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The Treadmill Effect

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DATA-DRIVEN CMO is an ongoing series on the Brooks Bell Blog that focuses on topics for the modern day data-driven CMO.

I’m a runner who loathes treadmills. Running on the open road is the best feeling in the world to me! But my dislike for treadmills is more than just the tedium or the lack of fresh air blowing through my hair. No, the reason I loathe treadmills is because of the people running beside me.

men running on treadmill

When I run outside, in a race, or in my neighborhood, I frequently come across other runners. Some are slower than I am. Some are faster. It’s always good to see how you measure up to others in the field. But when you run on a treadmill, that faster runner who’s next to you never blows by you. There they are, running twice your speed for twice as long and you are compelled to run a little faster, always measuring yourself against the more experienced runner beside you.

This, of course, is not a safe thing to do. While comparing yourself to someone else can help you progress—running faster than you are used to can lead to bad things. Your body simply isn’t prepared to run faster yet. You don’t have the experiences to know if you can sustain this pace. You may injure yourself, thus sidelining your efforts for a while, and maybe permanently.

Last week, 85 leaders in the testing and optimization world joined us for Click Summit 2013 in San Francisco. During our time together, top marketers and analysts participated in deep discussions on testing and optimization with other marketers who may just be starting their programs. Situations like this can be dangerous for those just getting their programs off the ground. Like running beside someone on the treadmill, it could be tempting to move a program along more quickly than you are prepared for. And while more testing is a good thing, running it faster without the right training in place can lead to a sidelining injury.

If you are ramping up your testing and optimization program or just getting started, think about these three things before you hurt yourself.

1. The race starts weeks before the starter pistol fires.

Months before you launch your first test, you’ll need to prepare your team and organization for rapid testing. Don’t try to launch tomorrow when you haven’t put the right processes in place, your testing tool hasn’t been implemented correctly, and data is not being captured at every trackable event. This also means prepping your team. You must make sure you have the right personnel. This doesn’t necessarily mean a dedicated resource (although that is most ideal). Instead, it means that members of your team ARE accountable for the success of the program. Do this, and the start of the race will feel like you are already in your zone.

2. Jog before you sprint.

Like in running, stretching and a warm-up is incredibly important. This means that running smaller tests before launching into a full sprint is paramount. Running small tests allow you to Q/A your process and the technology, and it mitigates the risk of a full test rollout that doesn’t work as it should. This is true in terms of test velocity. You may have the resources on your team to run more tests, but do the other departments in the process have the necessary resources? Just because your team can strategize twice as many tests, it does not necessarily mean legal can approve double the amount, or IT can develop twice the tests, too.

3. The race never ends.

There’s little we can do to remove quarterly earnings reporting, yearly contract cycles, and IT code sprint cycles. But we can influence the thinking towards a testing program within your organization. Make sure your colleagues do not view this as a campaign with an ending. They must buy into the value of iterative testing without an end to the program. This does not mean you are exempt from monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals. What it does mean is that you need to sell the program as a permanent component to the way you do business online.

It’s great to aspire to a testing program larger than your own. Just make sure you do it the right away. If you don’t, you can injure yourself and the future of your entire testing program.