Frictionless Commerce’s Rishi Rawat on focusing on buyer psychology to unlock CRO performance

Rishi Rawat

A Conversion Conversation with Frictionless Commerce’s Rishi Rawat

When I think of Rishi, one word comes to mind, “Passionate”. His passion for understanding consumer behaviour and buyer psychology is contagious. He clearly loves this space, has a strong POV, and he wants to share it from the mountain top.

Today, I had the chance to chat with Rishi about his company’s CRO framework, how they handle clients’ objections when presented with this framework, and his admiration of old Sears catalogues.

Rommil: Hi Rishi! How are you today?

Rishi: I’m doing great, Rommil. Good to connect with you.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today! Let’s get right to it. Could you share with our readers what you do and your story about how you got where you are today?

Many years ago I was standing at a store entrance. In my line of sight, to the right, I saw a shopper struggling. They first picked up an item, then placed it down, walked away, returned, picked it up, and finally gave up. On the opposite end, the store owner was sitting at the cash register oblivious. My thought was, “At store close, this owner will tally numbers to determine if it was a good sales day. But he has no data to show a customer was struggling. If he was able to solve those struggling moments he may definitely would have ended up with way more sales.”

This was an offline scenario. But the experience stuck.

In the online world, where every click is recorded, it’s a crime if shoppers have to suffer through struggling moments. This is the problem I set out to work on 12 years ago.

“In the online world, where every click is recorded, it’s a crime if shoppers have to suffer through struggling moments.”

I’m excited about this conversation today because you focus on something that I feel the majority of CROs out there ignore: Buyer Psychology. Could you tell us why focusing on this is so important?

Absolutely. At a rational scale, the differences between product A and product B are limited to product features. There is very little a marketer can do except offer a 10% discount, which, by the way, should not be considered marketing.

However, if you can understand the psychology of your audience and the psychological appeal of your solution a whole new world opens. Two home security systems might have the same features but completely different psychological appeals.


Related to this, you recently shared with me a couple of pages from an old Sears Catalogue that I want to touch on. Could you share with us why these pages are so important to you?

Let’s think about this. This catalogue is 120+ years old. In 1897, Sears was sending these catalogues to small towns in interior America. These catalogue-shoppers likely had never visited Chicago (where Sears is headquartered). Because the catalogue had to include 1000s of items the font size was tiny (maybe size 4 or something) and because photography was prohibitively expensive, items were depicted as drawings. Also, think about the Sears’ sales pitch: “please mail advance payment to Chicago and after a few weeks we’ll send over the item you ordered.”

Basically, it all came down to storytelling. I’ve seen many good copywriters in my time but these Sears copywriters are from a different planet. It’s amazing how good one can get when all other marketing options are taken away.

Anytime I feel particularly good about my copywriting game, I read a few pages and am instantly humbled.

In your opinion, have marketers today forgotten how to market?

Overall, as a whole, marketers today are way better than we were 100 years ago. 50 years ago marketing was a very narrow industry. Marketers worked in advertising agencies. Today, everyone is a marketer. So the general quality of marketing has gone down because the barrier to entry is low but the power of marketing as a whole is HUGE.

In fact, I think marketing needs some sort of regulation. Buyer psychology is such a disproportionate advantage that combined with remarketing technologies it creates an unfair playing field.

It’s interesting you say that. They used to say that about marketing when it started to investigate neuroscience.

“…if you can understand the psychology of your audience and the psychological appeal of your solution a whole new world opens.”

So you and your partner have run a good number of experiments and have developed an interesting optimization framework. How about you give us an overview and how you’re different from other CRO agencies out there?

Our framework stems from our interest. Our interest is cracking this question:

Why do shoppers ignore version A of a page but end up buying on Version B? What’s going on in their heads? What invisible force is influencing them?

Also, because the marketing universe is huge our focus is on one small slice: converting first-time buyers. That’s it. We don’t up-sell, cross-sell, reactivate past buyers, or ignite word-of-mouth marketing. We just improve conversions of potential first-time buyers.

Having run 100s of tests we asked ourselves, “is there a theme here?”

3 distinct conversion strategies emerged.

Serendipity: Using what we know about the user to make a connection.

No matter what your product is your site visitors are thinking:

  • “Is this good value or should I continue searching for a better deal?”
  • “Is it good quality?”
  • “Can I trust this company?”

Make sure you answer these basic questions compellingly.

The better you can anticipate questions floating through the minds of your visitors higher the likelihood you’ll be able to connect with them.

What can we guess about someone Googling “Dental savings plan”? One guess: they are looking for a low-cost plan, have been ignoring dental issues, and anticipate needing dental help soon.

A good enough assumption.

Here is the search:

Here is the landing page (notice how the opening sentence connects perfectly with the visitor):

Serendipity doesn’t make the conversion, but it does connect your pitch with the user. If you can’t drive Serendipity you have 0 chance to convert the shopper.

Narrative Control: Influencing a thought.

Every marketing message has to deal with 4 types of resistance:

  • “Too good to be true”: I don’t believe this claim.
  • Negative: I hate this feature.
  • Competitor: I’m going to see what competitors are saying.
  • “Do nothing”: I’m going to stick with my existing solution.

Narrative Control is a way to push past these resistances.

Here is an example of a Negative thought. We know shoppers hate newsletter popups. Most close the popup before even reading the message. This means even if your offer is beneficial most will miss it. That’s a problem.

Narrative Control to the rescue. In this example, the user is being offered a 12% discount. Most will instinctively rush to the (x) button without reading the details:

Imagine if we added a message like this for people who clicked (x):

How many would now click No? Quite a few, we reckon.

Visualization: Reinforcing a point using a visual device.

Imagine you manufacture a safety device that has a response rate of 5 milliseconds. People don’t really have a sense of how fast 5 milliseconds are. Here’s an example of how Visualization communicates that point:

So in short: know the customer, speak to their needs, address their anxiety, and reinforce with clear and simple messaging.

Despite how reasonable this approach is, what are some of the objections you’ve heard from potential clients about your approach and how have you won them over?

We deal with resistance all the time. Resistance is a good thing. We use Narrative Control to overcome it 🙂

Let’s say a client is concerned with our long-form copy. To them, it feels like a wall of text. They are concerned no one will read it. It’ll kill conversions.

Here is how I’d handle it, “Steve, I totally understand where you are coming from. We intentionally created a concept that is very different from the current page. We’ve done this to pick up a statistical signal quickly. If the contrast is big we’ll know quickly if it’s a good idea or not. If our idea was similar to the current page it would take much longer to pick up a statistical signal. Also, we track test performance closely. If our idea doesn’t trend well quickly, we’ll kill it.”

I like to say, “If you want bigger results, you have to test bigger things.” How do your clients respond to that?

Once clients understand concepts will be tracked closely they feel more comfortable.

Plus, clients hire us when they realize something about their marketing isn’t working as well as they’d like so they expect us to do things a little differently (though their System 1 brain fights that change).


So, how does Experimentation fit into this Buyer Psychology approach?

Experimentation is how we prove our approach to buyer psychology is a needle-moving beast.

“There is very little a marketer can do except offer a 10% discount, which, by the way, should not be considered marketing.”

You talk about testing out bigger ideas in your blog. Can you share with us the reasons you’d want to do that? How do manage the risk involved?

Sites like Zappos have significant traffic. They can run very subtle product page layout changes and see clear statistical data. Smaller sites don’t have that luxury. But this is good because it forces them to test bigger bolder ideas. When I say bigger ideas I mean ideas that have a bigger contrast to the Control.

One manages risk by tracking tests closely or exposing a test to 20% of visitors.

Obviously, you guys are very passionate about this space. Could you tell us about your newsletter?

So glad you brought this up. I’ve been blogging about online marketing since 2007. It was my personal idea diary. Last year, we decided to create a newsletter.

Why? There’s so much marketing experimentation going on. The collective wisdom of marketers is insane. But many great marketing implementations are hidden away in tiny niche sites.

Nike and Nordstrom are running conservative tests., on the other hand, is going all out. Their survival depends on it.

But who has time to track and observe these niche marketing innovators?

This guy (pointing to self).

Every Monday morning I share what we learned the previous week. It’s a fun, quick, read. I keep my examples visual.

Just in case you’re interested:

Finally, it’s time for the Lightning Round!

Bayesian or Frequentist?

Bayesian. I think?

If you couldn’t be in CRO, what would you do?

Copywriter at an ad agency.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

System 1 copywriter

Rishi, thank you!

Connect with Experimenters from around the world

We’ll highlight our latest members throughout our site, shout them out on LinkedIn, and for those who are interested, include them in an upcoming profile feature on our site.

Rommil Santiago