By - Neal Cole

Why Do ‘Box Tickers’ Kill Conversion Optimisation Programmes?

An heuristic evaluation is an important step in conversion optimisation process

Why Do Most Conversion Optimisation Programmes Fail?

Why is it so difficult to get companies to build conversion rate optimisation (CRO) programmes and develop a culture of experimentation? When trying to get A/B tests approved and built it can seem like you are swimming through treacle. I’ve done it and I can tell you that just when you think you have dealt with one hurdle another one appears to be created just to slow the whole process down. Brand guardians, compliance officers, project managers and IT managers seem to queue up to tell you why you can’t try ideas that could significantly increase revenues or leads.

Why Does This Matter?

Experimentation needs to be an agile process as otherwise it will lose momentum and test results will become irrelevant as the organisation continuously changes and adopts new strategies and policies. Unless you keep ahead of the curve you’re A/B tests will rapidly become obsolete and be seen as an academic exercise that has little relevance to real marketing strategy.

Why Are So Many People Uncomfortable With CRO?

Andrew Anderson in a blog on CXL argues that cognitive dissonance is behind the negative attitude of many people towards CRO. This is because when a test result contradicts their own mental models of how users behave this makes them uncomfortable and to resolve this conflict they prefer to dismiss the test result. There is some logic to this theory, but why wouldn’t people want to learn from the results of experiments? Wouldn’t experiments help them make better decisions?

I’ve worked for some major E-commerce brands and the senior management welcomed new insights that improved their understanding of their customers. No, I don’t buy this explanation.

People With Pointless Jobs Block CRO:

An alternative explanation is that people try to undermine CRO because they see it as a threat to their position because their jobs are largely pointless. David Graeber, author of the book Bullshit Jobs, argues that many jobs are pointless and has identified several types of such jobs from talking to people in different organisations.

David Graeber, author of Bullshit Jobs
Image Source: Bull Shit Jobs by David Graeber

These includes “Duct-tapers” whose jobs only exist to fix glitches that shouldn’t exist (e.g. User Acceptance Testing is only required because Developers don’t properly check and test their own work). Booking.com made all their UAT team redundant and decided to A/B test all changes before they were implemented. This put the onus on developers to check their and test their own work.

“Box tickers” allow organisations to claim it is doing something it actually isn’t (e.g. regulatory compliance and auditors don’t seem to prevent companies breaking the rules). Brand guardians for example often prevent brands evolving according to changing customer behaviour and needs. FT.com removed project managers from project teams and created small self-managing teams and now all projects are under budget and time. Previously every project took a minimum of 18 months to deliver.

Then there are the taskmasters who supervise people who don’t need to be supervised (e.g. middle management). These people often micro-manage to keep themselves busy and insist on KPI reports that no one reads or values.

One of Graeber’s main theories is that many bullshit jobs have been created due to “managerial feudalism”. This results in elaborate hierarchies of people who recruit people to improve their own status and importance.  If like me you have worked in large established organisations you see this all the time as people empire build.

Why CRO Is A Threat To Pointless Jobs?

People who create pointless jobs and those in these positions see CRO as a threat because it removes any semblance of support that they make informed decisions on design and content. For Duct tapers it highlights that other people should be doing their jobs properly and Box tickers just slow the whole process down and get in the way of improving the customer experience. They simply don’t add any value.

Further, CRO is most effective when employed as a method of business optimisation and so there is no need for taskmasters or box tickers in such an environment. User research, analytics, experiments, etc. provide the data to make better decisions and people who are going through the motions are easily uncovered in such organisations.

When planning A/B tests one of the most common responses I’ve heard was “does that mean we will need to change our design if the test is successful?” This is typical of people who are just going through the motions and don’t add value to the business. New insights and change are perceived to be an inconvenience and something to be avoided at all cost as it might show what little value their roles add to the organisation.

Conclusion:

People with pointless jobs hate CRO because the benefits of CRO are measurable and quantifiable. This is the opposite of pointless jobs which create no value. CRO also removes subjectivity from decisions regarding the user experience which often removes the need for some middle managers.

If you are faced with an organisation that suffers from many people employed in bullshit jobs it is going to be an uphill struggle to make CRO a success. The best thing you can do is to get the top management to become advocates for CRO and use their influence to create small cross-functional ‘growth teams’ to drive CRO forward. This is an important step towards creating a culture of experimentation which is essential for the success of CRO. Growth teams also make box tickers such as project managers redundant and report directly to senior stakeholders.

If you are unable to achieve this then I would seriously consider moving to an organisation that has at least begun to develop a culture of experimentation. This means having senior people in charge of CRO and where failure is seen as a way of learning what works. Otherwise you may find implementing CRO is like banging your head against a brick wall.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked in many sectors including property/real estate, financial services and retail. He has helped brands such as the innovator incubator RGAx, the music streaming  brand Deezer.com, online gambling brands Foxybingo.com, partypoker.com and Bgo.com and the e-commerce retailer Very. Neal uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
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