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CedarLabs worked with PRP on an accelerated website launch. They chose to work with PRP because they were not looking for a traditional website design process and needed their new site quickly. The business was picking up fast as school districts and states were looking to CedarLabs to help modernize their state reporting processes.
Their existing website had become dated and did not reflect how they had evolved as a company. Nor did it provide their visitors with what they needed. Challenges included:
- Descriptions of CedarLabs products that were too technical for some buyers.
- Messaging that was not yet targeted to individualized buyer personas.
- A lack of pre-planned “buyer journeys” to help visitors find the products and answers that matched their needs. We knew the website could become a better tool to convert website visitors into happy customers.
- Few ways to track website visitors’ actions on the site. This meant there was no way to use data to continuously improve their user experience.
- A stagnant website that was not designed to evolve and grow with their product.
- A large number of new clients who needed more from the CedarLabs website than it currently provided-and fast.
To meet their time constraints and website performance goals, PRP used a Growth-Driven Design process while building their new website.
Planning for Growth
Growth-Driven Design begins with a Strategy Phase. We held six weekly workshops with the CedarLabs team. In the workshops, PRP asked the CedarLabs team questions and shared our expertise in building websites for the education market.
- What metrics would the website need to hit?
- Who should the CedarLabs website sell to?
- What are the responsibilities, preferences, and other key characteristics of those personas?
- How would those personas hire the website to do a job for them?
- How could we create a journey for each of those personas, from website visitors to satisfied customers?
We identified distinct buyer personas, hypotheses to test on the new site, a clear outline of the next steps, and more. But, the value of the process was more than the set of conclusions we found. According to Ben, the workshops were an opportunity to take time to recalibrate as a team.
“We worked through some things that we needed to sort out ourselves as a business that we just hadn't taken the time to do around thinking about user scenarios and who we were pitching to, what might prevent them from buying, and what are the key messages,”
said Ben Silberglitt, founder and CEO of CedarLabs. “Working through that process really helped us.”
The CedarLabs sales team needed to cast a broad net while speaking to many people in specific roles. Most administrators and leaders at the local, district and state levels would like to spend less time on paperwork. Many would love to automate their state reporting process. Some are highly technical and want to know about data validation and open standards. Others just need to see an impact on the budget. The strategy phase helped CedarLabs choose a message that would resonate with each persona, carving a specific journey on their website for each to take.
“Our company was founded by folks from a range of backgrounds, but probably a majority of folks from more technical backgrounds,” Silberglitt explained. He added that their first website before partnering with PRP “was really tech-heavy.” It sent the message “Hey look we can communicate in JSON and XML!” said Silberglitt, adding “and that's great, but it doesn’t really speak to 99% of the people who reach our website.”
The strategy phase helped CedarLabs discover who to target with their sales and marketing messaging, and how to speak to them in a way that would get them excited and help them see that CedarLabs solved relevant challenges.
“We only have time to pitch to the CIO, the project manager, and maybe one other person like the project lead, and that's about it. So that really helped us to make sure we weren’t too heavy on the tech speak that would go over folks’ heads because we were speaking to an audience other than the buyer.”
Weekly workshops forced CedarLabs to dig into these issues instead of putting them off, Silberglitt told us. The value of the strategy phase went beyond their website’s design. It helped to provide crucial internal alignment.
“We had a new person on our sales and business development team who needed to be steeped in the CedarLabs way and what's great about our business and how we should be pitching,” Silberglitt explained. “For him to go through that process, the timing was perfect.”
Launchpad to Growth
When we finished the strategy phase, we were all excited to begin building the new website. In the Launchpad phase of Growth-Driven Design, developers design and build websites using information from the strategy phase. Our goal is to create a website that looks great, converts well, and helps us gather data and test assumptions. That means creating a user experience highly tailored to the personas and buyer’s journeys we created in the strategy phase.
The Launchpad is often smaller than a traditional website since it contains streamlined user journeys and leaves room for continuous improvement. Launchpads are typically smaller and faster to build than bulky traditional websites. Instead of trying to cram all the information we might possibly want to be on the site into our website build, we focus on what clients need right away. Then we add new pages and information as we discover more about how users interact with the site.
PRP designed and built a new CedarLabs Launchpad website based on findings from the strategy workshops. Each copy and design choice was intended to appeal to CedarLabs’ buyer personas. Every element was carefully chosen to play its role in creating the best experience for each visitor, guiding each persona on the appropriate journey based on who they are and what “job” they are hiring the website to do for them.
Features of the Launchpad site included:
- Pages are designed to take each persona through the journey identified for them in the Strategy Phase.
- A simple, modern, and engaging look.
- Direct and concise, clear messaging.
- Animations and hover effects to make the page come alive.
PRP and CedarLabs worked together to choose a platform, HubSpot, and a marketing toolset that would allow CedarLabs to quickly and easily gain actionable insights about their target audience’s behavior, such as who was opening their emails or looking at their site, and what they were doing on the site. After the new website went live, PRP and CedarLabs reviewed data from HubSpot, Google Analytics, and heatmap and recording software. We provided analysis of real visitor interactions on the site to understand who became customers, who didn’t, and why.
At PRP, we take pride in our user-analysis capabilities. We use tools that allow us to get a deep understanding of customer experiences on websites while respecting user privacy. Our tools are focused on identifying and eliminating pain points for users, to help them have a great experience with client websites and find the information they need. When PRP and CedarLabs watched users interact with the site, they saw that they were spending more time on the site. They were scrolling further and following the paths laid out for them. It was not just functional, but “beautiful,” according to Ben Silberglitt, founder and CEO of CedarLabs.
“It is just such a pretty and well designed website. That's for sure stuff we couldn't have done on our own. We're proud of our website now, whereas before we sort of hoped they didn't look at our website.”
In addition to looking great, Silberglitt said customers who provided feedback about the new site stated it communicated concisely and provided them with the information they needed to dig further into the site.
One key benefit of the growth-driven design process noted by Silberglitt was the confidence inspired by the iterative approach of GDD.
“Working directly with website design companies in the past it's had that kind of waterfall approach, where you just give them some stuff and then they come back and say, ‘Oh look how beautiful it is and you kind of go, ‘Well, alright, that's close,’ and you end up with a website where you settle because you just get tired of the process or feel like you're never going to get there. And I do think with this approach we came out with something that is much more on target because we had that iterative conversation,” Silberglitt said, adding that he’s looking forward to working with PRP to update and expand the site as CedarLabs continues to evolve.
Continuous Improvement Keeps You on Top
Once we get to the launchpad phase, clients are usually brimming with ideas. The enthusiasm is infectious. We always end up with a few great ideas that aren’t necessary to launch the site, but we can’t wait to try.
In the Continuous Improvement phase of Growth-Driven Design, PRP and CedarLabs started with a “parking lot” list. The parking lot was a wish list containing great ideas from the previous stages that hadn’t been implemented yet. We also looked at data and user interactions to identify lessons about Cedarlabs’ audience. We looked for small changes that would have the biggest impact. We wanted to know where we could make minor tweaks to remove speed bumps on the site.
We follow this process so we can funnel users down the start of the path to becoming customers, advocates, and fans. That’s exactly what happened. We were able to drive leads to start the conversation with the CedarLabs team. And, we were able to make updates in real-time as we learned more. For example, we were able to get a customized path up and running for potential clients who had just learned about CedarLabs at a conference.
- One of the first changes we made was to improve the top-level navigation. By watching users interact with the menu, we were able to see what links to keep at the top, and what to move to drop-down menus.
- We also added a few additional pages from our Parking Lot Wishlist. We knew from the data that we had started to gather that these pages would provide sales collateral as well as helpful information for returning visitors.
- Finally, we added a long-form explainer page to help non-technical visitors to the site understand how the school state reporting process works, and where CedarLabs fits in. We then analyzed user interactions and discovered that the page was too long for a majority of users. We noted which sections they viewed and interacted with most. Then we began working on a shorter version of the page focused on those sections.
During the Strategy phase, PRP and CedarLabs set metrics for success. So far, we have seen continuous improvements, showing that the changes they are making have been effective.
“We were pinging states,” said Ben Silberglitt, “and we’re saying ‘Good, they got our message and they went and looked at our website’” after they checked for state-specific traffic to the website on HubSpot. You can kind of deduce from the business work you're doing and the region of people who are hitting your website, how interested they are. We had a meeting with folks from a state the week before, suddenly folks from that state were hitting our website. Well we know that's good news.”
As a constantly evolving company, CedarLabs can’t afford to depend on a set-it-and-forget-it website. They need an online “home” that can grow and adapt as fast as the rest of their business, right along with their customers’ needs. But that ability to continuously improve is also important given the nature of the market CedarLabs is operating in.
“We have an account-based or relationship-based selling approach because we have a small number of potential accounts that we can win,” Silberglitt said, noting the finite number of state and local education agencies that make up the universe of their potential clients.
“We want to know a lot about our audience’s behavior-whether our emails are getting read, whether folks are going to our website because you're kind of in the dark at first and just trying to get in the door. We need to understand where we're getting some traction and where we aren’t.”
And that’s where their new website began to shine in its first few days.
“We started targeting specific states that we knew would be really interested in our products and services and we thought would be a good match. We don't want to blast people with unnecessary garbage, so we targeted just those states with some calculated emails that honed in on the message that we thought would be effective,” explained Silberglitt. "And now we can see right away if folks were now visiting our website. When I get a chance to talk to people in those states at conferences, I can say, ‘Oh yeah, I know you got my email. Can I follow up on how we can help you with reporting?’ for example. It’s a really helpful feedback bridge rather than just kind of throwing stuff out there and not really knowing if it landed.”