Sarah Nance: A Trailblazing Leader in Digital Marketing Driving Innovation and Impact in Conversion Rate Optimization

Top 10 Most Successful Women in Business, 2024

Sarah Nance is a dynamic force in the realm of digital marketing and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and brings over 15 years of extensive experience spanning diverse industries such as hospitality, travel, financial services, and tech/e-commerce.

Renowned for her unparalleled creativity and strategic acumen, she is a seasoned expert in A/B and multivariate testing, brand development, digital strategy, graphic design, and project management. Sarah’s proven track record of driving impactful results through data-driven optimization strategies underscores her exceptional proficiency in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing.

Join us in exploring her journey as she continues to redefine industry standards and set new benchmarks in conversion rate optimization.

An Odyssey of Innovation: Forging Paths in the Digital Frontier

Sarah reflects on her career journey with a sense of gratitude and excitement for the opportunities that have come her way. Her career started in graphic design creating marketing materials for Yard House Restaurants. While there, around the mid-2000s when the first iPhone came out and social media was just starting to take off, Sarah knew it was time to shift gears and delve into digital strategy. She transitioned from working on print materials and switched her focus to creating a digital strategy to keep Yard House relevant with the changing times and provide a best-in-class web and mobile web experience for their guests.

In 2013, Yard House was acquired by Darden Restaurants (parent company for Olive Garden, Capital Grille, and a variety of other chains) and Sarah moved to Orlando, Florida, to continue supporting Yard House, but also joined the enterprise digital marketing team and contributed to the development of campaigns for the other brands under the Darden umbrella.

“It was an exciting time for me and essentially like trading up from the minors to the major league!” Sarah recalls. Building on her success at Darden, she then worked for a short time at another restaurant company before accepting a position at Disney on their testing and optimization team, a move she credits as “game-changing” for her career trajectory.

Unraveling the Art of Experimentation as a CRO Expert

Sarah reflects on her journey into the realm of testing and optimization, underscoring the invaluable role of her prior experiences, “I’d been working in traditional and digital marketing for about 10 years before transitioning into testing – and I firmly believe having so much previous marketing experience is what’s made me so successful at experimentation,” she insists.

Sarah further elaborated on the fundamental purpose of testing teams in comparing different versions to discern customer preferences, “What testing teams do, at a basic level, is to compare ‘this’ versus ‘that’ to see which version resonates better with customers. We use testing software to serve up two (or sometimes more) experiences to website visitors and monitor the analytics to see which version generates more engagement. The software is also so seamless that someone coming to the website has no idea they are being put into either the A or B bucket. However, on the backend, all clicks and funnel engagement (i.e. did you put something in your cart and actually checkout and complete the purchase) are tracked so we can definitively say, at the end of the experiment, whether we recommend keeping what’s in place now or moving forward with the new version we tested.”

She recalls her time at Disney, as one of the best experiences of her life, both professionally and personally, because they had a rock star team and supported testing for all of the theme parks (Disney World, Disneyland, plus the international parks), Disney Cruise Line, Aulani resort, Disney Vacation Club and all of the lines of business under each of those entities including: tickets, annual passes, lodging, dining, cart and checkout.

“At Disney, I had the privilege of supporting testing for many different lines of business gaining invaluable insights into customer behavior,” Sarah shares, reminiscing about her enriching experience with a renowned team. “There was always a lot going on, as you can imagine, but it was such an education and I learned so much about customer patterns and behavior that I’ve since been able to parlay into my future roles.”

After Disney, Sarah’s journey led her to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line where she navigated the complexities of their go-to-market efforts related to mobile app adoption for the three different brands under the corporate umbrella. “While at Royal there were also some discussions about spinning up a testing team, which I was involved in, but unfortunately then COVID came along. And with none of the ships able to sail (and at that time, for an indeterminate amount of time) they needed to let some of us go and my time at the cruise line ended.” However, despite the unexpected setbacks, she still counts each experience as a learning opportunity.

Following that, and a move across the country back to her home state of Washington, Sarah was approached with an opportunity at Wells Fargo to lead the team for all experiments related to mortgages, personal loans, wealth and investment management, and security, privacy and fraud. She notes that transitioning to a focus on relationship management testing broadened her perspective. “This was another great experience for me because our testing strategies focused more on leveling up important information to customers and/or relationship management versus the conversion and sales-based testing I’d done before,” Sarah observes.

The next stop after Sarah’s stint in financial services was a move back into e-commerce optimization by joining the experimentation team at Microsoft, leading all testing in their digital store related to Surface laptops and accessories. During her time there, Sarah was able to add significant value to the strategic approach the team took to testing, as well as add new skills to her optimization portfolio by participating in numerous user research studies and translating those findings into roadmaps of new test ideas.

Currently, as part of the team at CRO SME, Sarah is applying her past e-commerce experience to optimize the customer journey to drive purchases and engagement. “It’s all about clear communication to our customers and highlighting the features and benefits of the different security products in the portfolio, which we do through a variety of different testing and optimization strategies,” she concludes, poised for yet another chapter of innovation and growth in her career.

“If you put something out there and then realize pretty quickly it’s not working, it’s as simple as turning off a light switch to pull it down.”

Overcoming Obstacles on the Path to Professional Growth

Sarah reflects on the challenges she encountered in her professional journey, particularly in building trust to gain buy-in for experimentation initiatives. “Within experimentation specifically, because it is such a unique tenet of marketing, I’d say there’s more foundational and educational work needed upfront to get buy-in from stakeholders and executives. What’s new for them, and anyone unfamiliar with testing, is explaining the methodology and the way the software works. That is to say, if you put something out there and realize pretty quickly it’s not working, it’s as simple as turning off a light switch to pull it down,” she explains.

Despite the flexibility of the testing software, it still takes some explaining to make sure everyone is on the same page. “Seeing as most things in big business don’t operate so fluidly, that’s a considerable learning curve to get past. For example, if you launch a new (traditional) campaign, you’re stuck with it due to sunk cost, regardless of performance. But testing completely flips the script on that model and once stakeholders and leadership understand how it works and what insights the data can provide, good luck keeping them away! You’re going to have more testing ideas than you know what to do with.”

Unlocking Success: The Compelling Case for Investing in Testing Technology

Sarah fervently recommends that any company, from large corporations to small businesses, research testing best practices and add this component to their marketing mix as the benefits, both in terms of both saved time and money, will be realized quickly. In explaining the concept, she revisits the scenario of launching a new campaign, stressing the significant investment of time and resources involved in traditional marketing efforts.

“Let’s go back to the example from earlier about launching a new campaign for a product or service and, win or lose, once hundreds of hours have been spent on the planning, creative, distribution, ad buys and even more traditional outlets like print, there’s no easy way to pivot out of that if the messaging isn’t working. However, this is where experimentation can save the day because the team can take the top two or three ideas that have made it to the final approval stage and set up a test to gauge interest and engagement,” she explains.

Sarah believes that experimentation offers a lifeline, and highlights its ability to pivot strategies based on real-time data insights. In presenting test results, she always emphasizes the value of learning from ‘failed’ ideas. Even if an idea doesn’t emerge as the clear winner, the data gleaned informs iterative improvements. “I also always say when presenting test results, that even if an idea didn’t ‘win’ per se, at least we know now what doesn’t work and can iterate from there. Because once you have the data, the decisions you make are informed by actual performance metrics versus taking a chance on an idea and hoping for the best,” she affirms.

“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan not the goal.” – James Wedmore

Sarah points out that data-driven decisions are grounded in performance metrics, mitigating the risk of relying solely on intuition and emphasizing the transformative potential of testing technology in driving business success. Once the analytics are provided, a company can feel confident that they are making a statistically significant data-driven decision on which campaign to choose.

Drawing from Past Experiences in Strategic Decision-Making

Sarah’s data first approach to decision-making reflects her commitment to driving sustainable and impactful outcomes in every endeavor. Having worked in several large organizations, she has gained valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t, which reflects in her decision-making process. This impact of her diverse professional experiences and historical knowledge equips her with the expertise to streamline testing team operations, optimize workflow processes, and curate effective testing idea backlogs.

“One of the many advantages of being fortunate enough to work in a few large organizations, is having a good deal of historical knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in terms of organizing a testing team, establishing an efficient workflow process, and creating a robust backlog of testing ideas. So, depending on the maturity of the team when I join, I can provide valuable guidance and insight, after having been through the process of setting up and managing a testing teams multiple times,” Sarah explains.

In addition to providing strategic insight in evaluating testing ideas in the queue, Sarah also recommends taking into consideration customer preferences, industry best practices and reviewing all requests for any technical limitations. Sarah explains, “For example: customers don’t like pop-ups on websites, especially not on mobile, so don’t test that! There are also technical considerations that need to be accounted for, and the person presenting the idea may not be aware of those implications and what it would take to bring this idea to life.”

Sarah points out that while testing software offers flexibility, it’s essential to consider implementation challenges post-test. She highlights the need to vet ideas thoroughly to ensure feasibility and long-term viability, advising, “We can test almost anything, but can it be built out in the real world? While the testing software is akin to having a magic wand, once the test is over, no more fairy godmother. So, it’s important to fully vet any ideas, for both the short-term and long-term, before utilizing testing resources on an idea that cannot be implemented as a permanent feature.”

Embrace Every Opportunity: A Key Lesson for Aspiring Businesswomen

Sarah offers sage advice to aspiring businesswomen, emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and embracing new experiences and encouraging them to dive into unfamiliar territories regardless of perceived relevance.

“In almost any situation there’s something new that can be learned, even if there are things that don’t seem relevant to your goals at the time, dive in anyway. As there’s a high likelihood you’ll be able to leverage that experience later. Using myself as an example, when I first started at Disney, I was not familiar with the ticketing system used to track projects or the particular workflow method they followed. However, I immersed myself in learning everything I could about that process and gained an invaluable new skillset. Fast forward to my future roles and now I was seen as the expert and leader on workflow process optimization, coaching my team on best practices, and improving our output to get more tests into the market quickly,” she shares.

Sarah advises aspiring businesswomen to “keep your eyes and ears open and soak up as much knowledge as you can,” underscoring the value of being receptive to learning opportunities in any role. Also, look for someone who could be a mentor, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to fail forward. “Remember even if something isn’t a ‘winner’, it doesn’t mean you didn’t gather valuable information in the process,” she reassures, highlighting the importance of resilience and a growth mindset in navigating professional endeavors. Sarah’s empowering message resonates as a beacon of guidance for women embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys.

“In almost any situation there’s something new that can be learned, even if there are things that don’t seem relevant to your goals at the time, dive in anyway.”


Sarah Nance stands as a beacon of inspiration in the realm of digital marketing and experimentation, embodying resilience, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. With over 15 years of diverse experience across various industries, her journey exemplifies the transformative power of continuous learning and adaptability. Her strategic acumen, coupled with a passion for driving data-driven decision-making, has propelled organizations to new heights of success.

“Life’s not about expecting, wishing, and hoping. It’s about doing, being, and becoming.” – Mike Dooley

As a mentor and leader, Sarah’s guidance has nurtured countless talents, shaping the future of digital marketing. With unwavering determination and a commitment to innovation, Sarah Nance continues to redefine industry standards and inspire the next generation of business leaders in the fields of digital marketing and conversion rate optimization.