The Most Powerful Secret of Customer Conversion

Bryan Eisenberg

Updated · Nov 06, 2001

After I speak at events, there’s one question that almost always comes up: “Can you please tell me the number-one secret to increasing my conversion rate?” I gaze into hungry eyes. I so want to help; that’s why I’m there, and I always start by saying, “It’s so simple.” They look puzzled. But here’s the simple secret: Sell more to people who’ve already bought from you. The key is in how you develop that relationship.

Whenever we are first engaged by a client, we always ask execs to calculate several metrics to diagnose some of the obvious challenges the business is experiencing. A few of these metrics you can get from the set of calculators found at our site. In addition to these metrics, we always ask, “What is your repeat-customer order rate?” It’s surprising how many companies don’t even know. They don’t realize how important it is to track and improve this statistic, because this is a measure of the relationship between you and your customer.

Once we were interviewing a prospective client and learned that the company’s site conversion rate was close to 7 percent, but the reorder rate was close to 0 percent. We told the company executives that they needn’t worry yet about attracting new buyers. First they should concentrate on delighting their existing buyers. A zero repeat-order rate means that the company’s products, customer service, and fulfillment obviously were not satisfying their buyers’ needs.

Now, if your customers unwrap their orders with glee and can’t help but shout, “Look at all the great stuff they sent me!” you can be sure that at some point they will order again — and even tell some of their friends. And prospects and buyers who interact with you via email are even more likely to become customers with a higher lifetime value, because people prefer to buy from companies and people with which they have a perceived relationship (see “Saying the Right Thing at the Right Time“). The key to this is to develop effective techniques to communicate your vision to your clients, help them learn to trust you, and position yourself in their minds as the best answer to their problems.

A newer client of ours, Online Sports, is an online retailer of over 45,000 sport-related products. The company has been in business since 1995, and it has a mission: When people think of hard-to-find sport products, they should think first about Online Sports. One of the main tasks we are working on to help them accomplish this goal is giving customers a better user experience (an ongoing project). The real challenge, however, is to get anyone who has ever interacted with the company to remember it the next time he or she wants to buy sport-related products.

Until now, Online Sports has built its business based on having a broad range of products and on search engine optimization of product pages rather than on brand awareness. The company has an email newsletter, but it’s basically a sales flyer. One of the tasks we’ve undertaken is to change the nature of the email newsletter using an understanding of the 12 most common mistakes email marketers commit. The previous editions were all “buy now” direct offer messages. We changed to a more relationship-oriented message.

Now, I am sure many of you have wonderful techniques you use when constructing email campaigns to communicate with your prospects. Some of the techniques we use come from our colleague Roy H. Williams, often referred to as the “Wizard of Ads.”

Williams is a three-time Wall Street Journal best-selling author and owner of one of the most effective advertising agencies in the country (as American Express found out in its own research). I recently introduced Mark Brownlow, from Keeping the Key, to Williams’ books. Brownlow is an expert on what makes newsletters effective. Here is his response upon reading the first book: “‘Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads’ is jolly interesting stuff. I’m about halfway through, and it’s already affecting the way I write. It’s fun to learn. Thanks for putting me on to it.” Now Williams’ fourth book, ‘Accidental Magic,’ will be published this week, with all proceeds going to benefit the people of Guatemala.

Employing techniques that themselves have colorful names, such as Surprising
, Frosting, Franking, Suessing, and Frameline Magnetism,
Williams and his collaborators believe that words are worth 1,000 pictures.

Frosting, for example, refers to the poet Robert Frost, whose work is an excellent
example of the power of replacing common, predictable phrases with
unexpected, interesting ones. Frosting, based on the principles Robert Frank
used to become a great photographer, refers to being unusual in the
selection of an angle and frugal with inclusion of detail. Frameline
Magnetism, another term based on visual techniques, refers to the way the
eye is often drawn to what’s left outside a frame, filling in the blanks and
therefore becoming engaged with the work. Williams gives a written example
by citing a poem:

Spider, spider, on the wall
Ain’t you got no smarts at all?
Don’t you know that wall is fresh plastered?
Get off that wall you dirty… spider.

How many gobbledygooks, gimmicks, and gizmos have you tried? (This
is an example of Seussing.) Do you know yet how to remove the black words from your writing? Learn and use what Roy teaches, and it will help your email relationship building tremendously. Plant some magic seeds, and watch your repeat orders grow!

Bryan Eisenberg is CIO of Future Now Inc. It is the only consultancy focused exclusively on helping clients increase online customer conversion rates, and it understands that conversion is about persuading your customers to take the action you want. You can find Future Now’s award-winning newsletter, GrokDotCom, at

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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