A Conversion Conversation with Webtrends Optimize’s Matt Smith
I recently chatted with Matt about, among other things, how he handles clients’ most common objections, how many tests a client should run every year and his view on personalization.
Rommil: Hi Matt, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today! How have you been?
Matt Smith: I’m good thank you, all things considered. It’s certainly strange times at the moment but the benefits of getting to be at home a little more and spending more time with my young kids has been quite nice. The weather of course has helped a lot too, it’s been lovely for the past 10 weeks or so!
For the benefit of our readers, could you share a bit of what you do and a brief overview of your career journey thus far?
I’m the CEO of Webtrends Optimize. We’re a digital optimization business offering a SaaS (Software as a Service) product which businesses use to increase their online conversions using testing (AB, MVT, Split etc.) and personalization. Clients can add a range of CRO (conversion rate optimization) services too, either via our in-house team or one of our many agency partners.
Prior to acquiring the business in 2018, I ran the Webtrends Optimize business as part of the wider Webtrends Inc. Before that, I spent many years in the travel industry working in a range of Digital and IT roles and was involved in the launch of the first true dynamic packaging business in the industry.
How have you, and the rest of Webtrends Optimize, dealt with the pandemic?
The team and I are doing well. We already had a very flexible working at home policy in place, so there wasn’t such a dramatic step change as most of the team would normally work from home for a couple of days a week anyway.
The biggest challenge for the team around the current situation is having the entire family around 100% of the time. It means there are a few more distractions, but generally, everyone is doing great and showing incredible flexibility. Individual teams are catching up daily via Microsoft Teams and we all gather together on a Monday morning and have a virtual beer last thing on a Friday, usually with a quiz or online Pictionary — something fun for us all to have a laugh.
Our clients are still active, and we’ve spent a lot more time doing some additional marketing activities and sponsoring some virtual events as this seems to be the new normal for the moment.
For those who aren’t aware, could you share with our readers what Webtrends Optimize is and how it relates to Webtrends?
Webtrends Optimize used to be a product line within the Webtrends Inc. portfolio, however, on the 1st August 2018 Webtrends Optimize separated and moved the entire operation to the UK under the ownership of Accelerate Group Limited.
The move was to enable the business to focus on its technology and grow as a pure Optimisation, Testing and Personalisation solution. Webtrends Optimize still has a global presence where our technology is used as pure SaaS or supported via one of our global agency partners.
How do you approach proposing an optimization strategy to a new client? How do you handle the most common objections?
Probably the 3 most common ‘objections’ we come across are below:
- Why do I need to do this?
Part of the response here is nearly always because your competitors are… As consumer information becomes closer to perfect, in order to retain competitive edge, businesses increasingly recognize the need to differentiate. An optimization programme ensures that only the positive measures are adopted, and the negative ones can be avoided and better understood.
- It’s too complex/complicated or we don’t have the time/resource
We have yet to see a relationship between complexity and ROI. Indeed, some of the most compelling wins we see across the board have come from very simple changes to messaging and are easily achievable through the use of our WYSIWIG interface which require no coding skills.
For those companies that don’t wish to get hands-on or those that wish to be more engaged with personalizing their website, we have both the right platform and an excellent services team to offer a completely scalable solution.
- It’s expensive
Our proposition is more often than not a very small percentage of the overall spend of a business’ digital marketing budget. Companies often spend much greater percentages on driving traffic to their websites via paid advertising and/or SEO. — Spending a fraction of that to maximize every opportunity to help convert that traffic and provide them with an optimal user experience, is a compelling argument. From our own studies, the return on investment (ROI) from a testing programme can be in the order of 26x multiples.
Clients are always interested in ROI — how do you demonstrate the return of your work and convince them to continue working with you?
Everything we do is focused on delivering a return on our client’s investment. This is measured and reported in each and every test/experiment report.
For our managed service clients, once a test is concluded we produce a report that informs the client of the results, findings, recommendations, and gains. We also roll this up into a quarterly report and meet with each client for a strategic quarterly business review (QBR). For our self-service clients, we provide similar reports within the user interface, to allow them to visually see the benefits of each and every experiment.
Further to this, I measure on an annual basis to review as a whole what gains we see across the board, by client, by industry and as a whole. On average we’re seeing a 26x ROI for our client base currently and we’re constantly striving to do better.
Analyzing at this level and sharing the overall data with clients and prospects helps to highlight the benefits of CRO and certainly simulate conversation. The 26x ROI is often challenged, most recently by a new client of ours. I was very pleased to hear after 10 weeks of engagement with them we managed to deliver an even higher ROI than this — and from their very first test too! It certainly made for a nice conversation when I next spoke to them.
When clients ask you, how many tests they should run a year, what do you suggest?
We always say that it’s not about the number of tests (or hitting the dizzy height of x number of annual tests), it’s about the quality. We spend time interrogating the data and behaviour of a client’s users to ensure we’re recommending and doing the right things. The big success could come from 1 test, or 4, or 10. The number isn’t important.
As a business, we don’t just look to rollout 20 quick tests with minimal gains to shout about our productivity. We look for the right test(s) to meet and exceed the client’s objectives, that’s why our QBRs are important. We need these to share and elaborate on what we’re doing, but also to constantly align ourselves with their ever-changing business objectives and deliver the right tests, not just the easy low hanging fruit’, this is the reason why we retain clients for many many years.
Obviously, an Experimentation culture is critical for Webtrends Optimize. How do you define a strong Experimentation culture and how do you measure it?
When Experimentation is the vehicle for all ideas and growth online, we know there’s a strong culture. We’re getting away from the idea of “I do testing”, and looking to train and reshape people’s thinking closer to “if I’m going to spend my time working on something, I want to understand what the data is telling me at every stage of the process”.
Companies that do well are the ones that want to see the evidence of their actions and be as well-informed as possible. This is often reflected in the maturity of the solutions they use, the depth of the conversations we have with them (looking not just at What, but Why), and also the detail with which ideas are put together for Experimentation. We’ve seen everything from 1-liners on a Trello ticket to a detailed hypothesis and analysis before a single line of code gets written.
Optimization teams rely on collaboration across many departments. For this reason, in order to be successful, it’s critical that it has the backing from the top of the organization down. ROI is important and the programme overall should demonstrate a return. However, a strong culture embraces failure. And by this, we mean there needs to be an acceptance that the value comes not from proving what you already know or to be obvious — but establishing what you don’t. The number of tests/projects active or launched is clearly a useful dimension to measure along with the number of tested channels.
Personalization is the new black, these days. Can you share with us how you define personalization and how it fits into the world of Experimentation?
We’ve been involved with personalization from the very start. The targeting capabilities of the Webtrends Optimize platform have been a cornerstone of our development. We consider personalization as the transformation of a generic experience into an alternative that fully appreciates and anticipates a visitor’s wants and needs.
Where appropriate we will test personalization rules as any other test. However, the segments themselves can be very thin, so this can be challenging. In which case, we will recommend keeping a small control segment and measuring performance of the personalization rules in aggregate.
When you hire, what kinds of skills and backgrounds do you look for?
In terms of skills being organized and structured is vital. Strong attention to detail, excellent communication skills, particularly when it comes to presenting data is very important.
When it comes to backgrounds, direct previous experience within an Experimentation culture is useful, however, some of our most successful team members have been those with a mindset that is curious and who are driven to be and achieve “better”.
It’s time for the lightning round!
Frequentist or Bayesian?
As a vendor, it’s not our place to pick or make enemies, both have their benefits and limitations, so we quite simply offer both.
If you couldn’t work in Experimentation — what would you be doing today?
That’s a depressing thought as I love what I do. Probably something to do with house renovations, I quite like a bit of DIY.
What are your biggest peeves in the Experimentation space?
- Not testing something because it’s ‘obvious’ — nothing can be taken for granted
- ‘Gurus’ who forget that Experimentation did not arrive with Google or Booking.com. Experimentation goes back to ancient Greece; AB testing since the beginning of the last century
- Considering a test where the control is the winner as a ‘failure’
Name 3 experimentation industry-leaders that you follow?
Just 3 is difficult. There’s a lot of people out there sharing great information out there. Nima Yassini from New Republique in Oz is definitely one. He has been extremely vocal recently, via podcasts and videos etc..
There are some great people we pay attention to who run their own spaces such as Bhavik Patel from CRAP Talks, and Manuel Da Costa.
Chad Sanderson was always interesting to hear from, although I think he’s been quieter recently. Stephan Pavlovich and his team have heaps of experience too.
We’re in a space where we don’t follow that much though — we’re experienced enough to be leading; expressing our ideas, showing people things they don’t do or understand, and generally just doing things very differently to everyone else. So there’s a lot of that too.
Describe Matt in 5 words or less.
Of course, not my words, I put this out to the team — An inspiring, driven, visionary leader.
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