Episode 96:

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.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • 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

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Lead visitors down the path to the end goal at which you want to achieve.” – Justin Christianson Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

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, an 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. And 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 best selling 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 the host of the weekly podcast CMO Round Table. So Justin, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Justin Christianson:

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

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 Christianson:

Well, I started back 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 the 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, released my own info product later on. And then I actually became the number one affiliate for 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 had 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 kept asking 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 years.

Drew McLellan:

So what came first, the agency or the book?

Justin Christianson:

The agency.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Okay.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. The book is only about a year old.

Drew McLellan:

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

Justin Christianson:

I just liked 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 kind of 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 buyer’s behavior and how they were interacting with their ads rather than just, oh, I put a dollar in here and I get a dollar 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:

A lot of this is about psychology. So as you step back and sort of look at your learnings over the years, are there any sort of aha moments in terms of how consumers behave or what… Is there some human truth in all of that somewhere, do you think?

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. I mean, people come to me all the time. It’s like, oh, have you worked in this certain industry, my industry’s different. And I was like, no, your industry’s not different. Throughout my entire career, the basics, the same thing has worked time and time again. Just the mediums change slightly.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Justin Christianson:

And the tension 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 what 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 to 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 sort of evergreen. I suspect they’re basic to you because you’ve done them for a long time. But if you had to sort of identify a couple of the basics, what are they?

Justin Christianson:

It really just comes down to quality eyeballs on your stuff. Wherever they’re living, it does doesn’t matter. People say, what’s the best traffic source? Well, it 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.

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 sort of see the mistakes that are made. What are the common mistakes that you see that you have to sort of fix or correct before you can help deliver the results that your client’s looking for?

Justin Christianson:

One of the biggest things is, and it’s been a common theme, I’ve spoken at a couple masterminds in the last couple years or a few, and it’s been a common theme. People are 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 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 overcomplicate it 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 go, what’s working? She said, well, everything is working, but I’m trying to build this funnel. I said, well, why are you trying to build this funnel? I said, you’re just going to overcomplicate 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. I’ve got… 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 Christianson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

And I see it time and time again. People come up with these list of bullet points, but it’s all feature.

Drew McLellan:

Features. Right. Yeah. Right.

Justin Christianson:

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 Christianson:

See fix, I mean, 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. I mean, 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 hundred thousand eyeballs on your particular offer every single month and you get 10% of more of them to take your desired action, you’ve now reduced your advertising cost and increased 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 we’re 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.

Drew McLellan:

I’m guessing a lot of the listeners right now are thinking in their head, yep, 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 sort of 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 Christianson:

We typically sell it on 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. 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 every day, 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 benefit 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 kind of averages that we’ve seen over the years.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and that’s where your case studies provide a lot of value, I’m sure. And one of the 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. And so a lot of agency owners will say to me, you know what, 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 Christianson:

We don’t reveal who it is. I mean, that’s really it is, 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 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 1800 plus percent improvement. And I went to the client and 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. I mean, we run far more tests than the 70 or so case studies we have on our blog.

Drew McLellan:

So what are some 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, oh, we’re not going to do that again, file?

Justin Christianson:

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, yay, 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 a simple button label from add to bag, to add to cart, and increased the client’s checkout in sales by 82%.

Drew McLellan:

So the word cart performed better than bag?

Justin Christianson:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Ha.

Justin Christianson:

It was just crazy. I mean it lit up statistically significant in minutes. I mean, it was just nuts at how well that one worked. Other cases where we had a mobile company where we thought we were onto something based on all of the data and it actually ended up losing by about 60%. And what happened is, we saw there was a bunch of friction on their mobile. And so we expanded all of the options. It was an e-commerce store. So we expand 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 onto a winner and it ended up losing by 60%.

So we reiterated on that and leveraged some of the data and actually came back and won by, I think it was 30%. And 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’ve hurt conversions by 60% and make it into a 30% winner.

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, especially if they came out of a traditional background and 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. And so they struggle. A, the owners struggle because 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 could absorb. But now clients are getting a lot more sophisticated, which means agencies need to get a lot more sophisticated in terms of their skillsets.

So when you are building out your shop and you’re hiring people to do the kind of 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 kind of employee who is good at this kind of work? Because a lot of agencies are struggling to find the right person to help them build out this part of their business.

Justin Christianson:

Well, one, finding that specific person for that specific role is next to impossible. Chances are they’ve 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 kind of 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 just a part-time role, but she came in and she just had that gut feeling as we were giving her kind of 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 skillsets necessarily. In fact, we just interviewed and made an offer to another person yesterday. Just made an offer to him and interviewed him. And he was the same. He kind of had the experience and he 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 kind of go off of 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.

Justin Christianson:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, absolutely. So the good news for you is that you grew up in the business doing this. And so you can kind of 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 or might be a little older than you. So if they were going to look for specific skill sets and we talk about, okay, look, 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 leads and then convert those into sales. We need somebody to help us with that part of the funnel. What skill sets or what knowledge does someone have to have? So if somebody’s 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 when they started?

Justin Christianson:

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 look 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 kind of know how of the basic flow of what’s going to happen? You get a traffic coming in the top of the funnel and you have landing page and then sales page and check out page and then what happens there and just really somebody that kind of understands the basics of it and can read and manipulate the data. That’s generally what we look for as a whole.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So I want to talk a little bit about the way you guys do A/B testing 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. One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs in our AE bootcamps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach. If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency, to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to A bootcamps and a plethora of a other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule AT agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

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

Justin Christianson:

Good question. First, I 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 a kind of our test hypothesis. So our philosophy is really simple. We think and analyze, we design, develop and we then wash, rinse and repeat. I mean, we don’t have any fancy acronyms, sorry, but fancy acronyms are 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 visitor is 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, LeadConvert.com, VWO, 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.

Drew McLellan:

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

Justin Christianson:

Conversion 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’s a myriad of things within there. But that’s-

Drew McLellan:

Messaging, content strategy. Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. 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 was where you wanted to put the focus?

Justin Christianson:

Well, it’s my business, for one, but no, I’d always wanted to write a book, but I just really never had a official vehicle that I wanted to publish on it. 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 tangle 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 an 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 sort of like a playbook, right? It was like, you’re trying to get the ball into the end zone, here are four different ways you can do that with sort of step by step instructions, tools, all of that and say, here’s how you get it done. Yeah. You don’t really read it. You sort of work your way through it, I think.

Justin Christianson:

Yep. That’s exactly how I wrote it.

Drew McLellan:

I thought it was great. Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

I appreciate that.

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 sort of 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 I see in workshops and agencies I just talk to, a lot of them are struggling with the whole idea of, there’s more than one fox in the hen house. How have you made that a workable situation for yourself and how do you sort of approach that kind of a dynamic?

Justin Christianson:

Well, I come to it with no ego, first and foremost. I mean, 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 to social media. So I just come at it from no ego and I come at it and 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 what you’re doing that much more effective. So I just come at it 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 it’s 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 that it generally goes over pretty well. Of course, some people are still pretty standoffish 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 it 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 gently handle that in a tactful way that protects them, but also gets the client where and what they need?

Justin Christianson:

Show the data. The numbers don’t lie. It isn’t me saying it then, it’s the data. So if we’ve came at it from a standpoint and say, we’ve tested this particular element and we just it through, thatthey 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 kind of get them open more to the idea. And generally we don’t cross paths a lot. I mean, that’s kind of 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 kind of come at it from a little bit different angle.

Drew McLellan:

I have to think that part of your role in leading the company and sort of providing some thought leadership, and I know you speak at conferences and you’d mentioned masterminds, is sort of 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 Christianson:

I’m paying a close attention to VR right now, virtual reality, just because of this scary stuff. I mean, I use the example even this morning, I was talking to a client or a new client that was coming on board this morning and immediately go on to 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 in 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 can 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 pretty kind of, not very nice process to leverage video in 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 already 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 buyer’s journey, are you seeing that you’re ever going to be placing video in more places along the journey?

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. We’re starting to. We’re starting to leverage video a lot more because it just builds that credibility. I mean, imagine if you go on a checkout page of a company and the CEO pops up and says, hey, we’re glad you’re here. We’re this company and we have X number of happy customers. Here’s how to 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. We’ll 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 Christianson:

Yeah. Or somebody else in there. I mean, it’s worth a test. I mean, we tested that years ago, even before it was really a thing where video was kind of less just becoming prominent and it worked like gangbusters. I mean, it was just amazing. And it’s just a better way to connect. I mean, never before have we been able to hop on and connect with people that you would’ve never been able to connect with? I mean, we’re able to interact with the president of the United States on Twitter for… We’re not as distant anymore and it’s that six degree of separation, but it’s actually less than that now. I 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 kind of embrace that and the fact that it’s becoming more and more instant gratification for visitors, thanks to things like Amazon.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Justin Christianson:

Like, give the example, we ran out of coffee at the office yesterday and my staff is like, oh, we don’t have anymore 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.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s crazy.

Justin Christianson:

I mean, I didn’t even have to start my car.

Drew McLellan:

Right. 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 Christianson:

No, it’s very client or product specific. Some clients that 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 house 45 year old mom, they prefer the kind of 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, I mean, it has its place. I mean, and the size of the video matters, the placement of the video, the auto play versus not auto play. All of these things play a role. And of course your message in that too, that plays a big role too.

So, but yeah. I mean video, depending on the life journey, I mean, even in physical products, it’s becoming more and more prominent. We’re using a lot more in e-commerce 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 of about VR and AI and all of that, where do you go or how do you stay current on sort of what the cutting edge stuff is? What are your go-to spots?

Justin Christianson:

Luckily, I have really smart friends.

Drew McLellan:

It’s a beautiful thing.

Justin Christianson:

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, but I-

Justin Christianson:

I don’t either.

Drew McLellan:

I can achieve that on a daily basis.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. I’m pretty efficient at that one too. But, yeah. Luckily I have a lot of people that are on the cutting edge, so I try to network and 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 got to follow Musk and you got to follow Zuckerberg to kind of see what’s happening because they kind of got their… And Bezos, of course, with Amazon. But you have to just follow kind of where they’re going. And of course Google, because they just seem to buy everything.

Drew McLellan:

Because they own the world, right?

Justin Christianson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

Between them and Zuckerberg.

Drew McLellan:

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

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. Microsoft is still in there a little bit.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Yep.

Justin Christianson:

And then old school business, you got Buffett, but-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right, right. And he just buys what he wants. Right?

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. That’s it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

I want to buy Coca-Cola today. Okay? Tomorrow I own Coca Cola. Perfect.

Drew McLellan:

So if an agency owner is listening and they’re like an old school, they build the website and they think about conversion as they’re building, but they’re sort of, once it’s up and live and let’s say they’re building on WordPress sites, other than doing plugin updates and stuff, they’ve been in the past kind of done with it. And now after listening to you and checking out the website or reading the book, they’re like, you know what, this is something we really need to be serving clients with better. If you were a traditional agency and you wanted to start offering this kind of thinking, what would your first couple steps be in terms of developing out this capability inside your shop?

Justin Christianson:

Oh, 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 it. But no, for the first couple steps is just master the basics. And we generally fall into the line of kind 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 kind of 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 there are different breed when do in developers that do CRO and conversion rate optimization, than there are, that can just code a software.

It takes a special breed that can understand the direct response or the marketing aspect as well. There are smart designers that understand direct response or marketing, not just somebody that can code a pretty picture and a pretty 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, whole team of developers and a whole team of designers. But it didn’t all 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 kind of spiraled from there.

Drew McLellan:

So for you, the sort of that stepping off point was the testing, the split testing. And even though you weren’t doing a lot of the other stuff yet, that was sort of 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 Christianson:

Yeah. I mean, 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 took on a lot of the wrong types of clients because you’re strapped for cash in a new startup type business. So you take on everybody and anybody and you learn-

Drew McLellan:

Anybody who has a buck.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. And you learn the hard way. Yeah. I think I can help you, but it’s not an ideal fit for our exact products. 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?

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Justin Christianson:

So that’s our cornerstone. In fact, it’s on a big poster as you go into the kitchen in our office, that’s the first bullet point on our mission and our core values, is Kaizen. 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.

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 Christianson:

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 that kind of the 80/20 rule, that we realized that we were working twice as hard for clients that were paying half as much.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s a painful realization, isn’t it?

Justin Christianson:

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 with that lead and you sell them stuff.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Justin Christianson:

So coming into an agency was a learning experience. I mean, we learned the hard way a lot, whether it’s like, 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. Right.

Justin Christianson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

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 Christianson:

Scope creep?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. It happens.

Drew McLellan:

And how do you resist the urge to go, well, yeah, we could do that for this client.

 

Justin Christianson:

I mean, we are fairly flexible. We kind of 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 a new site by the time we’re done testing. And that way we’re data driven instead of just saying, oh, this looks better.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Justin Christianson:

Other times they’re saying, oh, we need to develop this script or this app? It’s like, well, no, 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 you tangential things to the work that you do? How do you help that client when you can’t help that client? You know what I’m saying?

Justin Christianson:

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 and make a decision-

Drew McLellan:

Because everybody needs an app now. Right?

Justin Christianson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. Everybody thinks they need an app now.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Justin Christianson:

But, yeah. I mean, 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. I mean, ideas are everywhere. I get a hundred of them a day. I mean, it’s not that bad. And companies are 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.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. So as we kind of wrap up our conversation, is there anything that if people are listening and they’re saying, oh gosh, I got to get better at this, other than your website, which is again, listeners, chalk full of great case studies and content, but other place that you would say, boy, if you’re just kind of 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 Christianson:

Yeah. I follow Mac labs.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Yep.

Justin Christianson:

That’s one that I follow. Conversion Excel, which is one of our friends. He runs a, actually, well, a competing agency kind of, 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 kind of the process. So 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.

Justin Christianson:

And he writes amazing blog articles and that’s on convertexcel.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 Christianson:

Yeah. So CMO Round table 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 a inside look at some of the top minds in marketing and their take on the trends and what’s happening and kind of 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 episode 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 watching to learn in the future. I really appreciate it.

Justin Christianson:

Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. That wraps up another episode of build a better agency. Hopefully you found it incredibly helpful and inspiring, and that you are ready to go out and do some great things. I also want to talk to you about another tool that we’ve built that I would love to offer you. So as you have probably heard me preach, I believe a lot of agencies chase after the wrong new business prospects. And I think we do that because we have not taken the time to clearly define who our sweet spot clients should be.

And the way you do that is by looking at your current clients and then developing out who your prospect should be based on your best current clients. So we’ve put together a sweet spot client filter, say that five times fast, that I would love for you to take advantage of, and for you to use inside your shop to figure out exactly who you should be targeting for new business. To get access to that free tool all you need to do is text AMI, for Agency Management Institute, as you might imagine, AMI, text that to 38470. Again, text AMI to 38470, and we will get the sweet spot client filter out to you right away. Thanks again for listening. If I can be helpful, you can find me as always at [email protected] Otherwise, I will touch base with you next week with another great episode. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s build a better agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-size agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.