How are your conversion rates? Are you getting qualified leads? To drive value for your company, you need to convert audience members to customers. If you think you need help, you do.
Today, we’re talking to Lance Jones, director of marketing at ReCharge, which helps its customers sell subscriptions on their Shopify stores. Lance shares powerful tactics to help you increase conversion rates.
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Jordan: Big question today, how are your conversion rates? Are you getting the email opt-ins that you want, marketing qualified or sales qualified leads, the trial conversions? Ultimately, this is one of the most important questions for marketers to answer and have a good answer for. To drive value for our companies, we need to move people from audience to customer, right? What levers can we pull to do this better?
These are the exact questions I asked today’s guest, Lance Jones. Lance is the Director of Marketing at ReCharge, a super niche SaaS company who helps their customers easily sell subscriptions on their Shopify store. Lance has also worked at Adobe, Intuit, and extensively with Copy Hackers, all with a focus on conversion rate optimization. I’m Jordan with CoSchedule. Now, let’s learn a few powerful tactics to increase our conversion rates from Lance.
Jordan: Lance, thanks so much for being on the show.
Lance: Jordan, thanks for inviting me. I’m happy to be here.
Jordan: Absolutely. Like I was saying, you are one of my marketing heroes, so I really appreciate you being on. You’re from one of my favorite places in the world, British Columbia, so thanks very much. Can you kick us off by telling us more about what you’re up to these days, projects you’re working on, big life changes, that kind of stuff?
Lance: What I’m working on right at the moment is a company called ReCharge. I’m leading product marketing for them. They have a recurring billing app for Shopify, exclusively for Shopify merchants. I’m doing some acquisition, some funnel optimization, but largely in the purer sense of product marketing, handling feature launches, and educating customers on how to get the most of their subscription business, obviously, while using our product.
Jordan: I know you’re fresh at ReCharge, but three months in, what have been your biggest marketing challenges?
Lance: It’s the same kind of thing that I’ve experienced everywhere that I’ve worked. I met Joanna while we’re both working at Intuit TurboTax and QuickBooks. She left Intuit and started Copy Hackers and I helped her with that on the side and I moved over to Adobe. Those are two really big software companies and since I left Adobe, I’ve been working for way smaller startups.
There’s still the same issue. I think, biggest challenge is probably at a higher level than just a marketing challenge, but marketing is kind of an interesting space because there’s lots going on. I think trying to remain free of distractions, there’s so many opportunities kind of vying for my attention or the CEO’s attention at a really fast growing company of around 50 people at ReCharge specifically, with essentially two marketers. It’s super tempting to move from one thing to the next without giving the first thing a real chance to succeed.
Patience isn’t something that’s talked about often. You hear with startups, it’s all about failing fast and NVPs. Some people talk about persistence, not giving up, which makes sense absolutely, but not so much patience. You can say you want to be patient but there are these things pulling at you, these distractions, and they can sort of break your desire to be patient to see something through really well. I think that’s probably still the biggest marketing challenge.
There’s so many things being written about online from other marketers like things that people are trying, right? And you want to try those things, you get excited about them, you’re like, “Yes, we have to do this.” But let’s not forget, we started this under experiment, let’s make sure we finish so that, well, we can get good data, we make a good judgment call, and we don’t get in any set of false negatives, false positives. That’s the big one, I think.
Jordan: You said something else that’s really interesting to me, too. You talked about picking up on audience language. I know conversion rate optimization is something that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and doing. I wonder if you could tie those two together for us. Using audience language and really targeting specific people with specific needs, and then tying that to do you see higher conversion rates and how does Lance Jones approach that?
Lance: I imparted a lot of my knowledge and experience on Joanna in terms of conversion rate optimization, where she now speaks that language fluently and understands the pitfalls of not setting up test correctly, or not letting them run long enough, or changing the variations mid-stream, all of those things. She’s taught me a lot over the years about copywriting. She has so many – they’re not just cool techniques but they’re incredibly useful techniques for communicating with visitors. People who see an ad, or people who land on a webpage, or reading a support article, doesn’t really matter, watching a video because, of course, a lot of videos are scripted and so that has to be written, so words.
I’ve learned so much about copywriting and one of the things, a few years ago, that she started talking about that made a huge sense to me, and she’s presented at a couple of big marketing conferences, is this idea of doing research into the language that your customers or prospects are using. And then, basically taking those words, not screwing with them in any way and basically just putting them on the page, or on the ad, or in the email if you’ve got a sales email.
We as marketers, we’re too close to our products. I think that we have too many filters that we use, especially when we get into a little huddle with you—there are five of you there and you get into a little huddle about—what are we going to say on our home page for the age one, or the age two, or the supporting copy. You’re using filters that don’t exist in the real world when real people are talking about whether or not to use your product or a product like yours, or a service like yours.
Doing that kind of research means reading product reviews maybe for your competitors, or maybe there’s a book about a problem that your product addresses, and there have been books written about it. So you go to Amazon and you read book reviews, or you go on to Quora and see if anybody’s talking about the type of service that you offer or the product that you offer. You go to Reddit and you dig into threads that relate specifically to your niche or your space and you just start reading, and you start looking for these little gems and these nuggets. You’ll know it when you see it. It doesn’t take a lot of talent, I don’t think, to recognize it because you’ll come across something that’s just like, “Yeah, that’s it. We could just say that.” And it’s in your customers’ or your prospects’ words which means it’s probably very relatable by other people around them or people like them who would also be exposed to your messages.
One example of this, Joanna and I did some consulting for this addiction clinic in Florida. We were going to be running some tests and trying to figure out what we should put in the age one. Joanna suggested we use this technique, and so we both went hunting for some nuggets to include, and she found a great one. It was like, somebody was talking about addiction, she was on an addiction forum and this person said, “If you think you need help, you do.”
Lance: That was so succinct and it’s kind of powerful. With the right imagery around it, that could be quite moving especially if you’re an addict or a family member of an addict. That sticks with me because of the power behind it. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Finding what your customers are saying or talking about and using their own words to communicate to everyone else. And because it’s on forms or in reviews, you don’t have to attribute. You don’t have to say the person that said it. This is all words in a public domain. They’re not copyrighted. I believe we looked into copyright law. Unless you take an entire multi-paragraph and use it verbatim, attribution of 5, 6, or 10 words is not required, at least not North America. It’s pretty powerful.
Jordan: Wow. When you said that, “If you think you need help, you do.” I got chills. It actually struck a chord in me. Now, I’m thinking about all these things that I probably need help with. It actually connects with me as a person. That wasn’t even something that I was searching out. What a powerful idea.
What are some other examples of conversion rate optimization techniques that maybe someone like me hasn’t thought of or used that you found particularly helpful?
Lance: So many of the techniques that we and I have applied in CRO come right back to copywriting, which was that last example that I gave you. Pretty much every aspect of marketing involves words, like I mentioned to you in videos, it's usually scripted if it’s something that you’re going to put on your website. Unlike you and I, we’re talking now, it’s not scripted obviously.
Knowing how to communicate, how to copywrite effectively just makes everything a whole lot easier when it comes to conversion rate optimization. If you can learn some techniques, I’ll give you one example, writing onboarding emails. This is probably specific to SaaS because this is the world I live in and have lived in for a while. It applies to general ecommerce for sure like writing onboarding emails, or writing a new homepage, crafting some type of a survey so you can learn from your visitors is a very well-used technique for CRO is learning more about visitors or prospects. How to maximize the response rate to a survey invitation, that comes down to knowing how to craft a subject line, messaging that you’re going to test as part of your CRO program on your website let’s say, and knowing the different copywriting techniques that you can use on a headline.
There’s all these copywriting formulas that I know Joanna’s put a lot of effort into documenting that on Copy Hackers. She’s got a huge blog post on copywriting formulas. Using those formulas is so easy. Just go down the list and she must have 150 formulas listed by now. It’s such a simple technique. It’s not complicated at all. Just try something different. Try a few different things. Test them out and see which one gives you a signal. It’s all copywriting. Some of the biggest lists that we’ve seen in doing CRO, because we would do that on the side with Copy Hackers, because we wanted some stuff to write about in our blog. Joanna wanted some things to talk about in presentations right at marketing conferences.
We would go run these experiments. Some of the biggest ones, there’s one in particular called SweatBlock. It’s for people who have hyperhidrosis, I think it’s called—when you sweat too much. It sounds silly but it’s really a big deal. People really can become quite introverted because of it because your palms are always sweaty, your clothes are always soaking through, it’s an awful thing to deal with.
There’s products out there that will help with that. There’s this one simple product called SweatBlock. We did some work with them and kind of rewrote their whole homepage as a CRO experiment. We decided to try something called Problem-Agitation-Solution, PAS, and that’s another technique that Joanna taught me.
Somebody gets to the page, instead of just jumping straight to here, here’s what SweatBlock is, and here’s how it helps you, and here’s some testimonials. It’s starting with the problem. You tell the person the problem that they’re experiencing. You acknowledge that you understand their problem. Then what you do, the A in PAS is Agitate, so you take that problem and you dig a little bit. If you think of their problem as a bit of a sunburn, you scratch on that sunburn so they feel it even more. Not in a mean way, you’re just trying to get them to feel the thing that they’re trying to solve for.
Then once you’ve done that, you acknowledge that you understand the problem, you use copywriting to kind of dig at that problem so they feel it even more like emotionally, and then you move into your solution. Then here’s how SweatBlock does helps you here. Because you established some trust at the beginning and then you build up a bit of a rapport, you move people sort of more gently in to your solution. I think the lift—Joanna rewrote that page twice and I think the first time, she got a 40% lift in paid conversion.
Lance: She did it again maybe eight months later and kind of took another crack at using PAS, I believe it went up another 15 or 18%. Stacked together, those are big gains and it really came down to using that technique. If I was going to give any advice to a marketer, because you’re writing so much, is go learn some copywriting techniques, some persuasion techniques, go check old copywriting formulas and apply those. There’s so much written about them.
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Now, really at the root of these, it sounds like you got to know intimately who your target customer is and really what are those pain points so you can scratch that proverbial sunburn.
Being at ReCharge now is super niche. It sounds very, very niche, which is very intriguing. Do you find that it’s easier to know your target customer because it is your niche or do you still have to dig and do as much homework as you did with a broader target audience?
Lance: You’re 100% right. It’s super—do you say niche or niche? We say niche in Canada.
Jordan: We say niche because we feel like it’s putting on errors to say words the right way.
Lance: That’s so funny. I always wondered about, I’m in the US a lot, data – data, process – process. People generally know where I’m from because of these mispronunciations. I’m doing air quotes right now. Anyway, so let’s go niche.
Jordan: Thank you for dumbing it down for me.
Lance: I love super niche businesses. For us, good thing about is that there are very few—it’s so niche that there are very few competitors. On the flipside, finding customers is a little tougher because you got to find Shopify people or merchants and they have to have subscription products, and these are not things you can target on on Facebook.
We've relied on partnerships, building partnerships with Shopify Plus and people like Aaron Orendorff, and also dev shops and agencies that would do customizations for Shopify merchants who are paying good money for that, who might consider or have already considered subscriptions. We’ve nurtured those relationships to gain customers because we are so niche. But to get to your question more directly, it is tricky because of those two criteria that I’ve mentioned, those two dependencies, Shopify Plus subscription.
I’ve learned that in the short time I’ve been here, it’s very difficult to find common trades across those customers. Shopify merchants, they come in all shapes and sizes. There’s mom and pop shops. There are people, solopreneurs who watched a half dozen dropshipping videos and think that sounds amazing to dropship using AliExpress and Oberlo on Shopify. That’s a plugin that lets you quickly find products and have them fulfilled out of China even at a reasonable number of days shipping versus taking inventory and taking all that risk. And then you’ve got big companies that warehouse their stock, and you’ve got 100 person, 200, 500 person companies. They’re all over the place.
You can’t really look at demographics for those because they’re all over the map. The one thing that they have in common is entrepreneurship, which sounds a little bit high level, but there are things that entrepreneurs do, people they follow, places that they hang out, it’s spending time figuring that stuff out. It’s definitely much different than just thinking about that typical demographics or psychographics that you might be able to use in a business where you’re building personas.
When I came here, there’s some talk of using personas for our product marketing efforts, but I don’t think it works here because the persona, it would just look like a gray avatar if I could that as analogy. You wouldn’t see the face, or the hair, or the clothes that you might actually see in a typical persona.
Usually at companies, they develop personas, they actually have an image. Usually, they would take a stock image. Somebody who looks like Joe or Helen. I don’t think it exists for our space, so we got to come out a little differently because of how niche we are.
Jordan: Wow, that makes so much sense. You can’t build dropship or something like that.
Jordan: That makes so much sense though and it’s interesting. In my mind, I was just thinking, “Oh, yeah. Wow, you must have this ready baked audience,” but your density is so much lower and scattered that that could be a real problem.
Jordan: Let’s say you do have a bit of overlap. Well, maybe there’s only four people over here and I’m simplifying it, but the density problem must be difficult.
Lance: It is and it costs money to communicate with people. PR, is changed a lot. It’s not really effective anymore. PR used to be a fairly cost-effective way to reach a whole lot of people if your story got picked up. But outside of that and doing things on social, it is expensive. You would think because there’s search engine marketing like AdWords are expensive, those cliques are expensive. You really have to understand the intent of people to keep your cost down because of the low density that you’re talking about, you can end up spending a lot of money to end up acquiring 10 customers and it’s just not really scalable.
You just have to be a lot smarter. The team here, the last couple of years, has put a lot of thought into it and they decided to go after building relationships with companies that would be serving the Shopify community, and those dev shops and agencies, they are referring business to us. They’re doing or helping us do our marketing. We’re not having to spend a ton other than keep those relationships going, nurture those relationships, add value back into those relationships, and that’s worked really well.
Jordan: What are some of the ways you focus on adding value back to your partners?
Lance: Understanding their business would be the first step. They make money doing custom development work. They’re consulting and the output is code. It’s not a lot different than say, design agency the output’s imagery. You’re essentially trading hours for dollars, and consulting margins or dev shop margins probably aren’t great.
Working for Adobe for a few years on the consulting side, our margins probably weren’t better than 15% versus software SaaS up which could be 70-75% margin there. There’s some things that you can apply to that world and say, “What are the things we could do to help these dev shops increase their margins above that kind of thin 15%?”
If we were to share and smooth develop some code using our API that could be used to customize our customer portal, which means, say you’re a Shopify merchant selling cat food on a recurring basis. You’re a real cat lover and your cats run out of food pretty regularly because they eat everyday—your customers, the people who subscribe to your cat food business.
ReCharge has this out of the box customer portal, which lets your customers make changes to their subscriptions. Like, “Oh, I’m going to skip a month because I’m going away.” Or, “I have too much cat food now, one of my poor cats passed away so I’ve got to change the quantity.” We built that out of the box but most Shopify merchants, the ones doing reasonably well with their business want to customize that, and that means going to a dev agency because we don’t have the people to do that kind of work.
What we would do is say, “Okay, let’s build that code once and let’s give that code to,” and I’m sure you can see where this is going—give that code block to our top tier agencies and walk them through it, explain how they can modify it even more. But by doing that, they could basically take a template that’s burned or complete, tweak some CSS and they could choose to still charge their customers, the Shopify merchants who’s using their services a fixed price for doing that work. But if they already have this template to start with, they have to pass those savings on to their customers. They could if they wanted, but it’s smarter to say, we charge $2,500 to customize your portal, and they go about doing it. It might only cost them $1,000, and now they’ve got—I don’t know what that is, about 60% margin now built in versus the 15. We could do a lot of things like that and make their job easier, more repeatable, more scalable, building more margin, we can do a lot of things for our partners.
Jordan: That is so cool to hear about and really creative. But it’s interesting because then you’re looking, it’s all about value still, which is the interesting part to me. It’s about value as marketers, what we deliver to our customers, but also about adding value to your partners and you really focus on how do we help them solve their problems, and then they will help us solve ours. Is that a good way to summarize the thought process?
Lance: Exactly. You sound like an extremely savvy marketer.
Jordan: That’s right, Lance. Just keep it coming man.
Lance: It’s putting your customer at the center of decisions and how can we help them, like giving the value first without the expectation of getting anything in return. Of course, that’s always best in real life as well as in business, personal life and business. Making sure that your customers have the tools they need, they’re fully educated, they feel well-equipped. I think educating your customers, whether it’s dev agencies or your customers in your own business, if you could teach them how to do something, there’s something special about that relationship. It’s sort of going back to maybe elementary school or college where you got a favorite professor who, sure, it might have been a handsome, older professor or a smoking female professor, but beyond that superficial, the ones who taught you something that you remember, there’s a trust. There’s a special relationship there and I think that businesses could and should spend more time trying to teach their customers how to be better at whatever it is they seek to do because they’ll become very loyal.
A good example of that is, you need a budget, YNAB. A gentleman, Jesse Mecham in Utah, he built a spreadsheet to better manage his finances because he and his wife were in debt from college. He’s built that out into a SaaS platform for people to meet their financial goals on a personal level. He’s built a four-step system and he teaches this system. Now whether you use YNAB the tool or not, it doesn’t matter. It does matter to him sincerely, but you’ll see that the four-step system’s built into a software.
You teach that system and then you say, "By the way, we have a tool that employs this system," people will jump to use that product. He’s seen incredible success by doing that. There’s lots of examples of companies who’s had success with educating, that’s an approach I believe really strongly in.
Jordan: Lovely. To bring this one in for a landing, Lance, I always like to ask a sage wisdom question. I am really attracted by this idea of niching out and being in a niche. As someone who is in a super niched market, what would your advice be to a marketer who wants to focus more intently on a niche where they haven’t before?
Lance: It’s kind of scary.
Jordan: It is.
Lance: I’ve had this conversation in the past where I worked for Flow, which was a product that’s spun out of MetaLab, and MetaLab’s the company that actually did the design for Slack, that were hired to design Slack and they’re here in Victoria.
Jordan: Yes, MetaLab is awesome.
Lance: Yes. Flow is this very cool task management product. The problem is, and I spent about a year and a half helping Andrew Wilkinson marketing for Flow. Now, the challenge that we had there and one of the reasons that I left, although on very good terms—Andrew and I are still on great terms, was that it was just very hard for him and the team to, I guess commit to going narrow because going narrow kind of feels like going small.
If you were to focus building a task management product that competes with Basecamp, Asana, and Trello. These companies that have lots of money behind them, either funded or like in Asana’s case, is co-founder of Facebook, Dustin Moskovitz. Trello, Joel Spolsky had the money. It was bootstrap but lots of money coming in through, you thought about bug software and stuff.
With Flow, it was neither. They didn’t have a huge customer base, a loyal small customer base, and no external funding. It’s pretty scary to think of going narrow because they were trying to wanted to get big, and those seem to be at odds, those two things. If you could figure out a way, if you can find a niche of people who are passionate and that’s really the key. If you can’t find a niche that is passionate, you might want to skip it.
You hear this idea of a tribe and lots of other talks about tribes, but a tribe are fiercely loyal people that are sort of coalescing around a belief system. So if you’re going to go niche, going narrow can be so amazing for your business but you have to be sure that those people in that niche, however you identify it, it’s got to be passionate people. You have to be able to turn them into passionate people.
Ideally, they’re already passionate. There’s some of the most passionate groups right now or political groups especially in the US. Partisanship is really causing some issues for you there. You’re not following what’s happening here closely. Those are two fiercely loyal tribes and they’re big too, so it’s not exactly a good example of a niche for business.
If we’re going back to the Flow example, talking about can we build a task manager product that serves people who are creatives. Designers and front end developers who really care about pixels, aesthetics, and design principles. If we can make our product, make it look clearly like we care about those things and we go after those passionate designers, frontend developers, and marketers to certain extent.
And then, we tell them that this is who we’re for, and this is why we built Flow this way, that’s going narrow and that’s going to build loyalty. They’re going to become part of your tribe and that’s kind of what 37signals does. It’s done with Basecamp talking about going remote and sort of bullshit bureaucracy at big companies and DC that they’re against. They were held against so many things they built a tribe of people that end up using Basecamp.
Flow didn’t do that when I was there, but Flow’s doing that now. I just had drinks with the person who leads marketing who kind of took my job at Flow last night. We’re talking about the big product launch they did on product last week and they’ve done exactly that and they’ve gone narrow. They’ve found a niche that really works and they’re building a tribe and that loyalty. It looks like it’s going to be a really great story in the end here.
Jordan: Lance, thanks so much. This was such great stuff. I really appreciate you being on. I learned a lot.