Should We Be Calling It CRO?

Is the term “Conversion Rate Optimization” even relevant anymore now that A/B testing is growing up? This post explores thought leadership detailing what you need to know about the new CRO.

Manuel da Costa (Effective Experiments), Valerie Kroll (Search Discovery), and Connor Wilkinson (Walmart) recently met on Conversionations, the Effective Experiments Podcast, to discuss the topic, “Should we be Using the Word CRO?”

The debate around the term is around the idea of its relevance, because it might be too narrow or simplistic of term to describe the discipline of experimentation. Is it a nice umbrella for all the things optimizers do or does it limit or pigeonhole the practice? Is it an easy way to communicate to stakeholders or a miopic term that excludes multiple team members working to make data-based decisions? The problem hinges on the idea of whether or not the term helps or hinders the optimization practice within an organization.

As the testing world matures, this tension around the definition of CRO indicates that at least something needs to change. What was once a single person running a simple A/B test has evolved into a cross-functional, data-driven culture of experimentation that promotes learnings for the entire organization.

Here’s what you need to know about the new CRO and how to instill change in your organization.

1. Focus on optimization

Whether or not we change the name, the narrative around CRO must change. For example, SEO was first described as getting to page one, but it has now evolved to encompass many more aspects. The industry is similarly moving beyond what CRO initially described—moving from simple button color tests, to an established way of thinking. And in order for organizations to be successful, that way of thinking needs to include building an optimization center of excellence.

When you cultivate a culture of experimentation in a business, you have room to grow your capabilities along with your program. Younger programs, for example, may start with just testing, but mature programs can encompass much more complex and nuanced work.

For example, a mature program might include multiple subsets of CRO, including digital marketing, merchandising, product management, market research, etc. Since any of these subsets can test and derive benefit from experimentation, it doesn’t really matter what the “conversion” that’s tested is.

If it is understood in your organization that this is the case (and the culture!), then CRO can still serve as a flexible umbrella term, so that folks don’t have to change hats among different practices just to have a conversation about how they’re using data to move the business forward.

2. Think “process,” not “button color test”

A conversion rate can be so many different things, so describing it as a button color test undersells the value of an optimization practice. A conversion rate can be any valuable interaction that can take place on a digital property, and the process of controlled experimentation—ideation, fielding tests, analyzing results, taking action, and documenting learnings—is not limited to websites. Instead, in organizations where a culture of experimentation thrives, the process can expand to internal operations, product or marketing roadmaps, or other downstream, offline signals of business impact.

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3. As part of your process, be willing to fail

The optimization process needs to move away from an ROI-driven mindset. (Here’s a helpful post to gain statistical insights into that process.) Optimization is about improving the lives of customers throughout their journey. The profit will follow as a result of a positive customer experience.

So what if a test fails? You don’t go into it assuming everything wins; you do it to learn! If testing is too ROI-driven, you end up forcing people to do whatever it takes to get conversions (altering tests, bad tests, dark patterns etc.), but when you’re focused on optimizing for learnings instead of conversions, you save money, time, and get ideas for new products/innovations/features along the way.

4. Acquire the soft and hard skills needed to be a successful CRO

Anyone from any background or part of your organization can help with CRO. Having a combination of these hard and soft skills creates a good balance for a great program.

  • Communication skills
  • Culture carrier throughout different groups
  • Process-minded
  • Understand pain points, empathize with those you work with
  • Leverage the power of your internal network
  • Develop discipline for sticking to the process
  • Don’t forget statistics!

Is your business ready for CRO?

Every business can benefit from an experimentation driven culture. It’s easy to raise your hand and say you’re ready to do this.

But there are a few key things to consider about your organization before you begin.

  • Is your organization ready to take risks?
  • Are you ready to instill an established process across a broader organization?
  • Are you prepared to embrace insight rates rather than win rates?
  • Most importantly, are you ready for change?

Once your organization is ready and willing to embrace important mindsets, you’ll be one step closer to making meaningful business impact.

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