Episode 96

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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:</