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Measure for measure: assessing performance

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The broad sweep of performance measurement encompasses everything from individual product performance to the success of marketing campaigns and overall corporate achievement. The key is identifying the right measures and knowing what to do with the results.

Act-On is a SaaS product that provides marketing automation for fast-growing businesses, coordinating the full gamut of digital marketing from inbound and outbound campaigns to account-based marketing (ABM) and social media management, to multichannel engagements including retargeting, direct mail and SMS. It is designed to make the automation process accessible to marketers and others who do not have extensive technical skills in software. About 80 percent of Act-On’s customers are B2B companies, but it also sells to retailers and universities where considered purchases are the norm.

To gain visibility into how its customers were using the solution, Act-On wanted to find a software product that would track usage to determine what features were most helpful and which ones needed to be improved. “We had qualitative, anecdotal information, but that was just not good enough—we wanted to be more data-driven in our assessment of how well our software was performing,” says Gal Josefsberg, VP of product management and marketing at Act-On. “If users were getting confused anywhere in the process, we wanted to know about it.”

After looking at a variety of offerings that track usage, Act-On selected Pendo, which provides software for measuring user experience and helping users find the features in software products that are most relevant to them. “As we released new features, we wanted to find out how people were using them,” Josefsberg says.

One example of measurement that affected software design was the discovery that in a drop-down menu with 10 items, users were selecting one option 90 percent of the time. “As a result, we changed that item to a button, which reduced the number of clicks for the typical user,” Josefsberg explains.

That type of feedback made the process of redesign much more efficient. “When we were unaware of whether a feature was being used, we would have to speculate about whether it should be removed or not,” he says. “Now, we can see right away whether a feature is being removed, and what used to require a week-long discussion can be done in real time.”

Targeted marketing

The initial application for Pendo was in usability design, but other departments soon got interested. “Once the salespeople saw product managers using Pendo, they wanted to access it too,” Josefsberg adds. “They were running 90-day trials with customers but did not know what was really going on with usage. Now they can see who is logged in and how they are doing, which enables them to have a good conversation with the customer.”

Finally, Act-On began segmenting customers by size, whether the company had a customer relationship management (CRM) system, what vertical they were in and other factors. Through those analyses, Act-On found out among other things that larger companies and those with a CRM logged in more and renewed more. “It helped us measure our performance across different market sectors and to target our own marketing more effectively,” Josefsberg explains.

The company is now considering another use case: conducting a net promoter score (NPS) survey from within the Act-On platform. “We have been sending out e-mails for these surveys but the reality is that people do not respond. So we are investigating whether embedding Pendo in our application and tracking NPS surveys that way would be a good option,” he says.

Before the advent of software that could measure how well an application or website was meeting the needs of users, product managers were basing their decisions on anecdotal evidence, a small amount of qualitative data and intuition, according to Todd Olson, founder and CEO of Pendo. “Getting complete information was time-consuming and expensive, and therefore many companies do not do it,” he says.

Pendo obtains its information from user event tracking, surveys, NPS and other behavioral indicators. In addition to being used for improving desktop interfaces, the data can also support decision-making in connection with the engineering investment in other aspects of product development. “In order to decide what features should be included in a product, teams need to have data to understand and prioritize the ones that deliver the most value to users,” Olson says.

By determining what product innovations are successful and where users are encountering obstacles, Pendo supports continuous improvement of software products. “Users who have grown up on Facebook do not want to tangle with difficult enterprise software,” Olson emphasizes. “Expectations are higher, creating a demand for better experiences, which is why products like Pendo have become so important.”

Social media and corporate performance

When social media first came on the scene, few if any metrics were available other than those compiled by the providers of the applications. Initially the business value of social media was questioned, and many skeptics remain. Nevertheless, the use of social channels for customer engagement has grown steadily, as well as its use as a feedback mechanism for customer sentiment, brand awareness and other metrics.

One of the first companies to introduce a product for measurement of social analytics was Simply Measured. “About five years ago, we began collecting Tweets and putting them in a spreadsheet because that was the tool that marketers were using,” says Kevin Shively, head of marketing communications at Simply Measured. “Social marketing was just taking off, and people wanted to get the data quickly and easily to answer the questions of how is the brand doing compared to the competition and how well are they engaging their audience.”

Since then, Simply Measured has expanded its coverage of social media and began doing more sophisticated metrics. “Now we compare how paid performance interacts with organic social and how each channel performs relative to the others. We have spent a lot of time working on attribution so that we can tie social directly to revenue,” Shively says. Simply Measured is able to attribute sales to a specific social share of a URL, mapping it back to a page on a website or an ad.

One aspect of social media metrics that has proven to be challenging to measure or connect to corporate performance is so-called “dark social,” which refers to a share or other social media interaction that is sent to a private channel rather than being posted on a public channel such as a website. “This type of traffic accounts for about half of all social messaging,” Shively explains, “and shares done on a private channel tend to carry more weight with the recipient than do public messages.”

Simply Measured tracks that type of exchange by putting a unique hash fragment onto the URL from which the user has shared and tracking it back to a website. “We can trace the journey of that piece of content to the website it was shared from, so that companies can see what marketing content is doing well,” says Shively. “This information is rarely obtained by marketers, but it should not be overlooked.”

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