Should You Hire A Conversion Rate Optimisation Consultant?

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Many organisations are employing conversion rate optimisation specialists to set up CRO programmes. What are the benefits of hiring a conversion rate optimisation consultant or agency? Companies often find that their CRO programmes fail to deliver the benefits they expect. Here are nine reasons why you should hire a conversion rate optimisation consultant or agency.

  1. Strategy First:

A good conversion rate optimisation consultant will insist that you have a clear strategy in place before you spend time and money on tactical changes. Which will only deliver short-term benefits. They will prioritise strategy over tactics as they appreciate the importance of having a compelling value proposition and a good understanding of your audience. A good CRO consultant should for example ensure your strategy is consistent with the common decision style of your market.

Many strategists wrongly assume that customers make independent, considered choices, based upon the qualities of the product or service. This ignores the evidence that many decisions are on the behaviour of others or cognitive biases. Indeed, research indicates that most of our decisions are made by our fast, intuitive brain (see System 1). Rather than our slow, deliberative brain (see System 2). Furthermore, few decisions are made in isolation from what other people are doing or perceived to be doing (Herd, Mark Earls, 2007).

Unless you understand the most common decision style in your market you cannot set an appropriate marketing strategy. Markets following expertise require very different marketing strategies than those who have similar products that require being top of mind. For more details see my post on what is the most effective strategy for innovation.

  1. Consultants Can Challenge The HiPPO: 

Before a meeting colleagues can sometimes be really critical about an idea or policy. Some suggest that they raise their concerns with the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion). However, as soon as the meeting begins and the HiPPO speaks there is lots of support and smiles from everyone in the meeting. It’s as if the discussion before the meeting never happened.

This occurs because organisational culture often discourages dissent and challenging the marketing strategy. Everyone is expected to be “can do people” and see negative implications as “challenges”. Disagreeing with the HIPPO can seriously damage your career prospects. The HIPPO is partly to blame because they frequently become too attached to their own ideas (the IKEA effect). They don’t seek independent validation to check how effective the idea is going to be.

A conversion rate optimisation consultant has the advantage as they challenge the status quo. They identify areas for improvement in how decisions are made and success is measured. Furthermore, everyone knows that they have been hired by a HIPPO and so they usually get good levels of co-operation. They can also claim to be independent and so are less likely to be politically motivated.

  1. Not Emotional To New Designs: 

Andre Morys at Web Arts suggests that most A/B test results are a lie because client-side CRO specialists are too emotionally attached to their own ideas. They naturally base most of their test hypothesis on their own perceptions of what is broken with the website (see confirmation bias). They are too quick to stop tests if they see an uplift.

CRO consultants better understand the dangers of basing test ideas on their own opinions and best practice. Every website is unique, with its own unique set of visitors. It’s best practice is no guarantee of success. A CRO consultant will recommend that A/B testing is based on real insights from user research, voice of the customer feedback and customer analytics. They also have the advantage to evaluate the website more objectively as they have not invested any effort in determining how the site currently looks.

  1. They Can Evaluate A Site From A More Objective Perspective:

When you deal with the same website day after day you become accustomed to how it looks and only notice the same problems. It reminds me of the story of the blind men who were asked to explain what an elephant looks like. As each blind man touched a separate part of the elephant they each had a different opinion of what it looked like. When we work too closely on something we begin to act like a blind person. We have to solve a problem that we cannot see.

This is partly because our brains automatically filter out unimportant details. This is selective filtering or selective attention and prevents our brains from being overloaded with stimuli. It allows us to focus on what our brain decides is most important. People are automatically drawn to movement as from an evolutionary perspective this could signify danger. The more familiar we become with our environment the more we are prone to selective attention and we find that we only see what we expect to see.

A conversion rate optimisation consultant has the benefit of looking at a site from with a fresh perspective and should have fewer preconceptions of what to expect. A good CRO consultant will also value involving a diverse range of people to help evaluate a site (see heuristic evaluation). They will also recommend usability research and customer feedback to provide a more unbiased view of the site.

  1. Focus On Conversion Rather Than Traffic:

Many organisations want more traffic to their sites rather than first fixing their conversion rate. This can be extremely wasteful as a low conversion rate will reduce the benefit you obtain from sending more visitors to your site. A conversion rate optimisation consultant will ensure you give priority to fixing your conversion journeys and improving your conversion rate. Once this is complete you can afford to spend money on traffic with the confidence that it will give a good return on investment.

  1. Measure To Improve:

Client-side CRO specialists can struggle to get the resources or the credit they deserve because they can’t always prove the benefits they deliver. A good conversion rate optimisation consultant will help ensure you have a CRO strategy with clear objectives and goals. They will also insist that you have metrics that are close to your objectives and help you analyse data to identify the true value from meeting your goals.

  1. Provide Extra Resources & Expertise:

As an ex-CRO manager at a large gaming company I understand that a lot of the time you are not optimising your site. But instead are attending meetings, doing admin, giving management updates and dealing with ad-hoc requests. This means that most client-side CRO specialists may only spend 20% of their time setting up and running A/B tests.

Client-side specialists often struggle to find time for more strategic thinking and may be spending too much time on low-payoff tasks. A conversion rate optimisation consultant can provide the extra resource to take a step back and ensure you give priority to higher payoff work. They can also help improve processes and provide new insights into how to improve your CRO programme. As the saying goes “two heads are better than one”.

  1. Focus On What Moves The Needle:

When you are an employee you often have conflicting objectives (e.g. keep the HIPPO happy with their latest ‘big idea’ vs fixing stuff). Unfortunately few people get a promotion for fixing shit. But managers do have a tendency to develop new ‘innovative’ features that nobody actually wants because it may get them a promotion.

However, a conversion rate optimisation consultant focuses on what can deliver the most benefits to the customer and organisation in a sustainable way. This means they will ensure the priority is given to a few objectives that can generate the biggest payoff. As CRO expert Craig Sullivan points out that if you want to have the most impact on your customer experience and increase revenues. You are best giving priority to fixing broken stuff and improving usability first.

  1. Innovation rarely comes from your own sector:

Many companies spend too much time copying their competitors even though they may not know what they are doing either. Benchmarking yourself with competitors will simply destroy value. You end up with almost identical sites and so it reduces differentiation. This can happen because client-side CRO specialists are constantly being asked about what competitors are doing and may not have the time to look outside their own sector.

A conversion rate optimisation consultant has the advantage that they have a wealth of experience from many different sectors and are not tied to an individual brand. They understand that most innovation comes from outside your own sector. This is especially the case with start-ups in emerging sectors. They don’t have to deal with the constraints by brand values, legacy systems and organisational politics that often kill creativity and innovation in established brands.

Conclusion:

There are of course clear benefits to having an in-house CRO specialist. However, it is also important to understand that one person cannot achieve everything on their own. A good conversion rate optimisation consultant can provide the additional resource and expertise to help accelerate your CRO programme. Ensure you prioritise the things that will truly move the needle and impact on the bottom line.

They have the advantage that they can look at your site and your processes with a fresh pair of eyes. By bringing experience from other sectors they can also help you innovate more effectively and avoid the tendency to reduce differentiation by copying from your competitors.

11 Insights From Conversion Elite 2017

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Whenever I attend a conference like Conversion Elite, I like to spend five minutes at the end of the event to write down the big take-outs. This helps me reflect on the key themes and it forces me to consider what I should change or add to my approach to conversion rate optimisation.

Confirmation bias is the big enemy here. It’s especially important to reflect on ideas or practices that contradict my own views about CRO. The temptation is to carry on regardless as that uses much less cognitive energy. But there were some awesome people at Conversion Elite – Manchester, 2017, with valuable insights.

Insights From Conversion Elite:

So, what were the big themes and insights from the conference?

1. Business Optimisation Not Conversion Rate Optimisation!

This was a consistent theme throughout the day that for CRO to have the ear of the board and top executives we need to focus on changing the business through collaboration and experimentation. Rather than simply optimising the conversion rate. For CRO to reach its full potential this requires a cultural change, reforming the business and not the tools.

A number of speakers touched on how working in small cross-functional “growth teams” (e.g. developer, UX designer, copywriter, marketing specialist) is much more efficient and effective than traditional project working. FT.com was sighted by Craig Sullivan in a highly entertaining, but also insightful presentation.

The FT corporate model uses small teams with direct access to publish, an ability to access data directly, autonomy to make decisions and a lack of interference from management to encourage a culture of experimentation. Due to this model they don’t need project managers or business analysts and even have someone in the team who is given the responsibility to tell managers who turn up to meetings to f*** off!

2. Customer Centricity:

User centricity means designing stuff for customers rather than for internal stakeholders. Too often features and new products are added for internal stakeholders because that’s what customers need or want. Rather than fixing or improving the existing product, managers often decide to pour money and resources into launching a shiny new feature. This is because it is seen as sexier, rather than dealing with existing shit.

3. Fix Shit First.

On a similar vein Craig Sullivan pointed out that the biggest problem facing users is broken shit and poorly designed user experiences. All too often people focus on persuasion and motivation of visitors rather than fixing and improving usability. If you want to shift the needle you are much more likely to achieve this by addressing these two issues first.

4. Accessibility Is Often Neglected:

Abi Hough delivered an excellent presentation reminding us that we are all getting older. For an increasing proportion of web users accessibility is limited in some way. More than one in seven people in the UK have some kind of permanent disability. This includes 6.1m users who have impairments that affect the way they use the internet. Many users also suffer from temporary or circumstantial disabilities caused by such factors as the weather, noise pollution and alcohol.

Image of ways of checking for accessibility on a website from Abi Hough

Source: Abi Hough, Endless Gain, Conversion Elite 2017

5. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) Editors Have Their Limitations:

Although WYSIWYG visual editors make building A/B tests easier, they can create problems for more complicated tests. Annemarie Klaassen gave the example of a test on a travel website where the images change on a regular basis. Using a visual editor rapidly resulted in a mass of code that started to slow the page down as each update replicated code used by the editor. So, only use visual editors for simple tests and learn to code or get a developer to code more difficult tests.

6. Go To A Company That Values CRO:

A number of speakers talked about how many companies don’t get CRO, are not customer centric and lack a culture that encourages experimentation. There was a general consensus that in the long run these companies won’t survive as they will be squeezed out by more customer centric and experimental organisations. So, if you work for a company that does not value CRO and isn’t customer centric the conclusion was that you are better off moving to somewhere that does put the customer first.

7. Review Where Your Organisation Stands On CRO:

Even if your organisation is moving towards becoming more customer centric. It is worthwhile taking a step back and conducting an evaluation of where exactly you stand. Paul Rouke, and Nathan Timmins presented a powerful case study of Sun Transfers and how PRWD used their conversion optimisation Maturity Model to identify areas for improvement. The CRO Maturity Model offers a great framework for evaluating how much or little progress your organisation has made to becoming a customer centric business.

Image of 21 assessment points from PRWD CRO maturity model

Source: Paul Rouke & Nathan Timmins, Conversion Elite, 2017

8. Customer Willingness To Put Up With Friction Is Not An Indication Of Goodwill:

Management often confuse a willingness of customers to put up with a poor user experience with goodwill and loyalty. This is delusional because behaviour is driven by our motivations and not goodwill. If a customer is determined to get their son or daughter a certain present for Christmas they will jump through hoops to get it. This has nothing to do with “goodwill”. Companies that don’t reduce friction to a minimum will suffer in the long run. Even the most motivated customer will gradually find other sites that are easier to transact on.

9. Too Much Focus On Acquisition:

Jeffrey Eisenberg highlighted how often CRO is too focused on acquisition and how he has been working with a company that sees a huge fall off at activation. Companies spend large sums of money acquiring customers. But don’t pay enough attention to engaging with them and retaining them for the long term. Jeffrey also arranged for signed copies of his new book Be Like Amazon to be won during the conference.

10. Sample Pollution Affects A/B Testing:

Annemarie Klaassen highlighted the dangers of sample pollution in A/B testing. This can be from by a number of factors including users clearing their cookies, incognito browsing, cross-device usage, cross-browser usage and customer journey effects. When you have indications that suggest high sample pollution it is worth trying to test for as few weeks as possible, test on 100% of traffic, keep to just one variation if possible and test bolder changes.

11. Test Concepts Not Just Variations:

To really make an impact on the business try testing concepts rather than variations of a variable. Be bold and test hypothesis over years to make an impact for the long term rather than just for a few months. Amazon for example created Amazon Prime as a concept to test and now achieves a conversion rate of 74 per cent.

Image of Amazon Prime interstitial after proceed to checkout

Source: Amazon.co.uk

Conclusion:

The key theme from the conference is that CRO requires a change in mind set to make organisations more customer centric. For growth this requires breaking down internal silos and working in small cross-functional teams with autonomy to focus on outcomes. What many companies do is to focus on short-term business needs of cutting costs or persuading more customers to buy merchandise that may not be in their best interests. This is not sustainable in the long run. Instead organisations need to change their focus to what is the primary concern of their customer and changes will then automatically become more relevant and create more value for the business in the long run.

Featured image by Conversion Elite now known as Experimentation Elite