Firing Yourself as CEO: Charlotte Whitmore of Analytics Pros

Paul Adams interviews Charlotte Whitmore

Welcome to Sound Financial Bites, where we help you with bite-sized pieces of financial and life knowledge to help you design and build a good life.

My name is Paul Adams, president and CEO of Sound Financial Group. Today, we’ve got a unique guest by the name of Charlotte Whitmore. Charlotte and her husband, Caleb, founded a company called Analytics Pros together. They grew it and ultimately hired somebody else to run it.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute. How often does an entrepreneur unshackle themselves from the amount of obligation they have to their very own company? For most people, the only exit possibility is to sell it. For Charlotte, it was sell it or shut it down. But what could she do instead? S he and her husband actually designed a way for somebody else run the company for them.

Charlotte, I want to thank you for being here. Welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me.

I am excited today because of all the little bits of side conversations we’ve had leading up to this. Can you share just a little bit about how you and Caleb co-founded the company? What caused that, and what does your company do?

Absolutely. We’ve got one of those crazy entrepreneurial stories that only comes when life is going very badly. We started the company in February 2009 after I’d been in a serious crash. I fell off a ladder, and shattered both my arms and my skull. We’d just had a baby, and we got pregnant with another baby, so it was a crazy time period for us. My husband was working in another company, doing analytics. They decided that that wasn’t the direction that they wanted to go, and this is back in the beginning when analytics was an up-and-coming idea, and most companies weren’t using it well at this point.

He said, “I think we can do this on our own,” and I said, “Yeah, I want to help.” I was a nurse and I couldn’t go back because of my arm injuries. I didn’t have any grip strength. I wanted to help with the business side and Caleb really wanted to do the analytic side. So, with a brand new baby, another baby on the way, arms in casts, and a couple surgeries later, we said, “Why not? It’s the beginning of a major recession. It seems like a really, really good time to leave our high-paying jobs and start a new one with no clients.” So, that’s what we did.

It seems reasonable.

In 2009, we launched Analytics Pros with no clients and no money, and here we are. We survived.

I think there’s a few things people are going to take away from the interview today. One is what they can do if they’re that entrepreneur business owner. The second is to understand a little known area that’s not talked about enough if you’re an executive inside of a large company, what you might be able to do differently to add value at that company. But, to a layman, what does Analytics Pros do?

We started Analytics Pros with a focus on small- to mid-sized companies really wanting to help them to grow their customer base through understanding their digital atmosphere. Digital atmosphere is anything on your website, or if you have a mobile app, or if you’re running TV ads, anything that we can tie together digitally. We wanted to help these smaller companies understand their customers and make a great user experience. I’m sure you guys have all been to a website where you have wanted to buy something but it won’t work. You’re on that last page and you’re trying to click buy and it’s erring, and you are sad, and you give up and you leave.

Well, you’re not the only one that’s sad. The company is also sad because they did not get your dollars. We help companies understand who is trying to come, what the hiccups that are happening, and then how we can fix those hiccups. We work with Fortune 500, Fortune 100-level companies, helping them understand the same thing. Who are their customers, what are they coming to do on their digital landscape, how is that working, how is that not working, how can that be better?

So, people might be trying to interact with you and they can’t? People are interacting with you but they could do more, or the people that you think are interacting with you aren’t the ones that are actually interacting with you?

Absolutely, and a lot of understanding customers is about just knowing who’s there and what are they trying to do. Maybe you’re wanting them to do something different, but they’re trying to do something different, and somebody needs to change. We either need to find the customers that want to do the same thing that you’re trying to do, or give them what they want, and we help bring those insights to the table.

Charlotte, there’s an industry that does this. You and your company are uniquely suited to do it for these very large companies, but does a lot of this just come out of the fact that, years ago, what would happen and how you’d know who was interacting with you as a customer is you saw them? They walked into your office, or they walked into your retail store, and you could see who they were, and now we don’t.

Yeah. If you had a mom and pop shop and, say, you were selling baby items, and somebody walked in and they were looking around. They smiled at you and walked around the aisles. You got your front desk clerk to go and ask if they can help her find anything. She says , “Oh yes, here’s what I’m looking for. I heard of this pacifier, and it’s this best thing. It’s going to make my baby sleep,” etc. They know exactly what it is, and of course, they have that product, and everyone is very happy. Then, the next person that walks in is maybe an older gentleman and he looks around and he looks surprised that he even walked in the store. Gosh, that’s not what he thought it was, and he walks right out. Well, there’s no real surprise there from the front desk clerk. Of course, that guy did not find what he was looking for and he left.

Well, same kind of thing we can help you understand digitally. So, when someone comes to your site, and I can see them scroll down on your website, I can see how far they scroll, I can see how their mouse moves around, I can see if they try and click on something, whether or not that click has a hyperlink. Maybe something on your website looks like it’s clickable, but it’s not actually. Maybe they click on it, they’re surprised, they immediately go back, that’s not what they’re looking for.

Maybe they’re scrolling all around, trying to look for something. They’re looking for something in the footer, they’re looking for something in the header. They’re not finding it. Well, we can help you understand what those insights are, what’s not working. Does someone move fairly seamlessly through the process? Is your website simple? Does it offer good information and you can clearly see the progression of someone moving through it and moving to whatever is the endpoint that you want them to move towards?

Times millions and millions and millions of interactions.

Times billions and billions and billions of interactions.

That being the big difference in why you have how many folks working for Analytics Pros?

We’ve got about 55 people.

55 folks, all of them are what I would call super smart folks. I know you and Caleb are super smart, and what they’re doing is they’re going to look across all this data, and finding out whether or not what the people interacting with their storefronts or with their information tools is actually producing the outcome that the owners, or the publicly traded company initially thought was going to happen.

Correct. It’s also just understanding what is happening, getting the data right. One of the biggest hiccups that we initially find is that they are collecting data, but it’s based on a foundation where it wasn’t installed correctly. The tool that they’re using isn’t actually serving them in the way that they think it might be. So, no one trusts the data and we’re not able to take action. We want to get that tool initially installed correctly so that data is even possible.

Something you might do is find out that people are consistently coming to a particular website to find one outcome. They might want to find a product line that a company is ready to abandon because it’s not doing very well. This data shows that the company should reintroduce a product line that they’ve already had or that they’re getting ready to scrap and have it actually become a moneymaker now.

Yeah, one of my favorite stories of understanding what we do and how we can do it is from this great company that we work with. When you go to their initial interface, it’s going to show you a video, and the C-suite was really questioning whether or not that was making people run away from their product. We said, “Gosh, that could very well be. You might be totally right.” Let’s A/B test whether or not this is actually correct.

We ran two versions of the website: one where when you go to the website and there’s no video just a normal screen with a photo, another with a video, and they were 100% correct. The ability for people to quickly abandon the page was much, much higher with the video. Most people look at websites while they’re at work, and if a video pops up with sound while you’re at work, you click X because you don’t want to be caught looking at videos you’re not supposed to be looking at at work.

Now, the really interesting part is that we kept that test running, and we didn’t just look at the initial abandonment. We looked at what happened to the shopping cart at the end, and it turned out that while more people abandoned when there wasn’t a video, also fewer people bought. That video was causing more people to buy, and if we had just taken that video down and said, “Well, we just want more people to the website,” we actually would have had a massive impact on our top-line revenue because a lot fewer people would have bought. So, A/B testing doesn’t look at just one thing, but it looks at how it affects everything else on the site.

Let me take a stab for the layperson reading about A/B testing. We have a URL, a website people click on, it goes somewhere, and there’s a random generator that says, “Half the people go here, and half the people go here,” regardless of source as long as they clicked on that link. Then you effectively build two landing pages that produce two different outcomes, and then that’s the A/B testing you’re talking about.

Correct, and we won’t build the landing pages, but we will advise on the creative process around what those should look like. One thing to note about A/B testing, if you’re thinking about doing it, is running it for what we would consider just a proper or a good amount of time, because a lot can happen. Your users on Sunday are going to behave differently from your users on Monday versus on Wednesday. There’s seasonality issues, so we would never commit to an A/B test that’s less than two weeks. Oftentimes, it’s a multi-month process to really understand what’s going on and how people are behaving. So, keep that in mind if you’re thinking about trying that.

Well, one thing that I thought was so interesting was from somebody who was a big website designer. He was an entrepreneur who also had a primarily website-driven company. He said, “Everybody out there who tells you, as a web designer, ‘This is going to work, or that is going to work, and this is what we have to change,’ they don’t know. Nobody knows.”

He even talked about his own website where he changed one little thing to have an orange background behind the font on one particular link, and it caused 70% more people to hit that page to finish out the transaction and go to the shopping cart. 70% is an enormous gain. It was a totally random change that he made just to see what would happen as he was testing his A/B testing software and found it by accident. The web designer said it didn’t even look good, but it did work.

Absolutely. We’ve done one of those ourselves for a salon everyone would know the name of. When we did it, it was literally a single button color change, and the results were just absolutely outstanding. It just came from somebody saying, “Wow, it seems like that blends in a little bit. What if we changed the color?” That was the whole question, and we changed the color. It turns out the color needed to be changed.

Interesting. So, when it comes to data in a company, it can be valuable. People, maybe, aren’t as familiar with data being valuable. What are the biggest mistakes you see people make — big companies, small companies — what do you see, across the board, people make mistakes in data with?

As people start to work with us, our biggest issue that we see is they are either making no decisions based on data, or they are making decisions based on bad data. Installing tools to gather data could be Google Analytics, it could be Adobe, it could be a Microsoft product, could be IBM. You’ve got a lot of different tools to choose from. We worked with the Google Analytics suite. They’re just hard.

But wait…there’s more?!

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Paul Adams is a Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). Securities products and advisory services offered through PAS, member FINRA, SIPC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. Sound Financial Group is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian.

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