How your business can harness the power of marginal gains

Simon Burslem

9 August 2018

180809 gr rebelthinking marginalgains simon wp 1

The marginal gains theory has revolutionised the sports industry. Most notably, Sir David John Brailsford CBE (performance director of British cycling) adopted this theory in order to effectively break down the goal of winning cycling races into smaller, more achievable steps. By focusing on one small area at a time, and by improving each area by just 1%, the cumulative effect was hugely impactful.

Why should you care?

Well, if you want to remain competitive, you’ll be aware of the need to improve or enhance your organisation’s sales processes and journeys. Conversion rate optimisation acts as the perfect vehicle for experimentation with the marginal gains theory. If you take your whole online sales journey and break it down into small steps, for instance – landing page design, page content and copy, call to action buttons, basket information requirements etc., it’s easier to identify where small improvements could be made in order to improve overall sales and revenue. To realise this, your business needs to adopt a test and learn, data driven mindset – in short, you have to be curious!

So, where to start?

First, evaluate your most critical webpage journeys and content, analyse them and adjust your mindset so that instead of seeing weaknesses, you’re seeing opportunities to make changes and achieve marginal gains. Take some inspiration from the big players – Google runs over 12,000 data-driven experiments each year, all designed to spot weaknesses and drive advancement. In one of these experiments they found that by tweaking the colour of the Google toolbar they were able to improve click-through rates which ultimately helped them to generate higher revenues. A streamlined and structured testing culture enables organisations to not only spot weaknesses, but turn those weaknesses into something positive.

Build it and they will come, but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy

Imagine the following scenario: you’ve spent time and money building or re-branding your website, you’ve spent hours on the products pages and content, you’ve deliberated on the design, you’ve used up your media budget and team resource promoting your brand and services. You’ve been lured into a false sense of security – you’ve got this amazing branding website, you’ve got the products people want, you get them through the door and then, all of a sudden, you realise that your consumers are struggling to navigate your newly built site. Conversion rates are disappointingly low.

Let’s try a different scenario. Your brand’s website, once a pinnacle in ecommerce, has lost its edge over time. Complacency has set in, your pages haven’t been changed or revamped in years, and nimble start-ups have found smarter, more efficient and more engaging ways to sell similar products and are snapping up your market share.

In both these scenarios, the most important thing to understand is what’s going wrong and where it’s going wrong – applying a marginal gains mindset in order to optimise conversion rates could be the key to turning your business around. Now you’re probably asking yourself, what’s the next step? Where should you be focusing? Let’s examine some examples of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) best practices.

Best practices

To transform your organisation into a lean, mean CRO machine that regularly tests, analyses and works hard to improve the digital consumer journey, you must first consider these six points of best practice:

  • Make the checkout process as simple as possible: Never overcomplicate things – think about what information you really need to capture from the customer. By adding more and more fields you’re making your checkout appear less appealing, less enjoyable and tedious to navigate. Once customers reach the checkout, they’re already commited to buy, don’t give them any reason to doubt their decision.
  • Live-user sessions and heatmaps are your friends: The value of these sessions cannot be overstated – it’s vital that you incorporate these two things into your testing plans so that you can confidently say you understand how consumers are navigating your site, what comes naturally to them, and where they’re being tripped up.
  • Limit your audiences: A/B test with specific customer segments – remember not all consumers are the same, they don’t all arrive at your site from the same source and they’re not all at the same stage of the customer journey – some are still researching, some are ready to buy. You can only truly understand what areas of your site are in need of improvement by isolating your conversion rates by audience.
  • Automate: Automation is crucial. You’ll need to test different email copy, calls to action, subject lines etc. at different ‘cart abandonment’ stages in order to make marginal gains.
  • Your advertising team is your best asset: Get your team members in social, search and display to collaborate with your CRO strategists – retargeting, when it’s carefully planned out, can be a very powerful tool for conversion rate optimisation. Ensure you’re hitting the right audience with the right message at the right time by continually optimising your messaging strategy.
  • Tailor your mobile experience: The needs of mobile users are different from those of desktop users. Don’t forget that mobile users are usually looking for specific key bits of information, such as actions like ‘click to call’. Make sure you consider this when developing your data-driven testing plan.

CRO Maturity

Whether you’re part of an organisation taking its first step towards a personalised, automated and strategy CRO programme, or one that’s already invested a significant amount of budget and attention in CRO, it’s important to fully understand where you’re coming from and where you’re going if you want to develop a marginal gains business mindset for CRO. Take a look at the table below; this illustrates the different stages at which your organisation might sit at the moment, and where you organisation could be if you follow the advice laid out in this article.

simon rta image

Some of the concepts highlighted above, such as personalised content experiences and different conversion testing methods, haven’t been fully explored in this article. We’ll be focusing more on some of these elements in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out and subscribe to Rebel Thinking below. We believe conversion rate optimisation can have a positive impact on your organisation, and adopting a marginal gains mindset is the way forward.