Widerfunnel’s Chris Goward on how Experimenters need to focus less on the tools and more on strategy

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Hi Chris – thanks for joining me today. How are you?

I’m never sure how to answer that question these days, but taking the perspective that, regardless of the apparent insanity in the world, I seem to be able to still hold a rational thought or two in my mind while living in the safety of a relatively stable country, I can be thankful today. I’m doing well, all things considered.

Totally. I hear you and I’m glad to hear it.

So with that said, let’s kick this off. Could you share with our audience a bit about what you do and your career path so far?

I think my most important professional contribution so far has been advocating for the importance of experimentation in the field of business and marketing. I Founded my company, Widerfunnel, with a purpose of proving that evidence-based decisions get the best results. I wrote the book, You Should Test That!, to counter the predominant gut-feeling-based decision-making that was rampant in marketing in particular. Today, Widerfunnel continues to advance the industry as a Behavioral Experimentation company, where we use a unique mixed-method approach to improving customer experience. We are still the leaders in Conversion Rate Optimization using A/B testing, and now also have a strong qualitative user testing and applied behavioral science practice.

I love that multi-pronged approach. For those who don’t know the GO Group is, could you share what it’s about and how you’re involved?

I Co-Founded the GO Group with André Morys of KonversionsKraft as an international network of experimentation agencies. We bring the best experts in the world together to share knowledge of what works in CX design, experimentation, and behavioral design. The GO Group has been an incredible source of inspiration, helping all of our member companies stay in front of the industry’s innovation.

In North America, the Experimentation industry focuses a great deal on tooling and technology. What’s your perspective? Is this a problem?

This is a problem beyond just the experimentation industry, but experimentation managers are not exempt. North American companies have become strategically complacent, relying too heavily on the promise of technology and abundance of data to solve their problems. As I wrote in a Forbes article about customer experience technology, this has caused companies to neglect the strategy behind technology and, paradoxically, also to under-utilize their technology investments.

Managers are tempted by the dazzling sales pitches and feature demos of technology vendors without considering whether the tools meet the unique needs of their customers, or whether they have the expertise and resources to implement them.

The North American perspective is influenced by a feeling of abundance, both financially and in data, and are more likely to feel like that abundance can be used to solve whatever challenges they face. Unfortunately, without a customer-centric strategy, those resources are only amplifiers of the status quo.

“We’ve found consistently that the best companies have high functionality in five areas, of which technology is only one.” – Chris Goward

How do you suggest we do better?

At Widerfunnel, we’ve studied the characteristics of the best performing companies based on growth and experimentation sophistication. We’ve found consistently that the best companies have high functionality in five areas, of which technology is only one. The other four are Process, Accountabilities, Culture, and Expertise. Technology is actually the last of the five, since it should be a facilitator of a customer-centric strategy rather than the originator of the approach.

For example, personalization has been a marketing buzzword for several years now and many companies have spent millions of dollars buying and implementing personalization technology without understanding its purpose. As I wrote on the Widerfunnel blog, personalization solves the problem of “Relevance” for customer experience. If you don’t view your personalization technology through the lens of customer relevance, you’ll probably spend far too much money solving nothing.

What would be your strategy in convincing leaders in North America to change their thinking?

It’s very difficult to change peoples’ inherent beliefs or attitudes toward problem solving. Rather than convincing, I take the approach of sorting through those who have learned from experience and are ready to try a better way. As the Gartner Hype Cycle predicts, exciting technologies inevitably quickly encourage over-inflated expectations, which then reliably crash into a trough of disillusionment. But the good news is that that experience primes people to develop more sustainable growth by using the technology appropriately.

At Widerfunnel, we help managers create their best experimentation program that delivers long-term, sustainable insights and growth to get them out of the trough into the ongoing Slope of Enlightenment. We have developed a structured assessment of an organization’s Process, Accountability, Culture, Expertise, and Technology, which we call the PACET™ Assessment. The detailed analysis shows where a company should focus its effort to make dramatic improvements in their insight velocity. We’ve also created a simple online PACET assessment quiz that anyone can try out for free.

Finally, it’s time for the Lightning round!

Bayesian or Frequentist?

I’ll be honest with you; I’m not much of a statistician and I usually leave stats debates to technician experts. I’m much more interested in asking the right questions using the right methods to gain insights about human behaviour. In practice, there are many ways to gain similar insights, and knowing how to combine qualitative insights with quantitative validation and a mix of behavioural and attitudinal data in the right combination gives much more breadth and depth of insights than squabbling over statistical calculations. I appreciate this XKCD cartoon that illustrates my point:

(source: https://xkcd.com/2400/)

What is your favorite piece of trivia related to cultures in North America and Experimentation?

When comparing experimentation cultures in North America vs. the rest of the world, I think what’s most interesting is that the cultural differences are even more vast between companies than between countries. Some companies have highly technical statisticians running their experimentation programs and they lack in creativity, design thinking, and business context. Other companies play fast and loose with methodology and end up with misleading test results that are stopped prematurely or run incorrectly, primarily to confirm their pre-existing biases. The best organizations have a balanced view with both creativity and rigorous methodology equally valued.

Will the Canucks win the cup during our lifetime?

Unlikely. I gave up on them after the incredibly disappointing 2011 cup run, after realizing that following hockey was causing me more pain than joy.

If you couldn’t work in Experimentation, what would you do?

Outside of Widerfunnel, I enjoy mentoring young entrepreneurs and could see myself getting more involved in that. I also spend a lot of time reading, thinking, philosophizing, and a little acrylic painting. I feel like I’ve made a mark in the business world by advocating for experimentation and could be interested in making a mark in another industry at some point as well.

Describe Chris in 5 words or less.

In search of truth.

Thanks so much for joining us today!

Thanks for the invitation!

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