And specific techniques you can use to understand and grow your own business
What you’ll get below
- Why we believe that culture is the root of all profits.
- Why we were inspired by the Zappos Culture Book.
- Here’s the email we sent to everyone in our team.
- Why we think you should create a culture book (it needn’t take more than ten minutes of your time).
- The weekly ritual that has helped us a lot.
- What our culture is like—according to our team members.
- What our culture is like—according to our founders.
- Our negative points, on which we need to improve—according to our team members.
We’d love to hear what you’ve learned about culture
This is the most-revealing article we’ve ever published. If you have personally solved some of the problems that we describe, we’d love to hear your suggestions.
We believe that the best way to increase our profits is to increase the profits of our clients. To do that, we need several things: great people, great processes and great clients. And the best way to do that is to have great working conditions. The following flowchart summarizes how we believe all of those things relate. In short, we believe that great working conditions are a critical foundation for mutual success.
We’re constantly looking to hire world-class people (we’re actively hiring now), so we’re always looking for ways to improve our working conditions. “Working conditions” encompasses several overlapping factors, including our team members’ compensation, our working environment, our company’s mission, the work itself, and our culture.
This article is about our culture.
Nurturing culture is particularly difficult for us, because we have team members located remotely across different countries. Though there are many advantages to working remotely, developing and nurturing a great company culture is a challenge. Because we can’t rely on water-cooler chat, we have had to find solutions that are systematic and reproducible.
In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh describes how the culture of his first company deteriorated as the company grew. He came to loathe working there—so much so that he sold it.
When Hsieh later became CEO of Zappos, he pledged not to make the same mistakes. The second half of Delivering Happiness describes some of the things he did to develop and nurture the culture at Zappos.
One of “Tony’s crazy social experiments,” as his staff called them, particularly appealed to us. Hsieh decided to write a “culture book” to explain to newcomers what it was like to work at Zappos. But instead of simply writing a CEO’s “prescription” of what the culture should be, he asked all employees to write a short description of what the culture meant to them. He then compiled all of their contributions into a book and published it, unedited. If you’re in the US, you can order a printed copy of the Zappos Culture Book, free of charge, from here. If you’re outside the US, you can’t order a printed copy, but you can read it online here.
The Zappos Culture Book appealed to us for the following reasons:
- The employees collectively describe the culture more accurately than one person ever could.
- The book is credible. When you read it, you know that you’re reading a description of how current employees see things, and not what the CEO would like them to be.
- It helps potential job applicants to determine whether they’ll fit in.
- It provides social pressure for newcomers to conform. New recruits are more likely to adopt a company’s culture if they know that it’s a broad perception and not merely an occasional memo from the CEO.
We treasure our company’s culture, and would hate to see it deteriorate, so we chose to follow Hsieh’s plan, almost to the letter. Page 13 of Zappos Culture Book helpfully contains the exact email that Hsieh sent to his staff, and he encourages other companies to follow the same approach. We adapted his email to our situation and sent it to everyone in Conversion Rate Experts (CRE):
Subject: CRE Culture Book
We will be putting together a mini-book as part of our orientation package for all new hires about the CRE culture. Our culture is the combination of all our teams’ ideas about the culture, so we would like to include everyone’s thoughts in this book.
Please email me 100–500 words about what the CRE culture means to you. (What is the CRE culture? What’s different about it compared to other company cultures? What do you like about our culture?)
We will compile everyone’s contribution into the book. If you wish to remain anonymous, please indicate so in your response. We will be distributing the book to all new hires as well as the existing team (and will probably publish it on our website too).
Also, please do not talk to anyone about what you will be writing or what anyone else wrote.
Remember, there are no wrong answers. We want to know what the CRE culture means to you specifically at this point in time, and we expect different responses from different people.
The responses were mostly positive. Before we share them, we’ll add some balance by listing our negative points, on which we need to improve.
The exercise encouraged people to mention only the positive aspects of the culture. Fortunately, we also know what are the most negative aspects of our culture, because we survey our team every week using TINYpulse. To give balance, we exported all of the negative feedback from TINYpulse, then grouped it into themes. Here are the negative aspects of our culture that are most frequently reported by our team:
- We need to do more to reduce stress: To some extent, measurable marketing is intrinsically stressful, because everything we create is tested. But there are many things we can do to make the work less stressful—and we’re aware that some of our processes add to the stress. We are currently working on this.
- We need to reconsider the areas in which we’re not transparent: Several team members mentioned that we’re becoming increasingly transparent, but they also reported that in some situations we’re opaque.
- Sometimes this is when information is commercially sensitive or strategically important. For example, we don’t publish our financial information.
- Sometimes it is because information relates to other people’s confidentiality. For example, if someone leaves our team, we need to balance transparency and discretion.
- And often it’s simply because we haven’t had time to think through the implications of disclosing information.
- No structure for career progression: When TINYpulse asked our team members, “Is your promotion and career path clear to you?” only 33% of them said yes. That doesn’t surprise us; it’s not clear to us either. We have a very flat organization and, to date, promotions within the company have happened on an ad-hoc, merit-based basis, as mentioned in the responses below. To some extent, career progression should be pragmatic but we do think we need processes for how people get promoted.
- It’s hard to manage work-life balance: Even though many of our team members mention that CRE allows a great work-life balance, many also report that work often spills over into home life. That’s a problem that’s hard to solve for remote people—especially when the role is highly demanding and team members have a track record of being obsessed with the work. We are constantly looking for strategies that help with this.
Creating our culture book took just a few minutes—the time it took to send that email, plus the time each person took to write a response. We spent much more time writing this introduction.
You can start your own culture book simply by sending the above email to everyone in your company.
TINYpulse has helped us a lot. We suspect that before we started using TINYpulse our responses wouldn’t have been so positive. Every week, TINYpulse asks a different question to every member of our team. It then shows us the responses, which are anonymized. Even admins do not see who wrote what.
TINYpulse asks the questions that we should have been asking anyway. The responses often become our management to-do list.
Everyone’s contributions are pasted below, unedited (except for typos).
Note: The combined response of our founders—Ben and Karl—is at the bottom of the page, because it’s the longest, and because we guess you’ll be more interested in reading the other ones.
“Everyone is ready to help at a moment’s notice”
CRE culture is based on:
Trust. CRE trusts you to make the right decisions. We don’t micro-manage, so you’re free to tackle situations in your own way.
Ambition. We set ridiculous goals. Even more ridiculous: we usually hit them.
Getting results. Everything we do is tested. This proves our value to clients and makes us more effective due to constant feedback about what really works.
Intelligence. Each CRE team member is brilliant.
Helping each other. Everyone is ready to help at a moment’s notice. It’s a pleasure to be a part of!
“No fear to pioneer new ways to run a business and solve business challenges”
Here are some of our thoughts with regard to the CRE culture:
- Culture of trial and error, no fear to pioneer new ways to run a business and solve business challenges.
- Innovative ways of building a company (working remotely, attracting talent from around the world and not letting geographical distance be an obstacle, working with consultants rather than employees), innovative way of working with clients (not meeting them—even though this might change) offering innovative services (such as the fully managed approach)
- Extremely fast execution of new ideas.
- Share and reapply mentality and very friendly atmosphere among fellow consultants.
- Continuous optimization of business processes and exploring new ways to offer better CRO service.
“Everyone on this team is free to say ‘we can improve this process’ without stepping on anyone’s toes”
I think the culture of CRE (and any business, really) is a side-effect of something else. Here, our culture is a reflection of the earned trust and genuine mutual respect shared among all of us on this team.
It almost feels trite to say that. It’s the kind of meaningless drivel you often find in corporate mission statements and annual reports.
But in the case of CRE, in the case of our team, it’s not a corporate sound bite. It’s very real. And I think it got that way because every person on the CRE team was hand-selected through the interview process for mainly two things: First, their off-the-charts expertise—everyone at CRE has a super power. And second, their ability to learn from, and with, each other.
Learning can mean a lot of things. Here, it’s mostly that curiosity of the scientific mindset: constantly asking questions like, “How can we measure this and make it better?” and, “What’s preventing this process from improving by double?” And this second part—the learning thing—is huge. Why? Because everyone on this team is free to say “we can improve this process” without stepping on anyone’s toes or risking that they’ll make someone feel badly. That’s what we’re all here for.
And it takes a lot of humility to do that. It takes an openness and willingness to work with and support one another.
In fact, if you had to create a single job description that applied to everyone at CRE, it might well be: “Use your head. Make yourself more valuable.”
One of the symptoms of a toxic company culture is when you notice internal fiefdoms and political alliances starting to form.
We don’t have that here. It’s bizarre, really. That is, until you understand the forces at play and why our culture has evolved this way. Because the more we’re open to change, to learning as individuals and as a team; the more freely we work with and help one another… the more successful we are at making our clients’ businesses grow. In turn, that means a steady supply of fresh opportunities for our team members. It’s a virtuous cycle. And we want to protect that.
“It’s always putting your client’s needs first”
When thinking about what the culture of CRE means to me, it seemed to be much easier to start with what it’s not.
- It’s not endless office politics driving decisions and your career.
- It’s not being afraid to ask for help and feedback.
- It’s not about getting what most people would consider great results.
- It’s not the same old 9-to-5.
- It’s never boring.
- It’s not for the faint of heart.
Now we know what CRE isn’t, what is it?
- It’s always putting your client’s needs first and building relationships.
- It’s about pushing not only your limits but challenging the industry.
- It’s being excited to get to work.
- It’s working outside in the summer.
- It’s being able to go to my daughter’s school programs in the middle of the day.
- It’s constantly being amazed by the people I get to work with.
“Everyone is genuinely committed to helping one another succeed”
Conversion Rate Experts are the cleverest company I’ve worked with in the sense that they have a deeply scrutinising recruitment process, and they tackle every aspect of their business from a scientific, logical approach.
There’s a remarkably clear sense of direction and accountability not found in the majority of businesses today.
It’s like the peer group you always wanted: there’s absolutely no ego or office politics and everyone is genuinely committed to helping one another succeed.
Who wouldn’t want to work for a company where the head office is in a thirteenth-century English countryside estate?
“Everyone is wicked funny, helpful and inspiring”
CRE is a fantastic company to work for because you get constant feedback on your work, ideas, and tests—and how to move quickly and get big wins.
Everything is researched, tested and measured, so you don’t have to guess what’s working or what’s not. It’s a hyper-efficient way of working.
The CRE team is made up of some of the brightest individuals I’ve ever met, and everyone is wicked funny, helpful and inspiring. I love the flexibility of working remotely, yet still having the CRE team to collaborate.
You get to work with clients in every industry imaginable, so the projects are always new and exciting. Plus, you get to learn a variety of business models and strategies. It’s been the biggest game changer for our careers and has catapulted our knowledge of marketing and business.
“We never settle for second best”
I started working with CRE (when there were only two people in the team) in 2007, and I quickly realised that CRE (driven by its founders) have a passion and culture where we constantly strive to be the best in everything we do.
That’s externally, how we work with our clients, or how we work internally with the rest of the team.
We never settle for second best, so on this journey I’ve met loads of fascinating people in the strive to be the best in the world in whatever we do.
When I started with CRE there was a dream and wish list to work with the best companies in the world, and now when I look at our clients page, we can say we do!—in only six years.
An achievement and a bold goal, which I personally think is a similar statement to “JFK” when he said “by the end of the decade we will have a man on the moon.”
“The freedom for me to explore and experiment has lifted a weight off my shoulders”
As a newcomer to Conversion Rate Experts (CRE), I couldn’t have wished for more. It can feel intimidating to be surrounded by so many intelligent people who are the best in their fields, but I’ve had nothing but gracious welcomes.
One stand out attribute to the company’s culture is a mutual respect and trust. The relatively flat structure to the company means everyone I work with feel more like new friends rather than colleagues or bosses.
One of the biggest reasons for joining the CRE team was to explore and learn a new field and specialty in the industry. Everyone is happy to spend a little extra time to explain something, and there is a no question too stupid mentality.
The work is challenging, but that’s what makes it fun and interesting. Nothing easy is worth doing. There is a fire and energy about the work everyone achieves—it’s what’s made CRE industry leading. Whenever on a call with someone there is a contagious positivity and excitement for the work we’re doing.
As a designer, the freedom for me to explore and experiment has lifted a weight off my shoulders, allowing me to be the most creative I can. Not every idea will be a success, but everything can be an opportunity to learn. CRE’s hands-off approach creates an environment that allows me to follow my gut and try new ideas that could benefit the team.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone but has given me the freedom to work around my lifestyle and other commitments. I’m able to work in different locations and at different times of the day depending on when I’m feeling most creative and productive.
“We are our clients’ friends and partners”
The CRE culture is all about learning, sharing and optimizing—in an agile and safe environment where politics and egos do not exist. We are taught to help our clients build bigger and stronger businesses by understanding their customers. We are our clients’ friends and partners.
By embracing remote working and collaboration we work with only the best colleagues in the world while still retaining a high degree of freedom. We are responsible and accountable for targets and numbers that are clear, measurable and within our control.
Effort is recognized and praised within the whole organization. The constant quest to collect feedback on everything we do is what makes CRE stronger and smarter than any other organization I have worked in.
“Everyone is treated equally and has the opportunity to shape the business”
The culture at CRE is amazing. Sure I’ve worked in places before where colleagues would help each other out on projects, but at CRE it is on a totally different level. Just mention that you have a problem or question and you’ll quickly have an entire team willing to take time out from their busy schedule to help, not because it makes them look good, but because they genuinely want to see you succeed.
Everywhere I’ve ever worked has had some degree of “them and us” between senior management and staff. CRE is most definitely the exception; everyone is treated equally and has the opportunity to shape the business. I could make a suggestion today on how we could improve things, and the very next day we’d be working on making that a reality.
Work from anywhere in the world, with some of the most exciting clients in the world, get as much support as you need and have a lot of fun doing it. Like I said, amazing.
“No pecking orders or internal politics”
The CRE culture to me is one of mutual respect. There are no pecking orders or internal politics to contend with. Everyone just gets on with what they have to do and supports each other along the way.
Everybody knows that to become a CRE consultant you have to have proved yourself previously. Therefore, nobody questions your ability so you don’t have a point to prove. In CRE results are everything so you know exactly what is expected of you. You need to increase the profits of your clients. Simple.
“The team spirit is very strong”
What is the CRE culture?
Wins are everything
What’s different about it compared to other company cultures?
Being able to measure exactly the performance improvements we deliver to clients on an ongoing basis is a great way to avoid office politics and to earn respect from your peers.
I really wish other companies would consider their clients as highly as we do ours, because if you expect the same quality of service in your day-to-day life…well you will certainly end up very frustrated.
The team spirit is very strong, all consultants know they can count on one another and this is really great.
What do you like about our culture?
Pursuing excellence, constantly. The willingness to test bold changes, staying lean and always innovating.
“We are all here to grow businesses (and our careers) together—so nothing is taboo”
1. Brutally honest feedback
CRE has been built on the premise of brutally honest feedback. No one should be scared to raise their hand and let their voice be heard—and at the same time, no one should be hurt if someone has something constructive to say. We are all here to grow businesses (and our careers) together—so nothing is taboo. Everyone in the company loves hearing the truth. Everyone—from clients to consultants—fills out surveys on a regular basis so CRE can continuously improve its processes.
2. Open and Transparent
It’s hard to believe that CRE hasn’t always been as open and transparent as it is today—but based on feedback from point #1, in the three years that I have worked with CRE we have become a truly open and transparent company. We share all of our “conversion rate optimization secrets” on our blog, we have mastermind calls where we learn from our successes (and failures), and Ben and Karl keep everyone in the company up to date on what is happening. You will never be left in the dark on anything.
3. Constant learning
Everyone in the company has a passion to learn and grow—and there’s no better place to do it. From Lawrence Bernstein’s swipe file to Karl’s intensive training program, there is unlimited potential to learn and grow…and everything we do has been tested and proven to work. You’ll learn CRO strategies that have made our clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
From weekly mastermind calls, to our brilliant Mastermind Group on Basecamp, you can tap into the minds of the world’s best conversion specialists. No matter what your question is, someone on the team likely has an answer. We are all here to help each other, and you’re never left feeling alone.
There’s no micro-managing and no time sheets at CRE. The only metric that matters are the wins you deliver to your clients.
“An extremely supportive atmosphere”
There is a certain discomfort with the status quo
CRE is always morphing itself into a leaner, more-efficient, more-effective organism. That’s not just corporate-speak but the reality, as evidenced by a huge and growing body of knowledge and procedures in our private Evernote system.
It’s more structured than other companies
Much more measurement of customer-focused outcomes than in other companies. Karl and Ben are not kidding when they say “Wins are everything.” While other organizations tend to focus on budget variances and all sorts of internal ratios, CRE is focused on customers to a very high degree.
It’s less structured than other companies
No one cares where you live, or what time of day you work.
It’s fine to have projects or businesses on the side, and many people do. They can’t be in conflict with CRE work of course, but otherwise it’s not an issue.
It’s not political
I’ve been in corporate America for a long time and this is the least political organization I’ve ever been in. No back-stabbing and no intrigue. It’s an extremely supportive atmosphere.
Note: Do not wait to be promoted
First, it’s a very flat organization, with the founders on a conference call with everyone weekly, so there’s no room for “vice presidents” and “deputy assistant vice presidents.” Second, the only way to get promoted is to volunteer to do the work in the first place, in addition to whatever other work you do. Eventually you may get that function added to your job description for having already done it effectively.
“We care for our clients as well as we care for ourselves”
For me, the CRE culture is that you can rely on everyone to be helpful, friendly and simply nice. I only contribute a little and have regular contact with just a few people, but I always know that I can talk to anyone about anything. I feel equally important, and it’s an essential aspect of this great work environment. A small team with a global presence.
We care for our clients as well as we care for ourselves. All the resources, expertise and knowledge is FULLY used to ensure the client benefits from our service. When our client’s win, we win.
“Become smarter, faster and more knowledgeable by the day”
What is the CRE culture?
CRE’s culture is based upon the open-minded nature of all individuals within the organization, whether management or otherwise. The concepts of sharing ideas, assisting peers, and team working are built into our DNA; enabling us to challenge ourselves to new heights, without fearing the consequences of working alone. Being part of a company that’s open to fresh ideas, means there are no limitations to what we can achieve. Pooling the experiences and resources of the whole team allows each individual to become smarter, faster and more knowledgeable by the day.
Being in a collaborative environment that learns and adapts to measurable outcomes, creates constant opportunities to improve (and witness those improvements). There’s no guesswork, so when something doesn’t quite work, you know why; and when something works brilliantly, you know how to make it happen again… and how you might better it next time. Measuring your own success makes working in a creative environment so much easier, because it allows you to focus on doing what you do best, rather than wasting time on flawed ideas.
What’s different about it compared to other company cultures?
CRE’s culture differs to other companies because there’s no snobbery; there’s always someone to share ideas or challenges with, no matter how big or small. Other companies have an ethos that prevents honest feedback; hence why those companies have a “them and us” culture between management and the workforce. CRE has the opposite approach, and as a result, listening to feedback breeds growth, enhances our learning, and keeps us up to date with the latest trends and technologies, which is paramount in CRO.
CRE encourages methodologies that are lean and work well, which eliminates the political constraints some other companies place in the way of “changing for the better”. Sure, not every idea is implemented, but those that result in the smarter use of our time are often welcomed.
What do you like about our culture?
The Founders have created a definitive feeling that we (the team) are CRE. Although we have our professional boundaries and we’re good at working hard, everyone is friendly! How many other companies can honestly say that? We have regular get-togethers outside of work, which means we socialize (but not in the kind of forced way you get from team-building days out).
Being part of CRE makes me feel like a crucial and valued cog in the system (that doesn’t function without the others). Each project brings new challenges, but it’s a great feeling when you know there’s a whole team on hand to critically evaluate your work and help you to bring it to the highest standards, before letting it loose on the web!
“Success without greed, elitism without ego, collaboration without restraint and comradeship without politics”
People from a traditional agency background are sometimes confused by CRE. They don’t know which box to put us in. To them, our approach and business model seem alien and we are often told that the strength, success and values of the company must surely become weaker and more dilute as the business grows.
Well, we’ve got news—not only have the founders of this business created an innovative new business model, but thanks to meticulous planning, adaptation, recruitment and overflowing enthusiasm CRE continues to go from strength to strength. In fact, the business consistently outperforms even its own rigorous targets and it shows no signs of slowing down either.
What kind of culture does this success breed among the people who work here? Refreshingly and surprisingly the CRE formula breeds a culture of success without greed, elitism without ego, collaboration without restraint and comradeship without politics. It breeds a team of experts united in a common purpose. A team where each member is proud to bring a highly valued specialism to the mix, and where every member treats the other with genuine respect.
Make no mistake—being a member of this team is hard work. Every day is intense and challenging but if you can handle the pace the rewards, both financial and just as importantly, emotional, are huge.
“It’s bat fight, it’s canal locks, it’s jumping rivers…”
I’ve had a good think about what the culture means to me tonight, and I found it bloody hard work to put it into words so I just wrote stuff down and I’ve pretty much left it as is.
Here’s what the CRE culture means to me.
It’s Glen’s slippers, it’s horses on barges, it’s stubbornly sitting outside in the rain, it’s getting your rocks off, it’s Yard Times, it’s qualified noes, it’s about being between the toilets and food at conferences, it’s treadmills (quiet ones), it’s Beemers for babies, it’s em dashes—it’s bags that smell like farmyards, it’s burnt baguettes in the clubhouse, it’s jujitsu-ing the Chairman, it’s the CEO making brews for the troops, it’s bat fight, it’s canal locks, it’s jumping rivers, it’s ice lollies for starters, it’s crappy fridge magnets, it’s more Wookieish C3POs, it’s Sqwiggle mirror, it’s green ties and dark suits, it’s soundproof panels, it’s Lister_Suite and robertpeel, it’s massive (really massive) burgers, it’s bacon crack, it’s our culture.
“All about having a sound work/life balance”
What is the culture at CRE?
How about the best company culture I could possibly imagine!
CRE makes it very easy to achieve great results for our clients, to flourish as a conversion rate optimization consultant, and all of this while working in a friendly and transparent environment.
Possibly the best part of CRE’s culture is the people. Since CRE pools consultants from around the globe, the hiring process is strenuous, and very difficult. Only a handful make it. This means that the people working at CRE are a very special breed. Once you enter CRE, you are surrounded by brilliant minds, and the collective wisdom in the company is unlike anything I had ever seen. The people are beyond great.
By design, CRE is all about having a sound work/life balance. Taking vacation time is mandatory. Spending time with our loved ones is not seen as a detriment to our work, but as a welcomed activity. We are all fanatics of being more productive, which means we achieve the same great results for our clients while being more efficient (read: working less).
But the CRE culture is more than that, and in the future, it’s whatever we’ll all want it to be. CRE is by far the most dynamic company I’ve ever been part of. The company seeks our feedback and suggestions every week, whenever we raise our hands and identify an issue or concern, the company steps in and offers help or guidance, or finds and implements a great solution.
So in a way, CRE’s culture in the future will be shaped by me, and all the other consultants in the company. We all are CRE’s culture.
“Improvement is what drives the company (and brings profit to our clients)”
For me, CRE was supposed to be just a temporary stop—an enriching, short experience, but it’s been many years since I got aboard the CRE ship, and it turned out to be a one-of-a-kind cruise.
Where do I start? First of all, the way we “do work” is completely different to what one can expect. Yes, we all work remotely. Yes, we’re all scattered around the world. And yes, we’re in different time zones. In most companies, these three things could be potential problems. At CRE, successfully managing them led to creating an award-winning working environment and culture, and to selecting the great bunch of experts from around the world. We’re marketers, engineers, scientists, writers, travelers, entrepreneurs, journalists, and it’s the variety of experience that makes our culture so special. We work and think globally. We dream big, and we chase (and reach) those dreams.
While other companies are talking about “maybe” changing/improving things, we’re acting on our ideas (that everyone here can suggest). We’re constantly growing, we want more, and with the great people working here, we achieve our goals. Then, we move forward. At CRE, improvement is what drives the company (and brings profit to our clients).
I think there are two things about CRE culture that I particularly like. First, it’s the complete freedom in the way you approach tasks. Sure, we do have our methodology, training, etc., but nobody’s breathing down your neck saying things like “you really should spend five hours on this tomorrow” or “we don’t do this the way you did—it’s wrong.” Secondly, while the work can be stressful, it also provides a perfect arrangement to de-stress, recover, and remain happy and healthy. Need to clear your head? Go and have a walk when you feel like it. Tired of bad weather and rain? Book a flight to a nice country, stay there for two weeks, working and relaxing. You only get that if you run your own company—working at CRE is very much like that.
Of course, as with everything, there are some cons. It’s sometimes hard to resist the urge of constantly checking your emails, catching up on projects on a holiday morning or, since you’re in charge of many projects, it can be difficult to just “leave everything and disappear for two weeks.” Luckily, you won’t be on your own. From exchanging experiences with your colleagues to in-house guides on how to take holidays to make sure you don’t have to check your emails while you’re away—you’ll get as much support as you need.
And, lastly, by working for CRE, you not only become a master of conversion (as in CRO), but you also learn to optimize your private life, the way you do everyday things, and that speaks for itself.
“Highly collaborative working style and an open management method”
When I joined CRE in December 2012, the view I quickly reached was that the foundations for CRE’s culture were laid when our scientific methodology was defined, based around the idea that “wins are everything.”
An accountable, metric led, scientific approach to building websites and digital marketing communications is not the norm in our industry as we know.
So from my perspective, to implement it successfully (and make it scaleable) has led to consequences falling into place, domino-like, and which have shaped that culture:
- Recruitment: finding like-minded experts who can apply our methodology across brands and industries is not an easy task.
- Geography: as a result our consultants are spread worldwide, wherever we can find these CRO warriors (and wherever they want to work from).
- Working methods: and this had led to the need to create efficient processes and adapt tools to make it possible for us to operate as a single global CRO consultancy.
The creation of a highly collaborative working style and an open management method, which I have never seen before or since in any other organisation, allows us to manage our responses to a rapidly (and continually) changing market.
Our working style could ultimately fail to deliver without one defining characteristic being common to each of us, that is the will and ability to make things happen, to ignore egos and stamp on any idea of business politics hampering progress, to just get it done.
The result is something we’ve all seen eulogised in modern management theories, but which nearly always fails in practice because it is never truly wholly embraced: empowerment of the individual, collectively enhanced by the group.
This is what our culture means to me, and why I like and embrace it so wholeheartedly.
In other company cultures it can feel like someone (worst case: an unknown stakeholder) is watching over your shoulder in order to deliver a swift rebuke if protocols are not followed.
At CRE it feels like we have the entire team sitting together as group, lifting each other up rather than weighing us down.
For me that has resulted in one more aspect of our culture that I love—allowing me the opportunity to help develop and refine how we do what we do…to actively participate in shaping our culture rather than merely being a passive observer of it.
“A culture of sharing”
CRE culture is all about openness and helping each other. Instead of competition and working against each other, there’s a culture of sharing. Sharing the knowledge, sharing the thinking behind successes, sharing everything that has worked in the past. CRE consultants are the best teachers for each other, not competitors. That’s very different compared to practically all the other companies.
I also like the diversity and how interesting people in the company are. Not just in terms of work but also personally. Business-wise it’s absolutely inspiring to listen to stories about the companies that the consultants have worked with (almost all the biggest names are on the list). Personality-wise it’s a bunch of open, creative, entrepreneurial and generally very interesting people. I enjoy every minute spent with other consultants, be it talking about conversion optimization, past and future vacation plans, building your own house, picking a lock or living and working in the most beautiful parts of the world.
To recap: openness, sharing and exciting people. That’s what CRE Culture means to me.
“It’s all about creating measurable value for the client”
1. People help each other out: You have a lead consultant on any project, but test ideas and mockups are often a very collaborate effort of many.
2. Feedback encouraged: Criticism and divergent views are not only welcomed but highly encouraged. Nobody takes offense but appreciates the insights and the opportunity to improve. It’s a cornerstone of our methodology as well as our culture.
3. Performance is key: It’s all about creating measurable value for the client. There’s little use for fancy presentations (unless slides are packed with insights).
4. Lean: If it doesn’t benefit the end user or the client, it’s probably not worth doing. Similarly, there are very few internal emails or meetings, to keep interruptions to a minimum and facilitate big blocks of deep, creative work.
5. Humor: And if there are internal meetings, they’re usually super efficient and somehow always filled with laughter. It’s kind of in the old saying: We take what we do seriously (obsessively so), without taking ourselves too seriously.
“I’m more productive in my work and personal life”
In most businesses I’ve worked in, feedback and assessment are rarely encouraged and where they are, they aren’t implemented properly. At CRE, not only do they actively encourage feedback, they want you to be brutal about it and then they act upon it.
Despite us being a virtual business, I don’t feel distanced or detached from my colleagues. Whether it’s weekly conference calls or quarterly get togethers, CRE works really hard to ensure we’re able to develop relationships whether you see your colleagues every day or every three months.
CRE’s flexible approach to working means I’m more productive in my work and personal life. If you want to work at 6.00 a.m. or 11.00 p.m., either is fine. They judge you on what you do, not how you do it.
“Huge emphasis on sharing ideas and helping everyone to grow and succeed”
The CRE culture is very unique. Ben and Karl have created an incredible company which places a huge emphasis on sharing ideas and helping everyone to grow and succeed. I’ve never worked for another company like it.
What’s brilliant is that there’s no feeling of competition between team members, and because everyone’s backgrounds are so unique and different, the insights and suggestions put forward to overcome certain situations and get results for the clients is amazing.
Because everyone works remotely it gives you the freedom to work on your own terms, as long as you hit deadlines and deliver top-quality work, it doesn’t matter when you do the work or how you do it. That’s great for everyone because freedom is so important.
It’s also an added bonus that everyone meets up four times a year and gets on so well. It really helps create camaraderie when you’re working together on projects.
We originally wrote individual contributions to this, but they overlapped hugely, so we decided to combine them. Our company vision is the result of an ongoing collaboration over the years so it felt wrong for us to suddenly publish separate versions now.
So what does CRE’s culture mean to us?
One of our mottos: “Become deserving of what you want”
Does success come to those who deserve it? For most of our lives, the answer has been no. But the world is changing quickly, and we believe that the answer will soon be yes. Good people—and good companies—will be successful.
The phrase “If you build it, they will come” used to be a “falsism.” But the internet has made consumers much better at finding great products and services.
Here’s an example. In the past, a bad restaurant in a tourist hotspot could prosper by preying on an endless supply of naive customers. Now, thanks to sites like TripAdvisor, prospective diners can find out the truth. So diners go to the best restaurants and they avoid the bad ones. The top-rated restaurants get almost all of the money.
If we ran a restaurant, we’d focus on delivering value—by cooking great food—in the firm belief that everything else would look after itself, because the truth would get out.
So one of our mottos is “Become deserving of what you want.” Consequently, we focus almost all of our efforts on delivering and improving our service.
Being the best in the world is seriously underrated
We’re fans of Seth Godin’s book The Dip, in which Godin argues that “Being the best in the world is seriously underrated.” He gives many examples of how, in most fields of achievement, you get almost no rewards until you become one of the best in the world—at which point the rewards come rushing in. One reason for this is because everyone wants the best. When visiting a new town, no one asks the concierge to recommend an average restaurant. They all want the best.
So if we were running a restaurant, we’d want our food to be not just good but the best, and we’d want our employees to be not just happy but the happiest, because being best is disproportionately more fruitful than being second, third or fourth.
How does this affect CRE?
Our goal is to build a company that deserves to be hugely successful, because it’s the best in the world at delivering value. Our two main stakeholders are our clients and our team members, so we deliver two types of value, one for each of them:
1. How do we come to deserve the best clients?
For our clients, we have the mantra “Wins are everything.” A “win” is a split-test in which our redesign of a client’s webpage is proven to generate more profit than the existing version of the page. Wins are what our clients are paying for.
How does our culture help us to get wins for clients? Well, we recruit people who are amazing at getting wins, and we train them in everything we know. We focus on their productivity and we create elegant, easy-to-use processes for them to follow, so their time isn’t wasted. We seek the (sometimes painful) truth by carrying out split-tests, usability tests, and surveys. And we try to spend as little time as possible doing work that is secondary to getting wins. For example
- We all travel as little as possible.
- Most of our sales come from word of mouth, not from outbound sales.
- Most of our marketing materials are byproducts of our consulting processes—like our case studies, for example.
2. How do we come to deserve the best team members?
Writing this has made us realize that we don’t have a mantra for attracting and retaining amazing team members. We guess it should be something like “CRE is leaps and bounds better than every other job you’ve had.” (We copied this from what Jeremy said on the video on our “Careers” page.) We focus on paying our team members much more than they’d normally get for such roles, we let them work from anywhere in the world (so they can spend time with friends and family), and we give them an environment in which they can do the best work of their lives.
Split-tests are cold and unforgiving. If people are being measured by split-tests, the last thing they need is an employer who’s also cold and unforgiving. They need support. Our culture is supportive, nice-natured, collaborative, energizing, and forgiving. Our managers are there to define the roles and then to provide support, enthusiasm, and encouragement.
We believe in giving people more help than they might expect. Here’s an example: Recently, we interviewed a consultant who didn’t quite pass the interviews, because he didn’t have enough experience. We told him so, but he was so close to making the grade that we offered to put him through our training course free of charge, on the basis that at the very least he’d benefit from having received the training. After he completed our training course, he still didn’t pass our tests, so we couldn’t take him on. Instead, we asked some of our contacts and put him in touch with several companies that were looking for conversion marketers.
It’s a small world, and it’s getting smaller. We try hard to leave everyone in a better position for having known us. We hope you have a new idea or two for having spent the time to read this article.
Other companies’ culture books and manuals
Recently, progressive companies have started publishing how they work. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Netflix Culture Deck
- The Basecamp Employee Handbook
- Delivering Happiness, a book about Zappos culture, and The Zappos Culture Book
- Jeff Bezos interviewed by Charlie Rose about Amazon’s philosophy and Amazon’s leadership principles
- Fog Creek’s remote work policy
- Talks by GitHub’s founder, Zach Holman. (GitHub is interesting in that it has recently changed how it works, moving from a self-help structure to a management-driven structure.)
Other articles about culture that we like
If you believe you’d enjoy working for us, please take a look at the positions we’re currently hiring for.
If you would like to discover more about our company culture—and some of our quirky ways of working—visit our “Careers” page.
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