How to Use Testing to Get More Sales

It’s common for micro-businesses to drift along without making significant changes, especially when they’ve created a successful product and brand and know generally what marketing activities seem to work for them. Unfortunately, this can be like standing still and allows competitors to improve at your expense.

Testing is a technique originally used in direct marketing but is also frequently used in online marketing and can really help improve sales and performance when used correctly. The overriding principle of testing is to change one thing at a time and then measure the difference in results, so that you assess what works best.

So how is it done?

First of all, identify what your micro-business should test. Some elements have a bigger impact than others, so these should be the priority. The priority order is generally considered to be:

Audience – this means identifying the types of people most likely to buy your product. There may be a group receptive to your product or service that you haven’t yet considered. Similarly, there may be others who you have targeted but who aren’t really interested, so you can save money by not marketing to them.

Media – you may always have always used local newspaper advertising but perhaps online or direct mail might actually be more productive. Using follow-up communications with a different media could also work. For example, a call after a mailing, or an email after a letter, and testing would identify the success of these.

Proposition – this is the key message you communicate. Do you get better results by being cheaper than a competitor, or by promoting a higher level of service? Developing suitable propositions is discussed in more detail in Unique Selling Points.

Product – are you better to advertise a single product to encourage customers to buy from your micro-business, or is it better to promote a wide range in the hope that something will appeal? Another approach is to bundle two or more products together into one offering. Testing will help you identify the product or groupings most likely to generate interest in your offering, so that you can use it in your marketing.

Offer – if you give an initial discount, testing can help to reveal the most appropriate level. Perhaps more people would buy if offered a larger discount, but a smaller discount might generate the same number of sales but make each one more profitable.

Timing – this can be particularly significant for email campaigns but it is applicable to all media. Some periods of the day, week or month might be more responsive than others. Perhaps Fridays would generate a better response than Mondays, or more emails would be opened if sent just before lunchtime.

Formats – there are usually different ways of using the same media, e.g. a postcard rather than a mailing pack, or a half-page advert rather than a classified ad.

Creative – this refers to the aesthetic appeal of the piece and whether it grabs attention effectively. Would using different photography generate a better response?

The difference in impact from each element can be significant. Getting the audience right can generate responses six times higher than previously, whereas changing the creative might only provide a modest increase in sales. The message is clear; focus on the big things that make a difference. Unfortunately many individuals and micro-businesses devote their time to making the creative attractive and appealing.

For testing to be a success, it is essential to isolate and change only one thing at a time, then measure the results. For example, if you were doing a direct mailing and think that one particular audience group might respond better than others, separate them out and compare the results from that group against results from the mailing as a whole.

Beware though; everything else must remain the same. That means mailing both groups on the same day with exactly the same pack, or the difference in results could be due to something else. You can see some examples of how testing can be used in Testing to Find Effective Marketing Approaches.

Comparing response rates is a useful measurement method but it doesn’t always provide the depth of understanding needed. Acquisition costs can be a more useful technique and is explained in Measuring Marketing.

If response rates are used, consider whether to compare sales achieved, or enquiries generated. Sales will provide a more accurate picture of the overall contribution to the bottom line. But if the aim of the communication is to get prospects to visit the website or make a call, enquiries might be a better measure of the success of the communication itself.

But whatever measurement you compare, you need to know whether you can rely on the results. How to do this is explained in Trusting Test Results.