What Conversion Science Should Teach Us About Selling

What Conversion Science Should Teach Us About Selling

One of my obsessions of late is science of conversion, particularly web conversion. I subscribe to a number of blogs and follow a number of noted experts who publish videos and other articles about conversions, specifically how to get people to convert from a visit to an opt-in, to a multiform opt-in, etc.

Conversion is a science. Selling is a science. People who look at conversion understand the critical fact that their opinion about what might work, should work, could work or ought to work, does not matter at all. The only thing that matters is the result of very specific, structured A-B testing around specific conversion practices. If you go to one of these blogs, you might learn, for example, that opt-in boxes that state clearly, “We do not sell your mailing lists, and we will never spam you,” actually convert less well than opt-in boxes that make no such mention of spam or other policies.

So somewhat counter-intuitively, omitting any mention of a spam policy actually will cause higher conversion. If you follow some of the blogs and read some of the articles, what you will find is that opt-in buttons that say, “Send me my download,” perform significantly better than opt-in buttons that say, “Download now,” or “Send me the download.” A single word makes all the difference.

The commonality here is that there’s no such thing as an opinion. There is a hypothesis and then a fact. The parallel to the selling world is pretty simple, and that is in selling, just as in conversion, it doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what actually happens when you try it.

When I had my lead generation and sales outsourcing company, we made around three quarters of a million outbound phone calls per year across many clients, and we tested and validated lots of different scripts and processes. Over the years, we developed a prospecting methodology that proved itself to drive greater conversion to an appointment. The first thing we figured out while testing was that asking prospects for their time significantly increased the likelihood that they would agree to meet with us. The second thing we found upon further testing was that by asking folks, “Have I caught you in a bad time?” performed significantly better than, “Have I caught you at a good time?”

Now I used to have a little fun with this when talking to prospects because I would get them to ask me why one performs better than the other. My answer was always, “How the hell should I know? I’m not a psychologist. I’m a sales scientist.” So I can tell you the data. I can’t tell you why, nor do I really care that much about why.

So they can come up with all sorts of causalities and logical explanations but it really doesn’t matter to me. Now, even in the face of this evidence, what I would hear from folks is, “Well, it seems like,” or “I would think that,” or “If it were me.” Then they would give their opinion, and I would somewhat kindly respond, “What you’re starting is an opinion. What I’m describing to you is a fact based on data and the statistical outcomes of two different scenarios.” Basically, “With all due respect, you’re wrong and I’m right, regardless what you think, feel or believe.” Take this all the way to my current practice of working with clients to help them refine their sales process and sell better.

A consistent theme is that I work with clients who find it necessary to explain what they think should happen, how a process should go and why in their mind logically the outcome would be what they believe it is. I understand why they want to have this conversation, but my response to them is always the same. “Who cares? What I can share with you is what is proven to work over time.” Then let’s take it to the next step of actually testing and validating it.

So what I’m trying to get at here is that selling is one of those areas like conversion where it’s very easy for the layperson or even the semi-professional to take a look at a situation and proclaim with great certainty what they think should be happening, what they think would happen, and why, and tenaciously cling to that belief. The professional, however, acknowledges that whatever they think or believe really has no relevance, and half the time, we’re not even fully aware of what our own behaviors really are. What matters is when you apply a process, discipline or practice, what the results of it are.

Very, very often, I have a client say something like, “Yeah. Well, I hear what you’re saying Townsend, but if it were me and you said that, I would react as follows.” I said, “You know, I understand you’re telling me you know how you would react, but so much of human behavior is reflexive or autonomous or simply reactionary. You’re trying to make a cognitive assessment and tell me how you would react to a hypothetical situation where you’re looking at it logically. If we were in a sales conversation, that’s not the same field of play. It’s not the same scenario.”

So it turns out to be very difficult, but what I’m trying to explain is that oftentimes we perceive that our behavior will go one way, when in fact it goes another way. For example, when psychologist Stanley Milgram did an experiment to understand how so many Germans were complicit in the murder of their fellow citizens, he found that even though people intrinsically don’t want to kill someone, they will follow orders much more often than not.

Anybody that you sit down with and said, “Hey, would you butcher your neighbor if somebody told you it was OK to do so and hack them up in little pieces?” Most normal people are going to say, “I would never do that. That would never happen.” Yet history and science tells us that’s actually exactly what people do. That’s exactly how people will behave whether we’re talking about concentration camps or ethnic genocide in Rwanda. We are often very poor predictors or even descriptors of our own behavior.

So as you think about enhancing your professional selling abilities and improving your success rate, one of the key things you must do is remove yourself from what you perceive to be the logical process. At least somewhat form a hypothesis about what actions you could take and how those actions will yield results or not. Then create a way to test them. A-B test a script just like you would A-B test two landing pages. A-B test an approach to a meeting, conversation or a presentation just like you would A-B test a web form or an opt-in box.

Hopefully this helps you see how we think, how we think we think, and how to better test and validate our assumptions under real world circumstances to improve and up our game.

By Townsend Wardlaw

photo credit: glen edelson via photopin cc