become a cro expert

Conversion Optimization Skills: How to Become (or Hire) a Kickass CRO Expert

Talia Wolf Conversion Optimization 0 Comments

Talia Wolf

Talia teaches businesses how to plan and execute conversion optimization programs. She runs thousands of AB tests using emotional targeting, real time data and consumer psychology to increase online revenues, engagements and sales.

Talia is a frequent keynote speaker at marketing conferences, teaching conversion optimization and growth on stages such as Google, Unbounce, MozCon, GMIC, CXL live, Search Love, Learn Inbound and many more.

She is the Co-founder & CMO at Banana Splash and was recently listed as one of the most influential voices in conversion optimization.
Read Time: 13 minutes

Stop me if this doesn’t sound familiar…

Step #1: You found a leak on a certain page in the funnel that needs fixing.

Step #2:  You think to yourself: “Let’s see what best practices on blogs suggest on fixing this issue. Turns out, blog posts say yellow buttons work 10X times better than green. (…or any other random “best practice” articles that promise a 500% uplift in one day)

Step #3: You spend tons of hours creating the new variation, getting many team members involved and spend a lot of resources launching that test.

Step #4: Results come in: You have no idea why that didn’t work. OR, it worked… kind of.. You got a small uplift but have no idea why or what to do next.

Step #5: Rinse and repeat.

This chain of events is one of the most common and frustrating things about conversion optimization. I see this process happen time and time again within every business I talk to or work with. The reason this keeps happening is because optimizers keep repeating the same 3 mistakes everyone is making in CRO (that’s an acronym for conversion rate optimization).

So let’s see, how many of these mistakes can you check off?

Mistake #1: You’re completely missing the point of CRO.

You treat conversion optimization as a bunch of tactics to get more signups, downloads or sales, while optimization is a lot more than just that.

Mistake #2: You don’t have a strategy.

You follow best practices from blog posts, listen to random advice and guess what to test.

Mistake #3: You’re running meaningless tests.

Stuff like headlines or button colors – single elements on a page and expecting them to yield the amazing, record breaking results you see in different articles.


So how did you do? Now you might be thinking “Shoot, I’ve made one (or all) of the above mistakes…” but don’t stress we’ve all been there, me too… but I’ve stopped making them and so can you.

My goal today is to help you become a better optimizer (or hire a great one). We’ll discuss the different traits, skills and characteristics you need to work on first (or be looking for in  a candidate) and then talk about a CRO process that will help you feel confident with the tests you run and deliver meaningful results.

The most essential skills that make a successful optimizer

There are many skills and traits that are required for being a good optimizer.

As opposed to other fields in marketing like SEO or PPC for example, conversion optimization requires a person to be profound and have experience in almost every aspect of marketing: research, data analysis, UX, psychology, copywriting, design and many more skills, which is what makes it very hard to either become a successful optimizer or hire one for your team.

It comes as no surprise then that a repeating question I get from clients, conference attendees, CEOs of large companies and entrepreneurs I meet is; “how do I become an outstanding optimization expert that drives meaningful results and contributes to the growth of a business? (or hire someone like that) .

The question always revolves around what type of skills make an outstanding optimizer. However, with CRO it’s not just about the skills or experience, it’s about the type of person you are.

I admit, I’ve been hiring people for conversion optimization positions for more than 5 years now and it is NOT an easy thing to do. I myself have struggled with it and it took me a long time to figure out the type of people I’m looking for and who I actually want to hire. However, over the years I’ve determined that no matter what business you’re in, there a 3 personality traits that make a successful optimizer:

#1 Passion

While most people expect me to name specific skill sets, my answer is always the same: Skills and techniques can be taught, but passionate, dedicated people are extremely rare and should be held on to.

Skills can be taught, but passionate, dedicated people are extremely rare and should be held on to. Click to Tweet

It’s not about how advanced they are, if they know how to set up a campaign in AdWords or a variation in an AB testing platform, it’s about their passion to learn, grow and drive the company forward.

For our CRO consulting service we don’t look for advanced or extremely experienced individuals – we search for analytical, creative and customer driven people who want to continuously learn and optimize their surroundings. A true optimizer isn’t just someone who can optimize a funnel, but someone who constantly optimizes their life. Passion is something that cannot be taught, which is why it is a huge decision factor for our team.

Founder and CEO of Hotjar, Dr. David Darmanin agrees:


“At Hotjar we don’t believe skills are critical since they can be learned. However, what we look for are the following traits:

dr-david-darmanin – Analytical, data driven and inquisitive

 – Technical – enough to understand how the web works and question the product

 – Creative and understands demand generation – how to get people to want what you have

 – Customer focused – obsessed at finding better ways to create value for them”


As Wil Reynolds, founder at Seer Interactive puts it:  “Tenacity over Tenure.”

wil reynolds hiring“I tend to look for curiosity primarily.  Our industry is still in its infancy, and I find that with the amount of change we have going on getting “set in your ways” is career suicide.  

In that I have found that sometimes people who have a strong desire to learn & 2-3 years experience coupled with an environment that supports learning can run circles around a 8-10 year professional who isn’t as curious, so also don’t get caught in the tenure trap.” 

 


Many CEOs and managers agree, it’s about finding the people who have the passion and willingness to learn, the rest will follow. This isn’t something you can teach yourself to be, as an optimizer it needs to be embedded within you – part of your personality.

#2 Teamwork

I only hire people who can work as a team and get things done together.

An effective team, one that constantly grows and optimizes the business (or your client’s business) is one that works together, listens and learns from each other. Uncooperative teams are one of the biggest issues companies face; people working alone, not communicating enough or spreading knowledge within the team which causes a lot of frustration, things being missed and at times even results in people working on things that have already been covered by another team member.

A productive team is one that helps each other out and motivates one another. You’re looking for team members that compliment each other, work well together, that can each take on their own responsibility and are aligned under the same goals. These are the qualities that create a winning team that is connected far beyond just the workspace.

For optimizers this is even more crucial as you must be able to work with anyone on the team; product, dev, design, sales and customer success. Working well with everyone assures you can generate valuable insights and data to optimize the entire funnel – not just one point in it.


sarah-bird-hiringAs Sarah Bird, CEO at Moz mentions: she looks for people who can move mountains and inspire teammates.

“I look for initiative, creativity, empathy, and technical skill. The person with these skills can move mountains for the customer, and inspire their teammates.” 

 

 


Larry Kim, Founder at Wordstream also gives a great deal of thought to teamwork as part of his hiring process:

larry-kim-wordstream“My company has hired nearly a thousand people and contractors in the last 10 years. So we’ve done a lot of hiring overall. In marketing, I look for channel specialists rather than generalists – people who are remarkably great at the things they do. To determine this, I ask situational questions like: tell me about your greatest ad campaign and why it worked? Or how do you prioritize what topics to blog about? (etc.) I also look at culture fit. It doesn’t matter how great they are if they are going to make life miserable for everyone here.” 

 


#3 Agility

Since change is constant in the digital world, as an optimizer you must be able to adapt and moves fast. Whether you’re an early stage company or a large corporation you want to focus on learning and implementing as quick as possible.

While many other teams may be able to take their time (product or engineering for example), an optimizer is one that has to constantly change according to their findings, the market and new data that keeps coming in. You have to constantly learn new skills, try out new technology and optimize your work at a fast pace.


Hiten Shah at CrazyEgg elaborhiten-shah-hiringates:

“I believe that the ability to learn new skills and tactics fast is one of the most important characteristics. The way I would assess that is by asking candidates to tell me about the last time they learned something new for their job. I’d want to hear how they approached it and the results of applying what they learned.”

 


Georgiana Laudi, VP of Markegeorgiana-lauditing at Unbounce puts it simply, she is constantly on the look for people who are ready to get their hands dirty and move fast:

“I’m all about people who give a shit, and get shit done. To me, those 2 things are more important than a particular skill set (since those can be learned, particularly if you give a shit). The ability to dig in, get your hands dirty and hustle while you do it, is priceless. Achiever types have a big influence on the rest of the team as you build it out too, drive and passion tends to be contagious.”


The 3 Basic Traits of a Successful Optimizer

Since CRO is fairly a “new” practice within businesses and the vast majority do not have an in-house specialist (definitely not a department), there aren’t many marketers with advanced CRO background. In addition, CRO isn’t a profession you can learn anywhere, there are a handful of online courses lead by various agencies and consultants, however most CROs learn on the job, gaining experience, running hundreds of tests and learning as they go. Which is why, in order to become a successful, well rounded optimizer you (or your candidate) require 3 basic traits:

#1 Analytical

In order to optimize your customer journey, you first need to find the leak in the funnel.

To do that you can’t be afraid of numbers, you must be curious and like to dig deep. You need to know where to look, what tools to use and how to use them.

One of your first goals will be to identify what visitors and customers do on the site, where your funnel could be leaking money and turn that data into insights you can use to optimize the site. All these steps require analytical skills and a lot of curiosity.

#2 Customer Driven

Many marketers forget there are people behind the screens. They spend a lot of time analyzing the behavioral elements of an audience – their age, geographical location and the browser they’re using but not enough time in really getting to know the customer on  a personal, more profound level.

Optimization isn’t about fixing technical things on your side, it’s about meeting and solving your customer’s expectations and challenges. Since every visitor who arrives on your site, is there to solve some sort of challenge (whether to find something to wear or a SAAS platform to solve their team’s issue) you must not only be data informed, but also customer driven, constantly exploring, learning and researching your customer’s challenges, their expectations and looking for ways to solve them.

Data tells you where the story is, it doesn’t tell you the actual story. Click to Tweet

#3 Process oriented

What you want to avoid at all costs is optimizing your funnels based on intuition, someone else’s best practices or random blog posts that promise 500% uplifts in one day. In order to have a successful CRO program, one that drives growth, knowledge and those amazing results you’re looking for, you need to have a process set in place.

A lack of process is what leads most optimizers to making those top 3 mistakes we discussed earlier – running meaningless A/B tests which lead to little or no growth at all. As an optimizer you must be process oriented and able to follow a constructed process for optimizing your customer journey.

Mackenzie Fogelson, Founder & CEO at Genuinely sums up all traits and personality attributes in what they look for in a successful employee:



mazkenzie-genuinely“Hands down, we look for people who:

Are excellent (if not superior) oral and written communicators – This is imperative not just for the client-facing experience, but also for internal interactions and overall team synergy.

Embrace uncertainty, change, and a good amount of risk – The people we hire must also have an “always-testing” mentality, knowing that no one ever has the answer; we need to be agile enough (without wasting effort) to continue to figure out where our expertise can provide the most value for the companies we work for

Are analytical and holistic – People who can get dirty with data and also approach their work from an integrated perspective and how all of the integral pieces of a company and their marketing must work together

Understand how to set boundaries – Work has to fit into the lives of your employees, not the other way around. Our job is to find the people we can trust to do the work under a variety of circumstances and get out of their way so they can get it done

Finally, and most importantly, we look for people who have a very strong understanding of self-awareness and are willing to work on themselves as people – Our work as consultants requires us to work closely with and gain the trust of teams of people who are very busy and often overwhelmed. Being authentic and genuine is imperative to how successful we will be implementing recommendations and how big of an impact we will make on these companies we’re working with.”


The Next Step in Becoming a Better Optimizer

So far we’ve discussed the traits, characteristics and type of a personality a successful CRO practitioner requires, however there’s one piece of the puzzle still missing – The CRO process itself. As I mentioned, the #1 mistake most optimizers make is mistaking CRO as a tactic, a means to optimizing specific KPIs within the funnel rather than seeing it as it is – a way to transform your entire business.  

The only way to truly optimize your funnel and see real growth via CRO is by transforming the way you treat optimization, giving it a much bigger place in your marketing strategy and treating it as a means to optimizing every part of your business (online and offline).

A successful CRO program drives not only more subscriptions or sales but can optimize your ad campaigns, your acquisition funnels, retention emails, billing processes and even your shipping.

For example – this company below increased their revenues by over 500% via our conversion program, however more importantly it drove meaningful insights to the business. We learned what challenges these customers face, how to talk to them, what drives and motivates their decision making process and were able to optimize the way the sales team speaks to them, customer success addresses them and even how the products were being shipped. CRO is all about gaining knowledge and optimizing every single aspect of your product and customer journey.

conversion-optimization-tips

Creating an in-depth CRO Program

So, how do you create such a process? Well, first you need to understand one very important thing (prepare to be shocked…): A/B testing is just one part of the conversion optimization process, it isn’t everything.

There’s more to #CRO than just A/B testing. A lot more. Click to Tweet

In fact, there are many steps that come before even launching your first test (which most optimizers tend to ignore) that should be performed by all optimizer and can be executed by any size company (even those with little to no traffic). For example:

#1 Identifying the leak in the funnel

During this part of the process you analyze data, current behavior and pinpoint the problem within the funnel. It’s important to look at heatmaps and recordings to see where customers are frustrated, where your current funnel needs optimizing. This step is crucial for any CRO process and requires a great deal of curiosity and in-depth analysis.

#2 Prioritizing

Once you’ve found the leak in the funnel you need to then determine how much of an impact would fixing it have on your bottom line and how many resources you will need for it.  This will help you decide if it’s worth your time and effort. The last thing you want to do is put everything you’ve got into optimizing one part of the funnel that will yield little, to no results  at all (remember step #3 from the beginning?). ConversionXL recently came out with a new way to prioritize your A/B tests, I’d take the time to go through it.

#3 In-depth research and analysis 

During this part of the process you focus on discovering why the leak exists (discovering the story) – what’s preventing your potential customers from taking the next step, analysing competitors, building customer profiles, segmenting your audience, doing customer surveys and much more profound research. This is skipped by almost every single optimizer yet is the only way to become a better optimizer and deliver better results. This research is what also allows companies with little traffic to execute CRO programs and make them work. The insights you gain from this type of research is priceless and will start shifting things within the company way before you launch an AB test.

#4 Hypothesize

Based on the previous steps, at this point you come up with  possible solutions for the leaks and hypotheses on how they can be solved. In this stage you define how you will optimize and fix these issues, for example: what technical fixes need making, what content to change, which colors to choose, what images will have the biggest impact, what elements need optimizing and much more.

#5 Launch 

Only once you’ve completed all the previous steps do you then launch A/B tests to validate your hypothesis over and over again.

Your goal is to gain as much insight, knowledge and data about your funnel and customers so you can truly optimize and fix your customer journey. Only once this entire process is fulfilled (and if you have enough traffic and monthly conversions to test), do you launch an A/B test.

Your Next Steps

While I’m sure I’ve could have listed many more traits and skills an optimizer requires, all skills and traits can be taught and learned in various ways. However, a true passion for knowledge, optimization and growth isn’t something you can learn.

Whenever I meet a fellow optimizer at an event we joke about how easy it is to identify a true optimizer outside of their workplace: we’re the ones who keep thinking about how to optimize restaurant menus, TV remotes, entrance paths and even the queues to the bathroom. If you have this basic passion and willingness to learn every day, you’re definitely on the right path to becoming a better optimizer.  

Think I’ve missed out on crucial skills or characteristics for the job? Let me know in the comments.

– Talia

PS – If all else fails, try to recruit Professor Xavier to your team… I mean who doesn’t want a mind controller on their marketing team?

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