The first step to a successful website testing program is ensuring that you have buy-in from your executives.

However, executive buy-in is important not just for getting your testing and optimization started, it's also crucial for ensuring long-term success both for the testing program—and for those involved in it. (Execs are also in a position to share your testing successes with other people and departments in the organization that you may not reach normally.)

Executive stakeholders will naturally ask questions about how testing is helping the bottom line. For example, a VP of Digital Marketing may want detailed information on how the optimization of lead forms has changed the quantity and quality of qualified leads coming in. Even just simple optimizations of your checkout or registration flow, product pages, and calls to action can help generate more business and increase revenue.

Despite all the potential upside, approaching executives can seem like a nerve-racking proposition and a huge amount of additional work. The intent of this article is to make preparing and talking with your executive team much easier. Accordingly, it's divided into four parts to help you prepare, plan, and ask for stakeholder support for testing:

  1. Selecting executive stakeholders. Determine who is required for getting buy-in for your testing program and who are the optimal executive sponsors to monitor continual testing plans and results.
  2. Research. What materials and information should you have before even approaching an executive stakeholder? This section will help describe all of the preparation research to do ahead of time.
  3. Collaboration. Based on the information you find during research, share that knowledge and talk to colleagues from other departments (Finance, IT, Marketing, Product Management). Getting buy-in from cross-functional roles will be crucial later on; moreover, the questions each person brings up will help you address many of the questions you are likely to face from executives.
  4. The "ask." Many successful sales professionals have heard (and likely used) the phrase "always be closing." Here is your chance to close and approach the appropriate executive stakeholders to get buy-in for testing.

1. Selecting Executive Stakeholders

Before even jumping into research, you may be wondering who is the right stakeholder, or set of stakeholders, from whom to get buy-in. Because of the dynamic nature of organizations, myriad possible roles, and varying company size, it's difficult to give one answer that applies to everyone.

However, here are some tips to help you find the right stakeholders:

  1. Determine who has budget responsibility for specific functions (such as digital marketing, IT, and finance) and also for internal tools the company uses.
  2. What are the metrics those people use to define success? How do others define their performance? In the end, although we are all measured by different metrics, some are more "data-driven" than others. For example, if one of the stakeholders you are approaching cares deeply for (or is measured by) your company's Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric, then be prepared to talk about how testing, targeting, and personalization can actually improve that NPS score.
  3. Determine the optimal number of stakeholders. Though you may have to brief multiple people for buy-in, you may want only one or two of those stakeholders on your "executive sponsor" team. I would suggest that two executive sponsors is the optimal number, with one executive more marketing-focused and the other more finance-focused. That approach creates good contrast and allows for perspective into distinct areas of the business that will support your testing efforts.

Although this planning phase may take a significant amount of time to complete, it will streamline the remainder of the process for getting buy-in. Next, it's time to jump into research.

2. Research

This phase is perhaps the most important part of the process. If done well, it can help build a strong foundation for testing and will help in the later stages of buy-in for the program.

Your research should be aimed at answering three main questions.

1. What points does each major stakeholder care about, and what information is available to help prepare ahead of time?

For example, your CFO or VP of finance is likely going to care about software cost, and expected ROI, whereas your VP of IT will care much more about implementation requirements, SLA details, page-load times, and security. Based on whom you have identified as stakeholders, ensure you are gathering information that matters to them.

2. What is the overall ROI achieved by companies using testing, targeting, and personalization solutions?

Some potential resources to help answer that question:


3. What, if anything, are our competitors using?

Vendors will generally list clients on their website, and that's a good place to start. The list can also be important for social proof and ensuring that stakeholders can feel comfortable with testing vendors.

There are also tools online, such as and, that analyze websites and show which technologies a particular site is using. To start, simply type in a few of your competitor's URLs and see which tools they use.

These tools are very comprehensive and will identify much more than just testing, targeting, and personalization solutions; just be aware that you may have to look around to find your answers.

3. Collaboration

You may have a significant amount of data about testing from the research phase. Search through that data and pull out the key statistics that will provide the foundation of your reasoning for testing. These key statistics will likely differ by role and may also vary by industry, so ensure you have identified those that are most important and keep others close by for reference.

To start, set up informal meetings with colleagues from each department. Or just grab lunch with each of them. This time is intended not only to tell colleagues about the testing initiative but also to solidify in their mind that this will ultimately help drive their business and department results.

When you are meeting with colleagues, be clear about what your goals are for this new program and how it will ultimately help them. For example, if I were meeting with a director of finance at an e-commerce company, I would be sure to mention things such as these:

  • Competitors X, Y, and Z are using testing solutions and all have publicly stated they have seen a 40-115% increase in average order values.
  • Annual tool cost, according to sources, is generally regained within the first month and within the first two testing campaigns.
  • Testing, targeting, and personalization give the marketing team the ability to gain a better data-driven understanding of how visitors are using our site, and to make changes accordingly.

After having one or two successful meetings, ensure that you also bring your direct supervisor or boss into the picture as well. Having the same type of meeting with your can help push your testing goals even further. Ensure in this same meeting that you are clear that the testing program will require devoted resources to get the full benefit.

4. The 'Ask'

Up until this point, you have been gathering a lot of information and sharing some of that information with colleagues. In this phase, you have to convince... and ask for executive buy-in.

Before knocking on the door of your executive stakeholders and sharing all of the information you've found, it's best to put together a presentation that explains website optimization and how it will help these executives reach their goals.

Once the presentation is finalized, it's time to begin setting up meetings with executive stakeholders and asking for their support.

* * *

In summary, by following this process to prepare and then gain the support of key stakeholders, your chances of starting to build a successful testing program, and culture around testing increase significantly. Your executive stakeholders can be your program's champion, so ensure that you do the correct amount of research, ask the right stakeholders, and then provide clear and open lines of communication about how individual test campaigns and aggregate testing is doing.

Good luck and happy testing!

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image of Jeffrey Vocell

Jeffrey Vocell is the product marketing manager for Web and mobile optimization solution provider SiteSpect, where he's responsible for strategy and communication of product messaging.

Twitter: @JVocell