I Can’t Tell You Why Our Business Is Growing

On my way to the co-working space, I grabbed my mobile to read the same Slack message yet another time:

“Ali, that’s good, but we should look at what converts.”
It never failed. It was either a client or a colleague on the same marketing team. There was always someone who never missed the perfect opportunity to remind me of the importance of a conversion funnel:

Get a bunch of website visitors, then do something to turn some of them into leads — aka people who have shown interest in your business, and then do something else to turn those leads into customers.

That ‘do something’ part was exactly what stressed me out the most every time I was reminded to stop wasting time on things that don’t sell and to get my focus back on what converts.
From ‘Why I hate funnels’ essay by Mailchimp founder Ben Chestnut. But more on that in a minute.
In the fancy world of A/B tests and viral factors, we loved to call ourselves growth hackers.
But weren’t we supposed to build products people love instead of wasting our lives optimising the colour of damn buttons to increase signups by 0.0123456789 percent?

Crew’s Mikael has an interesting take on chasing those short-term wins:

“Most people are digging down and trying to optimise what they already have — trying to get that extra 3–4 percent increase. But the more time you spend doing that, the less time you spend stepping back and looking for the bigger opportunities. The ways that you can see 100 percent or 1000 percent increases overnight.”

Tracking every single action people take on our website sounds great. Optimising funnels is perfect.

But wouldn’t it be better if we spent the same effort in delighting our customers, given that at startups we have only limited resources?

I can’t tell you why our business is growing

“We’ve grown a lot in the past year, but I can’t tell you why we’re actually growing. Sure, every time someone walks in the door, we give them the best possible experience and we really do make them happy. But why do more new people walk in each day? I don’t really know.”
That’s Ben, founder of Huckleberry Bicycles, who has no clue why his bike business is booming despite being located in a bad neighbourhood in San Francisco.

It’s the obvious nature of a retail business, you might be thinking. And you’re right. In offline businesses, you can’t really track conversions even when you buy ads.

Remember John Wanamaker. He was the first retailer in history to place a newspaper ad, in 1874. And when asked about the return on his advertising investment, all he could say was:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

History has seen countless businesses like John Wanamaker’s, ones that didn’t have the technology to track their conversions. Yet many of those businesses managed to turn into phenomenal success stories that we still study in business schools.

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