Shortly after assuming power in Uganda in 1971, Idi Amin expelled all the Indians, claiming they were "leeches" who milked the cow but did not feed it (Uganda's economy was controlled by Indian traders, descendants of the "Coolies" who moved to East Africa to build the railway for the British).
The economy quickly collapsed and the country fell into a crisis.
"Why didn't you tell me not to expel the Indians?" Idi Amin asked his Scottish advisor (the guy on the left, in the pic).
His advisor replied "I told you, don't you remember at such and such time and place..."
"Yes, you may have told me, but you did not persuade me!" Amin retorted.
Over the years we’ve learned that coming up with a viable solution for a consulting client is often the easy part. Getting them to adopt it is usually harder. For context, we are CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) consultants. We help high traffic websites generate more revenue by optimizing their landing pages, as well as other marketing collateral--display ads, email sequences and even call center scripts.
Below are a few reasons why a client may not want to use the optimized marketing materials. Next, I share persuasion techniques we’ve used successfully.
Common Reasons Why a Client May Resist Testing Optimized Pages We’ve Designed
The brand team feels that the optimized page is “off brand”
For example, one client--a publicly traded company--didn’t like a long form page for their core offer because simplicity was part of their brand identity. In their view, a long page violated this part of their identity.
The client feels diminished by having someone tell them what to do.
Even though the core premise of all consulting is you are the one supposed to give direction, no one likes being told what to do. This is a rookie mistake I made early in my consulting career.
Attachment to the existing pages.
While the executives who hire us care most about business results, they usually rely on their employees to implement our optimized designs. Some of these employees may have built the old pages and feel attached to them. This is just human nature finding expression in the “not invented here” syndrome!
The client feels we do not quite understand their business
Recently, for instance, we were working on a subscription program for a client in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) industry. When he saw the headline on the optimized page his reaction was “This sounds like a threat. You don’t seem to understand why people sign up for the program”. Often this happens NOT because of sloppiness, but because we have not yet acquired the “tacit knowledge” that comes from being a customer. In Making Websites Win, CRO pioneer Karl Blanks says:
“Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is difficult to learn from the words of others. No amount of explanation can convey the depth of experience. Perhaps the best way to appreciate its power is to read the following list: being a parent; having a migraine; xxxx ; being drunk…”
In other words: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it! Tacit knowledge is not easy to acquire in just a few weeks.
Effective Techniques for Persuading Clients
Presenting two or three variations and asking them to pick one.
As Jonah Berger notes in his new book The Catalyst , if you present only one solution, the client tends to spend time poking holes. But when you offer choice, it gives them a sense of control--something we humans all crave!
We usually present a conservative and radical version. The conservative keeps most of the elements on the control intact, but adds or makes minor changes. The radical “swings for the fences”. This way, we increase our odds of getting a win on the first test, which then earns us the credibility that makes it easier to try bolder changes.
Listen intently and then repeat the clients concerns and goals in subsequent meetings, so they feel understood. Most people don’t even feel “heard”; if you can make them feel “understood”, you are half-way home! Steve Covey talks about this in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Thou shalt first seek to understand.
For example, for a crypto tax-software client, one of our consultants started his presentation this way: We understand you want to stress the importance of getting crypto taxes right, but also don’t want to come across as an enforcement arm of the IRS. The verbiage on this new page strikes just the right tone. They let us run the page and it produced at 64% lift (at 99% statistical significance).
Active Listening is also known as Deep Listening, as explained in this BBC article
Before presenting a radical redesign, we share the research we’ve done on the audience (both buyers and non-buyers)--our surveys are thorough and often uncover new insights.
When we eventually show the radical design, it feels like the only logical conclusion from our findings, and is thus easier to accept.
Here’s an example of research we did for insole seller Protalus. The resulting radical redesign and associated upsells produced a 91% direct lift in sales. It also allowed them to bid higher on pay per click traffic sources--opening up the floodgates of new visitors, which then led to 1221% overall business growth. As we like to say, there are no traffic problems; just conversion ones! [link]
Note that this technique is the opposite of the Pyramid Principle popularized by McKinsey (the storied consulting company) where you start with the conclusion and then explain how you got there. We’ve tried both approaches and the former works better when the proposed design is a little bit outside the client’s zone of acceptance.
Presenting Corroborating Evidence
This is most effective when the evidence is about “similar others” and used alongside one of the other techniques. Simply presenting generic data is not effective. For the “off brand” situation described above, we used Apple’s original Iphone SE page (since removed) as evidence.
After all, Apple is known for simplicity and elegance but, even they, used a long form page for the new product. Given its tiny size and novelty, a lot of questions had to be answered before one felt ready to buy.
For this client, our research showed that the non-buyers had lots of objections that were not addressed on the landing page. There was simply no way to counter these objections without using explanatory, long-form elements.
I also shared this quote from Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, one of the pioneers in our field: “Clarity supersedes simplicity. Artificial simplicity that leaves questions unanswered will necessarily hurt the sale”
Avoid a “We vs. You” Dichotomy
We avoid talking about your page vs. our page. We instead talk about the new page or our jointly designed page, stressing that it is the result of our collective strengths: The client’s “tribal knowledge” of their business and our case-studies encrusted framework. We also offer objectivity that the client may lack, due to their closeness to the business.
A Jeff Bezos’ quote that I like to share with clients is:
You never want your surgeon to have only you as a patient. You want her to have lots of other patients so that when she sees you, she has insights from lots of different situations.
Whenever possible, we try to incorporate elements from the client’s old page--after all, it is producing some sales, so something is working. But crucially, the other benefit of doing this is: we convey the project is truly a joint effort.
Become a customer. Order the product. Experience the brand. We do this to gain the tacit knowledge described in the previous section. I got several pairs of Protalus insoles when they were a client and joined Enfamil’s Family Beginnings program to receive formula samples. I basically did everything a new parent would do, short of having a baby!
And when we briefly advised EasyKicks by Nike (kids shoes on a subscription basis), I got my niece and nephew on the program.
Below is a video of them celebrating their new EasyKicks.
I also interviewed their mother to find out if she’d sign up for the program on her own (I learned it wasn’t compelling for her or many of the other parents I spoke with). When the client knows you've done this they are less likely to resist your ideas.
Please Suspend Judgement for a Moment, and Let’s Just Try It
Another Jeffism (Jeff Bezo nugget of wisdom) I use when persuading clients is: There are two kinds of decisions; Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 decisions can be easily reversed. If you walk through the door and don’t like what you see, simply walk back out! Type 2 decisions, on the other hand, cannot be easily reversed and have lasting and important consequences.
This test is a Type 1 decision, I usually ‘splain. Let’s test it with 10% of your traffic.
According to the book Diffusion of Innovations, the ability to try something with little or no risk, is the top factor that determines whether an idea will be accepted.
In closing, persuade, don’t tell! And you’ll never be accused of failing to stop your client from expelling the Indians :)
After writing a draft of this I read Jonah Berger’s The Catalyst , in which he lists the reasons why people resist new ideas--summarized by the acronym REDUCE:
Reactance: Basically, “who the eff do you think you are to tell me what to do?”
Endowment: Attachment to the status quo
Distance: Requires too large a mental leap to do what is being asked i.e. outside the person’s “zone of acceptance”.
Uncertainty: Fear of the unknown. Afraid of what will happen
Corroborating Evidence (lack of): In god we trust. Everyone else, bring data.
I’ve attempted to slot the four reasons listed above into his categories:
The brand team feels that the optimized page is “off brand” [Endowment, Distance, Corroborating Evidence (lack of)]
They might feel diminished by having someone tell them what to do. [Reactance]
Attachment to the existing pages. [Endowment]
The client feels we do not quite understand their business [Reactance]