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Business Wisdom June 20, 2014

Why Your Brain is the Best CRO Tool


In a data-driven field like Conversion Rate Optimization, when you run optimization experiments, the more effective variant will take precedence over your “gut feeling”. Optimization tests are run primarily because, regardless of how you feel about a particularly colored button, a 10% increase in conversions is far more compelling than “I like this one better than that one”. But even in the heavily quantified CRO field, our feelings, intuition, and human insights shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ask yourself:

  • How do you plan on designing an A/B test without first understanding who will be taking it?
  • Why would they ever want to go through your gauntlet of forms, links, and clicks? What is their goal? It isn’t to satisfy your definition of a conversion!
  • When they get there, what is it they will have accomplished?
  • What are their future expectations?

Lincoln Murphy is a “Customer Success Evangelist” at Gainsight, a conversion optimization platform that focuses on reducing churn, identifying up-sell, and increasing adoption. Prior to joining Gainsight, he spent five years at Sixteen Ventures helping grow over 300 SaaS companies through a combination of conversion rate optimization, growth hacking, and customer success.

When we asked about his favorite and most used CRO tools he gave us the following thought-provoking response:

Lincoln Murphy

When it comes to my favorite CRO tools, it totally depends on what conversion rate I’m optimizing.If we’re talking about increasing the number of email addresses collected from a landing page vs. the number collected from a blog, while the goal is the same, the tools and tactics I use will be different.

If we’re talking about getting a "visitor" to take their first action vs. a "lead" to take the final action towards becoming a paying customer, again, the tools and tactics used will be different.

Also consider that “conversions” don’t stop once users are paying customers. We need to consider a conversion as an action a user takes to move them along a particular trajectory rather than arriving at their final destination. There are additional, optimize-able tasks that are required such as: on-boarding, continued engagement, spreading the word, and successive purchases.

In any and all cases, my first and most frequently used conversion optimization tool is my brain. I use it to help me work towards discovering the following essential pieces of information:

Ideal Customer Profile

It’s absolutely critical to start by defining who your target consumer is.

  • Who am I talking to?
  • Who am I putting an offer in front of?
  • Who am I trying to get to take this action?

I like to get really granular here; I drill down to the targets’ most distinct features and at some point -- where I don’t know for sure -- this becomes a hypothesis to test. A lot of folks are afraid of narrowing things down to one Ideal Customer -- even if just for a single campaign -- and that’s due to FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out). They think that if they focus on only one type of customer, they’ll miss out on all the rest. But the reality is, when you don’t focus, and instead try to be everything to everyone, you end up making a connection with no one. When that happens, I guarantee you’re missing out. You’re missing out on every one of those people who are, in fact, your ideal customer.

How to Empathize

Once you know who you’re talking to, it’s time to get in their head.

  • Why would they take the action I want them to take?
  • What does the conversation sound like in their mind?
  • What are they feeling right now as we enter each other’s worlds?
  • What are you displacing in their world?
  • What are the switching and sunk costs that you have to overcome to get them to try your product?

And coming back to the previous section, it’s very difficult to be empathetic when you don’t know who you're talking to.

Customer Success

Understand that your goals are not the same as your customers’ goals.

  • What does "Success” look like for my Ideal Customer in the context of using my product?
  • What do they actually want / need to achieve with my product?
  • What does my Ideal Customer have to do to become successful with my product?
  • What are the steps they need to take to buy, get started, use, advocate, and buy more?

Rarely does someone simply just want to use your product just for the sake of using your product. Even if you’re selling a Lamborghini, and even if someone wants to drive it just because it’s a Lamborghini, they’re still driving it for an underlying reason. It could be status, ego, symbolism, or adrenaline, but the more basic the rationale you can uncover while profiling the better.

I gave an example in this post about a press release distribution software. The job to be done is sending a press release, but what the customer really wants is something else entirely -- publicity, coverage, fame, sales -- something other than the functionality of performing the action itself.

Mentality of the Commerce

Look, I’m not a trained psychologist but I, like you, have to be one every day as I try to figure out why prospects, customers, and users do what they do. I’ve spent years studying the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini and I’ve also been lucky enough to study with him personally. 

His “Six Principles of Persuasion” (Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Liking, and Consensus) have helped convert more customers for my clients and I than any A/B testing tool, analytics package, or design style.

Here’s the reality… technology changes.

All media change. The tricks, gimmicks, hacks, and tools? They all change. But the basics… the fundamentals… the underlying science… they don’t change. Spend as much, if not more, time understanding human behavior than you do looking for a magic “CRO-Boosting” tool, and you’ll be even more successful. That said, there is value in finding the right conversion rate optimization tools.

What Tools I Use

You want to know the actual “tools of the trade” I’m using right now? Here you go… but they are only effective because of the preliminary thinking that I have outlined above.

For A/B Testing

If I’m creating a dedicated landing page for a marketing campaign, I choose Unbounce. If I’m testing page designs, layout, copy changes, etc on web properties that our company has access to, I use Optimizely. And just to be clear, I’m in favor of BIG, sweeping tests over changing little things, like button color.

For Optimizing Blog Headlines

No traffic = No conversions. What I do first is come up with 25 headlines, pick the 3 that I think are solid, and plug them into KingSumo (from the AppSumo guys) and let it run. I also see what readers come up with when they share on Twitter and which of these get the most retweets, then I’ll plug them into KingSumo as well.

For Converting Free Trials to Paid Customers

There are a lot of tools I use to help this process along. For self-service SaaS, I would use a product like Intercom or Vero and map the events to Common Conversion Activities and there should be a huge spike in conversions.

For Enterprise SaaS, I use a solution like Gainsight (full disclosure: I currently work here, but I actually believe in the power of the service), that gives you a clear view into where your prospect is in the trial process. This goes beyond just usage data into additional context - so you can take appropriate, informed, and personalized action. Sometimes improving CRO means bringing together a mix of high-tech and high-touch.

Looking for more advice?

For more of Lincoln Murphy’s insightful posts, check out his blog.

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