Here’s something that won’t come as a shock to people who work for big companies: not everyone is on-board with the idea of conversion optimization and testing.
In an ideal world, everyone would be excited by a data-driven approach & the idea of building a conversion culture is something the entire organization would be excited about from day one.
BUT this is the real world.
There are egos and opinions and red tape and executives who wet themselves any time there’s even the slightest chance they can be proven wrong.
Even worse, if your company is one with a silo mindset, where designers go over here, marketers are over here & IT belongs in a cave somewhere over there – the thought of even having one cohesive “Conversion Team” might seem laughable, if not altogether impossible.
That was certainly the case for one of the CXL Conversion Course students, who asked:
“How do you get buy-in for research and data-driven hypothesis testing?
And, on the personal level, how do you convince people that CRO is a specialized field that takes a lot of time and effort and experience to learn, so that they look to you instead of just deciding they can do all this themselves?
We have some number of HiPPOs here that prescribe to the belief that web design and UX is something that just anyone off the streets can figure out case-by-case with a little googling – my fear is that they do or will feel the same about conversion optimization.”
Finding The Companies Who Optimize
Realizing this was a much bigger problem we’ve yet to address, Peep took to Twitter and asked:
Looking for an in-house optimizer in a big company for a blog post on selling CRO internally. Know anyone?
— Peep Laja (@peeplaja) April 17, 2014
The criteria for participating in this was that:
- Your company has to have over 100 employees
- You’re actively doing conversion testing
- You’ve previously seen results & have plans to expand your efforts in the future
While we had a number of people respond, only 2 companies had the time to help us fully understand their journey to begin conversion testing.
The Story of How Iztok Sold CRO Within An Airline.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
The Marketing department is “in charge” of eCommerce, but eCommerce sales results aren’t doing anything.
Marketing tries to do eCommerce their own way, IT doesn’t listen & support, and now there’s a monumental clash between the two departments… Ultimately, nothing gets done.
This was what Iztok Franko, the current director of IT & Marketing at Adria airlines was facing before the idea of “conversion rate optimization” ever came up internally.
Trying to find more ways to increase his companies eCommerce conversion rates, Iztok searched & eventually he found Peep’s Book – How To Build Websites That Sell: The Scientific Approach To Websites.
He loved the book & the CRO mindset right away because it’s specific, measurable & results driven.
Internally, Adria was able to summarize eCommerce by one simple equation:
Visitors *conversion rate *Average Order Size = Revenue
When I asked him what the internal team member’s initial reaction was like, he sent me this:
Convincing The CEO
Surprisingly, convincing the CEO wasn’t that hard.
Iztok said, “We ensured the CEO that conversion optimization would increase sales. We first provided some quick wins, and emphasized analytics to the point of addiction.”
“We explained CRO as a way of doing e-commerce business, not as a fancy »buzzword«. And it made the snowball roll. CEO loved the initial results, the structured “based on numbers” approach and pushed for more.”
After a few wins proved that in-house CRO wasn’t a fluke, Iztok consolidated IT, eCommerce & Marketing under one umbrella with a single goal – improve sales & conversions.
He told me having eCommerce as the focal point for both Marketing & IT resharpened everyone’s focus and having one united goal has brought on promising (double-digit) growth.
What Worked For Them: Showing Promising Results.
Iztok sought out small wins to convince the people at the top this would be worth everyone’s time. He also used real data to back everything up, rather than getting into an opinionated pissing match with anyone who wanted to throw up any barriers.
The Story Of How Xiaohan & Avvo Embraced Conversion Rate Optimization
Avvo – a legal directory, free legal advice, and lawyer Q&A platform – began focusing on CRO as they transitioned from developing a great product that started growing organically, likely due to finding product/market fit.
Sendi Widjaja, CTO of Avvo, first brought up CRO when he realized that different page types converted ad clicks differently.
For example, some directory pages were resulting in more ad conversions than their advice pages.
Not only did their quantitative data back this up, these findings can be explained through qualitative reasoning.
Customers searching for legal advice are usually performing information searches, while customers searching for lawyers in a specific region or practice are likely conducting transaction searches.
Convincing The CEO
Since Avvo was still in the start-up stage, they were focusing on growing traffic from every angle, yet blindly growing was actually losing them potential conversions that would have been possible through optimizations.
What helped all stakeholders to buy in on this idea was the existing conversion data we had filtered by page type.
Actually seeing the conversion rates allowed them to forecast the ROI on design, content, and optimization investments they made on their site.
Now that CRO was sold, they began optimizing the landing pages that they believed could convert better.
What Worked For Them: Being Smart About ROI.
When you break it down, Avvo’s approach to getting the company to adopt conversion testing was pretty straight forward. Using the existing data they said:
- This is where we are
- This is where we’d like to be
- This is how we plan to get there
- This is who will be involved
- This is how much it’s going to cost
- This will be the ROI if we achieve our target
It’s also important to note that their focus didn’t just seem to be “conversions” but more on an overall user experience.
Having people involved from multiple departments meant there was no “right” answer, but that everyone would have ownership of success, could contribute to their strengths, and test hypothesis where it seemed appropriate.
“In my opinion, conversion rate optimization is a valuable skill for a company to adopt. With the idea of CRO sold, the project managers are able to apply the iterative techniques we used on our directory pages to new page types that are designed to attract and convert traffic.” – Xiaohan Zang, SEO/CRO @ Avvo
What Do The Experts Say?
I wanted to see what agency people had to say about selling CRO in-house, and specifically, those who run agencies who used to be in-house to get their experience.
Angie Schottmuller of Three Deep Marketing was kind enough to give me her input.
“I began my career as an IT application developer and transitioned to online marketing. My experience on both sides helps me recognize communication gaps as well as individually coach the marketing and tech teams on how to request and present information for it to be understood and effective.
In my experience, the in-house CRO role most often originates from within the online marketing or e-commerce team that manages multiple sites. I’ve also seen a growing number of instances where companies with formal analytics or measurement teams introduce a testing/optimization strategist or director role.
How Do You Get Buy In for Research & Data-Driven Hypothesis Testing?
On-going battles for prime real estate, page layouts, copy and imagery persist and often burden cross-functional team performance and relations.
I’ve found the best way to introduce the CRO concept, is simply to remove subjectivity by proposing, “let’s test it!”
Most individuals support that approach and are intrigued by leveraging data to drive decisions. Tests with interesting results quickly get management attention, and an addictive demand for more testing invariably follows. Since the potential scope of testing is vast, it’s important to strategically approach the next step.
I’ve found two principles to be effective:
- Gain alignment that the primary objective of optimization testing is to LEARN.
- Define a strategic roadmap of learnings that could provide the greatest opportunity for improvement.
I openly share the methodologies for doing all of it. Technically, they could attempt to use the info and execute plans by themselves. However, there’s so much “newness” to absorb and exceptions for context, that folks easily get overwhelmed and would rather just ask me than try to figure it out themselves.
Folks new to CRO are often amazed by heatmaps. Being able to translate the complexity of a heatmap is like reading an X-ray. Others see the visual and are fascinated by the colors and details, but they have no idea what the heck it means.
Through sharing my knowledge and insights I make a point that CRO is a highly specialized skill. We’re essentially doctors of marketing science.”
Peep Laja Shares What He’s Learned From Working With CXL.agency Clients
First task: determine whether you’re dealing with testing ignorance or testing opposition.
Companies that struggle with optimization have two kinds of problems: ignorance and opposition. Your number one task is to figure out which of these you are tackling. Once you know, you can choose the right approach.
Ignorance is the better problem to have. That means the CEO and other C-level people are not against optimization, they just have no idea or the wrong idea on what that looks like.
An optimizer who works for a big bank told me their CEO recently proclaimed that they don’t want to have “culture of testing”, but “culture of optimization”.
What’s the difference? According to the CEO: “we won’t test anything, we just make the site better right away through optimization”. This is an example of ignorance. He might mean well, but he is clueless.
If Ignorance Is The Problem, Education Is The Solution. <- Tweet This
In this case, we need to expose the CEO or VP marketing to smart people (someone they respect – often an outside consultant rather than a subordinate), good books or quality conferences. Give them a chance to be the champion of optimization themselves even if you nudged them to the right direction.
As the saying goes, you can get a lot done if you don’t care who gets the credit.
Address Opposition By Combining Data With Emotional Savviness
If testing opposition is the problem, then I feel sorry for you. It’s a tough problem to have. Changing anyone’s mind is very difficult. It’s often about emotional reasoning and egos. And it’s difficult if not downright impossible to change an emotional point of view.
My best tips for getting buy-in from higher ups:
- Show proof that it works. Find the biggest leak in your website, and try plugging it. Either by testing (ideal – but you might not have the budget for a testing tool, although Google Analytics Content Experiments is free) or just implementing something that might plug the leak. If you succeed (and make sure you’re as confident as you can be in your hypothesis – gather lots of data), show your boss what you found, the solution you came up with, and the positive results. Always show revenue gains, not conversion increase percentages.
- Show that others have done it. If you don’t have your own data, show case studies of similar companies who’ve had great results with conversion optimization. Possible threat to watch out for: setting unrealistic expectations to outcomes and if desired results are not achieved soon, it can kill all conversion efforts.
- Show that your competitors are doing it. Lots of C-level executives worry about the competition. If you can find proof that the competitors are doing – perhaps you spot Optimizely code in their website or find a press release talking CRO – that can really help. Nobody wants to be left behind. “Our competitors are now lowering customer acquisition costs and converting better – we need to catch up” is a very powerful argument.
- If you have a boss who always knows what’s right, test his assumptions and share results publicly. Even when you present your data, your boss always knows what will work? Great – create a treatment around his idea and test it against control. Test it properly, and after seeing his hypothesis lose 3-5 times in a row he’ll be open to let you run your data-backed hypothesis. Make sure your hypothesis is solid, you don’t want to hear “told you so”. If he doesn’t agree to testing, sneak behind his back and test anyway. Then share results of his opinions vs evidence-based hypothesis.
Sometimes you can’t win
Sometimes you get the CEO who “manages by walking around”. He/she jumps randomly in to your optimization meeting, and overrules everything. He/she has a big ego, and always knows whats best. Disagreement might cost you your job, or will merely fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to get anything done with such a boss. Especially if they’re the founder of the company – and not going anywhere.
This is not uncommon at all.
I have a story about a client – $30 million / year software company. Their home page had terrible bounce rate – like 85% or something. We analyzed the site, created a design treatment (built based on their brand guidelines) and it beat the control on every metric by 30%, 40% and so on. Great success.
Meanwhile this company gets bought by a private equity group who installs a new CEO. This CEO does not like the look of the new home page. He has their internal designer create a new one – that does NOT follow their own brand guidelines. We get fired in the process.
Another story: a $200 million / year online clothing retailer. The founder of the company is the CEO. Their home page has a slider. Data says clearly that it’s not working. But the owner’s wife likes sliders. He’s not gonna change them since he might have problems with his marriage if he does. So he’s not going to be motivated to do anything about it. The end.
So what do you do when you can’t win?
Life’s too short to work for a dickhead. Go work somewhere where your skills are valued.
Conclusion – Start With Data & Start Small
The consensus seems to be across the board to start with the data you already have, and look for small wins to get people within the organization excited at the idea of testing. If you can run smaller tests, and get those initial wins, those can lead to making a case for investing more in in-house CRO resources.
What challenges have you faced as someone who’s looking for more CRO buy-in within your company?
Or, if you have had success getting your organization on-board with conversion testing, what helped you to successfully get buy-in across the various departments?
Join the conversation
Add your comment
Can you please email me some information on that conversion course?
It’s not quite public yet, but will be launching soon. Keep your eyes open for it ;-)
So far only a test group has been through it, but we’ll do another limited launch end of this month.
I had a client who didn’t want his homepage to be changed, simply because the design was 2 month old and it was too early to be replaced he said. Too bad, I didn’t know any strategy how to win my CRO proposal before. Thanks Tommy, I will study this post thoroughly till I absorb them all.
I think another selling point is that CRO is the only aspect of the whole internet marketing song and dance that you absolutely control.
SEO will always change. You are always at the mercy of Google….their algorithms, their shoving organic results below the fold, etc.
PPC costs will probably inflate forever.
Social seemed good for a while, but now Facebook hardly shows organic posts to anybody.
BUT…..you can always control what happens on your website. Your conversion rates will never be at the mercy of a Google algorithm change, costs of advertising, etc. So CRO can be the one thing that you can rely on – forever.
That’s a great point Barry, and one that can’t be emphasized enough!
Really cool read, we’ve shared this internally to help arm our testing champions.
Awesome! Please report back and let us know how it went!
“This will increase your ROI while also driving down your CAC”
Any business owner that doesn’t respond to that (backed by the mountains of data out there about CRO) probably shouldn’t be running a business ;)
Barry’s point above also resonates with me – very, very true.
Great post. It’s the kind of thing the web (and I) needs more of. Avinash Kaushik, my favourite HiPPO slayer, would be proud. :)
I am interested in the conversion course as well
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