Talking To Your Boss About Conversion Optimization
If you are an in-house marketer, and your company is not investing in conversion rate optimization (CRO), this article is for you. I am going to explain, in 12 simple steps, exactly how you should go about selling your CEO or boss on the importance of CRO.
It’s not easy bossing your boss around. Somehow, it just doesn’t feel right. But in the wild world of bigger sales, better revenue, and cutthroat competition, sometimes you just need to tell it like it is.
And you’re the one to tell him or her, "We need to be doing conversion rate optimization."
Step 1 - BE PERSUADED
This is a pretty obvious point. You’ve got to be absolutely rock-solid on the fact that CRO is important.
Powerful people have a way of making you second-guess yourself, or drop your prized idea. You’re about to get into a discussion of conversion optimization with someone who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid like you have.
The only way you’re going to persuade others are if you’re persuaded yourself.
If you feel shaky, go back to the basics and get yourself fired up about CRO again.
Step 2 - PERSUADE UP THE FOOD CHAIN
Most likely, you’re not going straight to the top on this issue. You’ll probably want to gain an audience of bosses, managers and other influential people in your organization. These influencers will help you strengthen your position and give you traction as you take your idea upward.
Step 3 - GAIN SUPPORTERS
It’s critical to get buy-in on a wide scale before you venture forth as the lone soldier to win the company to your way of thinking.
If you’ve persuaded up the food chain (Step 2), you’ve already gained the support that really matters. There are a few other reasons to gain supporters. First, it gives you practice in persuasion. If you can persuade your colleagues, you’ll become better at explaining and persuading others about conversion optimization. Secondly, if you fail in your mission, then maybe one of your now-persuaded colleagues will try his hand at selling the CEO on conversion optimization.
Step 4 - KNOW HIS OR HER STYLE
Make sure you know a little bit about whom you’re talking to. How does your CEO think? What is her management style? What kind of arguments persuade him? What types of initiatives has she approved before? Does he like risk? Can she make decisions independent of the board? Who does he lean on for advice?
The better your understanding of your CEO, the more effective you will be at persuading her of conversion optimization.
Step 5 - JUST EXPLAIN WHAT IT IS.
Know your stuff, but don’t try to impress your CEO with your knowledge. This doesn’t work.
Instead, state simply and clearly what CRO is, and don’t use the term “CRO.”
You should know more about CRO than anyone else in the company. You’re a veritable god of CRO knowledge. Okay, awesome. However, your true genius is revealed in how simply you can explain things to other people.
Take it from one of the world’s most kickass intellects:
(Bruce is smart, but I was referring to Einstein.)
Leave off the buzzwords, acronyms and jargon.
You’re not smart if you throw around clever-sounding terms. You’re deluded. Can you explain the concept of CRO to someone who doesn’t even know what the Interwebz is, or to someone who doesn’t know what you mean by “click on the button.”
There’s only one acronym you need to keep in mind — KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Don’t sound too intense or giddy.
In every company, 14% of the employees think they have a “really good idea” that will make the company billions in revenue. I made that statistic up. But don’t be that guy.
Smart people aren’t persuaded by someone's frothy caffeine-fueled emotional pitch. Just be level-headed and straightforward about it.
Make it simple: We'll improve revenue.
Boil your brilliant argument down to this one point: Conversion optimization will improve revenue.
CRO is pretty complicated; at least it can be complicated if you let it. Your true persuasive power is not in expounding on its complexity, but in explaining its revenue-increasing simplicity.
Step 6 - SHOW THE NUMBERS
To your CEO, "conversion rate optimization" is absolutely meaningless without dollars and cents attached to it. It’s just an idea — a wispy vague nothingness. With money attached, CRO becomes a thing.
Your CEO has one thing on her mind: ROI. ROI is all about numbers.
Let’s unleash the numbers. This is where persuasion begins.
Here are some of the numbers that you can show your CEO:
- Current conversion rates contrasted with projected conversion rates after optimization. Explain the conversion rate is X%. Then explain that according to industry averages, after optimization you can expect a conversion rate of Y% (for a total gain of Z%).
- ROI: What is the typical ROI from conversion optimization? Put it into numbers.
- Show how much money you are losing by not investing in conversion optimization. Often, this is one of the most powerful forms of argument. The pain experienced from losing something is more acute than the joy experienced by gaining something. For that reason, help your boss feel the pain of wasted dollars. When you tell your boss, “We’re currently losing, a potential $18,081 each quarter by not investing in CRO,” you’ll get her attention very quickly.
- Show how much money the business is already spending on paid search. Most companies with an online presence spend a lot of money on paid search — tens of thousands of dollars. This is an insane percentage of a marketing budget. If you can show how high this number is, then the comparative cost of CRO will seem negligible.
- The projected revenue gain from CRO. The point you want to dwell on is the revenue gains from CRO. This is the profit conversation, which makes any CEO happy.
The point is this — you must show numbers. Real. Numbers.
The most powerful numbers-driven persuasion technique I’ve found has been the incremental conversion rate increase that has an exponential effect on profits. For example, as this chart from Conversion Rate Experts indicates, a decent conversion rate bump can mean massive improvements overall:
No other form of persuasion is going to be effective.
Step 7 - SHOW COMPETITORS WHO ARE DOING IT
Most CEOs keep a keen eye on the competition. Be prepared to present some companies who are also investing in CRO.
Due to my NDA’s with my clients, I share very few actual case studies on my blog. You can, however, find great data at other websites who aren’t bound by pesky NDAs. Check out these links for case studies galore.
- Kissmetrics case studies
- ContentVerve case studies
- CrazyEgg case studies
- ConversionXL case studies
- ConversionIQ case studies
- Whichtestwon.com case studies
- Steamfeed.com case studies.
If you can find some competitors who are investing in CRO, pull out this information in your presentation.
Step 8 - EXPLAIN IMPLEMENTATION
During the “implementation” phase, you need to tell your boss how your idea will be put into action.
Being ready to talk implementation is important for several reasons:
- Your CEO may already be sold on the idea and want to cut straight to the chase. You don’t have any more persuading to do. You just have to explain how it’s done.
- Your CEO will not be willing to invest in anything unless she knows exactly how it’s going to roll out.
- Your CEO wants to analyze the “execution risk” of the initiative. Execution risk is “the risk that a company's business plans will not be successful when they are put into action." While you may be fired up on the idea of CRO, your boss is thinking about the implementation of CRO. If he deems the execution risk is too high, he’ll scrap the idea. Why? Because “execution” costs money.
- Your CEO needs to know how many people he will need to hire or who he’ll need to fire. There’s more to this game than just fatter revenue. There is also the concern of what people are involved.
When you discuss implementation, be sure you address these issues:
- Personnel: Explain who will do what.
- Cost: Explain how much things will cost.
- Process: Explain a three-stage implementation:
Stage 1: The test. See how conversion rate optimization works. Spend low. Gain high.
Stage 2: A low-risk, start-small implementation. Sometimes, the best approach is a slow one. Small wins create big excitement. Explain that based on the success of the small start, you can scale up.
Stage 3: The bigger-scale/higher-revenue implementation.
- Timing: Explain that you can start immediately; this can be put into place by Tuesday. So maybe it’s not Tuesday, but it’s going to be soon.
Step 9 - TELL A SUCCESS STORY
Be ready with a story. Even though numbers are super important, there is incredible persuasive power in a story. In your research on conversion optimization, maybe you’ve found a case study or two that really resonated with you. Maybe you discovered a company in your niche that launched conversion rate optimization, and saw major gains. Tell the story. And it’s okay to begin with “once upon a time” as long as “they lived happily ever after.”
A story can be all that you need to push your boss over the edge.
Step 10 - SUGGEST A TEST PERIOD
When it comes right down to it, you’re not proposing anything huge. You’re not asking the boss to step down, sell the company, or open 987 new factories in Bangladesh. You’re simply proposing something really soft, really easy, and really pain-free: a test.
Bosses like “tests.” This will show her in real numbers whether you’re a complete loon, or whether this is something that’s going to make the company more profitable.
Put the following three parameters on your test:
1. Clearly defined timeframe: One quarter.
It takes at least three months for a company to start seeing gains. This gives you enough runway to both roll out a plan and get some revenue increases.
2. Set budget.
You’ll also want to put some dollars and cents on it. Tests don’t come free. Make sure you get a little budget to work with.
3. Schedule a meeting.
If your CEO’s time is at a premium, or if you have difficulty gaining access, try to get a meeting on his calendar at this time. If scheduling a meeting requires a sparring match with the secretary, then at least announce that you’ll be seeing him around such-and-such a date to talk about this.
A low-risk test can be your best solution to getting your CEO on board.
Step 11 - BE ABLE TO ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS
Bosses are trained to ask questions. “Asinine Question-Asking 101” is a freshman course for everyone who majors in CEO.
Actually, a lot of CEOs ask really good questions. With their questions, they are trying to poke holes in stuff. If their questions create holes, then they assume that you’re stupid, and go on with business as usual. In other words, if you don’t answer their questions satisfactorily, they’re going to ditch the idea of CRO.
If, on the contrary, your questions have intelligent and persuasive answers, then they will be more likely to invest in the idea.
As you’re waxing eloquent about CRO, your boss’s mind is going in a million different directions. He is thinking of all the implications that a single idea can have. Those “implications” have nothing to do with deciding between a 45- and 55-foot yacht, or whether he should promote you to CMO either next week or two weeks from now. Instead, he is thinking — “How does this mesh with the marketing push that we’re doing to do in Q4?” “How will this affect the lawsuit with our competitor?” “Can I use this to persuade the board that we’re actually going to grow next year?” “Should I go to Arby’s for lunch again?”
You can’t be expected to know all these things. But you can expect your boss to ask some questions.:
- Have you talked to so-and-so about this?
- What’s an average percentage increase we’ll see within six months? You already told him this in your discussion, so he obviously wasn’t paying attention. Forgive him, and explain patiently.
- Who else has done this?
- What the heck is CRO? If your boss asks this, you made the mistake of using an abstruse acronym. Back up, and don’t use this term. Don’t use any jargon. Just explain things in the simplest of terms.
- What’s our conversion rate right now?
- Who all would be involved?
- What’s it going to cost?
- So, where would you start? If the boss asks this, you probably haven’t explained “implementation” very well. Recover from your fumble, and explain rollout, including which landing pages you would target first, the price of your favorite A/B testing software, and any other actions that are important to get this rolling.
- Do you think we should hire an outside firm to do this? Explain pros and cons, discuss the fees, and outline the training program of the consultants.
- Do the curly fries at Arby’s give you indigestion?
Step 12 - BE READY TO IMPLEMENT
Smart bosses delegate. Who is the best person to task with a new project? The person who came up with it.
If you pitched this crazy idea, you need to be ready to do r your idea. Be ready to step out of your CEO’s plush office, psyched out, prepped up, and ready to launch CRO.
Persuading your CEO of the power of CRO actually isn’t too hard. The numbers, data, metrics, and case studies are all on your side. The real trepidation has to do with just presenting it.
I challenge you to pitch your boss on CRO, if he’s not already on board. Once you do it, tell me how it goes.