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EPISODE 61 77 mins

CRO: The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored w/ PRWD’s Paul Rouke

Posted on 1st February 2016 , by Kunle Campbell


About the guests

Paul Rouke

Kunle Campbell

Paul Rouke is the Founder and Director of Optimisation of PRWD. Within his role he specialises as a consultant and trainer in conversion optimisation with over 12 years experience working with blue-chip brands like Speedo, OFFICE, MBNA, Mothercare, Argos, House of Fraser, Waitrose, Barclays and American Express.



UK’s #1 conversion rate optimisation agency, PRWD have just published a book on CRO titled ‘A Story Of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored’. On this episode of the 2X eCommerce Podcast Show, I take this timely opportunity to bring their founder – Paul Rouke to introduce his new book which has also had this  sparkling review from Google Analytics Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik,

“The Growth Strategy That Is Being Ignored is the result of strategically inserting straws into the brains of the biggest CRO experts in the world, and only taking the choicest bits of their wisdom. The result is a book that is a breezy read, incredibly actionable, and drips with passion that only true optimization lovers like my friends Bryan Eisenberg, Andre Morys, John Ekman and Paul Rouke would possess. Buy now, win a lot!”

We also go into a lot of depth on this show to deepen our understanding of CRO and user behaviour testing. We learn about why CRO is important for growth and about PRWD’s Growth Methodology, including the Four Pillars for optimising long-term growth.

We talk about the CRO industry and the fundamental shift in mind-set is required top-down through all levels of management and maybe even changing the CRO acronym. So if you are indeed like the vast majority of e-tailers out there with regards to CRO being just a tick in box, then this episode could open up a whole new level of growth for your business!

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Key Points in Conversion Rate Optimisation Success

1: Global Optimization Group

  1. André Morys of Web Arts AG founded Global Optimisation Group, (previously called the Global Conversion Alliance). Andre desired to learn from other respected experienced optimization companies and he first approached Chris Goward over at WiderFunnel in Canada. So they were the first two companies to come together to basically show knowledge, experience, and methodologies, to help each other’s businesses become even better, to learn from each other, from mistakes, to see what’s working really well, what’s having the biggest impact with clients. Joining the group since then has been John Ekman’s of Conversionista in Sweden and then obviously us at PRWD in the UK.
  2. Some of the key ways in which we work is that annually all the founders of the agencies meet face-to-face for about a week’s time to have a week of strategy and a week of learning from each other’s businesses. I’m not sure of too many other industries where the main leading companies in that industry, in in their respective countries, would actually sit around a table and basically share pretty much everything about the business. You know, there’s such honesty and such trust there between the agencies, so it’s a very unique position to be in. So we share knowledge and experience and help each other’s businesses at the strategic top-end of the business. But also our practitioners and our strategists and researchers and designers also are connected to each other and can learn from each other.

I’m not sure of too many other industries where the main leading companies in that industry, in in their respective countries, would actually sit around a table and basically share pretty much everything about the business.

A Story Of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored

  • The purpose of this book is not a book of tactics. This is a strategic book. A Story Of Untapped Potential is a book that needs to be read by everyone from the the chief executives of businesses through to the management teams below that. We basically cherry-picked the insights from global leaders in optimization and each of us are all seeing the same challenges, issues, and barriers as to why optimization still isn’t where it needs to be within a business in terms of being a central core area to help to grow that business. This book highlights the inherent bottlenecks and reasons why conversion optimization, testing, understanding user behaviour, and making continual changes to improve online experiences and improve business performance is still years away from being where it deserves to be.
  • The key takeaway from this book is that the whole approach of continually testing different ways of delivering your digital experience should be in the fabric of your business. It’s not something that’s to be done for a few months at time or just something on your PPC landing pages. It’s something that is just as integral to the business as your acquisition strategy. So there’s a big cultural shift in thinking that is needed in the e-commerce industry in general.

Impact of CRO on Key Metrics

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  1. Acquisition: The first immediate impact and payoff would be on the investment that the company is making in acquisition (paid search, social retargeting, and email). By running tests and analysing the impact it’s having on the traffic that’s coming from your PPC, from your email campaigns, direct traffic, or whatever it might be, the numbers are there so it’s data-driven. So it’s the reality of what’s happening on the site and how our variation that we’ve introduced is, hopefully, leading to an increase in the percentage of people doing what we want them to do, which is to buy, convert, purchase, subscribe. That will affect our bottom line metrics because that’s how our business needs to grow.
  2. Retention: When optimisation is done really intelligently and successfully, that will start to have a positive impact on your retention rate. This is a result of the fact that you’ve delivered a better experience, people have enjoyed it more, you’ve delighted them with some different persuasion techniques, and maybe at the end part of your funnel – your confirmation page – you’ve actually done something memorable so you stick in their mind. All these types of things that you’ve done that will help to encourage that customer to both come back but also to potentially provide referrals or reviews for yourself which will then obviously help broaden brand awareness or broaden your new customer base.

2: The PRWD Growth Methodology

Why ‘Growth Methodology’

To begin with, just in terms of the title ‘Growth Methodology’ and its top-level purpose, this firstly about growing businesses. It’s not just tweaking businesses. And then it’s a methodology and a process. It underlines how important having a process and a methodology is. This is so often a key missing link within businesses doing optimization, where there isn’t really a structured approach or philosophy.

The 4 Pillars for Optimising Long-Term Growth

We have four growth foundations, four pillars for the long-term growth, for optimisation which we know from all our experiences both working directly with clients as well as from our team having worked within some of the UK’s leading brands.

  1. Strategy and Culture. This has got to be there and right for the business to exploit the potential of optimisation.
  2. Tools and Technology. Having the right tools in place, the right technology, the access to data, the right ways to share learnings about optimisation.
  3. People and Skills. This isn’t just about having resources available for optimization but it’s actually about the different skill-sets that are available to be utilized. And there’s often missing links there when it comes to optimisation and who’s delivering that.
  4. Processing Methodology. Again, underlining the importance of businesses needing to have process and methodology for optimisation, in order to have that long-term continuous impact on their business.

Long-term Planning

And then as we move on from that, what we then start to have a look at is, what are the growth goals of the business? What are the financial projections? What kind of impact do we expect optimization to have for the business over 6 – 12 months, two years’ time? So this is about long-term planning, it’s not just expecting some quick fixes and then everything happens overnight. So it’s looking at the growth goals and the potential impact.

This is long-term planning, it’s not just expecting some quick fixes and then everything happens overnight.

Insights Framework

PRWD’s Intelligent Insights CRO Framework

The tests and insights are going to underpin the hypothesis that we developed and the things that we are going to change and how we’re going to prioritize optimization. What we’re talking about here is a wide range of insights that we’re looking to cherry-pick from different areas of the business and from different techniques. We’re looking to understand and we’re looking to build together strong hypotheses from all these insights. Hypotheses that we’re very confident will end up delivering an impact when we run tests.

  1. Our intelligent insights framework is underpinned by user research and behavioural understanding. The research is of absolute crucial importance to understanding the behaviour and observing behaviour.
  2. You’ve also got within this framework things from the data analysis. From your analytics, from tools that are given as constitutive data, including the heuristic evaluations which is based on all our experiences of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, the design patterns that we know are influential.
  3. There’s also the persuasion layer to this, so, how persuasive is the website? Currently what persuasion techniques are the company using? But then specifically identifying what other persuasion techniques will really help to drive and influence user behaviour.
  4. And then the final thing as part of this framework is the visitor and customer understanding that the business already has at its fingertips. So often there’s really rich data from customer service teams, from web chat, from post purchase service that maybe isn’t being harvested enough.

Understanding ‘Why’

Ultimately, we’re really understanding the ‘why’, developing the ‘why’ behind what are we testing and what is the purpose of this change. Again, it’s a mistake often made.

When we dig beneath the surface of companies that have been running testing and you interrogate, first of all, is there a hypothesis? Quite often there might not even be a hypothesis, but when there is, when we actually interrogate it further we struggle to find the ‘why’ behind the hypothesis.

So all this insight is to really uncover the ‘why’. What are we trying to influence and change, and what behaviour have we observed which we know we’re confident we can positively influence?

The Timeframe

When we’re working with companies with our ongoing programs, over the course of the first 2 months a lot of these insights are being gathered. There’s various workshops, there’s analysis being done. So in the first few months we’re laying these foundations, we’re developing this real understanding of the current user experience, the current customers, developing the ideas and again the why behind what are we going to start influencing, what are the big opportunities. I think it’s really important to say with this that some companies still come to us and expect results and testing and impact really quickly.

But to do this optimization intelligently and to walk before you run, then we still need to educate businesses that this takes time. You’ve really got to do the groundwork. Without doing the groundwork, and without doing this intelligently the chances are you’re going to have a much lower test success rate, you won’t build momentum up and the buy-in for optimization because it’s just not delivering the impact it deserves. So it’s crucial this groundwork is done.

Slide Deck of PRWD Growth Methodology

I do quite a lot of presenting and all myself and my team’s slides go on to our slideshow account. A few months ago I presented at Conversion Conference UK and within that slide deck I share the methodology and there’s a visual of it as well as there’s a lot of good insight on that deck as well, it’s not just about the methodology. So if people go to that http://bit.ly/CBGnotCRO, they’ll get to my slides and within that slide deck is the visualisation of our methodology.

3: Shifting the Culture of CRO Within the Industry

Creating a Top-Down Approach to CRO

In order to create a top-down approach to CRO, from the owner of the business down three levels of management, the first thing that needs to happen is they need to understand and appreciate the importance and the opportunity of continuous optimization.

Now one of the most fundamental ways for this to be able to start to happen is to basically expose the decision-makers to observing users, customers, potential/actual customers trying to use their online experience of the business. Because there’s so much ego, opinion and history with how a business developed and designed its online experience over many years. And there is typically a disconnect between the blinkered internal view of how they imagine visitors are interacting and experiencing the online business experience versus the reality when you look behind the curtain and you observe real users working through, trying to use a website, looking at your competitor websites and making decisions on that. There’s typically a big disconnect with that understanding and appreciation.

They need to understand and appreciate the importance and the opportunity of continuous optimisation.

Shock Tactics: Showing Remote User Testing Videos

I worked with probably about six or seven years ago with Matthew Lawson, who was then the new Head of Conversion at AO.com, Appliances Online.  And he wanted to bring in this culture of optimization within their business, they didn’t have it at all. And so we worked together to develop what ended up going on to be described as ‘shock tactics’ for their business, but it had a fundamental transformational effect. So we used remote user testing to basically conduct and gain a big number of videos, much more user research sessions than you would typically do when you’re just looking to evaluate one part of a site or just one round of research.

We got a big number of the videos done and we basically and got each of the decision-makers in the senior management at AO to watch and observe the videos, with the brief, ‘Watch these videos, this is visitors using our website. Come back to us with any ideas or suggestions of where you feel we need to improve our experience.’

Within 10 minutes of people starting to watch the videos, which was for the first time they were actually seeing behind the curtain, the senior managers and directors were coming back saying, ‘We need to change this, we need to do that. We need to make our videos more prominent. Our product page is all confusing.’ And this was phenomenal, this was fantastic because it was this enlightenment moment for them as to how far-off their user experience was meeting their visitors’ expectations. The rest is history, they’re selling washing machines and they’re making it sexy.

Starting to Understand User Behaviour: Tools and Approach

Understanding user behaviour, observing user behaviour, it needs to be a fundamental part of how you’ll go about optimising your retail experience.

  1. If a company has very rarely invested in looking to understand users and how they use their website, then 5 to 10 video research sessions would provide huge enlightenment. It isn’t going to answer every question; it’s not going to give you everything you need for the next 12 – 18 months. But patterns would emerge, key opportunity would emerge of key opportunities. Even though it’s small numbers, it presents glaring opportunities.
  2. But what a mistake that companies often do is do research, it’s almost a ticking the box exercise and then he could be one year, 18 months later, that they think about doing user research again. That is a huge mistake. Research needs to be kept up-to-date: behaviour changes, people’s expectations changes, your online experiences are improving and changing, hopefully. So continually topping up that user research is extremely important.
  3. In terms of tools or techniques, I suppose the Rolls-Royce version of research is moderated research where you’re actually spending time one-to-one with users and you’re able to ask questions and probe through their experiences as they’re using your website to dig beneath the surface. So that’s moderated research and that’s what I’ve done for 15 years and I’ve always recognized the importance of that.
  4. If you then move to the more cost-effective solutions then tools such as UserTesting and WhatUsersDo are two of the main tools for and carrying out remote user research, that can again obviously give you great enlightenment. There are of course things like session recording tools, which obviously give you feedback on people’s interactions with your page and your site, but what that’s missing is that’s missing the commentary about the thought processes and how people are making decisions and what’s the key driver for them, how are they making a decision between brand A and brand B, in terms of where they’ll make that purchase decision. So Hotjar, which is one of the tools we use which is extremely cost-effective, it’s an interesting feature set there. One of them does include the session recording. So from a cost point of view, something like that, that’d be great step for a retailer to make, to introduce a tool like that, that gives them insights and be able to watch and observe videos of people that abandon or dropout or people that purchase.
  5. For things like the remote user testing I mentioned, they aren’t cost prohibitive at all. If a retailer is just let looking at what they’re spending on acquisition, the cost of running remote testing is completely like, negligible. So the user research insight, remote user research, even moving into moderated research, it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

Why Is Optimisation Typically Viewed as Tactical?

So the buy-in, to make this a core part of the business strategy, needs to come from the top down or else you’ll continue to hit brick walls with lack of budget.

  • This goes back to getting that buy-in from the top of the business: for them to have a true appreciation and understanding the importance of optimization. Because ultimately these are the people making decisions on who to hire, who to recruit, what budget to set aside for external spend, internal spend. We know a lot of businesses where the middle management are kind of fighting for investment to build a team up, to bring in expertise, and so you know they’re fighting upwards. So the buy-in, to make this a core part of the business strategy, needs to come from the top down or else you’ll continue to hit brick walls with lack of budget.
  • So I think just one interesting just quick thing I’ll share is one of the most damaging case that is I feel that has been out there and it’s been out there for a long time and I hear senior people refer to this sometimes. It’s the $100 million button, which you might recall. And it’s when a big huge retailer changed one of the buttons, changed the wording, and it led to this massive impact. Now as a standalone case that it is, that huge number is ridiculous, it wouldn’t deliver, that was just a projected amount. But it’s the type of big impact thing that senior people and chief executives would sit up and listen and think, ‘Wow, like, testing a button, it could lead to such massive impact.’

How do we change people’s understanding of our proposition to make them put the hand in the pocket? You can’t just do that by testing buttons and testing the wording on buttons.

  • But it’s just fundamentally the wrong thing to plant this idea that testing is about the very intricate small parts of an experience. It is, of course, but it’s much broader and much bigger. It’s for example, how do we change people’s understanding of our proposition to make them put the hand in the pocket. You can’t just do that by testing buttons and testing the wording on buttons. It’s more fundamental than that, and I think there’s still such a long way to go, there’s inherent ingrained beliefs you hear so often even optimization specialist talk about. So in the minds of a lot of senior people, testing is just this tactical thing and it can be done very trivially by changing one colour to another, perhaps.

4: PRWD Maturity Audit

Breakdown of Industry Maturity

  1. Right now if I was to assess the industry from our understanding and experience it, you’ve got a real small number of elite businesses who have really embraced how integral optimization needs to be to grow their business. So brands such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Amazon, Etsy, Netflix… Optimization is intrinsic to how their business runs and operate and they’re continually testing, it’s just part of their DNA. So they’re maybe 5% -10% of industry out there, in the absolute elite.
  2. And then you’ve got a bracket down from that from the mid-tier brands up to the enterprise-level businesses that make up another 5 or 10% of business that really get this, that are really trying to make changes and are really growing their business through intelligent optimization.
  3. And then you probably getting in a big percentage, maybe like 60% of businesses, who are doing testing, they’ve got a testing tool, they are running some tests, but they’re just testing for testing sake, it’s almost a ticking the box exercise. None of the tests have really impacted the bottom-line metrics that they see through their analytics. But they have been testing so it’s a tick in the box. But you know, there’s huge potential for that group of businesses to start doing testing intelligently.
  4. And then you’ll have at the bottom end of the ladder, the 10 – 20% of businesses who haven’t yet got a tool in place and haven’t really considered bringing testing and optimization into their business.

Testing the Foundations

  • So that led us to develop our Maturity Audit, where we audit and assess businesses, not on their online experience but on everything that sits below that. Which is: what is their strategy like and their culture, what tools do they have? So basically assessing on all the foundations I from our Growth Methodology: their Strategy and Culture, Tools and Technology, Process and Methodology, and People and Skills. Because if a business doesn’t have these foundations in place, then they can be testing for three years and not really see an impact and not really grow through optimization. Which is a crying shame, but this is happening every single day and there’s millions of pounds being wasted on testing tools and technology and time to do testing that just isn’t driving value and impact.
  • So what makes the elite, the Airbnbs, Amazon, Bookings.com, different is really being customer-centric. This is part of their DNA. It’s not just a department, it’s not in silo, it’s intrinsic from the top-down of their business. They are genuinely understanding their users and their customers in order to understand what they need to do to improve and continue to persuade more people to do what they want them to do. They are continually testing and you don’t see big radical changes to their user experience but they’re continually fine-tuning the experience to make it more persuasive, to use more psychological triggers and techniques to influence people.

Different Company, Different Approach

  • Skyscanner weren’t doing any testing and two years ago they brought is in. So we worked with and for initial six months and it was to bring in our methodology and our process and our techniques that we used and the foundations that are so important to optimization. And very much what they’ve done since that is they’ve run with that and they’ve now got a head of optimization and their technology and testing platform allows them to test pretty much anything. So they’re very much looking to get into that top-tier of the most progressive businesses, and they were very clear on that at the start working with us that this is going to be a key internal culture for their business. From what I hear, they’ve been successful with that.
  • We get companies coming to us and some are looking for a full-service you know, like, ‘Can you deliver our optimization for us?’ And we just don’t have the resources and the capabilities to do this internally. Other companies are looking for a collaborative approach where they’re looking to maybe upskill their team and to start to slowly bring this into their business. And then companies like Skyscanner are looking to fast-track that cultural transformation in their business. So different companies, different approaches. Just as with search engine optimization being now such a mature industry, some businesses do it all internally, some businesses outsource everything, others do part of it. Optimization will go in that same direction, it’s not an internal or external practice.

5: CRO as Growth Lever

Getting Into the Minds of Shoppers

I’ve been doing moderator user research for 15 years and it’s such a crucial but still an often undervalued and underutilised technique in optimisation.

This is really actually crucial area and really interesting. Sometimes you hear that you only need to observe what people do rather than listen to what they say, because that’s often different. What they say is what they’d like to be doing or what they think they should be doing.

But we can skillfully speak to end users and consumers, so asking the right questions which are leading questions, and asking at the right time. Presenting visitors with different user experiences, so different company websites to compare against so they’re not just viewing something in isolation. There’s a real skill in this but you can really start to understand their motivations and the behaviour of people’s non-conscious mind by asking the right questions.

So it is a fascinating area that with the right skills and techniques, can bring up to the surface what’s going on in people’s minds. And so that’s why I mentioned I’ve been doing moderator user research for 15 years and it’s such a crucial but still an often undervalued and underutilized technique in optimization.

Changing CRO to CBG

Brian Massey proposed OBO, online business optimisation, as a new acronym to replace CRO. A lot of optimizers will agree that CRO is a very limiting acronym but that it’s synonymous with the industry. And I personally feel that it’s holding the industry back in the sense that it’s too narrow.

Interestingly, around the time when Brian proposed OBO, online business optimization, it was actually around the time I was presenting at Conversion Conference and CBG was a proposed acronym for us to move to, which stands for continuous business growth. So again it’s making it a much more serious practice, a much more strategic thing that we’re talking about rather than just a technique of optimizing conversion rate. So it’s about business growth, but having the word continuous in there as well I feel is a very important element to this. It’s emphasizing that this is a continuous thing that we’re investing in that’s part of our DNA, or it should be part of our DNAs, it’s not just a, ‘We’ll turn the tap on and off.’ So CBG is kind of where I’ve got to personally in terms of what could be a much stronger, more long-term acronym to represent optimization and growth.

About the Book

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I suppose it’s another promotion of the book but the purpose of ‘A Story of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored’, is to help businesses make that strategic change of direction. To have that light bulb moment of, ‘Right, optimization can be a huge growth lever for our business.’ And so I would get a copy of the book in front of the decision-makers in the business and say, ‘Look, this year, these next 12 months we want to start walking the walk. We want optimization to become crucial. We don’t want to do what all these other companies are doing in this book, which is making these mistakes of not taking it seriously enough.’

Innovative Testing

So a retail looking to make that big step change, they’ll only achieve that by embracing the spectrum of testing that’s available to them, embracing the opportunities of testing from simple and iterative through to bolder strategic and innovative testing. Innovative testing is what is done to understand potentially how the value proposition or the actual delivery of a service for business needs to change or if there’s an opportunity to change.

iterative vs innovative testing

For example, one business we work with had a free subscription and premium subscription. They hardly had any people choosing to go premium. And the testing was used to understand, what out of the feature set, between free and premium, was the tipping point? What was the magic function or benefit of their service that would tip people to pay and go for premium service? So this was a game changer for their business and an example of a strategic, innovative test because we’re testing the proposition of the business. We are not just testing, ‘Can we get more people from the shopping basket to checkout.’ It’s, ‘Can we fundamentally change users decision-making?’

A retail looking to make that big step change, they’ll only achieve that by embracing the spectrum of testing that’s available to them.

Redesigning a ‘Poor’ Website That is Converting

  1. Rather than just suddenly thinking, ‘Yeah, it looks like poor-looking website. We need to redesign and we need to build from the ground up.’ Actually that redesign, if we were to go down that route could take six months or nine months. So we could have six or, nine months’ opportunity to get more revenue, more growth, more customers by understanding the existing user experience, looking for where the leaky gaps are and plugging the gaps. Introduce new ideas through some simple testing and maybe a redesign of a key page or a key landing page based on prior test insight knowledge and also user feedback. So it’s, ‘What can we improve upon first? And what learnings can we take?’
  2. And then you’ve got to be very careful as well also, I think businesses often under undervalue or underappreciate that there’s potentially some really great strengths in their user experience. So even though the design could look a lot better and be brought up to more modern design standards, actually there could be some great features or functionality or parts of the experience that work really well. And it’s a real danger for companies that just move into the, ‘We need to redesign. We’re going to go away and do this redesign,’ and create the new shiny bells and whistles e-commerce experience. Potentially they’ve lost what were the strengths and positive parts of the experience of their old website.

3: Parting Advice

How We Hire

We attract great talent because of the branding and the awareness that we have, and this area is still niche. But then when people come into our recruitment process we have quite a thorough multistep process to basically understand the different strengths of that person and how they might fit with the business.

3 Indispensable Tools for Managing the Business

These would be the communication tools, Slack and Trello, that allow the business and the team to see what’s going on and to communicate with each other quickly and effectively and cross-device.

Top CRO Tools

These would be the analytics and insight tools: Google Analytics, Hotjar. And then testing tools to deliver the testing, so Qubit, VWO, Optimizely.

One Piece Of Advice

Get that strategic buy-in understanding and appreciation at at the start of that journey that they want to go on.

Book Recommendation

Rework by the 37 signals guys. I think it’s about eight years old. Fantastic book.

A Story of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.

The book is now available on Amazon in digital e-book format and the print version should be available to start buying and at the end of this month.

 

Key Takeaways

(02:00) Introducing Paul Rouke

(10:30) Deepening Our Understanding of CRO

(21:14) The PRWD Growth Methodology

(48:41) PRWD Maturity Audit

(69:42) Parting Advice


Transcript

Kunle: So my guest on today's episode goes by the name of Paul Rouke. Paul runs the UK's number one conversion rate optimization CRO agency. This is not just fluff, guys, this is earned. And here's why. Their client list includes outdoor wear brand North Face, travel search engine Skyscanner, footwear retailers Schuh, they even have done CRO for the UK's number one appliances e-commerce site, AO.com, Appliances Online. And they've not only done that, they've worked with MBNA, Harveys, Money Super Market, Bensons for Beds, Speedo, and Monsoon. Right. So I met Paul earlier in the year at the Elite Camp, a CRO conference in Estonia where he spoke about iterative and innovative testing. He also shed light on his agency's approach to testing in general and then I said okay, you know what, I'm going to get in touch with Paul at some point. We connected via Twitter and LinkedIn and recently his agency just launched a book, published a book, and we said it'd be a good time for us to catch up with Paul. So we talk about the industry, CRO testing, we talk about his methodology for his agency, and we talk about the outlook for 2016 for mid-tier e-tailers and the e-commerce industry in general. So without further ado, I'd like to welcome to the show Paul Rouke. Welcome, Paul.

Paul: Thank you very much, Kunle. Yes, thanks very much for the invite and it's great to be taking part in this. Much appreciated.

Kunle: It is fantastic having you on the show on because you're a leading CRO experts in UK and in European, the world in general. Could you take 30 seconds or about a minute to introduce yourself to our listeners, please?

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah just a bit of back history with myself: I left school at 16 I started a four-year engineering apprenticeship with British Aerospace so that was my initial career path going down, part of a very select group of people. But halfway through the four-year apprenticeship I realized that I just didn't have the passion for manufacturing, engineering, the electrical engineering, and I decided to go back to what my passion was through school which was around design, you know, computers and design. So I left engineering, I actually went into print design as my first design role and then I moved into online user experience back in 1998, which was at Shop Direct and I was their first web designer. So that's just some of my early career and it was following Shop Direct I went out on my own to set set up PRWD.

Kunle: Okay, okay. So 1998, that is a long, long time. By the way, what does PRWD mean? I've been meaning to ask you.

Paul: Yeah, I do get asked that often and so it's... PR was very much for Paul Rouke. The WD was for website design so 11 years ago when I first thought of going out on my own, creating an identity it was PRWD, Paul Rouke Website Design.

Kunle: [laughs] I didn't think about that.

Paul: [laughs] Yeah, quite quickly I thought, well, maybe I don't want it to just be about myself. You know, do I want my name as part of the name, the acronyms so I change the PR for meaning Paul Rouke to stand for 'professional'. Because I thought if I'm a professional business then I've got a good footing to develop a business. So it was Professional Website Design but basically that was for the first few years. And design user experience has always been core to what I've done but now PRWD is just as it is, it's without acronym. It's the company name that I came up with 11 years ago when things were quite a lot different to how they are today.

Kunle: Quite interesting because you're the second CRO expert I've spoken to that has made the transition from web design to optimization and user experience. I spoke with Peep Laja sometime last year and he said he was pretty much running a web design agency at the time and he attended a conference and after coming back he just you know, team: we're changing direction and we're going to be a CRO agency. It is quite interesting. So when did you make the transition from focus of web design to actually optimizing experiences?

Paul: So 11 years ago when I started out user experience and in particular user research... I conducted my first moderator user research probably 14 years ago going back to when I was at Shop Direct. So that core area of optimizing experience and being able to develop hypotheses based on understanding customers and users and behaviour, we're talking about going back 14 years ag. So although I wasn't doing split testing, A/B testing when the business was a few years old, mainly because there wasn't any testing tools available, in terms of really strong user experience based on understanding user behaviour has always been core to the business. So it was probably, we're probably going back four years ago now where as a business we made the specific change or decision to deliver the vast majority of our work through ongoing optimization programs. So running testing continuously for our clients was very much the foundation for that, being around the whole understanding consumer behaviour. So... does that kind of answer the question? That probably four years ago the specific move into ongoing optimization has been our core focus.

Kunle: Yes, it does, yes it does. Okay, and you've built up quite an impressive list of clients. Do you typically work only with enterprise clients or is it a mix of mid-tier and enterprise clients?

Paul: Yeah, it's definitely a mix. I've been privileged to attract fantastic, very top-level enterprise brands to want to work with me from when I was just a one-man band. They were buying the expertise rather than the agency or a group of people, so that's been very satisfying for me and we've continued attracting fantastic brands to work. But actually, there's a real mix and I'm sure we'll get on to this when we talk about a bit more about our book and our maturity audit and things like that. Being a big business doesn't mean that you're necessarily best suited to growing your business to optimization. And some of our most enjoyable and impactful work has been with that more mid-tier level business where there's increased agility, we're not trying to turn an oil tank around from a well-established huge business corporation. So yeah, we work with mid-tier through that top-tier. It's just typically there's different challenges and different opportunities for us to add value to business is based on the scale of them.

Kunle: Brilliant. Brilliant. I will hope to speak more in detail about the mid-tier. I love the agility of mid-tier e-tailers. Their ability to actually even turn around their business models if growth is on the horizon. Okay, let's talk about the Global Optimization Group you're a part of. I spoke with André Morys of Web Arts in Germany. You, PRWD, are UK representatives, you are the sole UK representatives. How does it work and could you tell us why listeners should think about using your Global Optimization Group company?

Paul: Yeah, great. So as you say, André founded what was previously called the Global Conversion Alliance. So we're just currently rebranding the group to the Global Optimization Group as you said. Andre founded it and it was through his real desire and wanting to learn from other respected experienced optimization companies, and he first approached Chris Goward over at WiderFunnel over at Canada and so they were the first two companies to come together to basically show knowledge, to share experience, to share methodologies, to help each other's businesses become even better. To learn from each other, to learn from mistakes, to see what's working really well, what's having the biggest impact with clients. So they were the first two agencies and then since that we had Conversionista join, John Ekman and over in Sweden. And then obviously ourselves over in the UK. So it was about three years ago where I was extremely privileged for André to invite PRWD to become as you say, the sole UK representative of the group. And the main way, some of the key ways in which we work is that annually all the founders of the agencies meet face-to-face for about a week's time to have a week of strategy and a week of learning from each other's businesses. And it's such a unique forum that we're a part of. I'm not sure of too many other industries where the main leading companies in that industry, in in their respective countries, would actually sit around a table and basically share pretty much everything about the business. You know, there's such honesty and such trust there between the agencies, so it's a very unique position to be in. So we share knowledge and experience and help each other's businesses at the strategic top-end of the business. But also our practitioners and our strategists and researchers and designers also are connected to each other and can learn from each other and a few are actually meeting together later on this month over in Germany, so there's practitioners flying in from around the world. So it's, yeah... very, very unique, very privileged to be a part of this group.

Kunle: It says a lot about the industry, how co-operative it is and how forward-thinking you guys are towards helping the organizations you support. Okay, let's move into this book, it's titled, 'A Story Of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That's Being Ignored'. Could you shed a bit of light about it and summarize what it's about? You've got about 17 experts who chimed in their opinion and philosophy on optimization at the moment. Please go ahead.

Paul: Yeah, so the purpose of this book is not a book of tactics. This is a strategic book. It's a book that needs to get in front of and be read by everyone from the decision-makers, the chief executives of businesses down to the next level down of executive suites and then the management teams below that. So the book is here to basically... we basically cherry-picked the insights from global leaders in optimization. Who, each in their own countries, who are working with companies day in, day out. And each of us are all seeing the same challenges and the same issues and the same barriers as to why optimization still isn't where it needs to be within a business in terms of being a central core area to help to grow that business. And it's been fascinating to develop the book and me to be speaking to the other thought leaders, to realize and recognize actually the same challenges and issues that are holding companies back, this isn't just something in the UK. This is in the US and Germany and France and in other countries. So this book is highlighting the inherent bottlenecks or the inherent reasons why conversion optimization and testing and this whole thing around understanding user behaviour and making continual changes to improve online experiences and improve business performance is still years away from being where it deserves to be. Which is where something like search engine optimization is now which is basically intrinsic to most businesses' marketing strategy.

Kunle: So going forward, in your opinion what picture would the ideal for the optimization industry? So, if the industry, which is the online economy so websites that pretty much rely on the internet to drive revenue, take on advice from this book, what direction would we be headed?

Paul: So we'd be, I suppose what this would look like is that the whole approach of continually testing different ways of delivering your digital experience is in the fabric of our business. It's not something that's done for a few months at time or it's not just something that's done on your PPC landing pages. It's something that is just as integral to the business as your acquisition strategy. That's where we need to get to, that it's not this sideshow. That it's... Or like the elephant in the room that we know we should be doing it but oh we'll just carry on focusing on acquisition as an example. Or we'll get a tool and we'll do a bit of testing but we'll just continue focusing on our big redesign this coming next year. Yeah, it's a big cultural shift in thinking, your mind-set, that is needed.
“It's a big cultural shift in thinking, your mind-set, that is needed.”
Kunle: Getting into the mind of a CEO or founder or even a C-level marketing director that's not too aware of CRO, they’ve probably attended conferences, they've heard about it but, they're interested in the concept... So looking at their strategy, so there's acquisition, there's retention, and there's referral marketing, what part of shall I say the 'marketing funnel' does CRO have the most impact? Would it be at acquisition, at retention, or at getting customers to be advocates of your business?

Paul: So I think, I suppose the first immediate impact would be on the investment that the company, the retailer, is making in acquisition. So paid search, social retargeting, email. Gaining that direct impact of running tests, analysing the impact it's having on the traffic that's coming from your PPC, from your email campaigns, or direct, whatever it might be, the numbers are there. You know, we're running experiments, it's data-driven, this is the reality of what's happening on the site and how our variation that we've introduced is, ideally, hopefully, leading to an increase in the percentage of people doing what we want them to do, which is to obviously buy or convert, purchase, subscribe. That will affect our bottom line metrics because that's how our business needs to grow. So that's kind of the immediate payoff. I suppose the follow-on from that is in providing the, I suppose you might be using what we call 'the black arts' of persuading people with techniques that are almost tricking people into converting, so like staying very clear of that because you could trick people into converting or you could give them a false understanding of what they're going to get for their money. When they see the reality that it isn't as good then you're not going to get brand advocates and your retention of that customer isn't going to be a strong. So, retention is really interesting, that when optimization is done really intelligently and successfully, that then will start have a positive impact on your retention rate because you've delivered a better experience, people have enjoyed it more, they've got through the experience, you've delighted them with some different maybe persuasion techniques, that the end part of your funnel - your confirmation page - you've actually done something memorable so you stick in their mind or all these types of things that will help to encourage that customer to both come back but also to potentially provide referrals or reviews for yourself which will then obviously help broaden brand awareness or broaden your new customer base. So yeah, this is the thing about optimization, is that it can positively impact all the key metrics that will help a business to continue to grow and to take market share.

Kunle: It's a ground-up approach, starting from acquisition and then it filters through retention and advocacy. That's really, really interesting. Let's talk about your CRO Growth Methodology, that's PRWD's Growth Methodology, which was mentioned in the book and which I actually found on your website. Could you share... I believe it's your philosophy, or it's actually a framework, it should be your framework to growth. And that again to the title of the book, which is 'The Growth Strategy That's Being Ignored'. Could you just break it down to our listeners?

Paul: Yeah. So I think first of all to say just with the name of it, The Growth Methodology, first of all it's being absolutely clear this is about growth, this is about growing businesses, it's not just tweaking businesses or just helping businesses to stand still. It's about growth. And then as you say, it's a methodology and a process, it's underlining how important having a process and a methodology is. That it's so often a key missing link within a business who's doing optimization, that there isn't really a structured approach, a kind of philosophy. So that's just in terms of the title of it and the top-level purpose. In terms of to talk through it a little bit, I suppose it would be useful for listeners to this to see it in front of them. But it starts... we have our growth foundations, and the four growth foundations which we know from all our experiences both working directly with clients and both from our team having worked within some of the UK's leading brands, are the four pillars for the long-term growth, for optimization. And the four pillars are the Strategy and Culture for the business. That has got to be right for the business to exploit the potential of optimization. So that's first pillar. The second pillar is Tools and Technology. Having the right tools in place and the right technology, the access to data, the right ways to share learnings about optimization. The third pillar is People and Skills. So, and this isn't just about having resources available for optimization but it's actually about the different skill-sets available, the different skill-sets that are utilized. And there's often missing links there when it comes to optimization and who's delivering that. And then the fourth pillar is actually Processing Methodology. And again, just underlining the importance of a business needing to have process and methodology for optimization for it to have that long-term continuous impact for their business. So they're the pillars in the foundation for our growth methodology. And then as we move on from that, what we then start to have a look at is what are the growth goals of the business? What are the financial projections? What kind of impact do we expect optimization to have for the business over 6 - 12 months, two years’ time? You know, this is long-term planning, it's not just expecting some quick fixes and then everything happens overnight, so it's looking at the growth goals and the potential impact. And then we start to move into the actual, right, now we're looking at starting to really develop an understanding, gain the insights from different areas of the business and from different techniques, which are going to underpin the hypothesis that we developed and the things that we are going to change and how we're going to prioritize optimization. So our intelligent insights framework is underpinned by user research and behavioural understanding. Absolutely crucial, I mentioned earlier I've worked in and delivered user research for about 15 years now and I've known since I first did that the importance of it to understand the behaviour and observing behaviour. But then you've got within this insights framework you've got things from, of course, the data analysis. From your analytics, from tools that are given as constitutive data, including the heuristic evaluations which is based on all our experiences of what's worked and what hasn't worked, the design patterns that we know are influential. There's also then the persuasion element, the persuasion layer to this, so you know, how persuasive is a website? Currently what persuasion techniques are the company using, but then specifically identifying what other persuasion techniques will really help to drive and influence user behaviour. And then the final thing as part of the framework is the visitor and customer understanding that the business already has at its fingertips. So often there's really rich data from customer service teams, from web chat, from post purchase service that maybe isn't being harvested enough. So you can see from this, what we're talking about here is a wide range of insights that we're looking to cherry-pick from and we're looking to understand and we're looking to build together to help build strong hypotheses where we've got very valid insights which allow us to develop strong hypotheses that we're very confident will end up delivering an impact when we run tests.

Kunle: Okay, so the hypothesis is the outcome of these intelligent insights, from research, user behaviour, data analysis, heuristics, design patterns, persuasion, customer data... Then you develop your hypothesis, is that?

Paul: Yeah. I think all of this is ultimately, we're really understanding the 'why', we're developing the 'why' behind what are we testing and what is the purpose of this change. Again, it's a mistake often made. When we dig beneath the surface of companies that have been running testing and you interrogate, first of all, is there a hypothesis? Which quite often there might not even be a hypothesis, but when there is, when we actually interrogate it further we struggle to find the 'why' behind the hypothesis. So all this insight is to really uncover the 'why'. What are we trying to influence and change, and what behaviour have we observed which we know we're confident we can positively influence.

Kunle: All right, that makes a lot of sense. And then the testing begins. Now with this process, where the foundational pillars - strategy, culture, tools, tech, people skills, process, as well as the goals and the intelligent insights, how long does this typically take? Because this seems quite foundational, before you start to carry out the A/B split testing or your multi-variant test? So how long does this take to set up in an organization?

Paul: So when we're working with companies with our ongoing programs, over the course of the first 2 months a lot of these insights are being gathered, there's various workshops, there's analysis being done. So in the first few months we're laying these foundations, we're developing this real understanding of the current user experience, the current customers, developing the ideas and again the why behind what are we going to start influencing, what are the big opportunities. I think it's really important to say with this that some companies still maybe come to us and expected results and testing and impact really quickly but to do this optimization intelligently and to walk before you run, then we still need to educate businesses that this takes time. You've really got to do the groundwork. Without getting the groundwork, without doing the groundwork, and without doing this intelligently the chances are you're going to have a much lower test success rate, you won't build momentum up and the buy-in for optimization because it's just not delivering the impact it deserves. So yeah, it's crucial this groundwork is done.

Kunle: I do absolutely agree with you. Because this seems quite thorough and to just side-line to a few weeks would be detrimental long-term to the campaign. Okay so this in itself deserves a full episode, a full hour to discuss around but just tracking back to focus... have you got any visuals that I could share on the show notes around your methodology with listeners?

Paul: Yeah, I think what will be probably most valuable to your listeners is actually if I give you a short bit.ly link now and it will take you to...I'll just check the bit.ly link myself... but it should take you to a slide share. I do quite a lot of presenting and all myself and my team's slides go on to our slideshow account. A few months ago I presented at Conversion Conference UK and within that slide deck I share the methodology and there's a visual of it as well as there's a lot of good insight on that deck as well, it's not just about the methodology. So if I, let me just check the bit.ly link that I need to share with you, it will just be 20 seconds and...

Kunle: Yeah, I'm really excited to talk about some of the entries in the book. I cherry-picked about five comments in the book and I'd love to hear your opinion on their techniques. Really, really interesting. So for our listeners, there was 17 global experts, there was Bryan Eisenberg who's speaking with me next week, Chris Goward, Paul himself, Craig Sullivan, Roger Dooley, Brian Massey, Peep Laja, David Darmanin, Angie Schottmuller, Talia Wolf, Tim Ash, Oli Gardner... the lot, you know, André Morys, Bart Schutz, Linda Bustos, and John Ekman... So there are loads and I will link to where to get the book from. Okay so let's talk about some comments on the book. The first one is, 'CRO is not a tactic. It needs to be embedded in the culture.' We've gone through that, by Bryan Eisenberg, and he said... sorry, just trying to break down what he said in the context of conversion rate, which I love, he said, 'Conversion rate measures the ability to persuade visitors to take action you want them to take and measure effectiveness of satisfying customers.' So how do you think or what are your suggestions with regards to embedding the culture of conversion rate optimisation and testing in value proposition and even business execution? So how does the not just CMO but the COO, you know, a CEO, actually have the culture of optimizing and testing in the execution of business strategy?

Paul: Yeah, the first thing that needs to happen for this to happen, which is from at the top of the business, you know, from the owner of the business down three levels of management, they need to understand and appreciate the importance and the opportunity of continuous optimization. Now one of the most fundamental ways for this to be able to start to happen is to basically expose the decision-makers to observing users, customers, potential customers or actual customers, using or trying to use their online experience for their business. Because there's so much kind of ego and opinion and history with how a business maybe developed and designed its online experience over many years. But there is typically a disconnect between the internal blinkered view of the online experience and how visitors are interacting with and how great the experience is versus the reality of actually when you look beneath, when you look behind the curtain and you observe real users working through, trying to use a website, looking at your competitor websites and making decisions on that, there's typically a big disconnect with that understanding and appreciation. So one quick example I'll just share of how a business that I admire very much so and that we've had fantastic learnings from that have come into our business from theirs is from AO.com, Appliances Online. I worked with probably about six or seven years ago with Matthew Lawson, who was then the new role was like Head of Conversion and he wanted to bring in this culture of optimization within their business, they didn't have it at all. You know, user experience and things, the site had just evolved and it wasn't anywhere near where it could be. And so we worked together to develop what ended up going on to be described as shock tactics for their business, but it had a fundamental transformational effect. And that was to actually utilize remote user testing, so we use remote user testing to basically conduct and gain a big number of videos, much more user research sessions than you would typically do when you're just looking to evaluate one part of a site or just one round of research. So we got a big number of the videos done and we basically and got each of the decision-makers in the senior management at AO, Appliances Online as it was called there, to watch and observe the videos and with the brief to say, 'Watch these videos, this is visitors using our website. Come back to us with any ideas or suggestions of where you feel we need to improve our experience.' Within 10 minutes of people starting to watch the videos, which was for the first time they were actually seeing behind the curtain, the senior managers and directors were coming back saying, 'We need to change this, we need to do that. We need to make our videos more prominent. Our product page is all confusing.' And this was phenomenal, this was fantastic because it was this enlightenment moment for them as to how far-off their user experience was meeting their visitors' expectations. And what that's led on to... the rest is history, almost, in that AO are now one of... they're selling washing machines, goddamn it, it's like, this isn't a sexy product that they're selling but, making, buying washing machines and dryers and ovens... they're kind of making it sexy. I've got huge admiration for them and we've been fortunate enough at PRWD to have a lady who worked alongside Matthew Lawson, Nicole, come into our business. She's worked with us for 18 months and for her to bring in her experiences of how that coach was developed at AO.com, has been phenomenal. So yeah, I think, if that helps, so that's basically shock tactics, but...

Kunle: Right. No, I think that's a fantastic example. The fact that you gave management real, live videos and they were able to just appreciate the value from optimization and insights, live insights into areas they could potentially improve. So a good starting point for listeners is to start to watch recordings of actual people, or shoppers, interacting with their stores. So that's a key takeaway. Now what tools can they use to record these sessions? And there's also the issue of how much data, how many videos, how many hours of these sessions should they watch? So what are your suggestions and advice around that, please?

Paul: So, if a company hasn't before or has very rarely invested in looking to understand users and how they interact and use their website then 5 to 10 videos, 5 to 10 research sessions would provide huge enlightenment. It isn't going to answer every question, it's not going to give you everything you need for the next 12 - 18 months, but 5 to 10 videos. Patterns would emerge, key opportunity would emerge, within the first one or two videos of key opportunities, even though it's small numbers, it presents glaring opportunities. So as a starting point 5 to 10. But what a mistake that companies often do is do research, it's almost a ticking the box exercise and then it could be one year, 18 months later, that they think about doing user research again. That is a huge mistake. Research needs to be kept up-to-date: behaviour changes, people's expectations changes, your online experiences are improving and changing, hopefully. So keeping topping up that user research is extremely important. In terms of tools to do this or techniques, I suppose the Rolls-Royce version of research is moderated research where you're actually spending time one-to-one with users and you're able to ask questions and probe through their experiences as they're using your website to dig beneath the surface. So that's moderated research and that's what I've done for 15 years and I've always recognized the importance of that. If you then move to the more cost-effective solutions then tools such as UserTesting.com and WhatUsersDo are two of the main tools for and carrying out remote user research, that can again obviously give you great enlightenment. There are of course things like session recording tools, which obviously give you feedback on people's interactions with your page and your site, but what that's missing is that's missing the commentary about the thought processes and how people are making decisions and what's the key driver for them, how are they making a decision between brand A and brand B, in terms of where they'll make that purchase decision. So yeah, they're some of the tools and the key techniques to get beneath the surface of the user behaviour and motivation.

Kunle: It's quite interesting, because in the real world, I was reading a New York Times article about Walmart. They're trying to optimize the look of their shelves, basically. They thought that their shelves were too cluttered. And there's just a thought in the retail industry that the more the items on an aisle, the more people would shop, the more people will throw things into their cart. And the more things in their cart, the more likely their order value would increase. So they were running some tests and what was quite interesting was in their research they started to follow shoppers and they realised that what shoppers said they did differed to what they actually did. So actually observing them carrying out actions and then taking notes was a better way to gather data in real world, in terms of shopping data. So I suppose for mid-tier retailers, would you suggest a good starting point would be perhaps the session-based recordings on live traffic without the commentary, just to start and present it as a user data, basically, as shopping behaviour data?

Paul: Well, yes, certainly, so something like Hotjar as a tool, which is one of the tools we use which is extremely cost-effective. It's an interesting feature set there, one of them does include the session recording. So from a cost point of view, something like that, that'd be great step for a retailer to make, to introduce a tool like that, that gives them insights and be able to watch and observe videos of people that abandon or dropout or people that purchase. But for things like the remote user testing I mentioned, they aren't cost prohibitive at all, so if a retailer is just looking at what they're spending on acquisition, which mid-tier retailers all the way all up you know, this would be typically a huge amount of money on a monthly basis to drive traffic to their site. The cost of running remote testing is completely like, negligible. So the user research insight, remote user research, even moving into moderated research, it's worth it's weight in gold so it shouldn't be something, 'Oh well, maybe we'll do that, or we'll maybe set aside a budget for that in six months’ time.' Understanding user behaviour, observing user behaviour, it needs to be a fundamental part of how you'll go about optimizing your retail experience.

Kunle: Okay. Brilliant. Okay, let's talk about silos. This is Chris Goward's comment, 'Why is optimisation still viewed as tactical?' He was not the only person who mentioned it. A lot of people, including I think it was Peep Laja and David Darmanin talked about the fact that a lot of people just write about the best practices, you know, what are the tactics, what are the hacks and shortcuts to optimising... So how can we reduce or just eliminate the perspective of CRO being tactical to organizations and to marketing and to growth in general?

Paul: This goes back to getting that buy-in, getting that appreciation and awareness and that true understanding from the top of the business of the importance of optimization. And of maybe the disparity between how good they think the experience is versus how it actually is. Because ultimately without the buy-in from the top of the business you know, these are the people that are making decisions on who to hire, who to recruit, what budget to set aside for external spend, internal spend. We know a lot of businesses where the middle management lay it down, you know e-commerce managers and directors are kind of fighting for investment to build a team up, to bring in expertise, and so you know they're fighting upwards. So the buy-in, to make this a core part of the business strategy, needs to come from the top down or else you'll continue to hit brick walls with lack of budget. So I think just one interesting just quick thing I'll share is one of the most damaging case that is I feel that has been out there and it's been out there for a long time and I hear senior people refer to this sometimes and it's the $100 million button, which you might recall. And it's when a retailer, big huge retailer, changed one of the buttons, changed the wording, and it led to this massive impact. But that, as a standalone case that it is, the huge number is ridiculous, it wouldn't deliver, that was just a projected amount, but it's a type of big impact thing that senior people and chief executives would sit up and listen and think, 'Wow, like, testing a button, it could lead to such massive impact.' But it's just fundamentally the wrong thing to plant in people's mind that testing is about the very intricate small parts of an experience. It's of course, that's very much part of optimization but it's much broader, it needs to be much bigger. It's about understanding what the value proposition of the business is and how can we change that, what can we do to change our free to premium sign-up subscription rate as an example. You know, how do we change people's understanding of our proposition to make them put the hand in the pocket? You can't just do that by testing buttons and testing the wording on buttons. It's more fundamental than that, so yeah, I think there's still such a long way to go, there's like inherent ingrained beliefs you hear so often optimization specialist talk about. It's not about testing button colours and testing buttons. That still has to be enforced and communicated because it is still in the minds of a lot of senior people that testing is just this tactical thing and it can be done very trivially by changing one colour to another, perhaps.

Kunle: I think that wire is missing, as you alluded to earlier. Okay, so let's talk about your commentary. Your caption was, 'Talking the talk, not walking the walk.' Why do you think the vast majority of businesses are not committing to executing optimisation as effectively as they claim to be? You also talked about the fact that companies that actually execute what they say at optimisation are in a minority. Do you think it's just an 80/20 rule at play here where there'll always be that minority who are more or less elite and executing it top-level and the laggards really which are the 80 percent?

Paul: To be honest I think, well right now if I was to assess the industry from our understanding and experience it, of the different businesses that we speak to and work with, you've got a real small number of elite businesses who have really embraced how integral optimization needs to be to grow their business. So brands such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Amazon, Etsy, Netflix... Optimization is intrinsic to how their business runs and operate and they're continually testing, it's just part of their DNA. These kind of businesses, these are obviously huge brands, huge traffic conversions, and they've got a lot of traffic to play with, to optimize with. You know they're in the absolute elite and then you've got a bracket down from that which is maybe 5% -10% of industry out there, this is again from our experience of from the mid-tier brands up to the enterprise-level businesses, maybe another 5 or 10% of business that really get this, that are really trying to make changes and are really growing their business through intelligent optimization. But then you probably getting in a big percentage, maybe like 60% of businesses, who are doing testing, they've got a testing tool, they are running some tests, but they're just testing for testing sake, it's almost a ticking the box exercise and if you look back at their last 10 tests they probably maybe had two or three successes. None of the tests have really impacted the bottom-line metrics that they see through their analytics. But they have been testing so it's a tick in the box. But you know, there's huge potential for that group of businesses to start doing testing intelligently. And then you'll have at the bottom end of the ladder, the 10 - 20% of businesses who haven't yet got a tool in place and haven't really considered bringing testing and optimization into their business. So that's a makeup that I would say from the experience that we have and it's actually... because there's such a disparity between business' understanding and appreciation of optimization, so before you even start to test and what you test, the makeup of businesses and the flaws in the businesses that they might have or things are working well and things that aren't, that led us to develop our Maturity Audit, which I think I mentioned earlier. But this is where we can audit and assess businesses, not on their online experience but on everything that sits below that, which is what is their strategy like and their culture, what tools do they have? And the areas that I talked about earlier, to the foundations of our Growth Methodology. So yeah, if the business doesn't have these foundations in place then they can be testing for three years and not really seeing an impact and not really growing through optimization. Which is a crying shame but this is happening every single day and there's millions of pounds being wasted on testing tools and technology and time to do testing that isn't driving value and impact.

Kunle: So in your maturity audit, what elements and what pillars below optimization do you want to see?

Paul: So yeah, so just to recap, these are the four pillars for Grow Methodology.

Kunle: Same four pillars, okay.

Paul: Just whilst we're on this, the bit.ly link I mentioned earlier on, which is to the slide deck from our talk in Conversion Conference is, it's just bit.ly and then it's CBGnotCRO. So if people go to that bit.ly link, they'll get to my slides and within that slide deck is the visualization of our methodology.

Kunle: Okay, I'll link to it for sure. Okay.

Paul: So yeah, the four areas, just to recap: the Strategy and Culture of the business, the Tools and Technology that the company's using, the Process and Methodology, and the People and Skills. So that's the four.

Kunle: Okay, okay. That sounds very thorough, very, very thorough. Okay, right. One question I wanted to ask with regards to the elite, you know, the Airbnbs, the Amazons, the Bookings.com is what do you think makes, besides the money, you know, they're well-funded, very well funded companies, what do you think really makes them differ? Do you think they either have a department dedicated to CRO or do you think every individual is embedded in the CRO testing culture or do you think it's down to their process where everything is streamlined, there's a testing element to anything they deploy? What's your opinion on what makes these guys different? It's fascinating.

Paul: Yeah it is absolutely one of the suggestions made there, is that being customer-centric, genuinely understanding the users and their customers to understand what they need to do to improve that and to continue to help to persuade more people to do what they want them to do is part of their DNA. It's not just a department, it's not in silo, it's intrinsic from the top-down of their business. But yeah, brands like Booking.com are continually testing and like Amazon, you don't see big radical changes to their user experience but they're continually fine-tuning the experience to make it more persuasive, to use more psychological triggers and techniques to influence people. So yeah, that's got to happen. It becomes intrinsic to the DNA of the business.

Kunle: And they all deliver superior products, we have to say, there's that. Also retention and advocacy layer which ties in to the optimization. It's just fascinating. On your client list you have Skyscanner. Would you regard Skyscanner, they're based in Scotland, I think Glasgow or Edinburgh, would you regard them as an elite? Skyscanner.com, the travel search engine.

Paul: Yes, so really interesting with them. They brought us in, it was probably two years ago now, they weren't doing any testing two years ago and they brought is in. Well they first of all went out to speak to a range of agencies around, actually, to see which companies would be best suited to come in and help them develop their optimization culture and their strategy and process. And it was a privilege for PRWD to be selected and then to be that chosen agency. So we worked with and for initial six months and it was to bring in our methodology and our process and our techniques that we used and the foundations that are so important to optimization. And very much what they've done since that is they've run with that and they've now got a head of optimization who used to work at Shop Direct. And now their technology and testing platform allows them to test pretty much anything, so it's like a Booking.com type approach. So we're not working directly with them now but from everything I understand from knowing Colin who works there, they're very much looking to get into that top-tier of the most progressive businesses, and they were very clear on that at the start working with us that this is going to be a key internal culture for their business. From what I hear, they've been successful with that.

Kunle: It seems to me like a lot of the cutting edge innovations and discoveries are being discovered with agencies like yourself and with people in the Conversion Alliance, just due to the amount of data you're working with. And some companies come in to take some of this knowledge and embed it in their culture.

Paul: Yeah, it's interesting, we get companies coming to us and some are looking for a full-service you know, like can you deliver our optimization for us, we just don't have the resources and the capabilities to do this internally. Other companies are looking for a collaborative approach where they're looking to maybe upskill their team and to start to slowly bring this into their business. And then companies like Skyscanner are looking to fast-track that cultural transformation in their business. So yeah, different companies, different approaches. Just as with techniques such as search engine optimization being now such a mature industry, some businesses do it all internally, some businesses outsource everything, others do part of it. And optimization will go in that same direction, it's not an internal or external practice.

Kunle: Okay, okay. Let's quickly run through Roger Dooley's impute to us, 'A lack of focus on customers’ non-conscious mind.' So in that sense, how do you get into the minds of shoppers? And my question is how do you get into the minds of shoppers using behavioural science and psychology and social proof as tools, from an optimization standpoint?

Paul: Yes, so, this is really actually crucial area and really interesting and sometimes you hear that you only need to observe what people do rather than listen to what they say because that's often different, you know what they say is what they'd like to be doing or what they think they should be doing. But when we're speaking to end users and consumers, when asking the right questions which are leading questions and asking at the right time and also presenting visitors with different user experiences, so different company websites to compare against so they're not just viewing something in isolation, then there's a real skill in this but you can really start to understand their motivations and the behaviour of people's non-conscious mind by asking the right questions. So it is a fascinating area that throws, with the right skills and techniques, you can bring what's going on in people's mind, you can bring that to the surface. And so that's why I mentioned I've been doing moderator user research for 15 years and it's such a crucial but still an often undervalued and underutilized technique in optimization.

Kunle: That insight, okay. Very, very interesting. Right. Brian Massey, he was quite controversial saying CRO should be changed to OBO, which means online business optimization, just due to the fact that you know, optimizers optimize for revenue. What's your take? And not images or buttons as you alluded to. What's your take on his suggestion?

Paul: So yeah, it's really interesting, I think a lot of optimizers, we all agree that CRO is a very limiting acronym but it's synonymous with the industry. And I personally feel that it's holding the industry back in the sense that it's too narrow, as you've alluded to. Interestingly, around the time when Brian provided this quote and he proposed OBO, online business optimization, it was actually around the time I was presenting at Conversion Conference and that the bit.ly link, CBGnotCRO, so CBG was the acronym or a proposed acronym for us to move to, which stands for continuous business growth. So again it's making it a much more serious practice, a much more strategic thing that we're talking about rather than just a technique of optimizing conversion rate. So it's about business growth but having the word continuous in there as well I feel is a very important element to this. It's emphasizing that this is a continuous thing that we're investing in that's part of our DNA, or it should be part of our DNAs, it's not just a, 'We'll turn the tap on and off.' So CBG is kind of where I've got to personally in terms of what could be a much stronger, more long-term acronym to represent optimization and growth.

Kunle: I think growth should be in whatever acronym the industry chooses to pick. Okay, right, this is the final part of this episode and before we start out the lightning round I have one core question. A lot of our listeners are mid-tier retailers, so they're seven figures, and they're looking to move to either eight or even nine figure businesses. And for a mid-tier etailer, how can they effectively use CRO as a growth lever for the next 12 months to hit their target as a business?

Paul: I suppose it's another promotion of the book but the purpose of the book is to help businesses make that step, that strategic change of direction, or that change to the lightbulb moment of, 'Right, optimization can be a huge growth lever for our business.' And so suppose I would put right at the beginning to potentially get a copy of the book, get that in front of the decision-makers in the business and say, 'Look, this year, these next 12 months we want to start walking the walk. We want optimization to become crucial. We don't want to do what all these other companies are doing in this book, which is making these mistakes of not taking it seriously enough.’ So you've got to get that foundation piece right. Without that, you know the team delivering the optimization, they'll hit brick wall through that next 12 months. So that's crucial first of all. And then hopefully, if there is that kind of shock tactic or that light bulb moment, then beginning to invest in either internally but you know using an agent, it's bringing an intelligent process where it's underpinned by user behaviour and user understanding, there's the 'why' behind the testing. And then also which this leads on to a much broader point in a separate topic but the business embraces the opportunities of testing from simple and iterative through to bolder strategic and innovative testing which can and should make up how the company's running tests for their website. Not just being reliant on simple, quick, easy testing because that will only take you so far. So a retail looking to make that big step change, they'll only achieve that by embracing the spectrum of testing that's available to them.

Kunle: Yeah, so I just want to take you on the bold and innovative changes or testing: what does that encompass versus the iterative and the more progressive approach?

Paul: Yeah, so the full spectrum going to innovative and radical and strategic, this is where... and we work with businesses doing this, it's where testing is done to understand potentially how the value proposition or the actual delivery of a service for business needs to change or if there's an opportunity to change. So one quick example is a business we work with where they had a free subscription and premium subscription. They hardly had any people choosing to go premium. And the testing was used to understand what out of the feature set that this business had, between free and premium, what was the tipping point. What was the magic feature or function or benefit of their service that would tip people, going for premium paid versus the free service? So this was a game changer for their business. So that's an example of a strategic, innovative test because we're testing the proposition of the business. We are not just testing, 'Can we get more people from the shopping basket to checkout.' It's, 'Can we fundamentally change users decision-making?'

Kunle: Okay. What's your take on a retailer that comes to you, for instance, and in your subjective opinion they have a really crappy website? But their website had managed to, perhaps just due to their value proposition, the conversion rates are 3 - 5%, which is not too bad. Would you tell them to [laughs] take everything down and look 10 times more expensive or look more appealing, look nicer, more appealing to visitors? Or would you still use what they have and kind of test bits, based on the fact that you've carried out the majority audit? Would you go for a radical change or would you go for and incremental small change? Would you go for an evolution or would you go for revolution in that instance?

Paul: Really interesting, that. I think what we'd be looking to do there is obviously based on the data, because you mentioned that maybe this business is still quite successful, this retailer, so we'd actually look at are there big, leaky buckets? Sometimes there's, like Peep Laja likes to refer to, in the user journey, so are there some glaring steps in the process that there's some quick-win opportunities that can be tested to plug some of the gap. So rather than just suddenly thinking, 'Yeah, it looks like poor-looking website. We need to redesign and we need to build from the ground up.' Actually that redesign, if we were to go down that route could take six months or nine months. So we could have six or, nine months opportunity to get more revenue, more growth, more customers by understanding the existing user experience and plugging the gaps and introducing new ideas through some simple testing maybe and maybe a redesign of a key page or a key landing page based on prior test insight knowledge and also user feedback. So yeah, it's not hard and fast, 'This website looks really poor, it could be a lot better so we need to go away and start to do a redesign.' It's, 'What can we improve upon first? And what learnings can we take?' And then as well also what I think businesses often under undervalue or underappreciate is there's potentially some really great strengths in their user experience so even though the design could look a lot better, it could be brought up to more modern design standards, actually there could be some great features or functionality or parts of the experience that work really well. And it's a real danger for companies that just move into the, 'We need to redesign. We're going to go away and do this redesign,' and the new shine, bells and whistles e-commerce experience. Potentially they've lost what were the strengths and positive parts of the experience of their old website. So you've got to be very careful with that.

Kunle: I mean, yeah, for Tesco it's starting to become a kind of Apple, [laughs] that kind of Apple story, you know what happens. Okay, right. Let's move to the evergreen lightning round. I'm going to ask you a set of questions and you could answer with a sentence or two max. Okay. How do you hire people?

Paul: We first of all, we attract great talent because of the branding that we have and the awareness that we have, and this area is still niche. So we get great people coming to us. But then when people come into our recruitment process we have quite a thorough multistep process to basically understand the different strengths of that person and how they might fit with the business. It's crucial...

Kunle: Okay. What are three indispensable tools for managing PRWD?

Paul: I think these would come in to communication tools, so things like things like Slack as an example, it's really important and things like Trello. So things to allow the business and the team to see what's going on and to communicate with each other quickly and effectively on cross device.

Kunle: Okay. And your top five CRO tools?

Paul: So tools would be the analytics, the insight tools, so GA, things like Hotjar session recording. And then of course we need testing tools to deliver the testing, so whether it's Qubit, VWO, Optimizely, you know, the main tools that we use.

Kunle: Okay. All right. What one piece of advice can you give mid-tier e-tailers looking to 2X or 3X their e-commerce ventures over the next 12 months?

Paul: It's to get that strategic buy-in understanding and appreciation at at the start of that journey that they want to go on.

Kunle: Great. Okay, great. If you could choose a single book or resource that has made the highest impact on how you view building a business and growth, which would it be?

Paul: Yeah, that is Rework by the 37 signals guys. I think it's about eight years old. Fantastic book.

Kunle: I've read it, yeah. Good stuff. Okay finally, could you let our audience know how they can find out and reach out to you?

Paul: Yeah, so social media through my Twitter: Paul Rouke. Or on LinkedIn. Our company website PRWD.co.uk which includes our blog. And on also, I write fairly regularly for Econsultancy as well so people can read my articles on Econsultancy is well.

Kunle: And I think you also developed the first conversion optimization course for Econsultancy.

Paul: We have, yeah, we first started delivering that last year so that's, yeah, Econsultancy's only dedicated conversion course. Which is exactly a strategic course rather than a tactical course full of tips and techniques of what to test, because that isn't what's needed in businesses.

Kunle: Okay and finally, how can people get hold of the book, A Story of Untapped Potential: The Growth Strategy That's Being Ignored.

Paul: Yeah, so it's available in Amazon now in digital e-book format and the print version should be available to start buying and at the end of this month. The the bit.ly link for this should be Growth Leaders, so bit.ly/GrowthLeaders, that should take you to the current page on Amazon.

Kunle: Okay, I will link to it, guys, I'll link to it in the show notes, so you know, guys, grab your copies. Okay thank you so much, Paul, for being part of this show and coming on today's episode. It was very long, but it was very, very, very, very worth it. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on.

Paul: Thank you, yeah thanks once again for the invite, Kunle, and it's been my pleasure to share my experiences with your listeners.

Kunle: Cheers.






About the host:

Kunle Campbell

An ecommerce advisor to ambitious, agile online retailers and funded ecommerce startups seeking exponentially sales growth through scalable customer acquisition, retention, conversion optimisation, product/market fit optimisation and customer referrals.

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