Welcome to Growth Interviews!
Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth.
Our mission is to provide insights and ideas from world-class professionals on the topic of growth and to cut through the noise of so-called marketing tips and tricks, revealing the money-making strategies behind e-commerce.
Each episode is an intriguing challenge involving an insightful expert who reveals some of their best-kept secrets, which you can use right away to boost your business.
In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our conversation with Jeffrey Eisenberg, the CEO of BuyerLegends.com, recognized authority and pioneer of Internet marketing strategy.
Jeffrey is the co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, USA Today and New York Times bestselling books “Call to Action” & “Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?” and has also written for the popular marketing optimization blog GrokDotCom, eMarketing & Commerce Magazine & Forbes.com.
Besides being a worldwide known author, Jeffrey delivered keynote speeches at top industry conferences like Search Engine Strategies, WSI Excellence & Innovation, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa and many others.
His proudest professional accomplishments are the thousands of companies, students and clients, including HP, NBC Universal, GE, WebEx, Overstock and Google, that have consistently enjoyed a dramatic improvement in online sales and lead generation.
Our interview with Jeffrey is an insightful experience packed with practical knowledge and tested strategies that have clear and measurable results. His perspective on the holistic approach in marketing is a game-changer for every digital professional and his personal stories are utterly impressive and comprehensive.
There’s so much we can learn from Jeffrey so let’s press ‘play’ and listen to Jeffrey Eisenberg’s best takes on digital marketing in our latest podcast.
The vast majority of specialists, even if they know all the tactics, they do not have enough experience yet to “see” the results from before, so prepare your pen for some serious lessons from the one who actually coined the term “conversion rate optimization”.
Coining the Term Conversion Rate Optimization
Valentin Radu: Hello everyone and thanks for joining us to a new episode of Growth Interviews with Jeffrey Eisenberg, one of the founding fathers of conversion rate optimization. Jeffrey, thanks a lot for joining us and it’s a pleasure and an honor to have you. Tell us how you started, tell us the story on how was the start back in 1998.
Jeffrey Eisenberg: My brother Brian and I had an interesting model and the model was we would train their group, and then we would share in how the company grew. And what we learned is, when you succeed with a client, it’s their fault. When we fail, it’s our fault. We weren’t very successful in money but we were doing really well with clients. And it had to do with the idea that I took my brother out of graduate school who was studying to be a social worker and we both had a deep interest in psychology and why people did things. This is what we were doing.
We were sure that, if we started doing what we knew, the CEOs of companies would come, they’d hug us, they’d kiss us, they’d say, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ That also was not true. And so, we started writing and we got a following. And since nobody even knew what conversion rate was online, we decided on using the word conversion rate optimization because we were going to conferences called Search Engine Strategies and that was search engine optimization. It wasn’t really until the early 2000s that we really got any traction. It took us like four years of writing and talking to people and nobody listened to us.
Valentin Radu: How does it feel right now in the era of where you have a lot of people claiming that they’re conversion rate optimization experts? How does it look, how do you see the industry right now after 20 years?
Jeffrey Eisenberg: I’ll tell you how it looks. It looks like a bunch of charlatans. There are some very good people. I could name a few but then I’d leave out others. The most part, conversion rate optimization to me is shameful. We stopped doing traditional conversion rate optimization, over seven years ago.
We started working with people on their product, on their offers, on what happens offline, on what happens in their communications afterward. And we started looking broadly at what the overall customer experience was. We said in something we wrote in the year 2000 that the conversion rate is a measure of your customer satisfaction but in order for yourself to reach your goals, your customers need to reach their goals. The customer went to a website because they probably wanted to buy today. They’re curious and they want to buy at some point. And as they’re looking at it, it’s your sale to lose. Did you give them enough confidence? Do they know your brand well enough? The first five seconds of your web experience will be impacting confidence. And then, what else do you do?
And the thing is that on the web, more is likely to be done than build motivation which is possible but that’s better to do offline. The bigger thing to do is not lose their confidence because in every moment of friction, anything goes wrong and I mean anything. Your website loading too slow, having unclear navigation, not knowing what to do next or what category something is in. With all that, you erode confidence. And we are all familiar with the experience that we look at a product and we say to ourselves, “I’m not sure.” And then a few days later, we’re sure. And it had nothing to do with the product itself. It had to do with how we arrived there and how confident we still felt. So, when I look at conversion rate optimizers today focused on what they’re focused on, which is mostly conducting as many tests as they can, it seems to be a competition for how many tests did we do. It’s disappointing. What we’re looking at is what’s impactful. There are people testing a red against the green button. And while there may be a difference, there is no customer in the world who’s ever consciously said, consciously said, “I’m going to click this because it’s green instead of red.” So, instead you being able to squeeze out 3%, how about you test the offer or you test the price or you test the description because those things actually matter. And if you get them right, they can give you much more significant gains.
The digital environment is fascinating in its present and its past. The beginnings of online marketing have been crafted by the requirements of the forward-thinking companies, the rising of new awareness around customer conversion rate and the new emerging technologies.
Now, the focus is on the customers, building their motivation to buy, keeping them seamlessly connected to the brand and business on all channels, all the time, with the sole purpose of creating confidence.
Conversion rate optimization has the utmost importance in the elimination of all friction for constantly improving the experience of the customers. Focusing on the quality of split testing, not on quantity, spending more time on the ideation and the hypothesis phase and looking on what’s really impactful on the client-side is making a real difference.
Education as Part of Evolution
Valentin Radu: How do you think this could be moving forward? Why do you think this is not taught in schools? Why do you think this is a discipline that after 20 years since its inception is still taught through webinars, podcasts or blog articles and there are a lot of noise makers which are simply not helping out companies to be customer-centric and help their customers?
Jeffrey Eisenberg: So, I have to remind you that 20 years is really still a short time. 20 years ago, I was still relatively young. I’m not old today but I’m already in my 50s. I’m still in my career and I’m not close to done. But I was in my early 30s when this started. My brother was in his 20s. So, first, I want to give you the concept that this is taking time. More so, after the dot com crash in 2000, I’m not talking about 2008.
In 2001, 2000 when the stock market crashed when there was no capital available for startups, the very best people weren’t attracted to digital. We didn’t get a real infusion of talent until much later on. We wrote the first book about conversion rate optimization in 2005. So, to be fair, we are 14 years into where people had access other than through webinars and articles and stuff like that. I think that’s one place to start.
The other one, in sales and marketing, we always had charlatans. It’s the place where con artists are most drown. Because what credentials do you have? I mean I know people who have degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, high-level degrees, and they’re book-smart but functionally idiots.
And so in marketing, anybody who basically puts up a website and a blog can be an expert by claiming to be an expert. It’s kind of interesting people to say they have a bestselling book because they were number one in a category on Amazon. I mean when we started out, we had to be a bestseller, but on the New York Times. Now, everybody’s a bestselling author. This is just human beings in a world that depends on reputation, not really understanding it.
The vast majority of people just haven’t been doing it long enough to know that the same tactics that are applied don’t work over the long term. They can optimize the site and then be done. Like nothing more to do that’s valuable you are wasting more time, now.
Valentin Radu: What do you think are the main barriers to properly handling conversion rate optimization either internally or with an agency or a freelancer?
Jeffrey Eisenberg: This is not a strategic initiative. Conversion rate optimization is looked at by even the C suite or not even necessarily in the US or BP. They’re kind of a general manager. It’s certainly not the managing director level and probably not the general manager level, it’s a lower decision.
The agencies often can run experiments and understand the math much better and have the capabilities of generating different graphics or scripts or all the things that an agency can do. What they should never be able to do is understand your customers better than you. And in most cases, there is nobody, not one person is really responsible in the company for the overall customer experience and who really understands the customers because an agency shouldn’t be able to design better hypotheses. They should be able to refine them and put them into the test. Why would somebody outside your company know it better than somebody inside your company? And I wish that every CEO could hear that because then they’d understand that they have to give this more attention that the role of the agency isn’t to learn your customer better than you.
But they don’t understand that conversion rate optimization is about giving the customer what they want.
Although already very important for any eCommerce business, conversion rate optimization is a new branch of digital marketing that is still evolving and to which many professionals are constantly adding their knowledge, their perspectives and their results from different industries.
There is a definite evolution in the field of CRO from two perspectives:
👉 The customer-centricity philosophy as part of strategic marketing is asking for more involvement from the side of the top management as competition is harshly rising
👉 The design of the hypothesis is becoming a strategically important aspect of the testing and the process is demanding a full involvement from the side of the companies from the perspective of client insights and client persona.
Simple Solutions with Incredible Impact
Valentin Radu: Tell us a story regarding a success that you’ve got into making the company aware of the importance of conversion rate optimization or maybe a story regarding some experiments that you have run that you think is worth sharing with our audience today.
Jeffrey Eisenberg: I’m going to give you one of the things that we’re proud of. A smaller company by US standards, a retailer. They do approximately 100 million dollars and they have nine stores.
They hired us thinking ‘Oh, we have to integrate online we have all these issues, we have all these things.’ I arrived at a store in San Francisco and in this store in San Francisco, one of the things that I learned was that there is a woman picking up messengers off the phone.
And I said to one of the owners of the business ‘When will those calls be returned?’ And he says, “Oh, we try and call everybody back the same day.” So, I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I pulled out my phone and I said, “Wait, do you realize that we’re in San Francisco? That’s the heart of Silicon Valley. And that on Prime now which is Amazon’s app, I could have props, not a prop, props pull up and fill the store with inventory within one hour. I said, “What do you think your customers expect? And remember, this is an important thing. What do customers expect? Not what does your competition does, no? They expect that when the phone rings, they’re going to get somebody right away. So, I said, ‘Look, let’s do an experiment. Let’s fine get it in under 10 minutes.’ I knew they would never do under 10 minutes but after a month, they were under an hour. And in that month, their sales went up 11%.
Now, here’s the interesting thing because that would still be anecdotal except that today, what they did is they integrated the chat system that they do on their iPads, and today, they fight each other to get first on that space. Either they can pick the phone up right away or they can immediately return the call. Sales went up from there steadily, and we attribute about 10% or so to the fact that they just answer the stupid phone and then call people immediately. People always want these complicated solutions. Sometimes, the solution is be nicer, think of the customer. Just consider their time as valuable as yours. Not difficult things. We see this kind of behavior all the time. I could tell you about A/B tests where we increased overall sales by 5%. I think that the problem with those online examples is everybody tells you about the best one. I can tell you about customers who’ve made over a hundred million dollars with our tests. But that’s not realistic unless you’re already making thousands of millions.
There’s still much more that’s in the business person’s control that they could do and they’re simply not paying attention and they’re waiting for somebody to tell them, ‘Let’s try this or let’s try that.’ Think about the customer. Just think about what’s important to the customer and you’ll start to find what’s important.
People always want to know the return on investment. They’re asking for ROI. And I always ask them, “What’s the ROI of smiling at your wife or your husband in the morning?”
What I do know is if you stop doing it, the relationship deteriorates. There is a correlation that we can’t measure and it’s not a causation. But what the lack of smiling gives is probably the rest of the relationship.
Technology is intrinsically sophisticated and the everyday use of it changes our perspectives, too. Many times the marketing professionals are drawn to very complex solutions that imply a mix of human and technology interaction.
‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ as a famous artist said a few centuries ago and the most successful solutions have always been the most simple. Addressing the real needs of the clients, searching for the red flags from the relationships and fixing them, giving them what they are really asking for, is the best strategy in increasing fidelity and the business.
Expressing empathy towards customers in small but consistent ways and key friction points prevent the deterioration of the relationship and are the safest road to increasing ROI.
What it really takes to create success for a company
Valentin Radu: Tell us growth ideas that you would give to an e-commerce manager. You’ve suggested that it’s better to focus on the relationship itself than on the money that you’re getting from that relation. Tell us two more.
Jeffrey Eisenberg: Choose a different perspective. We are not the customer. And so, there is a lot of techniques, we talk about them in our books for developing empathy. And really figuring out how to be in the head of somebody else. How would you look at this if you didn’t know something? As professionals, if we’re working in a company, we’re spending 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year thinking about this particular subject. Whereas the person buying from you maybe thinks about what you do for half an hour in their life. And so, think about what they know, what they don’t know how they feel about it, whether they’re scared. Just put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. So, that’s another one.
I think the third one is, be careful of experts. When things sound too good to be true, they’re usually too good to be true. The people who are truly experts will tell you to lower your expectations. And I say this because when you work in a conversion rate optimization environment especially anything will do. So much of this depends on the customer and not on an agency and not on the testing or not even on the internal testing team. Unless they have control over factors that are outside of their purview. We have a customer right now, a tech company that hasn’t been able to get a test done. We were supposed to launch at the end of March, and it required a technical solution that they’re capable of that shouldn’t be very hard. But they keep having impediments from their development team that keeps getting other priorities. Well, we can’t account for that when we’re trying to project success.
So, we need to realize that a lot of optimization is outside of our area of control. And that if you’re a customer looking to hire a conversion rate optimization agency or bringing it in-house or whatever else you’re doing it, you lower your expectations because it can only be as good as you are as a business and as responsive as you are as a business.
Years ago when we had the agency I was selling, we would have people asking us for references. And I would say ‘Look, I have references, I have written references if you check out my LinkedIn, I’ve got references from some of the biggest companies saying amazing things about how we help them’, and yet none of that is going to help you at all. Because what we know is this, is that more than 50% of the responsibility of the success in any type of consultation is always on the part of the customer. You need references of other consultants that you’ve worked with successfully. And what I found was, what was interesting, by the way, I was serious. I wasn’t just playing with them was that the ones who actually did that, if they had success in integrating outside bites, and they knew how to tweak it; generally, those people would work out very well. But we worked with another company that we shouldn’t have. We’ve worked with a company where the first time I met him, the CEO says, “Yeah, we don’t usually work well with consultants.” And then he got all excited and offered us enough money that we finally said, “Okay, we’ll help you.” I knew that it wasn’t going to work because they don’t work well with consultants. And so, when it didn’t work, I reminded the CEO that he said that. And he said, ‘Yeah, I thought it would be different.’ And I said, ‘You know, it’s really my fault because you had told me’, and I apologized to them. It wasn’t their fault because we already knew that they didn’t work well with consultants.
The CEO wanted it. It’s the rest of the company that didn’t want it. The CEO has the following thing. He built a culture that doesn’t absorb ideas well from outside. But also a culture that has grown phenomenally. I mean they’re a really huge success story. They’ll be doing soon a thousand million dollars in sales. So, they’re very well-known and people love them, but they have this insular culture. Very often, success hides failures.
We focus our clients to think about this in a different way. Right now, there are people responsible for retention and there are people responsible for acquisition. So, we think about the product itself. When there’s a product manager, and they start to figure out how the product is delivered and what channels and what distribution and pricing and you’re setting all this up. We ask them to allocate a portion of the budget towards word of mouth. And what we found out is this. The only reason that we talk about something is because either it disappointed us, it did worse than we expected, or it made us very happy.
So, if you go to McDonald’s and you wanted to go to McDonald’s, you’d be okay. But if you went to a fine restaurant and spend a lot of money and they gave you McDonald’s food you’d be very upset. This is about expectations. Some portion of your budget has to be to make the thing that you’re delivering better than the customer expects. Promise ABC but give them D, and that’s the surprise that people talk about. When you read reviews, real reviews talk about things like ‘I really had a problem and they solved it’ or ‘I found something that was so much better than I expected.’ Reviews very rarely say ‘Yeah it was okay, yeah hey you did make it work.’ So, it’s shifting the psychology of that. Now, this is a problem of not looking at it at a product level. I mean if you’re looking at it, if you have a team that’s responsible for acquisition and a team that’s responsible for retention, and you have all these different teams and they have different motivations, then how could you have a different outcome? So, you have to have one person who’s ultimately responsible for the entire customer experience.
Modern marketing may have many techniques and growth strategies to follow but there will always be two simple rules to be followed:
1. Literally put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Physically repeat everything your customer is doing, all the moves and micro moves and observe yourself from that role. The future of great customer optimization is empathy.
2. All companies should cultivate the mentality of keeping all the teams open to new ideas and reach a certain level of internal cohesion in order to move forward. No matter how successful a company is now, any new ideas coming your way might hold the key to a future situation.
The New Wave of Machine Learning Digital Tools
Valentin Radu: What’s your take on machine learning and conversion rate optimization?
Jeffrey Eisenberg: I’ve seen some tools that are really fascinating. They’re really good. The biggest problem with machine learning is, it’s a machine. It has no intuition to speak of. So, if you’re talking about the local maxima that I talked about before, this idea that you optimize something and get it to the best that it can be, you get a lot. It’s not going to look at some of the other factors that go into it.
But on the other hand, most people can’t act on data quickly but machine learning is able to make changes dynamically while the customer is there. That’s a huge advantage. So, I don’t want to make something better. It’s a great tool. If you give it the entire responsibility for optimization, you’re an idiot. I’m sorry, I can’t say that nicer. However, if it’s one of the tools that you use, it’s excellent. I’m seeing better and better iterations of tools over the last two years and I’ve seen things that are remarkable including some startups that people don’t even know yet. I saw last week an AI optimization tool that if it does what they say it does, it would be amazing. People are geniuses. They think of things that are wonderful. But often, for all the clusters that use that machine learning can see when they’re looking at a customer, they’re often not looking at enough data. And the data that is available to them is still set up by human beings, and at some point, AI will do a lot of the things that we say or by intuition, they’ll be able to codify it, but don’t see that in the next 10 years. Nobody is even close to that.
A highly increasing number of digital tools that are developed on machine learning algorithms are coming into the market. The advantages are undeniable: high level of complex data processing at incredible speed, high computing speed, dynamic clustering and accurate predictive results.
But the use of machine learning-based tools means looking at more complex data sets and considering the customer approach from a much wider point of view. This comes with the disadvantage of the amount of data that must be interpreted, the knowledge of doing it and the relevance.
No matter how advanced the technology is, it cannot replace the human experience and cannot answer in a complex manner to more particular situations.
The Holistic Approach in Customer Experience Journey
Valentin Radu: What’s your advice to the professionals in this industry? So you’ve seen so much. You’ve been there. You’ve started to build this industry. How you’ve applied these principles in your everyday life, and what’s your advice for us all to be more fulfilled?
Jeffrey Eisenberg: I have a certain living that I need and I can maintain it and the rest of it has to be about my fulfillment. And so, we decided that doing really the right thing by customers was going to be very hard in this industry. So, if you’re in conversion rate optimization and you know its limitations and you know that you’re going to have to evolve into a different area, do that. But right now, I wouldn’t recommend somebody to become a conversion rate optimization person. They’re going to be frustrated quickly in the same way that search engine optimizers, they still exist but they’re much less important. What needs to become more important is the awareness of people holistically involved in the customer experience journey. If you’re already in conversion rate optimization and you approached it very much from the testing side and you understand the statistics or you are designing or you learned it from that, I’m going to tell you, please learn more of the human aspect of this; the psychology, sociology, anthropology involved, and then, you’ll be better prepared.
You can make a big effort. You can make an effort even when the customer really doesn’t do their job, you can still have a big impact. In conversion rate optimization, you can’t do your work unless the customer does their work and customers are very reluctant. So, that’s probably not what we wanted to hear. You probably wanted to hear a more positive message. But I think that you should know what your expectations are. So, the expectations are that you’re going to be disappointed if only money is your motivation.
Conversion rate optimization and split testing are important but with increasing competition, it has become equally important to know the clients better from the human behavior perspective. Event the most data dedicated professional should include the study of psychology, sociology and anthropology in his endeavor of customer optimization.
Business is going well if the relationship with customers are going well, if the acquisition and retention are equally in focus and the friction points are turned into strengths. Machine learning tools are a tremendous help but we have a long way until they will be able to replace the human planning and provide with complex interpretation of data.
Companies are facing effervescent changes almost everyday which makes them reluctant to new perspectives and even new technologies. Ultimately the success is proving to come from an empathic relationship with the customers based on responding in a positive way to their real needs.
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