How to beat the recession with innovation, not stagnation: why now is the time to ramp up your organization's experimentation effort
Hiring an expert CRO consultant is complicated – particularly in today’s job market – which can make it difficult to know for certain if you’re choosing the right person for your program.
As one of the world’s fastest growing CRO agencies, we here at Conversion are constantly adding skilled consultants to our team, so in the first half of this post, we’re going to give an overview of the kinds of attributes and traits that we look for when we hire our consultants.
In the second half, we’ll then go on to explain why, under certain conditions, it might actually make more sense for you to enlist the help of a full-service CRO agency, who will be able to run your entire, end-to-end experimentation program for you.
So, in summary, throughout this post we’re going to cover all of the following topics (feel free to click the links to skip ahead):
- What is a CRO consultant?
- What does a CRO consultant do?
- What doesn’t a CRO consultant do?
- Things to look for when hiring a CRO consultant
- 7 reasons why hiring a full-service CRO agency might make more sense
What is a CRO consultant?
A CRO consultant – sometimes also known as a conversion optimization consultant, a CRO specialist, a CRO expert, an experimentation consultant, etc. – is the chief strategist behind your conversion rate optimization program. Their role is to develop and oversee your programs’s strategy from start to finish, from research right on through to the analysis of experiment results and the application of learnings to new experiments.
CRO consultants often have some level of expertise in all of the following areas:
- Multivariate and AB testing
- Behavioural science
- UX design
- User research
What, specifically, does a CRO consultant do?
A CRO consultant is responsible for stewarding your experimentation program from start to finish. This will usually involve:
- Developing a testing strategy – a CRO consultant will set the agenda for your CRO program and manage a testing roadmap to help deliver long term results
- Identifying problems with the customer experience of your website through quantitative and qualitative research. Research will typically include things like user testing, heatmap studies, on-site surveys, data analytics, etc.
- Ideating test concepts to address issues identified in quantitative and qualitative research
- Analysing and evaluating experiments
- Reporting on results and devising iterations on concepts to drive the testing strategy
- Prioritising insights and testing strategy to align with your goals and deliver a strong ROI
What doesn’t a CRO consultant do?
While CRO consultants are often extremely versatile, with expertise in a range of disciplines, rarely do they have the ‘full-stack’ of skills necessary to deliver an advanced CRO program on their own.
Specifically, CRO consultants don’t usually have expertise in:
- Web Development
- Quality Assurance
This means that you’ll often have to bring in the capabilities of other specialists if you want to create an experimentation program that yields strong results.
4 things to look for when hiring a CRO consultant
So, now that you understand exactly what a CRO consultant does (and also what they don’t), you’ll want to know how to select the right consultant for your program. In this next section, we’ll run over some of the most important things to look for as you go about trying to hire your CRO consultant.
1. Data-driven outlook
Conversion rate optimization, at its core, is about applying the scientific method to your website changes to improve the rate at which your users convert into customers.
This means running experiments, collecting data, and using this data to guide your decisions.
A CRO expert who’s not data-driven is a contradiction in terms, so make sure that whoever you hire is committed to letting the data – rather than bias or opinion or committee – guide the course of your experimentation program.
Tip: If you want to gauge how data-driven a candidate is, ask them to present their top 3 concepts for your website. If these concepts are chosen based on intuition and gut-feel, then you may want to consider someone else for the position. If they’re chosen based on research and data, you may be on to a winner.
2. Proven track record
Running a CRO program is hard. There are many places where an inexperienced CRO consultant might slip up, so it’s important to make sure that whoever you hire has a proven track record delivering high-level CRO programs that produce quantifiable results.
Case studies are an excellent source of information about a CRO consultant’s past work. If your prospective consultant has a set of strong case studies – possibly even involving a similar company to your own – then you can be fairly confident that they’ll be able to deliver your program for you.
Of course, case studies aren’t a foolproof indication of a consultant’s quality – they’re designed to let the consultant put their best foot forward and present themselves in as favourable a light as possible. But at the very least, they’ll tell you about the kinds of projects your candidate has worked on and show you some of the best results they’ve been able to achieve in the past.
Reviews and testimonials are another great way of gauging the quality of a CRO consultant’s past work. If they have lots of happy clients who were willing to leave them rave reviews and glowing testimonials, there’s a good chance that the service they provided was of a high-standard.
To give you an idea, here’s an example of a testimonial that our friends at Canon left us off the back of an experimentation program we ran for them:
3. Thought leadership content
Many of the foremost experts in the CRO industry spend time producing content that outlines their methodology and that provides a good insight into the way they think and work.
If you want to get a sense as to the quality of work you can expect from a consultant, their content is a good place to start.
Tip: One good way of judging the merit of a piece of content – aside from reading it yourself! – is to look at the reception it receives from other industry experts. If they’re raving about it, you can be fairly sure that the person who wrote it knows their stuff.
Our blog post about our experimentation framework, for example, written by our very own Stephen Pavlovich, is widely shared within the industry and has been used to inform the CRO methodologies of many brands across the globe – including Facebook and Microsoft.
4. Strong communication skills
Conversion rate optimization is still a relatively new discipline, which can sometimes mean that it’s difficult to gain the support of senior stakeholders when trying to roll out innovative or novel experiment concepts.
If you have a CRO consultant who can effectively articulate their vision for the program, as well as the rationale behind each of their experiments, then their chances of gaining the support of senior decision makers goes way up. This is extremely important if you want your experimentation program to have a real impact.
7 reasons why hiring a full-service CRO agency might make more sense
A good, in-house CRO consultant can be extremely useful when it comes to setting up and running your experimentation program, but there may be situations when it makes more sense to bring in the services of a full-service CRO agency instead.
In this last section, we’re going to go over a few of the reasons that you might have for hiring a CRO agency rather than an in-house specialist.
1. Internal limitations
As discussed above, while a good CRO consultant will bring many valuable skills to the table, they’re unlikely to come with the ‘full-stack’ of CRO skills – skills like design, web development, and QA.
If you have a strong internal team with plenty of free capacity, then it may well make sense for you to hire an in-house consultant, who can work alongside your internal team to deliver your experimentation program.
But if, as is more often the case, your internal team is already working at or near full capacity, then it may be more sensible for you to hire a full-service CRO agency, whose consultant, design, development, project management, and QA teams will be able to focus exclusively on experimentation without other priorities taking up capacity.
While your organization may be chock full of design and development talent, the skills required for CRO will often be subtly but significantly different from those of your internal specialists. For example, it’s extremely rare that an in-house development team will have all of the skills needed to work within experimentation tools. This may mean that, on top of hiring a CRO consultant, you’re also forced to hire a new, CRO-focussed developer as well.
On the other hand, a good CRO agency will have deep expertise and specialisation in every aspect of CRO, which will often mean that they’re better equipped to support a CRO consultant in building out an experimentation program than your internal team would be.
3. Experiment velocity
With an entire team of dedicated experts working on your website, a CRO agency will be able to run a greater number of high-quality experiments than would a single, in-house CRO consultant.
For organizations with a greater number of opportunities for optimization and more revenue at stake, it may make more sense to bring in an agency, who will be able to deliver compounding results at a far faster pace.
4. Higher win rate
A report from 2019 looking at more than 28,000 experiments found that agencies were able to rack up almost 21% more wins than in-house teams.
Of course, this win rate differential will vary from case to case – there’ll no doubt be in-house specialists who are able to outperform agencies – but if a high win rate is one of your top priorities, you may want to go down the agency route instead.
5. Access to a huge database of past experiments
In our case, we’ve stored data on more or less every experiment we’ve ever run. This means that we now have a database with thousands of experiments that we’re able to draw upon to inform our experimentation programs and deliver maximum ROI for our clients.
As an example, let’s say that we start working with a new client who has an ecommerce website. One of the first steps in our process is to dig through our database and look for the kinds of experiments that were successful – and unsuccessful – for our other clients who operate in a similar market space. Of course, each client’s website is different, and there’s no guarantee that what worked for one website will work for another, but at the very least, this data gives us additional information that we can use to guide our strategy.
Our database is one of the biggest reasons that we’re so often able to generate a positive return on investment for our clients within the first 12 weeks of working together – and it’s also why our agency-wide win rate is as high as it is. But in-house consultants won’t have access to this kind of database, which puts them at a big disadvantage in this respect.
6. More innovation
If you hire an in-house consultant, your CRO consultant team will consist of one person. If you hire an agency, you’ll be hiring the collective expertise of a whole team of consultants.
At the time of writing, we currently have a team of 12 consultants and 6 associate consultants, with these numbers growing all the time. This means that when our consultants run into difficulty, they’re able to draw upon the collective creativity, experience, and knowledge of our entire consulting team. This creates all kinds of synergies and allows us to be far more innovative than almost any single CRO consultant – no matter how brilliant.
7. Strategic experimentation
Most good CRO consultants will be able to deliver an effective experimentation program that helps you optimize your website, but an experienced CRO agency will often have the capability to extend your experimentation program far beyond the limits of your website.
For example, we’ve worked with a number of our clients to experiment on their pricing and product strategies, allowing them to gain extremely valuable information about their customers while significantly reducing the risks associated with developing new products and applying untested pricing strategies.
Read more about our approach to product experimentation.
By hiring a CRO agency with advanced experimentation capabilities, you’ll have a chance to explore opportunities that go far beyond the usual remit of conversion rate optimization.
Hiring a CRO consultant can be a complicated process. All CRO consultants – whether in-house or agency-side – will need to have certain skills and attributes if they’re going to drive meaningful results through experimentation. We hope that this blog post will give you everything you need to pick the right person – or persons – for your program’s needs.