“It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling because, at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people.”

But people can be tricky – why do they do what they do? Most of us have figured out that we do things for one of two reasons, to avoid pain or to gain pleasure and our customers are no different. So how can you use that information to drive leads and sales? According to my podcast guest Justin Christianson, it’s by utilizing split (A/B) testing and conversion optimization.

Justin’s vast knowledge of split (A/B) testing and conversion optimization borders on the fanatical. So fanatical, he wrote a book about it, “Conversion Fanatic: How to double your customers, sales and profits with A/B testing”.

Join Justin and I and see how split (A/B) testing and conversion optimization can get people to take the desired action that you want them to take by learning:

  • How Conversion Fanatics was born
  • Why you have to track and learn why people do what they do
  • The basics of conversions
  • Big mistakes people make when attempting to get people to convert
  • How to start testing for conversions
  • How to get your clients to actually do case studies
  • Some of the most surprising things Justin has learned from conversion testing
  • What makes an employee good for conversion work
  • Why split (A/B) testing and conversion optimization are two very different things
  • Why you must approach working with other agencies for a client with no ego
  • VR and video: why these two technologies are only going to grow in the future
  • How Justin stays on the cutting edge
  • How to pick the clients that are right for your agency

Justin Christianson is a 15-year digital marketing veteran and #1 bestselling author of “Conversion Fanatic: How to double your customers, sales and profits with A/B testing.” He is also the co-founder and President of Conversion Fanatics, a full-service conversion optimization company, and the host of the weekly podcast CMO Roundtable.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/justin-christianson/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. More on Justin’s Background
  2. What Drew Justin into the Digital Marketing World
  3. The Most Common Mistakes Made with Conversion Optimization
  4. Understanding the Value of A/B Testing and Conversion Optimization
  5. Some of the Most Important Lessons Justin Has Learned Along the Way
  6. How to Find the Right Employees to Do this Kind of Work
  7. A/B Testing & Conversion Optimization Tools and Resources
  8. Defining A/B Testing and Conversion Optimization
  9. How to Get Comfortable Working with Another Agency
  10. Digital Trends Coming Down the Pipeline
  11. How an Old School Agency Could Begin to Develop A/B Testing & Conversion Optimization Capabilities
  12. How Justin Prevents Scope Creep
  13. Final Advice from Justin

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line.

Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is your host Drew McLellan. Happy to be with you again. Today’s guest is Justin Christianson. Let me tell you a little bit about Justin, and what we’re going to talk about today. He is a 15-year digital marketing veteran and the number one bestselling author of the book “Conversion Fanatic: How to double your customers sales and profits with A/B testing.” He’s also the co-founder and president of Conversion Fanatics, a full service conversion optimization company and host of the weekly podcast, CMO Roundtable. So, Justin welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Justin C.: Hey thanks for having me, Drew. Glad to be here.


More on Justin’s Background

Drew McLellan: So give us a little bit of background on how you got into digital marketing. How, and when, you started your shop. What was the evolution to that.

Justin C.: Well, I started back in 2002-ish in, actually, network marketing and I quickly figured out that I wasn’t cut out for the whole belly to belly, bumping into people at the grocery store type, prospecting stuff. So, I turned to the Internet and started generating leads there, and then went through the ranks of Affiliate Marketing. Really, my own info product later on and then I actually became the number one affiliate per program and ended up being partners on that company.

We went on to grow that to just shy of about $10 million in revenue, and I sold my stake back to my business partners and moved on. And due to some of the information that I published through that company about testing, and I’ve always been testing and optimizing my whole entire career. Figuring out what makes people tick and what works better than others, and because of demand people have asked me about the implementation and optimization.

So, we started that, private consulting, and then I partnered up just a handful of years ago with my now business partner who was basically doing the same thing and we set out to teach people about it and that actually … Through that teachings of it, people just said, “Can’t you just do this for me?”

So, out of demand we started what is now Conversion Fanatics and I guess the rest, you could say, is history since we’ve had some pretty big growth in the last couple of years.

Drew McLellan: So what came first, the agency or the book?

Justin C.: The agency.

Drew McLellan: Okay, okay.

Justin C.: Yeah, the book is only about a year old.


What Drew Justin into the Digital Marketing World

Drew McLellan: Okay. So, as you were cutting your teeth on digital marketing and optimization, what was it about that that drew you in? There are so many different kinds of agencies that specialize in different things. What was it about the whole idea of A/B testing and conversion optimization and testing that held your interest?

Justin C.: I just like the psychology of why people do what they do. What makes them make the buying decisions, or take the actions to interact with a certain brand or company or website or things like that? And really the pain/fear aspect, and the pain and pleasure, and why people do what they do.

So, I saw so many people not paying attention to it so much, because I came from the direct response launch info-product type world. Whereas I realized that so many people weren’t actually testing. They were so worried about the traffic element of it but they weren’t worried about the conversion element. And I saw less people actually doing something with the data that they were collecting. Leveraging their analytics, and really understanding their buyers behavior, and how they were interacting with their ads, rather than just, “Oh I put a dollar in here and I get a $1.50 out here.” And just really figuring out why, and then to tweak those numbers.

So, it really just came down to me wanting to better help companies understand the importance of optimization as well as help them not have the hard lumps that it is.  Because it is hard work to actually test and do an effective process. So, just really taking that heavy lifting off of their shoulders.

Drew McLellan: So, any … a lot of this is about psychology. So, as you step back and look at your learnings over the years, are there any “aha” moments in terms of how consumers behave or is there some human truth in all of that somewhere ya think?

Justin C.: Yeah, people come to me with ideas, it’s like, “All of you worked in this certain industry. My industry’s different.” And I was like, “No, your industry is not different.” Throughout my entire career, the basics, the same thing has worked time and time again. Just the mediums change slightly and the attention spans have gotten a lot shorter, obviously. But at the end of the day, we’re all dealing with people. We’re dealing with relationship building and it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, whether it’s a service, whether it’s supplements, whether it’s a software. It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling because, at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people. They have their pain. I always say that people only buy for two reasons, and that’s to avoid pain or gain pleasure. And where it really comes down to is engagement. How can you engage that person in a way that hits them in that pain or pleasure point to get them take the desired action that you want them to take.

Drew McLellan: So, you said there are some basics and while the channels, or the mediums, change the basics are evergreen. I suspect they’re basic to you because you’ve done them for a long time. But if you had to identify a couple of the basics, what are they?

Justin C.: It’s really just comes down to quality eyeballs on your stuff, wherever they’re living. It doesn’t matter. People say “What’s the best traffic source?” Well depends on what you’re selling. It’s where your people are at. So, it always comes down to good quality traffic and then it really just comes down to the conversion element, and that is to generate a lead, to build that relationship with them, and then in turn, sell them a solution to their problem. And that’s really all it’s come down to, is just figuring out a way to build that relationship and engage them in a way and sometimes it isn’t even online. Sometimes you need to go out to direct mail to get to your target audience and engage them, but get them to move over to online, or follow up with them via direct mail, to build that relationship because people buy from people they know, like, and trust.


The Most Common Mistakes Made with Conversion Optimization

Drew McLellan: It sounds so simple and yet so many people do it badly. I’m guessing that you get brought in in the middle of stuff often, and you see the mistakes that are made. What are the common mistakes that you see that you have to fix or correct before you can help deliver the results of your client’s looking for?

Justin C.: One of the biggest things is, and it’s been a common theme. I’ve spoken at a couple of masterminds in the last couple of years or a few, and it’s been a common theme. People were like, “Oh man I need to build out my funnel. I need to build out my funnel.” And they try to take advantage of so much technology and try to automate, that it ends up complicating things too much to the point where it starts to break. That’s probably one of the bigger things, is they just … keep it brain dead simple. Just don’t try to over complicated just because you think that you need to have something. For instance, one person that I spoke to not too long ago said, “Well,” I said, “What’s working?” She said “Well, everything is working but I’m trying to build this funnel.” And said “Well, why are you trying to build this funnel?” I said, “You’re just going over complicate what’s already working for you to the tune of a seven figure type revenue company.” So, we just tweaked some of the things that she was currently doing to expand on it instead of that.

But as far as online, some of the biggest mistakes, probably hands down, is people shouting how great their product is rather than leading with what that product, or that particular feature is going to do for their visitor, or their potential customer. They just say, “Oh great, it’s got all of these great features. Look at how awesome we are.” But how does that tie to the end benefit to me as a consumer?

Drew McLellan: Which is, by the way, not a technology or a new problem at all. That’s been a problem since the beginning of advertising.

Justin C.: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Drew McLellan: Yeah.

Justin C.: And I see it time and time again. People come up with these list of bullet points but it’s all features. It’s not an actual bullet point when you look at it from a copywriting perspective, or a direct response perspective, and it’s just to say, “Okay, here’s my feature but here’s how it’s going to benefit you.” So, supporting your features with benefits is probably one of the biggest things that I see.

Drew McLellan: What other mistakes do you have to fix when you get brought in?

Justin C.: Let’s see, fixed. Generally most people don’t actually have a process in place for testing, or optimization. Maybe they’ve never done testing before and they got lucky in the market. We’re talking even companies that have multiple millions of dollars in advertising budget that don’t even run a single split test, or haven’t in a very long time.

So, it’s really getting them to embrace the process because if you embrace a process of conversion optimization, you will have exponential growth. It might not be immediate, but it’s going to be exponential if you can stick it out that long. So, I always just try to instill upon them the importance of it. It’s just as important, if not more important, than your actual traffic. Because if you’ve got a 100,000 eyeballs on your particular offer every single month and you get 10% or more of them to take your desired action, you’ve now reduced your advertising costs and increase your profitability.

So, that’s what I just really try to instill upon them. That it is a process, but we leverage the process to the point where because markets constantly evolve, they constantly change, and people’s buying habits change and the mediums change. And people are becoming more and more social that you just embrace that process throughout it. So, you’re staying ahead of your competition by being, basically, first to the market every single time you run a test because you’re constantly learning about your visitors and you can then narrow it down to specifically what they want. What makes them tick and how to get them to take the desired action. So, you then gain a bigger market share.


Understanding the Value of A/B Testing and Conversion Optimization

Drew McLellan: And I’m guessing a lot of the listeners, right now, are thinking in their head, “Yeah. I get it but I can’t get a client to bite on it because of budget.” So, how do you help your clients understand the return on investment for all of this because for a lot of clients, whether they think it’s right or wrong, they want to be set it and forget it and they don’t want to do all the testing. They just want to get it done and move on to the next tactic ,whatever that is. So, how do you help your clients understand the value of this and how do you sell it?

Justin C.: We typically sell it on a case study examples, and particular elements that we have seen in the past. And the fact, now, we have a bigger track record obviously running thousands of tests and working with some of the amazing brands that we’ve worked with. But we generally lead in with problems that they’re having. We try to lead in with value. So, it’s like “When’s the last time you actually looked at your analytics? When’s the last time you actually paid attention to your numbers?”

Because most companies get their blinders on. They’re so close to their product or service, they’re in the trenches everyday working on it that they overlook some of the most obvious things that they could do to exponentially improve upon their results. So, we lead in basically from that point that what happens if you get just a 10% increase, or even a 5% increase, in some cases. For some big companies, or even small ones 5% more leads out of the same amount of traffic is huge. It’s a game changer for a lot of companies.

So, we just lead with those results and those benefits of actually having in the end result that they could get out of it. Of course we can’t predict, specifically, what that end result is but we can go on averages that we’ve seen over the years.

Drew McLellan: Well, that’s where your case studies provide value I’m sure. And one of things I noticed about your case studies, which by the way, guys if you’re listening, the website conversionfanatics.com has all kinds of great blog access to the podcast but all kinds of … some great examples of case studies. But one of the things I noticed about your case studies is that they have results, and a lot of them do. So, a lot of agency owners will will say to me, “I want to do better case studies but I can’t get my clients to let us talk about them or talk about their results.” How have you been so successful in doing that?

Justin C.: We don’t reveal who it is. That’s really it, because we’re dealing with a lot of confidential information for our clients. So, we blur out logos, we blur out contact phone numbers on screenshots, and we’ll try to get around that as best we can. And then where we do publish the names and things like that we get approval from them. For example, we have one on our blog that was an 1,800% plus improvement and I went to the client said, “Hey this is amazing. Other people can learn from this. You mind if I share? And I can’t keep you guys anonymous for this particular one like we normally do.” But most of our clients are fine with it. The ones that aren’t, we just don’t publish anything about it. We run far more tests than the 70 or so case studies we have on our blog.


Some of the Most Important Lessons Justin Has Learned Along the Way

Drew McLellan: So, what are what are of the … Because I’m sure every test you run, A, obviously there’s always a winner which means there’s a loser. What are some of the things that have surprised you as you’ve been doing testing and some of the things that either didn’t work as well as you thought they would? What were some of the lessons from the “We’re not going to do that again” file?

Justin C.: Oh we learn one of those every week. Well, the fact is that probably one in six tests on average, no matter how good you are, is going to be a winner. So, what do you do with the other five? Well, it’s just an opportunity to learn from that particular test, or that particular result and we usually build upon that. Most companies just get discouraged and they say, “Whoa, yeah. I got another loser and now what?” But if you’re following a process that allows you to build upon those for bigger winners. But one of the bigger ones that I saw, that was super surprising to me, was we changed the simple button label from “add to bag” to “add to cart” and it increase the client’s checkout and sales by like 82%.

Drew McLellan: So, the word cart performed better than bag.

Justin C.: Yeah, it was just crazy. It lit up statistically significant in minutes. It was just nuts at how well that one worked. Other cases where we had a mobile company where we showed … We thought we were onto something based on all of the data and it actually ended up losing by about 60%, and what happened was as we saw there was a bunch of friction on their mobile. And so we expanded all of the options. It was an eCommerce store.

So, we expanded all the options so they didn’t have to tap a bunch of times to expand on size and color and things like that. And we thought we were on to a winner and it ended up losing by like 60 %. So, we reiterated on that and leveraged some of the data and actually came back and won by like I think it was like 30%. So, it happens that you’re going to have the losers but it’s what you do with that particular losing variation or that data that you’ve collected about your visitors. So, we were able to take a 60% loser that would have hurt the convergence by 60% and make it into a 30% winner.


How to Find the Right Employees to Do this Kind of Work

Drew McLellan: So, as I’m listening to you I’m thinking one of the conversations I have with a lot of agency owners is they … Especially if they came out of a traditional background. So, they were a brand shop, or a PR shop, or whatever and all of a sudden they’re obviously having to dive into the digital space. So, they struggle … A, the owners struggle because it’s they’re not native to it. But B, they struggle because they really wrestle with finding … Back five, 10 years ago showing the client the Google Analytics was plenty because that was all the client absorbed but now clients are getting a lot more sophisticated which means agencies need to get a lot more sophisticated in terms of their skill sets.

So, when you are building out your shop and you’re hiring people to do the work you do, what do you look for in an interview or in skill sets or a resume? What is the magic mix for you of the employee who is good at this work because a lot of agencies are struggling to find the right person to help them build out this part of their business?

Justin C.: Well, one, finding that specific person for that specific role is all but next to impossible. Chances are they already got their own deal or they’re working for somebody that you can’t compete with, especially as a small business. So, we generally hire off of gut, and I mean gut as in that person that we’re interviewing has that gut instinct, and they have the hunger to learn but they grasp the basic concepts. I don’t want somebody to come in, necessarily, with their own methodology. I want them to be fresh. So, if they don’t have 100% of the experience in say conversion optimization, which not a lot of people do, we generally hire on gut. A good example is we’ve got a new person that started working with us about 90 days ago, and as a just a part time role. But she came in and she just had that gut feeling as we were given her her test in the interview. Say, “Here critique this website. What would you change on it?” And she had the gut. She wasn’t 100% on point but she had that gut instinct and that feeling that we could train her into something that’s a great person, and she could be fantastic at this role.

So, we don’t look for those specific skill sets necessarily. In fact, we just interviewed and made an offer to another person yesterday, just made an offer to them and interviewed him, and he was the same. He had the experience and had the track record but it wasn’t that he was so ingrained in one specific methodology, or one specific type of industry, but he had that gut instinct again. So, we just go off a that, and if there’s somebody that we could see ourselves working with every day. Because we’re trying to build our company culture too.

Drew McLellan: Right. Absolutely. Well, hiring for attitude you can always teach aptitude. Yeah, absolutely. So, the good news for you is that you grew up in the business doing this and so you can recognize that innate gut, or talent, or instinct as you were talking about it. A lot of the people listening, again, come from a more traditional background and might be a little older than you.

So, if they were going to look for specific skill sets and we talk about, okay, we know that we can drive people to the top of the funnel, but boy we have a hard time helping our clients convert those into leaves and then convert this in the sales. We need somebody help us with that part of the funnel. What skill sets, or what knowledge does someone have to have … So, if somebody has been with you for a year or two and you’ve trained them, what do they now know how to do that they didn’t know how to do and they started?

Justin C.: Really understanding the main motivators of people on site and reading data to a point of conversion. Not necessarily just looking at a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet, or in an analytics platform. But most of the time we just looked for somebody that has that ability to express their opinion, I guess, for lack of better terms, on specific design elements. So, we’re very design heavy typically, or user interface or user experience. So, that’s generally where we turn to. So, do they have that know-how of the basic flow of what’s going to happen? You get traffic coming in the top of the funnel and you have a landing page, and then sales page, and checkout page. And then what happens there and just really somebody that understands the basics of it and can read and manipulate the data. That’s generally what we we look for as a whole.


A/B Testing & Conversion Optimization Tools and Resources

Drew McLellan: Okay. So, I want to talk a little bit about the way you guys do A/B testing and conversion optimization and all of that. So, I want to get into that in a second. But before we do that let’s take a quick break.

All right we are back with Justin Christianson from Conversion Fanatics and are talking about conversion optimization, and driving leads and sales and I want to get into A/B testing. So, I know that for you that’s the cornerstone of your philosophy and it’s certainly the cornerstone of the book. So, talk a little bit about A/B testing and conversion optimization and are there some specific methodologies that you guys use? Or tools? How do you make it actually happen?

Justin C.: Good question. We … First I’ve got to say that split testing and conversion optimization aren’t the same thing. So many people think that A/B testing is conversion optimization but it’s not. A/B testing is really a way for us to confirm or deny any of our assumptions, or our test hypothesis. So, our philosophy is really simple. We think and analyze, we design, develop, and we then wash, rinse, and repeat. That’s really … We don’t have any fancy acronyms, Sorry. Fancy acronyms or crazy processes but we just let the data do the talking. And then what our methodology really is is developing that test hypothesis because you’re only really as good as your test hypothesis and to develop a test hypothesis we’re really just figuring out the reason why. Why are we testing it?

For example. Because going down a list of things you want to test just isn’t going to work. So we want to figure out why. Why are we changing the button from green to red? Well, it’s going to add more contrast to the page and bring out the call to action more, and in turn lead more visitors to click on the link. That’s a test hypothesis, versus just saying “I think orange is better than green. Or red is better than green.”

So, it’s really developing that and then following where the visitors are going. We analyze a lot of heat maps, a lot of click maps, a lot of the data analysis and the analytics behind it, and just letting and tracking multiple goals. And we leverage tools for that, Optimizely, Convert.com. BWO, Hotjar, Crazy Egg, things like those. The people that have spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to develop those platforms, and takes care of the majority of the heavy lifting. And then we just have developers and designers on staff that know and understand what it is that we’re doing that drive it all out and make it happen.


Defining A/B Testing and Conversion Optimization

Drew McLellan: So, you define to A/B testing and you said that’s not a conversion optimization. Just for the audience, tell us what your definition of conversion optimization is and how that differs from A/B testing.

Justin C.: Convergent optimization is understanding the visitors in a way that leads them down the path of least resistance to the end goal at which you want achieved. It could be design elements, it could be visitor flow, it could be … It’s a myriad of things within there but …

Drew McLellan: Messaging, content strategy, yeah.

Justin C.: Yeah it’s my whole philosophy is that. Can we hold the visitor by the hand and lead them down the path of least resistance to become a lead or for the ultimate catalyst of them getting out their credit card and buying something?

Drew McLellan: So, as you were thinking about writing the book what made you decide that A/B testing and conversion optimization was where you wanted to put the focus?

Justin C.: Well, it’s my business for one. But no, I wrote it … I always wanted to write a book but I just really never had an official vehicle that I wanted to publish on and I knew it was going to be digital marketing focused of some kind. But the more companies we talked to, and the more companies we worked with, I realized that so many companies didn’t understand the true meaning of, and the big benefits of, conversion optimization. So, that’s what I set out to do. I just really wanted to educate the visitors, and readers, and business owners, and marketers out there of how truly powerful and important conversion optimization can be for their business. And I wrote it from a standpoint that I didn’t want to fluff it up with a bunch of theory that a lot of books out there are. I wanted to write it very tangible and very meaty and very actionable for our visitors. So, I’ve had people from stone cold beginners, just getting started in digital marketing, all the way up to seasoned veterans say, “Oh my god this is amazing book. You reminded me of something that I should be doing, or I didn’t even know that was possible.”

Drew McLellan: Yeah, I thought it felt like a play book. It was like here’s … you’re trying to get the ball into the end zone. Here are four different ways you can do that with step by step instructions, tools, all of that and say here’s how you get it done. You don’t really read it. You work your way through it, I think.

Justin C.: That’s exactly how I wrote it.

Drew McLellan: I thought it was great. Yeah.

Justin C.: I appreciate that.


How to Get Comfortable Working with Another Agency

Drew McLellan: So, I know one of the things we talked about before we hit the record button was that a lot of times your clients may have more than one agency in the mix, and so you end up partnering with agencies that are doing a different aspect of the business. A lot of the agencies that I work with in the peer networks and ACM workshops, and the agencies I just talked to, a lot of them are struggling with the whole idea of there’s more than one fox in the henhouse. How have you made that a workable situation for yourself and how do you approach that kind of a dynamic?

Justin C.: Well I come to it with no ego, first and foremost. There’s no puffing out your chest and peacocking that’s needed in this business because everybody knows everybody. It’s a very small world thanks the social media. So, I just come at it from no ego, and I come at it in position it to the other agency like, “Hey we’re not here to steal your job.” Or even the person the internal person like the CMO, or the director of marketing, or something like that, digital marketing manager or something like that. I’m coming in there. “I’m not here to take your job. I’m here to make you guys look like rock stars by making you what you’re doing that much more effective.”

So, I just come in at that, “Hey this is a team effort. We’re not just some third parties out here working away and we have this client. No, we’re an extension of that client.” And I always instill that upon my clients as well as, whether it’s the SEO agency, or it’s a traffic agency, or it’s a branding agency, or something like that. We just say that “We’re not here to step on your toes. We’re here to work together. We don’t want to hurt what you guys are doing, we just want to help make it better.” And that generally goes over pretty well when you come at it from a place of giving, and a place of no ego.

It generally goes over pretty well. Of course some people are still pretty standoffish. Yeah and they’re threatened by their position, or they think that we’re going to take over and do something that they’re doing and lose out on a client. But we just come at it from that standpoint. And we come at just saying that we’re going to give our best effort to doing what we do for our client. And that’s all we can do at the end of the day.

Drew McLellan: And I’m sure sometimes the agency partners that you are sharing the client with don’t really get the whole conversion optimization thing either. So how do you handle that when they’re doing something that you know is not a best practice, or you’ve run tests that have shown that something they’ve done in the past is not very effective? How do you generally handle that in a tactful way that protects them but also gets the client where, and what, they need?

Justin C.: Show the data. The numbers don’t lie. It isn’t me saying it then, it’s the data. So if we came at it from a standpoint saying we’ve tested this particular element, and we just talk it through. They say “Oh yeah this green button is definitely an option, and here’s why, and here’s what we’ve seen in the past.” And show them hard numbers on it. That’ll generally get them open more to the idea, and generally we don’t cross paths a lot. That’s odd to say but we don’t cross paths that much and run into too much friction when there’s another agency involved. Again, because we just come at it from a little bit different angle.


Digital Trends Coming Down the Pipeline

Drew McLellan: I have to think that part of your role in leading the company and providing some thought leadership, and I know you speak at conferences, and you mentioned Masterminds, is looking down the path a bit. So, what trends or what things are you watching to see what might be coming around the corner next?

Justin C.: I’m paying close attention to VR right now. Virtual reality. Just because of the scary stuff. I use for example, even this morning I was talking to a client, or a new client, that was coming onboard this morning and immediately go onto Facebook and there they are as a suggested friend. So, the algorithms and the artificial intelligence side of things is definitely going to be coming around the corner. I don’t know when. I can’t predict that. But it’s the technology is getting way more advanced.

So, we’re just trying to figure out a way to be smarter as marketers and adapt to, again, another medium. Another thing is I think video, now with being able to go live pretty much everywhere and every device is going to be more and more I think. Text is probably going to die off a little bit more so than leading with videos because you’re seeing so much creativity coming out in videos and you get your message across a lot better and people are more open to it, and it’s getting smarter especially on mobile. Where it used to be pretty clunky and a not very nice process to leverage video and your marketing on mobile. But it’s getting easier and easier. So, I think we’re going to see a lot more video coming out.

Drew McLellan: And so do you anticipate that, and I’m sure you’re doing a fair amount of video and stuff, but are you anticipating that will change the content mix that you’re recommending to clients? As you, again, say to your example of taking them by the hand and walking the prospect through the buying journey, are you seeing that you’re going to be placing video in more places along the journey?

Justin C.: Yeah we’re starting to. We’re starting to leverage would be a lot more because it just builds that credibility. Imagine if you go on a checkout page of a company and the CEO pops up, and says “Hey we’re glad to here. We’re this company and we have X number of happy customers. Here’s how to contact our support team. All you have to do to take advantage of this amazing offer, or whatever, is just fill out this 100% secure order form will take care of you. Here’s what’s going to happen next.” That just builds that next level of trust and we’re able to do that more and more now.

Drew McLellan: Unless the CEO is so awkward and uncomfortable that it backfires, right?

Justin C.: Yeah or somebody else in there. It’s worth a test. We tested that years ago, even before it was really a thing, where video was just becoming prominent and it worked like gangbusters. It was just amazing and it’s just a better way to connect. Never before have we been able to hop on and connect with people that you would have never been able to connect with. We’re able to interact with the President of the United States on Twitter for example …  We’re not as distant anymore, and it’s that six degrees of separation but it’s actually less than that now. You can pretty much get the email, or contact information, or get an intro to pretty much anybody that you need to.

So, you just have to embrace that and the fact that it’s becoming more and more instant gratification for visitors thanks to things like Amazon. I give an example, we ran out of coffee at the office yesterday and my staff is like, “Oh we don’t have any more coffee. What’s going on?” And I was like “Okay give me two seconds.” And I dialed up Prime Now and 20 minutes later, knock knock knock. Here’s our coffee. I didn’t even have to start my car.

Drew McLellan: So, are you finding that video has a more effective place along the journey? Do you try and put it in a certain spot or is that very client or product specific?

Justin C.: No, it’s very client or product specific. Some clients just can’t get it to convert, just like a pretty website in some markets works better than an ugly one. It’s just that psychology of who your market is. I was talking with one of our clients yesterday that said “Our audience is 45 year old moms that they prefer the simplified, not overly flashy, type design.” So, that’s what’s worked really well for them and so we just try to adapt to that. But video it has its place, and the size of the video matters. The placement of the video matters. The auto play versus not auto play. All of these things play a role. And of course your message in that too that, that plays a big role too.

So, but yeah, video, depending on the life journey. Even in physical products it’s becoming more and more prominent. We’re using a lot more in ecommerce because you can’t go into a store, and try it on, and touch and feel it. So, leveraging video to really give that visitor the experience of touching and feeling and trying on that product before they actually purchase it has helped out in most cases too.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. As you think about VR and AI and all of that, where do you go, or how do you stay current on what the cutting edge stuff is? What are your go to spots?

Justin C.: Luckily I have really smart friends.

Drew McLellan: It’s a beautiful thing.

Justin C.: I always try to be the dumbest guy in the room. So …

Drew McLellan: I never have trouble with that. I don’t know about you.

Justin C.: I don’t either.

Drew McLellan: I can achieve that on a daily basis.

Justin C.: I’m pretty efficient at that on too. But, yeah, luckily I have a lot of people that are on the cutting edge. So, I tried to network in Mastermind and things like that with people that are staying up to date. I do a lot of research. I do a lot of reading. I read a ton of books. Last year I read 52 books I think. So, one a week. This year I’m a little slower on pace. But yeah I try to consume as much information as I possibly can about what’s happening, and I follow a lot of the trendsetters. Like, of course, you’ve got to follow Musk, and you’ve got to follow Zuckerberg to see what’s happening because they got there … And Bezos, of course, with Amazon. But you have to just follow where they’re going, and of course, Google because they just seem to buy everything.

Drew McLellan: Because they own the world, right?

Justin C.: Yeah. Between them and Zuckerberg.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, I think between Amazon, and Facebook, and Google, that trifecta is going to run the world someday. Yeah.

Justin C.: Microsoft is still in there a little bit and then old school business, you’ve got Buffett. But …

Drew McLellan: Right, right. He just buys what he wants, right?

Justin C.: Yeah that’s it yeah. I want to buy Coca-Cola today. Okay, Tomorrow I own Coca-Cola, perfect.


How an Old School Agency Could Begin to Develop A/B Testing & Conversion Optimization Capabilities

Drew McLellan: So, if an agency is listening and they really have not … They’re like an old school. They build the website and they think about conversion as they’re building but they’re a, once it’s up and live, other than maybe … And let’s say they’re building on WordPress sites. Other than doing plug in updates and stuff, they’ve been in the past done with it and now after listening to you and checking out the website, or reading the book they’re like “This is something we really need to be serving clients with better.”

How would an agency … If you were a traditional agency and you wanted to start offering this kind of thinking, what would your first couple of steps be in terms of developing out this capability inside your shop?

Justin C.: Find smart people. So, I live by that motto too, that I hire people that are smarter than me to work for me because they’re better at those … They’re better at it. But, no, for the first couple of steps is just master the basics and we generally fall into the line of four or five things that we look for, or follow, and we just simplify it down to, again, that we’re dealing with people, and what is that. And we build upon it from what that main pain point is in that customer avatar. And then just try to figure out and manipulate the areas there.

But as far as building out the systems and processes for it, you’re going to need really smart developers and they’re a different breed when you’re doing developers that do CRO and conversion rate optimization then they are … That can just code the software. It takes a special breed that can understand the direct response, or the marketing aspect as well. They’re smart designers that understand direct response or marketing. Not that just somebody that can code a pretty picture, and a pretty good landing page, and then somebody to manage the whole process that understands it.

But we have UI/UX people. We have analysts. We have reporting people. We have project managers, directors. A whole team of developers and the whole team of designers. But it didn’t start out that way. It just started out with us, me and my business partner, running some split tests for people and then we hired somebody to help manage it, and then we hired developers to help him, and then we hired designers to help them and it just spiraled from there.

Drew McLellan: So, for you that stepping off point was the testing, the split testing, and even though you weren’t doing a lot of the other stuff, that was how you started and then you built the team around it as you figured out what the test taught you and told you and who you needed to fix the things that the testing showed you, right?

Justin C.: Yeah, a lot of people will say sell it first and then build it after. And in fact I even talked to somebody that ran a $800 million publicly traded company, had lunch with him once and he’s like, “Yeah I sold this product and we didn’t even have it built yet. So, I sold it and then I had to build it in six weeks.” Whereas we’re opposite. We spent the better part of a year and a half developing our process, and our systems, and our product before we ever turned on the fire hose to actually go out and sell it. Yeah, we had clients that came in and we worked through the process that way and then took on a lot of the wrong types of clients because you’re strapped for cash in a new startup type business or you take on everybody and anybody …

Drew McLellan: Anybody who has a buck.

Justin C.: Yeah, and you learn the hard way. Yeah, I think I can help you but it’s not an ideal fit for exact product. So, we’ve just really lived by the motto of Kaizen. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that philosophy, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement. So, that’s our cornerstone. In fact it’s on a big poster as you go into the kitchen and our office. That’s the first bullet point on our mission and our core values. It’s Kaizen, and we just look for ways we can be better in every area a little bit than we were yesterday. We’re not looking for home runs. We’re just looking to make it better, whether it be in the processes, the delivery, the design, the communication, our quality assurance process when developing tests and things like that, and even in our business development.


How Justin Prevents Scope Creep

Drew McLellan: So, when did you realize that saying no to the wrong clients actually served your business better than taking all the money that was sitting on the table?

Justin C.: I’ve always known it but whether I followed it or not is another thing. But really, probably, when we really started turning on the business development and really putting focus in there that we realized the 80:20 rule. That we realized that we were working twice as hard for clients that were paying half as much. So …

Drew McLellan: Yeah, that’s a painful realization isn’t it?

Justin C.: Yeah. So, and we didn’t come from an agency background. We came from a direct response. You place an ad, you generate a lead, you follow up that lead, and you sell them stuff. So coming into an agency was a learning experience. We learned the hard way a lot, whether it’s how are we going to keep the doors open this month, to oh my God, we need to hire five more people.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, by tomorrow. Yeah. So. it sounds like as you work with clients, though, and I would assume that your clients are like everybody else’s,  once they trust an agency or a team then they want that team to do more and more for them because the team has delivered, it honors their promises, all of that. So, my guess is that you have clients who ask you to do things that are outside of what you believe your center of excellence is. Does that happen?

Justin C.: Scope creep?

Drew McLellan: Yeah.

Justin C.: Yeah, it happens.

Drew McLellan: And how do you resist the urge to go, “Well yeah we could do that for this client.”

Justin C.: It’s really … we’re fairly flexible. If it falls, we go by the general rule, is it tied to the conversion rate optimization process? Is it going to make us better in terms of the conversion? Sometimes they’ll come to us and say, “Oh, I want to redesign my whole entire site.” So, we’ll tie it back to, “Well, we need to test this first and we’re probably going to end up with the new site by the time we’re done testing.” And that we were data driven instead of just saying, “Oh this looks better.” Other times we’re saying, “Oh, do you guys do … We need to develop this script or this app.” It’s like, “Well, no, that isn’t … That has nothing to do with our conversion optimization.” So, we’ve gotten really good about saying “No.” Or if it fits into that mold we’ll just say, “Yeah we can do that but it’s going to be X number of dollars more.”

Drew McLellan: Sure, and so when you’re saying no are you saying, “No, but we have a strategic partner who does that.”? Are you aligning yourself with other companies that do tangential things to the work that you do. How do you help that client when you can’t help that client? Do you know what I’m saying?

Justin C.: Yeah, referrals when we can. Oftentimes, it’s just a flash in the pan idea that they have and it’s not really thought out. So, it generally doesn’t need anything more than talking them down off that cliff before they jump.

Drew McLellan: Because everybody needs an app now, right?

Justin C.: Yeah. Everybody thinks they need an app now. But yeah, it’s just really talking them down off that cliff before they jump into that decision and really getting them to think logically about it and how that’s going to be the benefit to the bottom line. Ideas are everywhere. I get 100 of them a day. It’s not that bad and companies or even worse, especially sizable companies and then it takes much more resources to actually steer that big ship than it does a smaller company that’s nimble and agile.


Final Advice from Justin

Drew McLellan: Yeah. So, as we wrap up our conversation is there anything that if people are listening and they’re saying, “Oh gosh, I’ve got to get better at this.” Other than your website, which is again, listeners, this is chock full of great case studies and content but other place that you would say, boy if you’re just kicking off on this or you’re feeling like boy, after listening to this podcast, you’re not doing conversion optimization as well or as big or as often as you should. Anywhere else that you would suggest they go to further their learning and to give them some insights into some of the tools and tactics that are best practices?

Justin C.: Yeah, I follow MECLABS. That’s one that I follow. ConversionXL, which is one of our friends who runs a … actually, well a competing agency but he has a fantastic training program. In fact, I’m one of the instructors on the training program. But we put all of our new people through that. It’s just video lessons on the process. The basic fundamentals. It goes into his process a little bit more than what I would like but it’s a wealth of information.

Drew McLellan: Okay, and …

Justin C.: And he writes amazing blog articles and that’s on conversionxl.com I believe.

Drew McLellan: Okay, excellent, and we’ll include all of that stuff in the show notes everybody. Tell everybody a little bit about your podcast before we say goodbye.

Justin C.: Yeah. So, CMO Roundtable is really just me talking again with smart people. I interview a smart person every week. It’s a relatively new show. I think we’re 12 or 14 episodes in. But I just find people that get an inside look at some of the top minds in marketing and their take on the trends, and what’s happening, and where digital marketing is going, and what they’re seeing work better than others.

Drew McLellan: And again everybody you can read more about it and check out the episodes at conversionfanatics.com and I’m sure you can find it on iTunes and Stitcher and all the other places. So, hey Justin, this has been great. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned and what you’re what you’re watching to learn in the future. I really appreciate it.

Justin C.: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan: You bet. Hey gang, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. If you’re looking for me before next week’s episode you can find me the agencymanagementinstitute.com, otherwise I will be back next week with another great guest to help you build a better, stronger, more stable agency that serves you, and your family, and your team, and your clients in the ways that you hope that it does. So, I will talk to you in a week. Thanks!