Is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) a Dead End?

55HApril 9, 2015 will be the first annual International Conversion Rate Optimization Day. April 9 is also my 45th birthday. I’ve invested almost half my life evangelizing for conversion rate optimization (CRO). I should be thrilled but instead I find myself asking: is CRO, as it is practiced today, a dead end?

The good news is that there is a greater awareness that increasing sales conversion rates offers a greater ROI than what you can get from optimizing your traffic; either from paid or earned media. There is also a greater awareness of the tactics necessary to increase conversion rates.

Considering the Current State of CRO

CRO has been good for us. We studied hard, experimented, and then trained and encouraged clients to become experts in the many varied aspects of the CRO disciplines.

Yet not one of these siloed disciplines was a decisive factor in consistently achieving better results.

Upon reflection of our nearly 20 years of CRO work we observed that some companies effortlessly adopted a culture of optimization. Others achieved wins but failed to absorb the lessons learned. Their CRO was all about after-the-fact fixes; the dead end of many of today’s traditional tactic-based CRO efforts.

Conversion Rates Are Only a Leading Indicator of Success

Better conversion rates are not an end to themselves, they’re an unworthy goal. Conversion rates are only a leading indicator of success. Your conversion rate tells you whether you’re failing to satisfy customers, merely meeting their expectations, or hopefully exceeding those expectations by delighting customers.

In 2001 I defined conversion rate this way:

Conversion rates are a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re also a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfying customers, because for you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs.

Ten years ago CRO was still in its infancy. Today’s traditional CRO or growth hacking is focused almost entirely on tactics and after-the-fact fixes based primarily on the company’s goals. There is nowhere near enough emphasis placed on helping visitors achieve their goals first.

Traditional/Tactical CRO Is Too Focused on After-the-Fact Fixes of the Funnel

Let’s get real – your customer isn’t truly in a funnel. There’s no gravity compelling them through your experience like there is in a real funnel. There is only the customer’s motivation and your understanding of that motivation to create persuasive momentum.

Your customers’ journeys are their stories, NOT funnels. They could tell you the stories – just try asking them. And those stories don’t always have happy endings.

Your customers’ stories end happily when they are delighted. And for them that may mean buying from you or from a competitor. It’s simply a matter of perspective.

The most successful companies start with the story from the customer’s perspective. Their business people make that story accountable through analytics. They anticipate what needs to be measured in order for the analysts to understand the actual customers’ experience – did their stories end happily? These stories are then shared with the business people and they learn what’s missing or what needs to be optimized.

  • Can your analysts tell the customers’ stories from the metrics they see?
  • Can your business people tell analysts what to measure?

If you cannot answer yes to both questions, then your strategy isn’t truly aligned with customers’ needs.

Successful CRO Must Align Strategy With Customer Needs

The companies that truly excel at conversion rate optimization have evolved a culture of customer-centricity; not at the manager or director level, but in the C-suite. The best companies absorb CRO learnings and incorporate them into strategy and operational changes. That makes them superior, not just at fixing, but at creating relevant customer experiences, including marketing campaigns, customer flows, and meaningful content. They deeply understand and are fiercely committed to delighting their customers.

One of the privileges of working through CRO challenges with diverse organizations over the years, was learning that no matter the industry, business size, or product, the only story that truly matters is the story that your delighted customers tell about your company – not the one you tell your customer.

CRO is an adolescent and it’s tough to judge the behavior of an adolescent. It needs to evolve and grow up if we’re ever going to have a meaningful 10th annual International Conversion Rate Optimization Day.

Please share if you think others would benefit.