Paul Rouke, Founder and Director of Optimisation at PRWD and creator of “The Growth Strategy that’s Being Ignored” was one of our awesome guest speakers at International eCommerce Day, in May 2017.

In his presentation, Paul shared PRWD’s Conversion Optimisation Maturity Model™ and four pillars of strategic conversion optimisation.

Using a number of in-depth case studies (from brands such as AO.com, Schuh, and Skyscanner) Paul identified how PRWD approach working with businesses at all levels, to help them grow and become more customer-centric.

Paul’s vision for the Conversion Optimisation Maturity Model™ is that it will become the industry standard model, used to help businesses around the world embrace an experimental mindset. You can download the model yourself here.

  1. Strategy & Culture
  2. Tools & Technology
  3. People and Skills
  4. Process and Methodology

1st Pillar: CRO Strategy and Culture

CRO strategy

The aspects to look at here are:

  1. Core Business Strategy
  2. Business Mindset
  3. Senior, relevant champion
  4. Continuous learning
  5. Product vs Customer Led

This starts to dig deep into a business, looking at the business mindset. Most businesses have a fixed mindset, but there are companies like Booking.com, Amazon, Walmart, Uber and Airbnb that embrace a Growth Mindset. That’s so important to look at when you’re talking about conversion optimization.

Then at the bottom, we have Product versus Customer Led. Most businesses are at that product led end of the spectrum.

When it comes to the importance of culture for the success of any CRO strategy, Brian Eisenberg, Founder & CMO at IdealSpot says that

“CRO should not be seen as a tactic, it needs to be embedded in the culture”.

Another strong voice we should all look up to when it comes to embracing a customer-centric culture is Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos:

Jeff Bezos

Looking at how laser sharp focus on customer centricity is Jeff Bezos and how that impacts them in terms of their commercial performance and their dominance of the digital industry it becomes clear how important it is to have the right culture if you want to grow through conversion optimization.

Case Study: How AO.com embraced a customer-centric culture  

In the next part, Paul shares an example of how they embedded customer centricity and conversion optimization within the culture of AO.com, a major retailer in the UK, with a £1,2bn annual revenue.

About five years ago they wanted to look at bringing in user experience expertise and they approached Paul to go in and do some training. But what became clear when he started to speak to the business and to understand the decision-making and the culture, was that the people at the top of the company, the Chief Executive & the C-suite didn’t understand and didn’t value the idea of being customer-centric, of listening to customers and of having an experimentation culture.

So instead of simply giving some training to the digital team, Paul chose to do something that would have a bigger impact on the culture of AO.com. He and his team conducted a big range of user research and made five videos of people using AO’s website. They gave these videos to all the senior decision-makers and simply told them: “Let us know if you feel that there are any changes that you’d like to make to our online experience”.  

Within watching the first video, each of these senior decision-makers was coming back to the digital team to say “we need to change this, we need to make our images bigger, we need to explain our videos more, we need to promote reviews more prominently”.

This was a wake-up call for the decision makers that enabled a culture shift for AO.com who, fast forward five-years, became one of the most customer centric retailers Paul has ever worked with.

CRO Strategy & Culture – Key lessons for Retailers:

CRO strategy & culture

1. In order to affect AO’s culture, they needed to make the decision makers think and understand from a user’s point of view. Without doing this first, any attempt at doing conversion optimization would have hit a major roadblock.

2. Understanding that customer centricity has to start with user research. On-site surveys are one of the best tools to research your audience, along with other methods such as Google Analytics, heat maps or session recordings.

3. Experimentation should be valued business wide and it shouldn’t just be a digital discipline or a tactic that’s done within the marketing team.

4. Businesses need to change their siloed mentality to a “working together” approach to be successful.

5. Jeff Bezos should be the inspiration for what it means to be customer-centric.

Pillar 2: Tools & Technology

CRO maturity model

In conversion optimization, probably out of these four pillars, tools and technologies is often the one that has the most investment because businesses buy into tools and technology and enterprise level software.

That is kind of the norm and that’s kind of what companies have done for many years. The thing is that tools and technology can promise the earth, but it’s not about just having the best technology in tools, it’s about the people and the brains behind them.

When it comes to the maturity model these are the key areas that we’re starting to look out here:

  1. The analytics tool and the configuration
  2. Voice of Customer & Behavioral Insights Tools
  3. Company Access to Experiment Results and & Learnings
  4. Competence Harnessing the Testing

So often companies have a fantastic tool but they

  1. a) don’t have the resources to really get the best out of the tool and
  2. b) they don’t really have the skillset to understand how to get the best out of the tool itself and how to use the advanced features.

One of the ways in which we, at Omniconvert, help our clients make the best out of our tool is to offer them training and/or a team of optimization specialists dedicated to their account.

Going further with exploring what’s holding companies back from growing through conversion optimization, Craig Sullivan says that

“there’s a Gartner hype cycle for A/B testing and so many companies end up stuck in the unproductive part, doing testing that doesn’t shift the needle or, more significantly, isn’t teaching you anything for the effort.”

This happens so often because companies have the tools in place but they’ve just not got the people and the resources and the skills in order to harness and get the best out of the tool and to use it really intelligently and AB test.

Case Study: Moss Bros

moss bros

About 18 months ago Moss Bros were fitted very much into this category of having a fantastic tool in place but without the resources and the skills to run a really intelligent optimization program.

What Paul and his team did was to turn Moss Bros to embrace being customer-centric. So they took them through a user sense of redesign which put users at the very heart of their redesign which often doesn’t happen particularly when it comes to major e-commerce redesigns.

Next, they moved into running an optimization program for them. So they were harnessing the testing tool but they were using a multidisciplinary team to develop the hypothesis and to do the research, and through the data analysis to really drive the value of the website optimization tool.

Tools & Technology: Key lessons for retailers

CRO tools

1. The most important tool for companies is people’s brains.

2. Enterprise technology isn’t the answer. It’s more the people with a multidisciplinary skill set that are going to drive the real value for your business.

3. Sharing experimentation learnings is key.  Experimentation should be shared company-wide because, for instance, you could be running an A/B test on your digital experience that can help inform what you do in your offline marketing campaigns and your outdoor advertising when it comes to messaging and headlines and things like that. So this experimentation optimization should be a business-wide concern.

4. Google Analytics should be continually optimized. There are always additional ways you can try and more granular level behavior. Think of the effectiveness of how it’s used within businesses. The thing is that most businesses because it is a free to use tool, they’ve not allocated the same kind of importance behind it to ensure that it’s correctly configured. So most businesses just have the kind of out-of-the-box configuration maybe with a few enhancements. You need to make sure that you get your Google Analytics in a really strong place so that it’s tracking things really effectively.

5. The expertise of people using the testing platforms it’s going to provide the real value of your testing solution, never underestimate the importance of that.

3rd Pillar: People & Skills

People and skills

Often times, the importance of people and skills is being underestimated.

The key areas of this pillar are:

  1. Behavioral & User Research Budget/Resources
  2. Data & Analytics Resource
  3. UX Design Resource
  4. Front-end Development Resource
  5. Relevant Programme Lead
  6. Appreciation of Statistics

Before diving into the key areas of discipline and expertise Paul brings in Roger Dooley, an expert in neuromarketing, the author of “Brainfluence”. His answer to the question: “Why aren’t businesses growing through conversion optimization?” is “A lack of focus on the customer’s non-conscious mind”, as there are not many businesses that invest in employing and utilizing a different range of persuasion techniques to help influence user behavior.

Case Study: Schuh.com £270m revenue

Schuh is a multi-channel leader in the UK with a £270m revenue that Paul and his team worked with for over three years. One of the most interesting and pivotal pieces of work with them was to conduct a maturity audit of their business to understand where they are across these four pillars. Through this audit they discovered that Schuh had a really good mindset, they had the right understanding from the top of the business about the importance of optimization so they were in a healthy place from a strategic and cultural point of view.

From the tools and tech point of view, they had a testing tool in place. They had a big technical team so they had what you would think was a very robust area in tools and tech.

But when it came to people and skills they discovered a disconnect between the top CRO strategy for growing the business with optimization and the actual support for the people implementing it. At the time of the audit, the optimization was being delivered by two fairly new kinds of graduates, who were really passionate and quick learners and a good asset to the business.

But there was no real experience around them and they were self-teaching JavaScript and jQuery to run tests. And the only support they had from a development point of view was that one day a week they had one developer to look at and QA some tests.

So it was just this complete disparity between the business that wanted to drive conversion optimization forward, but on the ground, there were just such limited resources. There was really no UX expertise, no copywriting, there was no psychology, there were just very limited skill sets of the people behind the optimization program.

The HIPPO Reinvented

Within people and skills, there’s the concept of the classic HIPPO which is often seen as something that really holds companies back. It’s the egotism and the opinionated decision-making that often goes on and that can lead people like yourself, essentially lower down within an organization, feeling frustrated that you’re not listened to and you’re not heard.

What Paul has actually done in the last about 18 months, was to reinvent the HIPPO to turn into a beacon of positivity. So when they are hiring people within their team and when looking at which companies they would like to work with they will look for people with these characteristics:

Hippo model

These traits are by far more inducive and far more influential to help make conversion optimization work within your business.

People & Skills: Lessons for Retailers

1. The re-invented HIPPO can be transformational. Having more people within your business that are embracing the humility, integrity, passion, and positivity is so important.

2. Psychology and persuasion are your secret weapons. This is really the kind of missing layer within most retail experiences.

3. UX designers require a mindset change in order to embrace experimentation. It’s an interesting thing to look for within designers of how much egotism do they have versus how much open-mindedness they have, in order to test their ideas out and to see actually how much their exceptional looking design is positively influencing user behavior.

4. Developers should seek out the why. Most developers working in digital are basically briefed, they are told what to do, they build it, then they do a QA and it gets pushed live. That’s the role of the developer, that they execute the designs and execute the working ideas of other people. But, the developers should be looking to seek out the why, they should be looking to understand “why are you asking me to do this”, what’s the hypothesis behind it.

A good example of this approach is from Booking.com who’s team work in sprints. And when developers are presented with a test to run and implement that has no hypothesis behind it, they have to push back to the project leader and to say “well no, I want to understand the why behind this test.” Such a healthy thing to do and it is really empowering to understand the importance of the work they are doing.

5. Behavioral research skills are invaluable. We can never underestimate the importance of utilizing people with research skills and to really help understand the user behavior and motivation. This is an aspect that is so often overlooked and undervalued within an optimization process.

Pillar 4: Process & Methodology

The key areas within process and methodology are:

  1. Hypothesis Development
  2. Test Prioritisation
  3. Test Design Process
  4. Quality Assurance and UAT
  5. Test Analysis
  6. Results & Learning

These are the key areas within the maturity model that need to be looked at in order to develop a really strong and progressive process and methodology for your optimization.

This relates to Paul’s answer from the book, to why are not companies growing through conversion optimization. His observation is that “many companies are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.”

This comes up time and time again in companies that they speak to. They’ve been running an A/B test for a year or two years but they just not really have the impact from this. They say that they’re doing great work, but when you actually look to see what the test results were, also what learnings have been made, it starts to fall apart. There isn’t really any substance there.

Another thing that comes up here is that saying you are customer centric is so easy. Yet the reality is very, very few businesses are anywhere near like Amazon which is a true customer centric retailer. So there’s still in 2017, and going into 2018, a big opportunity for retailers to become far more customer centric and not just talk about it.

Case Study: Skyscanner £1.4 bn Global Brand

Within process and their methodology, Skyscanner approached them about two years ago. They wanted to develop, very quickly, an advanced optimization culture within their business.

What was fantastic is that if you look about the four pillars of the maturity model, within strategy and culture they were in a good place. They were aspiring to be like Booking.com, as quickly as possible, so they really kind of wanted to embrace this and it was recognized from the top down of their business.

From the tools and tech point of view they were in a really strong place, they were a technology business they were hiring developers all the time and they were actually going to think about developing their own testing platform so that was really healthy opportunity to them.Then within people and skills, they were hiring and hoovering up a lot of the talents up in Scotland so they weren’t afraid to invest in a multi-disciplinary skill set.

But what they didn’t have, was a process and methodology because it was starting optimization from the ground up. So they worked with Paul’s team for six months to bring in their methodology and optimization.

They’ve since gone on to be one of the most progressive and mature businesses with having an experimentation culture running through the whole business.

The key lesson from this is that every single business is missing some of the key ingredients of the four pillars of conversion optimization. So there’s not one particular thing, but it’s an accumulation of different parts that companies are missing.

Process & Methodology – Lessons for Retailers

CRO process and methodology

1. Insight driven hypothesis rule. There’s got to be an intelligence and a why behind the test that you’re running. And that comes from data, and it comes from research and it comes from experience and it comes from understanding human behavior. There’s got to be intelligence behind it or else all we’re doing is we’re just running tests for the sake of it.

2. Creative collaboration techniques are key. So often when we engage a business, we engage decision-makers from different areas of the business, they feel empowered by having this opportunity to kind of share their ideas and experiences to help craft potentially even stronger test ideas. So creative collaboration with people from different areas of the business can break down the siloed thinking we were mentioning earlier.

3. Data and statistics expertise is crucial. There’s got to be a validity and integrity behind the work that we do and the tests that we run so never underestimate the importance of having the right data analyst and the right people in place. That leads on to data integrity and the storytelling behind optimization. This can really help to bring up optimization to life and it can help to communicate to different people across the business one of the key learnings and lots of key impacts from conversion optimization.

4. The full spectrum of A/B testing grows businesses. Full spectrum means going from simple iterative testing all the way through to innovative and then to strategic testing. The companies that embrace a far richer array of testing opportunities rather than just simple and basic A/B tests are the companies that are going to grow harder and faster than their competitors.

If you want to see Paul’s entire presentation at International eCommerce Day  2017 check out the video here.

If you just want to see the slides you can find them on SlideShare.

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