Helping VIPs Care About Performance

Making a site feel super fast is the easy part of performance work. Getting people around you to care about site speed is a much bigger challenge. How do we keep the site fast beyond the initial performance work? Keeping very important people like your upper management or clients invested in performance work is critical to keeping a site fast and empowering other designers and developers to contribute.

The work to get others to care is so meaty that I dedicated a whole chapter to the topic in my book Designing for Performance. When I speak at conferences, the majority of questions during Q&A are on this topic. When I speak to developers and designers who care about performance, getting other people at one’s organization or agency to care becomes the most pressing question.

My primary response to folks who raise this issue is the question: “What metric(s) do your VIPs care about?” This is often met with blank stares and raised eyebrows. But it’s also our biggest clue to what we need to do to help empower others to care about performance and work on it. Every organization and executive is different. This means that three major things vary: the primary metrics VIPs care about; the language they use about measuring success; and how change is enacted. By clueing in to these nuances within your organization, you can get a huge leg up on crafting a successful pitch about performance work.

Let’s start with the metric that we should measure. Sure, (most) everybody cares about money - but is that really the metric that your VIPs are looking at each day to measure the success or efficacy of your site? More likely, dollars are the end game, but the metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) people focus on might be:

  • rate of new accounts created/signups
  • cost of acquiring or retaining a customer
  • visitor return rate
  • visitor bounce rate
  • favoriting or another interaction rate

These are just a few examples, but they illustrate how wide-ranging the options are that people care about. I find that developers and designers haven’t necessarily investigated this when trying to get others to care about performance. We often reach for the obvious – money! – but if we don’t use the same kind of language our VIPs are using, we might not get too far. You need to know this before you can make the case for performance work.

To find out these metrics or KPIs, start reading through the emails your VIPs are sending within your company. What does it say on company wikis? Are there major dashboards internally that people are looking at where you could find some good metrics? Listen intently in team meetings or thoroughly read annual reports to see what these metrics could be.

The second key here is to pick up on language you can effectively copy and paste as you make the case for performance work. You need to be able to reflect back the metrics that people already find important in a way they’ll be able to hear. Once you know your key metrics, it’s time to figure out how to communicate with your VIPs about performance using language that will resonate with them.

Let’s start with visit traffic as an example metric that a very important person cares about. Start to dig up research that other people and companies have done that correlates performance and your KPI. For example, cite studies:

“When the home page of Google Maps was reduced from 100KB to 70–80KB, traffic went up 10% in the first week, and an additional 25% in the following three weeks.” (source).

Read through websites like WPOStats, which collects the spectrum of studies on the impact of performance optimization on user experience and business metrics. Tweet and see if others have done similar research that correlates performance and your site’s main KPI.

Once you have collected some research that touches on the same kind of language your VIPs use about the success of your site, it’s time to present it. You can start with something simple, like a qualitative description of the work you’re actively doing to improve the site that translates to improved metrics that your VIPs care about. It can be helpful to append a performance budget to any proposal so you can compare the budget to your site’s reality and how it might positively impact those KPIs folks care about.

Words and graphs are often only half the battle when it comes to getting others to care about performance. Often, videos appeal to folks’ emotions in a way that is missed when glancing through charts and graphs. On A List Apart I recently detailed how to create videos of how fast your site loads. Let’s say that your VIPs care about how your site loads on mobile devices; it’s time to show them how your site loads on mobile networks.

You can use these videos to make a number of different statements to your VIPs, depending on what they care about:

  • Look at how slow our site loads versus our competitor!
  • Look at how slow our site loads for users in another country!
  • Look at how slow our site loads on mobile networks!

Again, you really need to know which metrics your VIPs care about and tune into the language they’re using. If they don’t care about the overall user experience of your site on mobile devices, then showing them how slow your site loads on 3G isn’t going to work. This will be your sales pitch; you need to practice and iterate on the language and highlights that will land best with your audience.

To make your sales pitch as solid as possible, gut-check your ideas on how to present it with other co-workers to get their feedback. Read up on how to construct effective arguments and deliver them; do some research and see what others have done at your company when pitching to VIPs. Are slides effective? Memos or emails? Hallway conversations? Sometimes the best way to change people’s minds is by mentioning it in informal chats over coffee. Emulate the other leaders in your organization who are successful at this work.

Every organization and very important person is different. Learn what metrics folks truly care about, study the language that they use, and apply what you’ve learned in a way that’ll land with those individuals. It may take time to craft your pitch for performance work over time, but it’s important work to do. If you’re able to figure out how to mirror back the language and metrics VIPs care about, and connect the dots to performance for them, you will have a huge leg up on keeping your site fast in the long run.

About the author

Lara Hogan is an Engineering Director at Etsy and the author of Demystifying Public Speaking, Designing for Performance, and Building a device lab. She champions performance as a part of the overall user experience, striking a balance between aesthetics and speed, and building performance into company culture. She also believes it’s important to celebrate career achievements with donuts.

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