The Conversion Isn’t Everything

In today’s marketing world, it seems that everyone – from marketers to sales teams to executives – is obsessed with conversions. Those wonderful moments when a visitor completes a desired action – whatever it may be (a transaction, a lead form, an information request, a webinar sign-up, etc.) – that represents a successful outcome for our organization.

This obsession is so strong that we’ve created an entire cottage industry dedicated to maximizing the rate at which visitors convert, called (originally) conversion rate optimization (CRO). And as part of CRO, we try everything under the sun – from testing 41 different shades of blue and comparing smiling and non-smiling people to page layouts, button copy and much, much more. In fact, entire websites are dedicated to helping us find new (and ever-more-inventive) ways of increasing our website conversion rates.

But lost in our obsession with increasing conversion volume is what happens after the conversion.

For most marketing organizations, the answer is simple: nothing (or close to it).

Almost everyone in the marketing industry would agree that there is a significant degree of difficulty involved in converting strangers into prospects/leads at a sustainable rate and for a reasonable cost. And when that happens – at that wonderful moment of “conversion” – marketers deserve to be quite pleased.

The Conversion is Just First Base

But the marketer’s job is far from over. To use a sports analogy, a visitor converting into a lead/prospect is a base hit. It isn’t a run on the board or a win in the books – and even for the best organizations (of which there are few), about 70% of the time that prospect won’t turn into a paying customer. Think about that — 70% (or more) of the leads/prospects generated will never produce a dime of actual revenue for an organization. For the average organization, that number is closer to 85%.

To put it in financial terms, a conversion represents a specific amount of expected or economic value (and by corollary, a specific amount of expected profit) to the organization, nothing more and nothing less. The hope – at least for organizations that have a desire to remain in business – is that the expected profit (expected revenue minus variable and apportioned fixed costs) of each prospect/lead exceeds the acquisition cost. If that isn’t the case, each lead coming in actually is a net loss to the organization. That’s a much bigger problem than the one we’re discussing here today.

To address our current problem, there are two schools of thought: (1) focus on increasing the conversion rate, which will fill the pipeline with more leads and (theoretically) result in more revenue/profit per dollar spent or (2) focus on increasing the expected value of each conversion through post-conversion optimization.

These two schools of thought above are not mutually exclusive – there is no reason why an organization can’t diligently work to increase their conversion rate AND continually strive to deliver an exceptional post-conversion experience. In fact, there is a compelling case that the most successful marketing/sales organizations are the ones that do BOTH.

Rethinking What CRO Means

The “key” to overcoming this challenge is to re-think CRO as connection rate optimization.

For most organizations, the first milestone in the “post-conversion” funnel is successful contact with the new lead/prospect – and the drop-off rate between conversion and successful contact is in excess of 50%. Think about that. For every 10 people “converted” into leads/prospects, 5 (or more) will never engage with (via e-mail, text, phone, in-person, whatever) a member of your organization. Let that settle in.

These are prospective customers who were meticulously targeted, diligently cultivated and ultimately converted through one of your many well-designed (and likely expensive) digital properties and/or campaigns. And after all of that attention paid to them – the prospecting ads, the remarketing videos, the e-mail campaigns, the promoted social media posts, the search ads, etc. – these very same individuals who were once interested in your company will not even have a conversation with a member of your organization.

For marketing and sales organizations, that fact is accepted as a reality of their business – and it is written off by marketing and sales teams alike (explicitly or not) as an “acceptable loss.”

But does it need to be? 

On the flip side, of the 5 prospects/leads who are successfully contacted, between 2-4 will become actual customers. Objectively, that’s a good close rate. But what if instead of 5 people in that pool, there were 7 or 8? The number of sales closed *should* increase to 3-6, provided the population dynamics remain constant. And that increase has real, measurable value. A lot of it.

Imagine your cost per conversion (aka the cost to acquire a single prospect/lead) is $500. Based on the math above, your cost per actual, paying customer acquired would be about $1,250 to $2,500. Simply improving the contact rate would reduce that to $833 to $1,666. That’s a MASSIVE reduction in cost per customer acquired – and a MASSIVE increase in overall profitability for your organization, assuming all other things remain equal. All created by convincing a few more people who already said yes to engage with your organization.

This is the theory at the heart of the idea of connection rate optimization – if we focus on increasing the number of people with whom we make successful contact, we are shifting our goal away from the quantity of leads generated toward the quality of leads generated. We aren’t abandoning our pursuit of lead quantity maximization – we’re simply solving for a maxima closer to the global one than our local one by adding a qualifier and focusing farther down the pathway.

But to do that, we first need to understand why some of those people are presently refusing to connect with your organization. After all, it’s quite difficult to fix a problem we don’t understand.

Why Aren’t Leads Connecting with You?

In order to do that, let’s step back and examine the root cause of this situation. Why do so many potential prospects (aka converters) feel that they don’t need to connect with your organization?

Here are some (but definitely not all) of the possible reasons:

  • Not Real: many forms are spam – completed by bots for whatever purpose. Not real people and with absolutely no intent of ever working with you.
  • Freeloaders: these people only completed a form because they wanted something you were offering – an e-book, a free download, whatever. They were likely never interested in buying from you.
  • Wrong Solution: these individuals had some commercial intent (better than 1 & 2 above), but after learning more about your organization, they decided you didn’t have the solution they needed and are no longer interested.
  • Wrong Time: after learning more, we often decide that now is not the right time for us to move forward with a solution, for whatever reason (better understanding of the problem, money, effort required, etc.)
  • Too Slow: today’s customers expect instant gratification – and if you wait too long to help them, they’ll have moved on to one of your competitors.
  • Too Pushy: How many of us like having our e-mails (or worse, our phones) blown up by an over-aggressive salesperson? None of us.
  • Something Else: it could be price. It could be timing. It could be that Netflix just came out with a new series we’d rather binge. Whatever.

As an organization, we now have a two-fold challenge: (1) deduce why these potential prospects are unwilling to connect with our organization and (2) optimally allocate our limited resources rectify the situation (if possible).

The question most organizations have is: how can we do that?

The first step is developing an in-depth understanding of your customer’s journey AFTER the conversion. Doing this requires answering a significant number of (quite difficult) questions, such as:

  • What did we promise our leads?
  • What happens immediately after the conversion?
  • Where are prospects dropping off?
  • What, if anything, do they do after converting?
  • What are the key touchpoints?
  • Are there triggers that should alert us that this prospect is ready to buy?
  • How do we build this relationship?

Most marketing organizations have done a phenomenal job of documenting the customer journey from first introduction through conversion – but after that, there’s nothing. Usually, marketing passes leads onto sales or dumps them into a nurture campaign; sales calls relentlessly, but to no avail. The customer ignores the company completely. The relationship dies.


Now, think about that – for all of the time, money and energy expended to form the connection, most marketing/sales organizations are doing little-to-nothing (comparatively) to cultivate it into a long-lasting, profitable relationship. That’s a major problem.

Align Metrics & Incentives

Next, we need clarity about the roles, responsibilities and goals for each component of your marketing, sales & customer service/support teams.

People respond to incentives. When those incentives are misaligned, people prioritize their own well-being (maximizing their KPI/goal) above that of your organization. Then problems happen.

There are plenty of organizations – both within the senior care space and outside of it — where metrics across business units, departments, teams, etc. are not aligned and as a result, everyone is not working toward your organization’s ultimate objective.

Marketing is solving for the quantity of leads generated. Sales is solving for the number of customers signed up. Customer service is solving for mean call time or percentage of issues resolved immediately. The list goes on and on. Lost in this mess is the bigger picture of how (or if) each of these things impacts the overall profitability and vitality of the organization.

To fix this issue, we every group within your organization needs to be on the same page, working toward the same set of goals. The outcomes each is evaluated upon (KPIs) must be closely aligned with the ultimate goal AND the KPI preceding it. That’s easier said than done, but it isn’t impossible. And as a side benefit of doing this, you’ll gain far greater clarity and insight into what’s going wrong in your marketing and sales process, including what’s going wrong and where actual prospects are dropping off.

Once you’ve accomplished that, it’s time to focus a bit more on the actual process and tactical execution of it – starting with what we do before the conversion.

Sell The First Link

People don’t buy a chain one link at a time – they either buy the entire chain, or they don’t buy the chain at all. The same holds true in business. If a customer is shown the entire journey and knows what to expect at each milestone, accepting the first link comes with the implicit assumption that they’ve bought in to the entire process (i.e. the entire chain). Sell the first link, win the entire chain.

Today’s customers expect and demand transparency.

For businesses (like Senior Care) that have a linked sales process, it is imperative that you’re open about the process: what is going to happen next, what the prospect will be getting, and when he/she will be getting it. There are few things customers loathe more than the old “bait and switch” – but that’s exactly what many brands (including quite a few in the senior care space) do to customers.

Sell the first link. Let the customer make the decision to buy the chain.

Continue The Conversation

What happens after someone completes a lead form on your website? The thank-you page represents a golden opportunity to continue the conversation while you have the attention (and favor) of your prospect. It’s the impulse zone – just like the checkout line at the supermarket.

The prospect is interested. They’ve completed the form to request additional information. You know the basics of who they are. It is the PERFECT opportunity to connect with the prospect.

Now is your chance to continue the conversation AND gain additional information/insight into who he/she is, what he/she wants and why he/she needs your solution. You can do that through links to other relevant resources, requesting a call with one of your residents or forwarding an e-book or brochure to others (which wins double points, because now you know who else is involved in the decision-making process).

Of course, you could be like most companies in the Senior Care space, who send these potential customers to a bland, generic, dead-end thank-you page.

Do What You Said You Would Do

This isn’t just a good rule for life – it’s a good rule for marketing and sales, too. After you’ve set clear expectations (see “Selling the First Link” above), follow through on them. If you promised the potential customer an e-book in exchange for their e-mail address, don’t surprise them with more questions or another form before providing the e-book. If you asked for the prospect’s preferred method of communication, use it. If you asked for 15 minutes for an introductory call, limit your call to 15 minutes.

This sounds simple. That’s because it is simple. But little things along the journey can make big differences in outcomes.

The same holds true for newsletters, updates, drip campaigns, community visits, etc. – do what you said you would do. Provide what you promised to provide. Today’s customer is predisposed not to trust you (in fact, most customers trust anonymous people on the internet more than they trust brands). As a direct result of your marketing efforts, you’ve built up some good will – a sufficient amount for the prospect to reveal him or herself to you. Don’t squander it.

Engage In Relevant, Timely Ways

To be perfectly honest, this step matters relatively little unless you’ve accomplished those that precede it. There are (quite literally) dozens of channels and thousands of different ways to reach prospects and encourage them to connect with your organization.

Whatever channel, tactic or combination thereof you choose – from custom audiences targeting individuals based on their buyer stage and pre-roll videos retargeting website visitors with videos tailored to their preferences or based on the amenities page they visited triggered drip campaigns, text-messaging initiatives or good, old-fashioned direct mail – make sure it is timely and relevant to the prospect.

One size does not fit all. The message used in advertisements to win the on-site conversion should be quite different from the one you are using to entice converters to connect with your organization. And after they’ve re-connected (either online, via phone or some other way), follow that up with another tailored message. Be responsive to and provide real value for your prospects. Walk through the customer journey with them — don’t treat them as if they are objects that need to be “pushed” down the sales funnel.

 Today’s customers have higher expectations of brands than at any time before – and those expectations aren’t being set by your competitors or your peer group; they are being set by some of the most sophisticated and technically advanced companies in the world. Gaining their attention, earning their time and winning their business requires organizations to shift perspective from a business-centric mindset to a customer-centric one – and in so doing, realize the customer is in control.  Once you’ve accepted that reality, optimizing to connect is simply the next logical step in the evolution of your marketing programs.

About The Author

Sam Tomlinson

With a background spanning business, data and finance, Sam is a radically different kind of marketer – one with a singular focus making businesses better. This background, combined with a unique combination of analytics skills, performance marketing expertise and deep understanding of brand, allow him to challenge the status quo, see hidden opportunities, develop novel strategies and build scalable systems to capitalize on those opportunities. Credits include: Dole Packaged Foods, Pompeian Olive Oil, Xcel Brands, JJS, KeyW, Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, WSP, Sagamore Spirit, Advance Business Systems, Plank Industries, Carbiz and many more.

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