Soft skills are important in any professional setting, but with a job in conversion rate optimisation you’re likely to be working with a lot of different teams; a sort of glue connecting marketing to engineering to product to analytics.
Disclaimer; I believe that the term “soft skills” is a misdemeanour. There is nothing “soft” about knowing how to communicate effectively or how to be a ‘people person.’ It takes practice and experience to get good at everything, but, for the sake of this article I’ll stick with the term “soft skills.”
So, what soft skills are most useful to be a successful Conversion Rate Optimisation specialist?
…to customers. The test hypotheses you’re generating should be based on evidence. And the best way to gather evidence is by researching your actual users. This can be in the form of recordings, on-site surveys or actually going into stores and speaking to customers. Whatever methods you employ, you need to pay attention; listen, watch, track and make notes so you don’t forget what they said.
…to colleagues. If they’re already suggesting test ideas, that’s amazing, they’ve already bought into CRO — so take their ideas and then do something with them. Even if the idea is vague or not based in evidence, take the time to sit with them and discuss their idea; make them feel valued. Maybe assign them further research or responsibilities so that they feel included in the process. But remember to manage their expectations by explaining your prioritisation model and the next steps you or they need to take.
However, if your colleague is voicing their concerns about the risks associated with testing, again, its vital to listen carefully so that you can respond with evidence to ease their worrying.
We all have our preferred method of communicating (I’m a millennial, texting is life) but to be successful in CRO you should be able to adapt your communication style in order to share your message effectively.
Example: when I was at university, I studied with a friend who absorbed information audibly. He learnt almost solely from lectures, barely touching books. He also struggled to write essays because he was better at communicating his point in person. In the end, we worked out a system where he would dictate and I would type up his words so that he was able to submit the required essays to get his degree. I prefer communicating through writing and have had to work hard at improving my presentation and speaking skills in order to share my knowledge.
So, if you have a stakeholder who understands visuals better than numbers, show them graphs, not spreadsheets. If you’re working with an engineer who hates meeting in person because they struggle to retain vocal details, be sure to include more detail in the follow up e-mails.
If you’re able to learn how individuals communicate best and then adapt your own style to match theirs, you’ll build relationships and trust faster.
CRO is not the same job as Project Management, but being a good Conversion Rate Optimiser requires some project management skills.
You’ll need to arrange roadmaps (similar to a Ghant chart), communicate and manage teams, gather assets and do due diligence on test quality. Juggling those tasks requires a level of organisation and time management on par with being a project manager.
Of course, if you’re working in a dedicated CRO team, you may not be responsible for all of that. However, experimentation and UX is fast-paced; you’ll need to keep track of the multiple experiences or research you‘re working on – it’s unlikely you’ll be focused on only one test or one research piece at a time, so you need to be organised to be effective.
So, you’re organised and you love following a plan. But, as is often the case, things don’t always go according to the plan. In fact, this has occurred so much in my life and career that I now plan for disruptions; whenever I am working on a roadmap I will include time for reactionary and last minute test builds, this allows me to be flexible in my work.
But being flexible is not just about running tests. It includes the need to be flexible with colleagues whose hypothesis need re-working. Maybe a design just isn’t technically possible and needs adjusting. Being flexible is also about learning when to use alternative CRO methods (user testing anyone?) or when to simply say no.
Is curiosity a soft skill? I think so, and its a skill you can develop over time by learning to ask the right questions. My favourite questions to ask in a CRO context are based on the 5 W’s + H of journalism :
Be curious about your users (who are they? what do they want?), be curious about your problems (what is causing the problem? When/where is the problem occurring?) and be curious about what solution will work best. Then question why or how that solution got the results it did in order to understand and iterate on your learnings.
The questions above are not the only ones you should be asking. Talia Wolf asked on Twitter “What are the most important questions you should ask yourself to be better at your job?” and my response is below.
You can build integrity; it encompasses much of what I’ve already discussed: Learning how to be a better listener and communicater, being organised so that you can manage your own workload and the expectations of others, and being flexible including knowing when to say no.
But integrity is vital to CRO because our data is often are seen as the single source of truth. There are many horror stories of conversion optimisers fudging their test results, but they’re just doing more damage to both themselves and the business. Admitting failure is scary, but scarier still is claiming to have had a positive impact when you didn’t. Being honest about failures builds trust and integrity.
What soft skills do you excel at? And which do you want to improve? Anything missing from my list? Let me know!