Introduction 

In this post, I want to consider how CRO can flourish in larger organizations.

The idea of experimentation

Taking our experiences and our knowledge, we may know what the right action is. We may know which markets to enter, how to price our products or services and the different ways to acquire customers. Sometimes our decisions are spot on, and we take market share. On other occasions, we unfortunately make the wrong decision and lose both time and money. 

The idea of experimentation is to help mitigate risk by taking a big decision and looking for cheap and easy ways to test it. By testing, we can find out what resonates with our audience i.e. does it make our user take a desired action e.g. signing up for an email, adding a product to a cart, etc. 

As an example, rather than developing a new product range without knowing how well it would do, we can create a landing page and collect email addresses for those who are interested in the product range. This way we can gauge interest in the product before investing time and money. 

Experimenting gives insight and direction that can be easily missed if we decide what to do, without knowing how the market will react. 

CRO functioning in an organization

In some organisations, the marketing or e-commerce manager is responsible for doing CRO. This could be optimising a marketing campaign or making changes to the website. In this example, CRO is considered an additional responsibility. 

In other organisations, CRO is seen as a core function and more a team effort. The teams can be centralised and decentralised.

Centralised CRO function

For many organisations, if you look at the org chart you will see that staff are organised into functions. They will be a team that looks after e-commerce, one for acquisition, one for retention and another for business intelligence. Each team will have their speciality and they will serve the organisation as a whole. 

The same can be applied to CRO. A centralised team often works under a service model like an internal digital agency. Their focus would be across the full organisation’s websites, apps and campaigns. 

The benefits of a centralised team

  • Specialisation, focus and shared learning
  • A centralised team is more likely to document and be systematic in their approach. Such an approach can be scaled. 
  • Lessons learnt from one part of the organisation can be applied to other parts of the organisation
  • Efficiency gains by comparing projects across the organisation, the ones with the highest potential return on investment will be prioritised. 
  • A centralised team is more likely to gain respect and acceptance from the organisation. 

The disadvantages of a centralised team

  • Having a central team creates a distance between the business area to optimise and the business area. They may not have the detailed knowledge and experience of the audience relative to someone who works within that business unit.
  • If the CRO team selects projects with the best potential return it can mean that the smaller business units or small projects are never optimised. 
  • Scaling a centralised team can lead to inefficiency in communication and their ability to make decisions. 

Decentralised CRO function

A decentralised CRO model occurs when each business area or unit manages the CRO internally. For example, they could be a team that manages CRO for a website, another for the mobile app etc.  

The benefits of a decentralised CRO function

  • By focusing on one area of the business the CRO team can become experts in that area. They understand that part of the business better than someone who oversees multiple areas of the business. 
  • Being part of a business unit can help to influence the business/product roadmap more than a centralised business unit
  • A decentralised approach allows for more CRO activities in that particular business area as the focus will not split amongst different business units.

The disadvantages of a decentralised CRO function

  • In the absence of detailed cross-departmental communication, it is easy for different teams not to share their learnings
  • KPIs may not align across departments
  • There could be a duplication of resources as each team needs to function independently

Framework for CRO

A CRO framework is the strategic approach that a business adopts that guides and drives its experimentation. It establishes how to prioritise experiments, creating a test and the resources required e.g. what should QA test for a test goes live.

Having a framework provides the following benefits:

  • Helps to create consistency across the organisation
  • Helps new starters get up to speed
  • Allow more people to create tests
  • Saves time in setting up and managing experiments
  • Frees up time to focus on strategy/direction of experimentation
  • It helps transition from tactical testing to strategic testing

Tactical vs strategic testing

Tactical experimentation treats every experiment independently from other experiments. If there is no overarching strategy, then the objective of each experiment can be vastly different. If one experiment does not lead to a positive result, rather than iterate on it, a completely different experiment would be selected.  

Strategic experimentation has a predefined goal to solve a problem using different strategies. Strategies are then tested by a defined hypothesis. All experiments are therefore connected and iterative as we develop further insight into how to achieve our goals and adjust future experiments. 

A successful CRO team 

it would be valuable to consider what characteristics help make a CRO team successful within a larger organisation. Larger organisations function differently from start-ups/smaller companies and differently from digital agencies. Reporting lines are longer, time to execute may require navigating through red tape and resources may be abundant but require business cases to become available. 

We will first begin by looking at the characteristics of leadership. 

Characteristics of leadership

  • Able to navigate through the org chart, knowing who to talk to to get things done
  • Provide visibility to the wider organisation and an ability to build a business case
  • Able to influence the organisation to become more Agile
  • Embed experimentation and the prioritisation principles within the organisation
  • Lead by example. I would highly recommend reading the book Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek 
  • Lead not manage
  • Promote a culture of collaboration and share results far and wide
  • Create a safe space where failure is considered a part of learning and success is celebrated
  • Hold people accountable but give them the space to figure things out

What skills does a CRO team require?

Whether a CRO team is centralised or decentralised the team members collectively require several skills to deliver effectively. We can classify those skills into two broad categories. Technical and soft skills. 

Technical skills

Analytics/Statistics – An understanding of web/mobile/product analytics so they can interpret data, derive conclusions, set the measures in an experiment and analyse the results. 

UX/UI – The ability to design the functionality (UX) of a page/flow optimized for user experience. Develop user-friendly interfaces (UI) and conduct user research.

Design – The ability to illustrate, develop branding, create visually appealing designs to attract attention etc. 

Psychology – It is essential to understand how humans think. What makes one person buy a product over another? Or what information is required on a product page for different personas? 

Copywriting – The ability to effectively communicate in written prose. Create a persuasive and compelling copy to drive conversions.

Front End Development – An understanding of web technologies so they can optimise pages and build A/B tests

Digital Marketer – launch marketing campaigns and landing pages and manage the optimisation of those campaigns and pages

Soft skills

Embrace a Growth Mindset – see challenges and defeat as an opportunity to learn and grow. Taking the learnings from an experiment whether successful or not as an opportunity to further optimise and improve.

Willing to take risks and manage failure – experimentation requires taking risks, but it also requires you to do your best to mitigate worst-case scenarios. Understanding the balance between having users to test and still hitting your revenue/user numbers is a skill.

Creativity – Finding solutions, thinking out of the box, and being innovative are all essential.

Collaborate – In any team especially a multi-functional team the team members must work well with each other. This is something that does not happen overnight, and it is something that needs to be continuously worked on. 

Ego in check – Everyone has an ego, it is part of the makeup of the human being. An ego out of control can destroy the fabric of what holds the team together and derail a test-and-learn strategy. 

Decision making – Following on from ego, decisions mustn’t be based upon whims and desires to help keep egos in check. Decision-making should be evidence-based using data analysis and the results from experimentation.

One team – team members should be empowered to propose, and prioritise A/B tests to validate their hypothesis and find solutions to problems. Decision-making is shared amongst the team and not led top-down.

Communicate and share – team members introverted or extroverted should be comfortable communicating within the team and to the larger organisation. 

Forever learning – learning best practices, and keeping up to date with the latest CRO theories and ideas helps the team grow and develop.

Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash

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