helpful the support has been / how often the support was used could be your best bet.

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Alisa Scharf
Alisa Scharf
VP, SEO + Generative AI