E-commerce CRO Agencies Guide: How to Win Clients Without Promising (Ridiculous) Uplifts

Bani Kaur Trina Moitra
By and
October 4, 2022 ·
E-commerce CRO Agencies Guide How to Win Clients Without Promising (Ridiculous) Uplifts

When you promise a specific revenue or conversion rate, you’ll pique a potential client’s interest. But is it a surefire way to define the success of your optimization programs?

With rapidly evolving customer preferences and behavior, shifting to the caveat emptor world —  promising ridiculous numbers just to win clients is a bogus approach. Once you secure your clients, you’ll have to build trust—which will be shattered if you don’t deliver those conversion numbers.

78% of businesses aren’t satisfied with their conversion rates on websites. If you’re bagging clients with an ambiguous number based only on tests, know that they may be already disgruntled customers looking for more conversions.

Here’s why your conversion promise can fail for a client:

  • Unintentional bias in how you created the sample.
  • Eventual regression to the mean: This happens when your sampling technique does not consider a large chunk of the population and fixates on a single faction. If the sample is compact, the variable will always return to average.
  • Seasonality at work: People change. The “Corn song” led to a series of corn ads and web copy to be rolled out, and it shows how quickly trends take over. Your A/B tests can fail due to seasonal factors.

Focusing only on conversion rate improvement might relegate A/B testing and experimentation to only one touchpoint of the buyer’s journey — the element you’re trying to optimize.

Practical experimentation is when you assess the website for gaps and find ways to attract people via helpful information. You’re not only looking to attract potential TA (Target Audience) but to reduce the time, effort, and money for the extended team of your client. If you want their trust, investment, and interest, back your claims. Don’t just look for isolated, short-term conversions—shift to longer-term KPIs.

Earlier, we talked about eventual regressions to the mean. You’ll see if you only focus on conversion and not business growth, after some time — a well-optimized page will end its winning streak.

This happens because your optimized site has hit the local maximum. But when you position optimization and experimentation as tools to improve the quality of the action you take for your E-store and your business, you are indispensable.

19 Experts Spill the Beans about How They Win Optimization & Experimentation Clients in the E-commerce Space

First Up, the Contrarian Perspective

We would be lying if we said that none of the folks we reached out to suggested an impact on conversion rates as an opener:

In my experience, focusing on promised revenue uplifts is the best way to close prospects by demonstrating the value of CRO/running experiments. By focusing on the revenue that can be generated through optimization, you are able to show prospects the direct impact that your work can have on their business. This can be a very effective way to demonstrate the value of CRO and convince prospects to invest in ongoing optimization efforts.

Brian Hong, CEO, and Owner of Infintech Designs

For many agencies demonstrating the value of CRO is the most effective way to close prospects.

You can display the impact on revenue through optimization and back it up with test results from past success stories to build trust.

In order to differentiate yourself from other CRO agencies, you can tweak this approach a bit:

  • Be proactive and frequently remind your customer of how certain tests will tie to their business goals.
  • Your customer is not just looking for revenue, but continuous growth. Find gaps in their e-commerce store or website, and refresh optimization at continued intervals.
  • Use feedback and feedforward from your clients on new A/B tests and experiments, and follow customer behavior on the current tests as a curve point for new test series.

    Note: You can follow the experimental framework as the foundation for your tests here.
Experimental framework to improve optimization approach for your client's
Source: Research Gate

When you’re talking about revenue for an e-commerce store, the first step is to define deviations from its goals. The approach to highlighting shiny revenue numbers will play to your favor during a sales pitch.

But — if you don’t substantiate your claims with solid strategy and targets, you risk losing the client.

When I sell CRO to an ecommerce company, I typically put together an ROI calculator with conservative/medium/aggressive targets to show the client their potential return on the engagement.

However, sometimes this isn’t enough to get a deal done. In some cases, if I see tons of obvious CRO wins, I’ll use this no-brainer offer: “If we don’t increase your conversion rate at all above your current baseline of X% within the first 90 days, you don’t pay.” Many ecommerce brands have been burned by agencies in the past and simply need to know that you have some skin in the game. If you’re confident, consider testing this for the right deal

Zach Grove, Growth Advisor

Follow up your revenue claims with how certain new feature tests can reduce their exit rates for a specific page, or how adding certain options and bold CTAs can empower the visitors to take action.

Show the potential client a dummy test and experimentation example like this
Source: Optinmonster

While past performance and a robust sales pitch play their game to get you new clients, you can subtly add the point of link between revenue and CRO efforts to grab their attention and open their minds to experiments.

This works because:

The best way to pitch prospects on CRO projects is to highlight the business benefit in terms of revenue. CRO projects usually have a clear link to revenue and business results vs. more experimental digital projects like new social media channels. I stress the revenue potential and likely impact to the bottom line. For clients that are still apprehensive, starting with one project and showing the results is a great pathway towards a larger ongoing engagement.

Krista Neher, CEO, Boot Camp Digital

You’ll notice that most of your potential clients spend most of their marketing budget on advertising.

Global Advertising Spending In U.S. Dollars
Source: Statista

TheCRO market’s size on the other hand was valued at USD 771.2 Million in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 1932.2 Million by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 9.6% from 2019 to 2026. See the difference?

Many businesses are still unaware of the potential of CRO and its effect on revenue. You can play this to your strength and show them why they need to invest in you to grow.

If you find it hard to convince e-commerce clients to invest in optimization using their own data, then you may consider comparing their performance to their competitors. Show them the average conversion rate of other companies in the same industry to give them an idea of their rankings and put some pressure if their score is below standard.

Allan Stolc, Bankly.dk

Show them — every day spent without CRO practices is a day they are losing out on n number of potential conversions.

Finding the exact conversion rate for their competitor is not possible unless you’ve worked with them before. So here’s how you can show them competitive conversion rates with the help of extensive research!

  • Establish the industry norms {Bounce rate, exit rate, CTR (Click through rates)}
  • Use these established arguments to compare your conversion rate with an estimate of your competitors.
  • Assess competitor’s ranking pages and gain insights into top retailers’ modifications and practices.

Show them a future goal and then the roadmap to achieve it. This way, you’ll instill hope and fulfill each promise.

Remember — you shouldn’t be vague and say, “we’ll try our best to get you 100% conversion rates, ” or “we’re positive that you will not fail with our methods.” This exhibits uncertainty of results.

When it comes to Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), math can be very persuasive. Ask your e-commerce client to share some metrics including traffic volume, the current conversion rate, the average order value, and the average lifetime value of a customer. Plug these numbers into a spreadsheet with a few formulas. Then show them the effect of an increase in the conversion rate by a fraction of a percent, or the average order value by a few dollars.

If you build your formulas correctly, lifetime value and total revenue will go way up as you tweak any of a number of values. This is powerful when you want the client to see the value in your work. For example, a client may get sticker shock if you offer a CRO audit for $20,000 because there’s no context. But if you can show them that a one time spend of $20,000 with you can result in an increase of $100,000 per year, it becomes an obviously good investment.

Dennis Consorte, Snackable Solutions

Here are some initial changes explained by MailChimp that you can suggest or spot for a new client to build momentum in their business growth.

A methodical approach to support conversion and revenue promises

CAVEAT: If you have to mention conversion rates and hint at how much more the store and the brand can make as a result of experimentation efforts, do that to shine a light on where the E-store is right now, and where it can be.

Frame conversion rates as the first step of the journey, the destination being a myriad of benefits – including the ability to understand what moves the needle for their prospects and buyers, and the ability to try innovative ideas without spending money on hard coding the solution.

Optimization: Ongoing, Strategic Partnership Between You & the Client

Optimization is an ongoing effort. You can speed up the wins with trials on new tests and experiments by regularly updating your optimization efforts for your client’s website or online store.

In order to get buy-in from your stakeholders, you need them to understand the process and how complex it is, especially if they’re coming with an already predefined definition of what CRO is and does. So focus on explaining the process, being as transparent as possible and showing value in everything you do. Make sure to share that you as an agency or expert draw valuable insights from all tests – even ones that do not win and help clients see the fact that tests act as steps, one building on the next to reach the goal of a big win that not only improves revenue but also provides tons of learning

Andra Baragan, ONTRACK Digital

Strategically focused conversations with your client do more justice to your CRO efforts than just waiting to act on your research.

An effective strategy to persuade e-commerce clients to invest in optimization is presenting a strategic partnership. When choosing e-commerce brands to optimize and work with, proposing it as a B2B partnership with a common goal to boost sales and revenue, brand exposure, and customer data insights is a more compelling angle to target than just presenting it as a B2C relationship. Brands are more inclined to participate in an optimization venture if both businesses are actively involved in the project, which secures the mutual welfare and success of the proposal.

Nunzio Ross, Majesty Coffee

Your approach to it as a B2B partnership is a full-fledged solution that always works, why?

Your customers know their TA and ICPs and the funnel stages that people usually abandon their site on. With their active involvement in the optimization process, you can:

  • Discover new areas their visitors might be interested in
  • Know the pain points of TA with deeper visibility (helps create winning solutions)
  • Get an overview of their previous CRO tests and focus on the points where they went downhill
  • Create a healthy relationship on the side by answering queries that they might have about CRO

Solve Customer Problems ASAP But (Also) For the Long Term 

You’ll have to practice the mantra of scalable improvement. Promising revenue uplifts is a risky road.

Promising revenue uplifts in CRO is risky. The client’s revenue is subject to change every month. It’s hard to attribute if it’s due to some increase in market demand, CRO efforts, higher traffic etc. Instead CRO agencies should position things differently when talking to potential clients.

I love to use analogies to explain the value of CRO. Here’s an analogy I use. Let’s say you have 2 people running for a marathon. Person 1 does nothing to improve his speed, whereas person 2 focuses on their diet, speed & stamina. Now, when the marathon takes place, Person 2 wins. It doesn’t matter if the marathon is 1km, 5km, 10km, person 2 will always outperform person 1. The same goes with CRO. We duplicate your page, we make improvements to it & run an a/b test to see which page performs better. (Old Page vs Improved Page) Once you know the new page converts better than the old one, then you’ll have an easier time scaling. So it doesn’t matter if you’re getting 50,000 visitors a month, 100,000 visitors or 500,000 visitors a month. The new page will perform better in all cases (similar to how the athlete 2 will perform better in all marathons).

Devansh Sharma, Independent CX Advisor

Tying up your test goals with the initial customer problems that your client is trying to solve is a more strategic approach.

You make changes to a page based on buyer personas, if it performs better, you mark the gaps and challenges, make similar changes on other pages, and achieve scalable business growth in the long term for your client.

When we talk either about the program at large or a test, our approach is always to tell a story that focuses on a customer problem that was identified through customer or market research. With results, we focus on if our variation succeeded to solve the problem or not, how we affected 12-month business growth goals if we validated what we learned from research, and then and only then, we’ll talk through revenue and ROI.

With this approach, we keep in mind the importance of showing traction early in the program, we focus the process on creating high potential tests and the story we tell is never focused on revenue first. This is how they set the right expectations on what CRO is really about.

Simon Girardin, Conversion Advocates

This is a great way to have a better understanding with your client because:

  • It’s tangible (you are articulating that you will solve the challenges potential customers face on the site)
  • Yet not tied to the narrow realm and promise of conversion rate
  • Plus, it shows traction in 90 days (after all you are trying to establish a business relationship with a business. Time is of the essence.)

Regarding a scalable approach, you’ll need to be active with Google Analytics to mark the frequent changes.

Get Around the Frailty of Human Decision-Making

Your decision-making process as a human is tainted with too many personal biases. You have to set up realistic expectations from the start and have no conflicts along the way.

Experimentation is powerful and brings each question’s what, why, and how to justice. To mark the growth and failure of different tests with insights, create a doc for the reference of the whole team of your clients.

Experimentation process
Source: LinkedIn

There is a lot to learn from this approach:

  • It demonstrates how decisions taken on the fly with no true understanding of causation can play a role in its demise. Anything without data or procedure leads to failure and repetitive processes for your CRO agency.
  • It also leverages the real power of experimentation – the ultimate tool to mitigate risks and improve confidence in decisions. 

There are a couple of good ways to set the right expectations with new clients starting with experimentation and running tests:

  • Right from the get-go explain in easy terms that it is not purely about uplifts, meaning that an experiment that e.g. “doesn’t result in an increase in revenue” is not a failed experiment, but one that prevented revenue being lost undetected had the feature or change been just implemented.
  • That you can learn from every experiment if you test to learn.
  • Something I recommend in the beginning when starting with new clients is also running an experiment that only half of the client’s team believes will result in uplift and the other half beliefs won’t work or will perform worse. Why? Because this really demonstrates the power of experimentation and the need to really test. It is also a great exercise to learn from an experiment together and involve the whole team in the process, ensuring that this experimentation mindset also receives buy-in from more stakeholders

Nils Koppelmann, 3tech Gmbh 

An experimental mindset sets up your clients for growth and shows them how you can do it. So, your job is to openly share data and observations that make your business open to your ideas.

The “Close” Lies in the Details

Proven ways that help win clients when you focus on the intricate details of a business include:

  • Identifying the need (Change in tech stack, expansive revenue goals, consistent fall in conversions)
  • Integrating your thesis with the client’s goals
  • Showing them your previous reviews and rock-solid 90-day optimization process that works.

Sprinkle the details of your previous wins and paint a picture for them to see growth with your agency.

In our best sales pitches, we do not guarantee some outrageous uplift percentage. We are attaching our rock-solid process for CRO to their most significant business objectives and letting it go to work in 90-day increments.

From there, it’s all about painting pictures of a future with their problem solved and what the component parts of that process look like.

We explain our expected test velocity and win rates and all of that. But numbers don’t do much for urgency. It’s more about dialing up the pain of doing nothing. The client could be back here in a year with no progress for their work. OR, they can partner with us and have a dozen “big wins” implemented on their site, solving the main problems their business faces.

To help bring it home, we like introducing Discover Audits, Growth Plans, and Onboarding Timelines early on. We’ve found that these elements help eliminate any remaining mystery of what happens once they “say yes”. They provide clear priorities for what KPIs we would measure, how we would define success, and when we will begin different tasks.All of that does not remotely guarantee the client will say yes. But for those that do, it ensures that we hit the ground running and demonstrate strong returns even in that first month.

Sheldon Adams, Enavi

With an optimization plan that is personalized and goes beyond superficial metrics, your potential client will have a hard time rejecting your pitch. Give your clients the substance they’re looking for.

We’ve streamlined the audit process to have minimal time completing the audit and maximum impact. It’s hard for serious business owners to say no to someone who has an optimization plan already in place. Although the audits are in layman’s terms, I would say half of the business owners that receive the audit understand a good chunk of the report. The other half understand just the critical 10% – where money is being wasted, and how to get better quality traffic. But all appreciate the ‘time taken’ to demonstrate our expertise.

Emily Amor, Digital Darts

Some talking points to steer clear of in your pitch:

  • How you increased the number of page views for previous clients. Instead — talk about how you optimized a cornerstone page for canonical URLs and CTAs to reduce the soft bounce rate.
  • Talk about your 90 days roadmap, but never fixate on short-term wins. Like their names say — they’re short-lived.
  • Explain the logic behind the experiments but don’t tell them you can replicate the exact conversions as their competitor.

How do you convince prospective E-commerce clients to invest in CRO?

*This well of wisdom and advice comes from interviewing Nick Raziborsky at Bitweave GmBH.

What tactics work well?

What works best for us is describing the “plateaus” E-Commerce brands reach when scaling through paid ads, and how CRO can help break through them in ways that are not possible otherwise.

CRO programs are a remedy to help unlock critical percentage points of profitability and marketing efficiency that give them enough runway to scale until the next plateau.

I.e. a brand doing 500k in revenue with 150k combined ad spend may be break-even combining all costs & revenues through other channels such as E-Mail.

Running a CRO program in parallel will keep the company on a growth trajectory.

An overall uplift of 5% in revenue per user can allow the company to disproportionately scale ad-spend by 10-20%, due to CRO unlocking revenue without increasing marketing spend, allowing them to outbid their competitors and grow their customer base ever larger.

What angles do you take to paint a picture of urgency?

Every day lost not running a CRO program has an opportunity cost attached to it.

You are not gaining as many new customers as you could be, and thus risk losing to a company that leverages CRO.

Especially with the economic downturn, in times where companies need longer runways, these can be break-neck differences.

Do you focus on conversion rates (and revenue), or risk mitigation in business with innovation?

In E-Commerce we tend to focus on revenues, however, that doesn’t mean risk mitigation does not play a role.

When marketing depts. want to roll out a new feature, i.e. a certain type of in-cart upsell, we always encourage testing these features.

For developed E-Commerce brands there is rarely a thing as an “obvious” best-practice uplift.

We also leverage A/B testing to mitigate risk & find flaws more easily for customers upgrading their entire Shopify theme.

How does your approach change in response?

E-commerce has less innovation happening compared to SaaS businesses, so focusing on revenues means we consult clients closely on test prioritization, benefit-to-cost for running tests and questioning the status quo of the store ourselves, as opposed to reacting to features from a product roadmap.

Sit on Your (CRO) Laurels

Good, ol’ testimonials show how your CRO agency has helped clients reach their goals. Don’t be afraid to show off your accomplishments.

Testimonials are the best way to convince the value of your organization’s CRO experience. People trust social proof and having quotes from other individuals (along with their headshots) communicate that instantly.

Caitlin Cascade, Founder, Atlanta Social Media Superstars 

Tapping into basic human psychology is a winning strategy according to Caitlin. Testimonials and reviews are social proof of your methods’ success.

You can also use case studies as social proof to demonstrate that your agency is trustworthy and can deliver results.

True eCommerce optimization is a time-intensive process that most brands don’t have the labor power to do properly. Our biggest selling point is A/B testing, where we show potential clients case studies of our biggest testing wins. When they realize the potential growth CRO can harness with real-life proof, clients are often ready and willing to invest in hiring the experts to maximize their results

Fernando Lopez, Circuit

Showing your current running tests, previous wins, and positive feedback from past clients convinces potential customers of your expertise and builds trust in them to support your experiments.

In this case, you may want to share the following:

  • Your proven success framework
  • Revenue generated
  • Past experiments with innovative approach
  • Emphasize long-term relationships with past clients

To close a prospect, it is essential to demonstrate the value of CRO/running experiments. The best way to approach a CRO/optimization deal is to show the prospect how CRO has helped other companies you’ve worked with. Share case studies and metrics that demonstrate the ROI of CRO. Be prepared to answer any questions the prospect may have about the process and explain why it’s important to continue running experiments even after a closed sale. CRO needs to be a long-term strategy, not a quick fix, which can be difficult for some companies to understand. It takes time to build out an effective program and to see results. Give your client confidence in your CRO knowledge, and you will help build the strategy effectively to help the team, the client’s customers, and the client’s bottom line.

1. Revenue Generated: CRO can significantly impact the bottom line. Be sure to showcase any revenue that has been generated as a direct result of CRO initiatives.

2. User Experience Improvements: CRO can also lead to improvements in the user experience. Show how CRO has helped you improve the usability of your site or product.

3. Continued Experimentation: CRO is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. You can keep your business ahead of the competition by continuing to run experiments.

4. Identify Quick Wins: CRO can sometimes be a slow process, but quick wins can often be achieved. Identify these quick wins and show how they will positively impact the prospect’s business.5. Outline a long-term strategy. CRO should be seen as a long-term strategy, not a one-time fix. Outline how CRO can help the prospect’s business grow over time and how the program can evolve.

Matthew Ravlich, MD Alberta Consulting Group

Growth — even small ones are a big indication of the success that your process bears. Rather than being salesy — customers prefer brevity and past success for clients with similar challenges in optimization.

Borrow Wisdom From Conventional Sales Processes

Poke the bear… your prospective clients are probably drinking the heatmaps Kool-Aid.

Time to show them a better way to improve their buyer experience.

Unconventional to most CROs, I’ve found that heatmaps and surveys are not ACTUALLY as effective as I once thought they were.

The most common question amongst all CROs comes post-purchase asking visitors why they almost didn’t purchase and leveraging that data to come up with testing solutions. What I’ve found is that oftentimes that data doesn’t drive revolutionary big-win scenarios, because they’re simply not risky enough. Instead, a CRO should study consumer behavior, human psychology and understand the deeper connection that has with buying behavior on the eCommerce store.

Jacob Elbaum, Shivook

You should not fall for the numbers but study what drives all the actions. Ask questions that make them realize how far behind they are in the optimization process. For example,

  • Why is the exit rate for your client’s checkout page the highest?
  • Why their landing page is not having enough CTR?

Follow the conventional sales process and map out the buyer journey. Make the visitors think, act, and revisit. In most cases, a potential client will look for not just conversions, but customers who stay loyal in the long run.

Explain why your process works and how taking action will remove the pain that they’ve faced so far with other CRO agencies.

You’ll not only get a ‘Yes’ from the client, but have full disclosure about the back working, and past optimization practices.

Display expertise and value at every touchpoint.

I’ve found that it’s useful to set expectations around optimisation as a journey.

There is normally a period where we’re fixing all of the broken things: UX tweaks, positioning changes, addressing browser bugs and so on. These are the sorts of high ROI experiments that we normally find in sensational case studies. But subsequently, we will normally expect to move into a stable period of much lower obvious impact.

At that stage, it’s important to stress a focus on using experimentation for learning and risk mitigation rather than growth per se. The promise of experimentation is wildly powerful but the sober reality is that most business initiatives fail to move the needle. They’re simply not measured adequately!

Gaining the power of measurement doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to come up with more good ideas. With that in mind, I like to emphasize the strategic benefits of being able to try multiple things simultaneously, to be freed from the agonizing decisions around which course to take, to make changes without fear of making things worse, and to be spared the pain of trying to analyze the impact of changes by comparing the before and after.

Oliver Palmer

Close New Clients With Rational Data

CRO agencies can show a lot of bling in the form of pie charts and graphs to swoon new clients. But you need to stand out — don’t look for someone stuck in a conversion process but those ready to test boundaries for growth.

When both the client and CRO agency believe in experimentation, optimization becomes an indispensable tool rather than a buzzword!

CRO Master
CRO Master
Originally published October 04, 2022 - Updated February 07, 2023
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Bani Kaur
Bani Kaur Bani is a B2B freelance writer for brands like Klaviyo, Litmus, and Sprout Social and writes furtively (seriously, keys flying, coffee spilling) about the software world.
Trina Moitra
Trina Moitra Trina Moitra is the head of marketing at Convert.
Carmen Apostu
Carmen Apostu In her role as Head of Content at Convert, Carmen is dedicated to delivering top-notch content that people can’t help but read through. Connect with Carmen on LinkedIn for any inquiries or requests.

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