How to convert website visitors into paid customers without friction (with CEO, Raphael Paulin-Daigle)
Raphael Paulin-Daigle was playing in the CRO space 6+ years ago, before it had even taken root in the headspace of most ecommerce brands. As the CEO of SplitBase, today Raphael is an advocate for a far more nuanced version of optimization.
Raphael Paulin-Daigle was playing in the CRO space 6+ years ago, before it had even taken root in the headspace of most ecommerce brands. As the CEO of SplitBase, today Raphael is an advocate for a far more nuanced version of optimization. On DTC POD, he explained that successful optimization is far more than running AB tests. It’s about truly getting to know your customer and designing an experience that speaks to them. He’s taken this philosophy to grow SplitBase into an agency that’s helped top brands like Dr. Squatch, Glamnetic, and Vanity Planet improve their experience and increase sales exponentially.
8:21 - Pivoting from SaaS to ecommerce
Raphael was surrounded by Saas founders, but followed his instincts when he found himself far more interested in the ecommerce space.
“I started SplitBase when most of my friends were SaaS founders, because that's what I was familiar with. I always like, well, SplitBase is going to be a conversion optimization agency for SaaS companies. Now a couple of things. One, I think it would have been better positioned as a churn reduction agency maybe, or something a bit more focused than conversion optimization. Because I realized after maybe a year of doing that, that it's like, SaaS companies, it's not conversionary. It's not the term that really comes to mind. But also I just wasn't really passionate about the SaaS space. And I caught myself one day thinking and actually saying to a friend you know, when I'm done with this SaaS thing I'm going to focus on helping out ecommerce brands with optimization. And then my friend was just like, well, why don't you just do it now?”
9:54 - Pioneering conversion optimization
Brands used to not invest much in the user experience, only in ads. As the DTC era grew, Raphael saw that start to shift.
“For so many years, it's felt like you had to convince brands, and still a bit today, that optimization is something that you do. And it just felt like, I don't know how to say it, but we were stuck in a very old way of thinking. Most ecommerce brands we're just not really thinking ahead, and it was a very old-school way of thinking about user experience in general. And eventually this DTC era started surfacing. And what's been interesting is that, still then, CRO, like conversion optimization and landing pages, wasn't a big thing. Even today it's only really starting to become the thing to do. And more notably since the iOS changes. It changed everything. Because you realize people were just so focused on testing their ads, testing their ads. And they were like, oh, the website just needs to look sexy and good and beautiful, and design will sell. But the truth is no. Design is one thing and it helps build trust and it provides an identity. But design alone is not going to answer your customer's questions, their fears, their doubts, their objections. Design is made to support that content, not be that content.”
16:10 - Focus on the customer, not the competitor
A mistake many brands make is to see what marketing gurus are saying about best practices, or copying others. But the first place you should be looking is to your customer.
“We're not going to focus on the optimization part of the traffic acquisition. We're not going to touch ads, for sure. That's not what we do. But post-click, okay. Customers clicked on your ad. Now they're on your website. It's go time. What do we do? Do we need a landing page? Is the landing page even working? First, before trying to apply tactics or techniques, because I think this is also one of the biggest traps for brands getting into optimization. They were like, Hey, what is Neil Patel or whatever marketer on their blog is saying about optimization? And most of the information is bullshit for most brands. The thing is, sure. There are some best practices when it comes to usability. But it's not about what's working for other brands or your competitors or whatever. It's what does your customer need for them to convert on your site and buy your product? The only way to really get to the bottom of this is by really doing what we call conversion research. Which is, and not to get too deep into this, but it's talk with your customers.”
20:10 - Evolve your tactics with your market
Products and customers are not static. That means your website and landing pages can’t be, either.
“If we are talking about a DTC brand, they're releasing more SKUs, probably targeting different types of customers. So any business is going to be growing. The market is going to change, their customers are going to change. So first, the process is infinite. Because you're always going to have to adopt. And when you do this research work well, sure. It enables you to create landing pages, make changes on your site, and run tests that hopefully will drive some impact. But it also feeds you information in terms of how your customer and your product is evolving over time. And I think that's kind of key, because if you assume that, oh, I have one website and this is a fixed entity and my customer is also the same thing, I mean, at one point you're going to hit a wall.”
22:38 - Use data to drive action
Many brands get obsessed with tracking data. But Raphael’s found that data is actually useless unless you’re using it to make business decisions.
“Data can be a savior as much as it can be a killer. And the reason I believe this is because look. We have clients, for example, that sure. They have a lot of data tools. And they're actually using it. It's integrated within Klaviyo and everything. It's integrated within their tools. They have staff to handle it. That's amazing, yes. Data that you can actually use and that leads to insights, and that leads to an actual action, not just like, oh, this is interesting data. And then it sits there. But data that actually leads to progress or changes. That is great data, and it's good to have. But I think people get caught in this, it's like data porn. It's like, Hey, we need data. We need data. We need data. But it's like, Hey, before you actually get more data, ask yourself: do you actually need to know this? And if so, it’s not do you actually need to know this. It's are you actually going to be using it, and how?”
25:27 - Embrace qualitative over quantitative
Percentages can show you what’s happening on your website. But qualitative research can show you why.
“At the end of the day, if you're looking at Google Analytics or any dataset to try to make decisions, it's great. I'm sure it's helpful if you have a problem that you're trying to solve in mind. The thing is that sure, it'll give you percentages, ratios, numbers. It'll tell you which pages are performing well, which pages aren't. But what it doesn't tell you is the qualitative stuff. Because look, numbers are numbers. But your customers are human beings. And you're not trying to optimize for numbers. Those are signals that are going to help you optimize for the human being. But who we are truly optimizing for, those numbers you see on the screen, they're real human beings. If you see that your cart abandonment, your conversion rate is low or not performing as expected, well, sure. Google will tell you that. But there has to be something that caused people to abandon, to stop themselves from actually finalizing their purchase.”
28:52 - Use your customers’ language
It’s easy to assume you know exactly who your customers are and what they want. But it’s worth talking to them to make sure, and stealing their language for your landing pages.
“When you do surveys and you ask people: how would you describe X brand to your friend? Well, people explain the brand in their own words. Analyze that. Find the words they're using. Reuse that on your landing pages. It's relevant. It talks to the customer. And I've been victim of that myself so many times. We always think that we know what our customer wants. We’re the founders of a company. We think we know what our customer wants and how they think. But it's not true. Very often you start doing that research and you’re like, damn. I was describing my company that way, but customers are describing it in an entirely different way. And that can be so revealing sometimes to just stop looking at the quantitative data all the time, and trying to just get some qualitative balance.”
41:49 - Create your own category
While SplitBase didn’t necessarily create a brand new category within optimization, they certainly go about things differently from most agencies.
“For some brands or some products, it's necessary for people to understand what it is. It's the science of familiarity. So we'll latch on to conversion optimization. We’re probably different than a lot of optimization and landing page agencies, because we focus a whole lot more on that qualitative side of things that we talked about than 99% of optimization and landing page agencies out there. Most landing page agencies out there are just going to build something from a template, and it's going to be like, oh, we should talk about that. We should talk about this. But our unique mechanism is—and that's literally what I do when I sell brands our services. I talk about our services being, Hey, well, we talk to the customer and we do this. Which generally a lot of other agencies don't do. So I think there's always a way to be a bit different. I don't know if it really falls into creating an entirely different category, but maybe it's the beginning of it.”
52:16 - Look beyond the AB test
At its core, optimization is about improving experiences. That means it’s much more than AB testing.
“So SplitBase is with that DTC wave, and everybody's starting to realize that hey, I think we need a landing page. Hey, I think we need to improve our website, run tests, and do optimization. I mean, I think it's funny. SplitBase is 6, 7, 8 years old. I lose track of time. But I still think we're only at the very beginning of it. Right now, the industry still thinks of optimization as an AB test. An AB test is optimization. It is not. Optimization is improving experiences, validating/invalidating hypotheses. AB testing is a tool as part of that. The industry I don't think is 100% there yet. I don't think brands think of it that way automatically. Now brands that work with us, after a couple of months we try to make them understand that. And most of them realize, oh, this is what it means to do optimization. But I think over time, as brands become more, they, I don't want to say accept that. But as they realize that optimization is more than AB testing, our task is going to be more than doing AB testing as well. And it's really going to be to guide those brands with: how do we create a culture of experimentation?”
54:00 - Raphael’s barometer for success
The true sign of success for Raphael is when their clients fully and autonomously embrace the concept of making hypotheses and conducting tests.
“So Dr. Squatch, which I've mentioned, we've been working with them for about three years. And when we started with them, the brand was pretty small. I don't think they were even running any AB tests. Now, fast forward three years later, we've been meeting with them on a weekly basis and more frequently, and running tests and helping them with this. They now have, three years later, pretty much an entire optimization team. And their team and everyone that really in their brand that you interact with think in terms of hypotheses. In terms of oh, we're not just going to release this feature because we know it needs to go out. They think of what is the likelihood that this is either going to fail and cost us a lot of sales, or what is the likelihood that it's actually gonna work? Like, are we wrong? Are we right? We don't know until we test it. And they think of it that way. And it's a mindset shift. It's more than just running great tests. And to me, that's when your mission is fully accomplished.”
Full video episode: