Unleashing Conversion Optimization Through Your Business Model
By Tim Ash, CEO of SiteTuners
Test, test, test! This common refrain has come to dominate the perceptions and activities of the conversion rate optimization (CRO) community.
Sure, testing is important as a way to validate changes to a Web experience, and make sure that changes are not actually making things worse. On the other hand, one of the problems with testing is that it operates on the Web experience. This creates inherent limitations.
Testing is just like the drunk person looking for their lost keys under the streetlamp at night because the light is better there. Similarly, many CRO practitioners never wander far from the cozy and comforting routine of repeatedly running tests, which at least on the surface produce some kind of clear measurable results (whether good, bad or inconclusive). They get comfortable in the repeatable nature of the testing activity itself, and familiar with the process. This is a false sense of security, and will often result in a myopic outlook that leads to stagnation.
Your own narrow view of CRO will severely limit the amount of benefit you will derive from it.
So how des a CRO professional break out of this rut? The key is to look beyond the website or landing page for additional leverage by thinking of a website as the part of the iceberg visible above the waterline. Most of the power will come from the vast portion that lies below. This is an important point in the context of competitors. If an enterprise wants to create a durable and defensible advantage against them, it is much easier to do it with the portions of the business that they cannot easily inspect or duplicate.
As a CRO, the job seems pretty clear – squeeze more value out of existing traffic arriving on a website or landing page. So that's what they spend their time doing – looking for increased efficiencies. This may involve digging into analytics, optimizing traffic sources hitting the site, segmenting an audience to achieve a better fit or testing alternative content.
Some things, however, are either implicitly or explicitly out of bounds. One of the most common sacred cows is the actual business model. In other words, CROs are not allowed to change the calls-to-action (CTAs), or the format and sequence in which they are collected.
An online educational business, for example, has the goal of generating leads for their sales force. Typically the CTA on the site will be some sort of long and involved form (for a free information kit or something similar). Once the form is completed, the sales person will relentlessly try to "close" that prospect. What's wrong with that? Although it seems like a perfectly legitimate strategy, it is not.
The company is requiring someone to give up a lot of information early in the process (severely restricting the number of people willing to invest the effort to fill out the form). Then it is trying to hard-sell them on the phone (even though in all likelihood they are not ready to act). In other words, the business model requires a standing broad-jump on the part of a website visitor, and herculean effort on the part of the phone sales force.
Imagine the following instead. A website visitor arrives on a site, self-selects (via properly constructed user-centered site navigation) into a specific role, downloads a relevant e-book (without any information required in exchange except for an email address), receives a targeted email follow-up sequence that establishes thought leadership and provides helpful information over time, eventually follows an email link back to a targeted landing page on the site where they get an opportunity to chat live with a knowledgeable rep (while still remaining anonymous), the chat rep then schedules (in real-time) an appointment to talk to a career counselor (the sales rep) on the phone (collecting the information needed during the chat), the sales rep reviews the info collected and calls at the agreed-upon time to try to close the sale.
Now at first glance, this may seem like a conceptually more-complicated business model, but looked at from the standpoint of both the prospective student and the business it has many advantages. From the perspective of the prospect, the relationship unfolds slowly and naturally. The value received along the way is more than what is being asked for in return. The steps are incremental and non-threatening. There are no big hurdles to surmount. The person feels like they are in control of the process, and are more likely to extend incremental trust and expend additional effort as the relationship deepens.
From the standpoint of the business there are benefits too. It is much easier to create content that speaks to a targeted audience and is seen as more personal and valuable. Much of the early stage follow-up can be done with automated email sequences – not requiring any incremental effort or human involvement. Early stage qualification can be done much more cost-effectively via chat than on the phone. The best-trained phone sales people are getting to talk to receptive prospects.
The phone sales people will have higher utilization rates (connecting with prospects a higher percentage of the time due to appointment prescheduling instead of outbound cold-calling follow-up). It's a classic case of win-win.
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Of course it takes some work to set all of this up. Email sequences will need to be developed, online chat will need to be staffed, all of the information collected about the prospect will need to be passed to the phone sales reps ahead of their appointments, the phone reps will need to be retrained to take advantage of the new workflow and available information (and to adjust their technique to a more gentle "close").
Beyond the specific example of educational lead-generation above, business model innovation can be done in a number of settings. In the e-commerce sphere it can take the form of frequent-buyer loyalty clubs, referral programs and incentives, and changing a one-time purchase into some kind of ongoing subscription-based payment model. In lead generation it can involve cross-referrals to other businesses that want to reach the same audience. The possibilities are limited only by a person's own imagination.
Now is the time to start thinking more broadly about a company's business model and not simply about its online marketing campaigns. How can marketers help engineer a better business model? If it benefits the business and aligns more naturally with the needs of the audience, then they know they are on the right track.
Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, Chair of Conversion Conference and bestselling author of "Landing Page Optimization."