Conversion vs Churn

Be careful of over-emphasizing conversion. There’s a balancing act with Churn

In Rand Fishkin’s brilliant book, Lost and Founder, he tells the story of accelerating Moz‘s growth through conversion rate optimization. He did so by hiring the CRO consultants who would go on to found It’s kind of a story about playing with fire.

On the one hand, these CRO consultants helped this B2B software company leverage the instant BizDev gratification of email marketing. If cold email marketing addresses people who’ve never heard of you, and warm email marketing current customers, this would be lukewarm email marketing – appealing to users who know you but perhaps never considered doing business with you.

Their pre-campaign research process categorized various types of leads into personas or whatever you want to call them. Then there were extensive and systematic interviews, like the process David Ogilvy makes the case for so well in Ogilvy on Advertising((From Ogilvy on Advertising, page 164: “Respondents do not always tell the truth to interviewers. I used to start my questionnaires by asking, “What would you rather hear on the radio tonight, Jack Benny or a Shakespeare play?”. If the respondent said Shakespeare, I knew he was a liar and broke off the interview”)). This exercise was in itself a valuable form of gathering audience intelligence and improving understanding.

But the immediate purpose was to convert site visitors to customers. As Rand describes it, Moz offered its monthly product for just $1, no strings attached, to the thousands of people who used the forums and free tools.

And like Derek Sivers’ epic one-to-one email marathons, Rand and company personally responded to each email reply resulting from this campaign.

What did people want to know in their email replies? Whether the offer was no-strings-attached – whether they’d have to buy the additional month.

Were these people asking bargain-hunters, cheap, or too broke to afford a $40/month software subscription? No, not necessarily.

They just weren’t ready. They didn’t understand or were not ready yet to turn the $480/yr in subscription fees into $4,800 a year in *additional* profits. There is an art to leveraging subscription B2B software into a consulting practice; like most arts, it takes practice.


That’s the cautionary part of the tale. The emphasis on conversion optimization was profitable short-term but problematic to long-term growth because it created ongoing, messy churn.

I see this in many clients I talk to: an over-eagerness to optimize for conversion.  For larger-ticket products and services, the upshot of CRO isn’t so much churn as it is prospects never becoming a client in the first place.

Your prospective customers need a way to learn about you and your solutions without being sold to – and your web copy probably isn’t enough.

On the other hand, you also need a low-friction path to signing on the dotted line. It’s the pandemic economy – the time to leverage self-service ecommerce was yesterday, no matter how consultative and sales-driven your customer acquisition is.

Just don’t push people in that direction before they’re ready.

My best,