How would you run a kick-off call with a client if you were a master of psychology and persuasion?
That’s what I wondered before today’s meeting with Dr. Flint McGlaughlin.
What would he be like? (Spoiler: charming.)
How tense would it be having my copy exposed to the founder of conversion optimization?
But mostly, what would I learn?
This all started a few weeks ago when my client asked if I could hop on a call. It was impromptu and both owners were on screen.
We’d been back and forth optimizing their landing pages since December… pages that drive 90% of the business of a mid-sized firm. Those pages have generated a lot of revenue, but they’re under pressure to perform.
We talked about bringing in a CRO agency to run tests. My client went one further and hired MECLABS.
This is something like telling a client they should get a video made…
And they hire Martin Scorsese.
But aren’t you already a conversion rate optimizer?
Yes, but I don’t work alone.
A conversion copywriter generates theories of what will convert based on data.
But it takes experts in analytics to make sure the quantitative side is accurate and interpret those insights…
And it takes advanced testing to validate or invalidate the conversion theories.
That’s where you need to bring in other conversion specialists.
In fact, the numbers are debated but between 70 and 85% of A/B tests don’t generate a lift in revenues when they’re run by companies without CRO agency help.
But even if this were just about copy, I’d defer to a world-renowned expert anytime.
To put this opportunity in perspective: you could pay Ivy League tuition fees for a term… or you could work with Flint for a couple of days.
Which is what I’ll be doing with my client’s team at the MECLABS campus in Jacksonville this March.
I couldn’t be more delighted. It’s like a conversion geek’s dream come true… not least because we’re doing a Value Proposition Intensive along with optimizing the landing page.
On the journey, I’ll share as much as possible of what I learn.
Starting with today. The kick-off call.
But first, a little background.
What is MECLABS Institute?
MECLABS and Flint are synonymous with conversion optimization. Long before I even knew the internet existed, Flint was using the web to study the process of human decision making.
He’s been running conversion experiments since the 90s. CROs tell me that when Marketing Sherpa first published in the mid-aughts, it was a revelation.
But you can find out more about MECLABS here.
Alright, let’s dive right into breaking down the call, for any of you who sell services or expertise.
Running a kick-off call like Flint McGlaughlin
There’s no one right way to run a kick-off call.
But, I think there are key ingredients. As with any marketing that’s aimed at nurturing a lead or new prospect, you want to build that “know, like and trust” factor.
It’s important to:
- Get aligned on shared goals
- Make others feel good, so they feel good about you
- Share the main “reasons to believe” in your authority
- Build trust in the process that will deliver results
- Manage expectations
Because this is all so fresh, I’m simply documenting here the strategies I saw Flint leverage, broken down into persuasion techniques.
Shameless confession. I planned to take a screenshot of Flint – historic moment – but he was off-camera. Gah!
When you’re already at the top of your game, you don’t have to play by all the rules.
But none of us are exempt from making others feel good. Even if you’re the father of conversion rate optimization.
That’s why I’m wary of kick-offs that are presentations. Because it should be a conversation that builds a relationship.
Flint was patient, interested, charming…
Instead of tearing down our pages, he pointed out what was right and where he sees opportunity.
People need that – they need to feel safe with your expertise and that starts in the kick-off.
After the intros, Flint introduced the value conversation. The payoff my client could expect.
Anytime a client has made an investment, you’re selling belief that it was the right choice. (Selling against buyer’s regret.)
Flint said, “I’m going to talk in big, round numbers here.” And then he referred to realistic conversion lifts of 10% or more. What would that be worth to you?
But he made it safe for my client to respond. “Just gross revenue”, he said.
And the client responded with a number that Flint said would make it easy for them to get back their investment in the intensive.
Smart. Let’s anchor our pricing like Flint more often.
Demonstrate authority in multiple ways
After the value question, Flint spoke of how he worked with Verizon for four years, for a fee of $1M per month and was able to measure the financial upside of such a huge investment.
Then, he quickly connected that case with my client’s case saying that even though the numbers are on a different scale, my client’s business is big enough to get an ROI.
So, he used impressive proof to 1) make the client’s investment seem small and the opportunity incredible, 2) generate excitement around outcomes.
But Flint didn’t just drop this one reason to believe. He wove demonstrations of authority throughout the call.
- “We’re an institute”
- I raised $138M for research
- We ran 20k experiments
- We have a protocol
- Multiple case studies with lifts in conversion
- “Yesterday I ran a meta-analysis of hundreds of experiments on CTAs”
And the naturalness! The humility! It was a masterclass. Chalk that up to Southern charm… and a doctorate in divinity at Jesuit school.
We can never drop our authority in an engagement – even while we’re warm, empathetic, collaborative. Because clients have to learn to trust the experts fully – at every step – or they can inadvertently sabotage the efforts and the lack of trust becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We’ve all seen fake scarcity.
It’s in the evergreen countdown timers for offers that only expire until we get back into the funnel.
It’s in the faux-casual social post claiming, “only so much time left on my calendar – get in while you can”.
Flint said, “I’ll only take two to three more partners this year. Even though we get hundreds of inquiries per month.”
This is the kind of message you’d usually see before the sale, but it works here, too. Again, because buyer’s regret is real.
Even if buyers are fully paid up for a service, dissatisfaction is a risk. Not just because of our reputation as service providers or because of refund requests. But because those who fully buy-in get the best results.
Strategically message your specialization
People aren’t going to remember our biographies… unless they’re superfans.
So, when we talk about ourselves we have to crystallize the most essential selling information that clients should take away.
Flint said, “My entire life, I’ve studied one question. Why do people say yes?”
And then, he backed it up with a story about launching his lab when everyone else said no. Cambridge wouldn’t invest. Oxford said no.
These were the early days of the internet and no one else saw that the web could be a living lab to study decision processes.
So, Flint self-funded… and pioneered the CRO industry.
What Flint delivered in maybe one minute was a) a single, powerful statement about what he does better than anyone else, and b) a story that delivers another reason to believe.
And he inserted that key point more than once in the call.
E.g. “The only thing I can do is bring what I’ve learned from 30 years of asking one thing: why people say yes.”
It’s also the excerpt under his name on LinkedIn.
Is it his value prop? We’ll find out when we learn the MECLABS method for crafting value propositions.
Conversion rate optimization can create unrealistic expectations.
But any good CRO will tell you that not every test wins. It’s an iterative learning process where you get progressively closer to the truth of what converts.
Flint needed to set that expectation in a memorable way. (Because people will selectively remember.)
So, he showed two variations on a landing page and asked each of us to guess which won.
Turns out, the control (the client’s original page) won. MECLABS’ test page showed a 41% decrease in conversions.
But it was just the first test.
MECLABS took what they learned from the first test to create a second test, which generated a 74% lift over the control.
While telling this story, Flint touched on the process MECLABS patented, so he was selling the process, educating (making us better clients) and setting expectations all with one demonstration.
One-up them with your goals
Any client engagement with fuzzy goals is dangerous.
And by goals, I don’t mean outputs. It’s tempting to talk about the things we’ll get done. What we’ll hand over. The website, the funnel, the brand book.
But in the kick-off call we should focus on goals in terms of the value we’ll create.
In Flint’s case, the three goals he established are:
1) to generate an ROI on the engagement,
2) to transfer knowledge to our team so we can learn the system to drive growth,
3) to build a model of the customer’s mind, so we can keep getting higher conversions after the engagement with MECLABS wraps up.
But Flint first asked what the client’s goals are to make sure they’re aligned. That’s key. We need agreement on goals before moving forward.
From a sales perspective, the fact that Flint had three goals where the client had one (ROI) is part of the magic. It conveys a level of commitment and vision higher even than ours.
Essentially, “Great, we’re aligned on this one simple goal, and we’ll 100% achieve that. But I want more for you.”
A bit of the unexpected shakes people up.
Dropping counterintuitive information also reinforces your authority. It makes us aware of the wider gap between what we know and what the expert knows.
Flint, for example, showed a control page that ticked off best practices against a test page that wasn’t obviously better. But the test page won.
(Most of us in the business of optimization are accustomed to this – we don’t know until we test. But most clients have been trained to trust opinions and preferences.)
The effect? He’s building a mystery… and we can’t wait to get behind the curtain.
Kick-offs aren’t administrative meetings
Our temptation might be to get down to process and planning. The sale is over, right?
The sale is never over.
Flint spent 90% of the call on what I’d categorize as persuasion and indoctrination – everything that goes into nurturing the sale.
Only at the end did he touch on dates, outputs and Flint’s methodology.
If you’ve ever seen the MECLABS materials, you’ll know they fall into the category of what Joanna Wiebe might call “sciencing the sh*t out of it”.
Case in point:
“The Conversion Sequence Heuristic is part of a patented, repeatable methodology (patent number 8,155,995) developed by Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, based on years of testing and research of real product and service offers presented to real customers.
C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a“
That sort of proprietary process wizardry has sold a lot of consulting services… And leaning on process does, in fact, have a place later in the sale when people are looking for reasons to say “no”.
That’s exactly how Flint uses it. He doesn’t lead with the mad scientist equations. They’re just there, in the close, showing you he’s not ad-libbing here.
If you make the client work, do it like Flint
I know a lot of copywriters require client questionnaires. I used to as well, but now I take notes from meetings because I can get more out of the discussion with probing.
Flint has a client questionnaire. But he immediately framed it in terms of client benefits: “I don’t want to waste your time or be arrogant”, so I want to have this information on hand.
Let others take care of the money
Sometimes it makes sense for us to be the ones who talk about money with clients proactively. But I think it depends on your status.
Flint’s persona is the disinterested scientist. I have no reason to believe he’s anything else, but I did notice in the call that he actively projected that idea of himself.
He suggested indifference to profits, mentioned he doesn’t have a sales team, that no one works on commission. He’s spent a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.
So, when there was an opportunity to talk about a cross-sell, it was interesting to see how he handled it.
My client has engaged MECLABS for the Quick Win Intensive but the lab also offers a strategic Value Proposition Intensive.
Flint sold the benefits of doing both, but he deferred to his staff to work out the pricing and details.
That strikes me as a power move. He’s positioning himself as the expert, not the salesman.
Where to learn techniques like Flint’s and run better client calls
I’ve been immersed in the work of Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching.
Included in these tenets:
- Replace presentations with conversations
- Prefer value-based pricing
- Frame pricing against other, higher-end engagements
- Position yourself as an expert (“the world doesn’t need another generalist firm”)
I’d highly recommend digging into Enns’ materials if you’re a service professional.
More of the inside scoop from MECLABS coming soon
That was just the kick-off! The client called me after, pumped and said the other owner – who’s “a tough sell” – was completely on board.
Next up, two days with Flint.
Five weeks to take his courses.
Months, no – years – of putting in practice what we learn.
There will be a lot to share.
Hit me with any questions you may have. And watch this space for the story to unfold.