Driving Decisions that Stick: 5 Essential Steps to Getting to and Keeping a “Yes”

Driving Decisions that Stick: 5 Essential Steps to Getting to and Keeping a “Yes”

Author: Sridhar Ramanathan

Within the last couple of weeks, I have had three senior product marketing managers (PMMs) share how difficult and frustrating it is to get decisions on key items like messaging, ad creative, customer collateral, and campaign success metrics.  One said “I’m empowered to decide on core messaging for my product line, but I just can’t get it to stick across all the sales and marketing internal partners. They just go rogue.” Another said that “I’ve worked hard to engage a terrific creative agency that came up with nice concepts, but it’s a nightmare getting people to buy-in on one final design that actual gets used in the field.” Why is it so hard for otherwise successful product marketing managers to drive a decision and get it to stick? These are a few reasons:

  • There isn’t executive level sponsorship to drive the necessary change and adoption
  • The deliverable hasn’t been fully thought through; in other words, the quality isn’t there yet
  • Stakeholders may not have had an opportunity to weigh in on theproposal, buy into it, and to commit to action
  • There’s no accountability for “going rogue.” Internal teams can opt out on decisions
  • There isn’t a fast, closed loop process to tune your plan based on actual performance in the field.

So the question is: what can you do to increase the odds of getting a solid decision that sticks throughout your organization? Here are five essential steps that we’ve seen work with our clients who have a good track record for decision making.

  1. Develop a proposal in collaboration with influencers

A good example of this is a VP of Product Marketing at a world class cyber security software firm. He held brainstorm sessions with 2-3 field SEs/security architects who were former Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) to generate fresh sales plays. He engaged product managers, a senior PMM, and a couple sales reps who could lend additional pragmatic perspectives and hard data on what would work.In a similar way, you’ll want to buildyour “A-team” of thought leaders as you collaborate to develop a specific plan or deliverable for exec approval.

  1. Socialize your recommendation

After you have a draft proposal, you’ll need to share it with stakeholders so that their objections, viewpoints, and their success metrics are built into your final plan. Make the recommendation tangible with visuals, copy blocks, or concrete examples so that stakeholders can see how the plan will be implemented. Hold these meetings one-on-one so that they can be open and honest about their reaction to your proposal. Take their input to heart as you refine your deck.

  1. Formally present your proposal

If you’ve done steps 1 and2,you’ve gone a long way towards getting buy-in. A formal presentation is still required to get the approval on record, and to establish the project team that will be responsible forgetting the deliverable done. One of our SaaS clients beautifully applied the best practices of the “DACI” model which specifies the Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed staff members. You’ll want to explicitly name the DACIs in your presentation so that stakeholders are clear on their role in the rollout of this initiative. DACI folks are kept current on progress throughout the project lifecycle with executive check points built in about every two weeks.

  1. Welcome feedback but enforce compliance

Once your project is completed, you’ll want to proactively solicit inputs from stakeholders and the intended audience of the output such as sales, pre-sales, customers, analysts, etc. By establishing a feedback process, you’ll not only head off “rogue” behavior by your internal teams to go off and invent their own deliverable but you’llalso show a commitment to performance improvement. And if you see a particular team creating a competing alternative you’ll want to find out why they chose not to use the deliverable that’s been approved, and then escalate to the sponsoring executive to support your alignment process.

  1. Refine/refresh based on actual field performance

Measure and refine the messaging, campaign, assets, etc. based on your feedback process. No messaging, for example, is ever perfect and immutable over time. We have an analytics software client that has PMMs maintain a formal record of all inputs from sales, pre-sales, industry analysts, customers, etc. so that a quarterly content refresh is based on rich inputs.

We recognize these five steps can take 2-3 weeks to do right, but we’vealso seen that the best results flow directly from the internal alignment and effective decision-making that these five essential steps enable.

We welcome your stories of successful (and maybe failed) decision-making in your own organization.

Sridhar Ramanathan is Managing Director and Co-founder of Aventi Group, a product marketing agency specializing in B2B tech firms. Based in San Francisco, Aventi Group boasts world-class clients who engage the firm for expertise, speed and flexibility when it comes to revenue growth initiatives.

6 ways you could be dooming your case studies before you even start writing

6 ways you could be dooming your case studies before you even start writing

Author: Camille Rasmussen

Case studies are loved by many for their ability to educate prospects and turn sales and marketing spiels into verified, credible claims.

Sales teams need them to show proof to their prospects. Marketers add them to email campaigns to keep mid-funnel buyers engaged. And potential customers look for them on your site to evaluate whether your solution will work for their unique situation.

But for all their perks, case studies are notoriously time consuming. A survey of TechValidate users found 77% of our customers spent over a month on each case study, and a third spent 3 months or more! The good news is you can avoid wasting your time on preventable setbacks. Below you’ll find 6 common mistakes companies make with their case studies before writing even begins.

1. You’re relying on your sales team to identify customers

It’s an easy habit to fall into: you reach out to your sales team and solicit a few good customer names for your next case study. Your sales reps work closely with your customers, so they can easily connect you to interested clients, right?

The problem is, your sales reps aren’t incentivized to help out the marketing team. Their priority is making sales. The result? You’ll likely have major gaps in the flow of customer references when you rely on your sales team alone.

Increasingly, marketers are takings back the reins and running customer surveys to gauge interest. The minimal time and effort required to fill out a quick survey can mean a lot more responses, and a much bigger pool of customer volunteers to select from.

2. You aren’t talking to the right people

Bad interviews get you nowhere. So when it comes time to gather info for your case study, it’s worth taking that extra moment to make sure you’re set up with the right interviewee. Look for someone you believe will be a strong brand advocate (meaning they should have some positive things to say about your product) and who has a strong understanding of the company’s use case, or personally uses your product on a regular basis.

Commonly, when you reach out to set up an interview, the customer might rush to loop in a marketing, brand, or PR spokesperson to speak with you. It makes sense. These are the people charged with keeping public content (including your case study) consistent and on brand, so of course they have an interest in participating. But unless these are the people using your product—or the end users are on the line too—this interview has a strong chance of providing weak material for your case study.

Another tip: whenever possible, interview multiple people with different roles and perspectives to get the full picture.

3. You didn’t get legal signoff from the get go

There’s no bigger let down in the case study process than when you’ve just put the finishing touches on your shiny new case study and patiently await the customer’s final approval… and then—oh no!—the customer comes back and apologetically tells you that they actually can’t endorse third-party vendors.

Not everyone you speak with will have their corporate legal policy memorized, so it pays to get approvals up front. Many companies, particularly the big names that you’d LOVE to feature on your website, have legal policies that prevent them from participating in vendor case studies. So save yourself the time and disappointment and send out a standard release form (see an example release form on page 10 of our case study eGuide).

4. You’re asking the wrong questions

The details you gather from the customer can mean the difference between an engaging, stat-filled case study and a mind-numbingly dull one. Asking the right questions is vital to building a strong customer story, so choose wisely. A few pointers:

  • Always ask open-ended questions. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ varieties won’t yield the level of detail you’ll need to craft a compelling story.
  • Ask questions around each of the sections in your case study: what their company does, what challenges they faced, what solution they selected and why, and what results and benefits they’ve seen since.
  • Stats and metrics make for compelling proof points, so don’t forget to ask the customer if they have any data that reflects a positive change since they started using your product.
  • Don’t stick to the script. Tailor some questions to the customer’s unique use case, industry, and pain points.
  • Consider sending out a questionnaire a few days prior to a phone or in-person interview to help the customer prepare.

5. You aren’t recording the interview

Here’s a tip straight from the journalism playbook: if you want to remember what’s said in an interview, ditch the pen and notepad and grab an audio recorder. Memories fail, notes get lost, and mid-interview distractions happen.

And when your customer raves about your product in the most eloquent way, or when the building maintenance starts up the lawnmower and you miss a few words, having that back-up audio to revisit can save the day. These days you don’t need to invest in an old-fashioned portable audio recorder (unless you’re going for the reporter-on-duty look). Just hit record on your web conferencing tool or download a third party app, and you’re set.

6. You aren’t aiming for a diverse portfolio of customer stories

When a prospect visits your website, will they find a case study that speaks to their industry, use case, and unique challenges? If not, they might end up feeling disconnected from your product.

Diversifying your case study collection can help your sales team as they work their way into new markets. Aim to build a collection of case studies that are relevant to each of your target verticals, personas, and applications.

The goal is to relate to your target buyers’ pain points and desired results and offer compelling proof that your solution has in fact helped similar companies with their own situations. Every prospect faces unique challenges—show them you understand theirs.

Case study best practices

Want to take a deeper dive into the best practices for writing, distributing, and influencing buyers with your case studies? Check out this comprehensive eguide for more case study tips, or tune into our on-demand panel webinar to get a cross-functional perspective on what makes a successful case study.

This post originally ran on The Marketo Blog 1/9/18.

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Are You Ready For Sales Enablement?

Are You Ready For Sales Enablement?

Listen, I know you already spend most days checking off items on your to-do list. Are the kids going to make it to practice later? Did I pay the electric bill? Is that important project at work still on-schedule? Did I get everything at the grocery store for dinner? Have I contributed enough to society today to slow our descent into chaos and anarchy? These are all valuable, worthwhile tasks that fill your day-to-day life. So I realize that me barging in here with yet another list for you to spend time checking off is a big ask.

But trust me, this one is important! If you value your career and the long term success of your organization, you owe it to yourself to truly consider a sales enablement platform. Maybe you’ve done some preliminary research on what sales enablement is, maybe you have only a passing idea of what a sales enablement solution offers, or maybe you’re well-versed in the world of sales enablement. That’s fine! We all take different paths in our journeys.

Whatever stage you’re in on your personal quest towards sales enablement enlightenment, if you haven’t decided to take the full plunge you should really consider the benefits of a sales enablement platform. For instance, organizations that have implemented a sales enablement solution have seen a 350% increase in content usage, 275% boost in conversions, and 65% more revenue generated by new reps.

Check Your Readiness for Sales Enablement>>

Do those sound like good things to you? If they don’t then I fear you have a tenuous grasp on a) basic business concepts, b) the English language or, c) both. In all seriousness, those statistics are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of a sales enablement platform. Organizations can be radically transformed through a solution by improving Sales & Marketing alignment, providing insights into content’s effectiveness, making content more accessible, and much more.

While a sales enablement platform can do all that, it is still a serious investment that requires time and dedication. The decision to purchase a solution is not one that should be made lightly. How do I know my organization is ready for a sales enablement platform then? I hear you asking, your disconcertment growing louder and louder. Fear not, brave reader, for we have designed the perfect checklist for you.

Our Sales Enablement Readiness Checklist is crafted to provide you an honest assessment of where your organization stands and its… well, its readiness for sale enablement. The checklist shouldn’t take you too long to complete, but you should consider each question thoughtfully. Some questions might require you to pop over to your colleague’s desk and pick their brain for a minute. But by the end of the checklist you should have a better understanding of not only whether your organization is ready for a sales enablement solution, but also the possibilities of a platform. So, click the link below and be whisked away to check your sales enablement readiness!

To check your readiness, visit:

When, why and how often to use NPS

When, why and how often to use NPS
By: Travis Kaufman

The NPS or Net Promoter Score survey is a method of measuring your customers’ overall satisfaction with your company’s product or service and a proxy for brand loyalty. The survey itself is simple. Customers are asked one single question, “On a scale of 0–10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or colleague?” Based on their rating, the customers are classified into one of three categories; Detractors, Passives and Promoters.

In-App Delivery of NPS Survey

Promoters answered 9 or 10 and are the repeat buyers and evangelists who recommend your products and services. Passives give a score of 7 or8. They probably wouldn’t spread any negative word of mouth, but also aren’t enthusiastic enough to promote. The Detractors answered a score lower to or equal to 6. They most likely won’t purchase again from your company and could potentially damage your reputation through negative word of mouth.

When should you send users an NPS survey?

Since NPS is a measure of overall satisfaction, it is best sent after the customer has achieved a meaningful milestone with your product. Ideally after their first “aha” moment in your product. Many B2B companies send NPS just after the customer has completed the on-boarding process. Sending before that won’t give you any meaningful feedback as they haven’t really been exposed to your product or service.

How often should you send an NPS survey?

This is one of those “it depends” types scenarios. Some advocate for no mare than every 6 months, some recommend quarterly. The right answer comes down to how frequently do you introduce new products or services that will truly impact a customers perception and what is the time it takes for those customers to realize value from those products? To provide your customers with the best experience and you with the most actionable feedback, we recommend sending NPS surveys on a user by user basis as a result of them using your product. This is in contrast to a more static approach where you send an NPS on a fixed cadence such as quarterly, or semi-annually to all customers.

What do I do with NPS?

NPS is a signal and should be measured over-time. The fact that it’s a high level company indication, the score alone should be used as a flag to raise triggering further investigation. The more important learnings come the qualitative feedback your customers provide as well as speaking directly with a sample of customers from the promoter and detractor groups. For organizations that serve multiple customer segments and/or have multiple user personas, it’s important to analyze and understand how each of those groups respond.

NPS Trend Analysis by Persona
NPS is but one of many in-app engagement tools available within the Aptrinsic product experience platform. Start analyzing your NPS scores today with a free trial of Aptrinsic.

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Pitch to Win: How to Get Funding (or Approval) to Build Your Great Idea

Pitch to Win: How to Get Funding (or Approval) to Build Your Great Idea

By Diane Pierson, Pragmatic Instructor

Pitching investors requires more than a great idea. Whether you want seed funding for your startup or budget allocation inside a large corporation, you’ll need to go beyond the technology. Each scenario has unique risks and rewards, but solid preparation will put you on the winning track.

Where to Begin?

First, understand what you’re getting into. Seed and Series A funding thresholds are not what they were a decade or two ago. If you want to fund a startup, you not only need a great idea, but also a proven track record of revenue—at least enough to sustain the founders.

Inside a large corporation there are no hard-and-fast rules to what your CEO will find attractive. In my experience at mature $1 billion organizations, nothing less than a $50 million top-line revenue opportunity would raise an eyebrow at the executive level. Inside any established company a reasonable (although, full disclosure, unsubstantiated) rule of thumb would be anything that could bring in an additional 5 percent top-line revenue growth within three years.

That said, the appetite for funding changes over time and vertical to vertical. So, do some research into your specific area of opportunity and determine exactly what you’ll need to achieve before gaining the interest of investors or your execs. The best way to find out? Ask the people who hold the money.

Tip #1: Research the funding thresholds you’re dealing with – know if your idea is big enough to get investors interested.

Tell Your Story

Once you know what it will take to get their interest, get them excited about the opportunity. Even executives and investors born in the tech world or working in a specific vertical don’t know everything about everything, not to mention those in finance, legal and other cash-wielding positions. Be prepared to describe the problem you solve in plain language, and explain what it means to the market. Focus on the what and not the how to spark interest.

With external investors, introduce yourself and help them understand what makes you qualified to grow this idea. Tell them about yourself and your credentials, how you came up with the idea and how you plan to take it to market. Startup investors also want to know whether you have plans beyond the one product idea. Can you deliver not just a product, but a business?

Tip #2: Create a plain-language narrative that focuses on the problem you solve, not the technology that you’ll build.

If you’re pitching an idea internally, you need to spend more time emphasizing how the idea helps the organization move toward its strategic goals. They know you; now you have to prove your knowledge of your company and how it intends to grow.

Highlight the Overriding Benefit

What is it about your idea that makes it stand out? Why would an investor put money into this opportunity versus another? It’s critical that your idea offer some unique benefit to the market—and therefore the investor. Is it an exclusive solution to a problem (rare), or does it solve a problem in an entirely different way?

Tip #3: Be specific about how you crush the possible competition, or exactly why your idea is unique. These differences have to be ones that the market is willing to pay you to solve.

How will you crush the existing competition? Netflix crushed existing behemoth Blockbuster by delivering the same product—games, movies and old TV shows on DVDs—through a different channel (mail delivery versus in-store rental), and by offering subscription rather than by-the-day pricing.

Do market research and spend time to make sure you’ve solved a problem the market is willing to pay you to solve. “Cool” doesn’t bring out wallets.

Find an Advocate

Whether you pitch internally or externally, a powerful, knowledgeable advocate is vital. If you’re pitching a startup to angel or seed investors, find an insider willing to vet your pitch. When I started a small consumer products business I reached out to a former boss who’d been a COO responsible for creating the business case for rounds of funding within multiple startups. His critique of my first effort was painful to hear, but invaluable. He also put me in touch with the right investors for the product I was building and continued to help with advice and connections.

Internally, seek advice from someone who is involved in making budget decisions—finance is a great place to start. Or get your chief counsel to dig into your proposal before you pitch it to other company executives. And of course, you want your department on board.

Tip #4: Get internal advocates and decision-makers on board ahead of time.

When I was the vice president of product and marketing at a smaller company, a young product marketing manager came up with an idea that would make it easier for our transactional customers to buy from us. Essentially, it was a change in the buying workflow.

But he didn’t just come to me with his idea. First, he went to people he knew needed to be involved in the actual production of the product.

He started with the head of customer service and asked, “Could you do this?” The customer service director said, “We can’t do what you ask, but if IT can build a plug-in to make our customer information more secure, we can do this other thing to create an easier path for our transactional customers to buy from us.” They sat down and figured that out beforehand. Then they went to IT and got a commitment on what it would take to build. They worked with finance to put the numbers together. They also got legal’s blessing on the security level.

By the time they invited me and our CFO to talk about their proposal, the legwork was done and we all agreed that it made sense. And when we took it to the CEO, she also bought into the idea.

The product marketing manager and head of customer service did a great job advocating for their idea. They created a path to the revenue. They understood the obstacles, they got finance involved with the costs, and they showed us the benefits. It just couldn’t have been any easier. They were able to demonstrate that within five years their idea would generate $5 million in revenue, which made sense to the company and aligned with its goals.

Make the Ask

Ask for the money, and show them how you will use it. If you’re looking for later funding rounds for a startup, you will likely work with an accelerator program or private equity or legal team. Be specific about what you’re asking for, how you’ll use it and how you’ll measure success.

While people argue that a formal presentation isn’t necessary, I disagree. The 10-slide deck—no longer—is a classic benchmark that works. An added bonus: creating a succinct presentation that gets their attention requires you to focus. And while internal stakeholders may already know who you are, if you share a specific, well-crafted PowerPoint, it won’t fail to make a good impression.

Tip 5: Ask for the money, show how you’ll spend it and what success looks like.

Regardless of whether your pitch is internal or external, be excited, be passionate and be clear. Then back up your enthusiasm with numbers and a solid plan. Never let your exuberance get in the way of a clear-eyed assessment of risks, costs and competition. You need to be a hard-headed business person and an evangelical advocate. Tell your story to get them hooked, then pitch the data to get them to commit.

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Why tech sales cycles take so long

By: Michele Buckley, research director at Gartner

Many technology service providers tell me they’re experiencing “long sales cycles.” But how long is long?

A recent Gartner study of 506 technology buyers indicated that buying teams spend 16.3 months on average to complete a new IT purchase. You might find this fact surprising. Interestingly, buyers find this surprising as well. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their last technology purchase, from initial idea to contract signing, took longer than they expected it would.

Technology service providers, on the other hand, report an average sales cycle of 7.4 months for IT purchases – which suggests that they’re only participating in less than half of the buying cycle.

Consistent with this finding, B2B customers in general have completed 57 percent of the purchase process before they interact with a supplier. This means they already have preconceived ideas about what products and features they want to buy and how much they’re willing to pay.

In this environment, technology service providers must deliver a purchase experience that transcends product features and benefits to win sales and retain business, or risk becoming irrelevant.

What are the buyers doing with all this time?

Buyers spend a lot of time developing a common point of view and driving consensus across a diverse team of IT and business participants – buying teams typically comprise of 14 individuals on average. Stakeholders can reside within any function at any level of authority across multiple locations. They bring competing priorities, new perspectives and different criteria for purchasing to a buying decision.

Buying teams also perform extensive research across a wide spectrum of sources: colleagues, partners, analysts, external peers and online information from vendors and independent parties. As a result, sales and marketing have a very small time window to influence buyers.

Recent Gartner research shows that almost all buying teams revise the project’s business case repeatedly in their buying process, which they may or may not inform service provider about. Repeating tasks delays the buying process further.

Business cases are most likely revised repeatedly because of unacceptable cost and risk, the two most frequent objections internally to purchase decisions. These are also the two most time consuming objections to resolve, taking two to three months on average to do so.

So what can you do to increase your sales effectiveness given today’s buying behaviour?

Avoid using outdated sales expectations and customer communicated intentions to estimate when a deal will close. Instead, evaluate the length of a sales cycle using historical internal data, as well as data from independent research.

Lead with business outcome messaging at all stages of the sales cycle. Make sure you articulate what impact your solution will have on the business, beyond a list of features or benefits.

proactively prepares a defence against the common objections of cost and risk and facilitates the many approvals required by stakeholders the salesperson isn’t exposed to.

Focus sales and marketing efforts at the stakeholders that can drive consensus within a large buying team. The Challenger Sales Model provides specific guidance on how to identify the individuals that will truly help move your deal forward and those that won’t.

Use content and sales actions to prevent further delays and help buyers be more efficient. Assist decision making by providing “prescriptive” content and guidance with clear recommendations for all stages in the buying cycle. After all, you have a lot more experience with successful purchases of your solution than your prospects do!

About the author

Michele Buckley is a research director at Gartner in the technology service provider team. She advises clients how to grow their businesses through go-to-market strategic planning, sales and marketing effectiveness, and competitive messaging and positioning.

How to Promote Content After It’s Written

By: Avery Horzewski and Morissa Schwartz

Creating well-produced, well-written, and interesting content is only the first step in promoting a company’s brand and products. To get the most value out of that content, you need a plan for regularly sharing it with your audience and reminding them that it’s there. The “build it and they will come” approach doesn’t usually work for creative work – no matter how great that blog, video, customer story, or web page is.

The most successful businesses keep the conversation going and shine the light on their content by employing several techniques.

Know Your Audience
Your audience makes your content thrive. Therefore, it’s critical that you understand who you’re trying to reach. Who are they? What do/don’t they like? Where do they hang out? Why should they care? How do they like to interact with you? A lot of that information can be gleaned from monitoring what worked and didn’t work previously for both you and your competitors, but it also helps to do some reconnaissance. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to learn about your audience. Two of our favorites include:
  • Ask. Never underestimate how much someone is willing to share what they think of you.
  • Be a lurker. Listen to what people say in online groups and communities, social media, and blogs.
You can use this information, to tailor your launches, promotions, and content towards what will resonate with your audience. People are drawn to content that helps, educates, or informs them. They’re drawn to content that provokes thought. They’re drawn to content that makes them laugh. And if they’re drawn to it, they’ll promote it.
Stoke the Fires
While creating content that grabs your audience is key, building a community that has your audience regularly consuming and sharing your content is a must.
Here are some ways to do that:
  • Get social. Social media, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., allows you to build relationships with your various audiences and generate ongoing interest in the content that you share long after it’s first published.
  • Be creative. Test drive new activities vs. doing the same old thing day in and day out. Try new practices before they’re part of the status quo. Whether it’s using BeLive to bring speakers from different locations to your Facebook page for a live chat or collaborating with a partner company on a first-ever event to showcase your combined products, open your mind to new ways of doing things. Two of our clients took the leap with these examples and increased awareness and engagement with their audiences.
  • Offer incentives. You can keep that interest alive with ongoing incentives that appeal to your target audience while also arousing the interest of new users.
Track Your Success
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. So, setting goals and tracking metrics before, during, and after a content campaign allows you to see what’s working and what isn’t—and then adjust as necessary. But how do you determine your goals and what constitutes success? We could write an entire blog post (or two or three…) on that topic, but here are a few tips:
  • Be specific. If it’s not specific, it’s not measurable. When assessing whether the criteria was met, you should be able to answer yes or no.
  • Make it measurable. How will you measure success? What data will you collect? Which tools will you use?
  • Tie it to a business goal.
  • Keep an eye on your competitors’ successes and failures.
Content promotion differs from company to company based on culture, voice, and corporate guidelines, but what remains constant is a focus on the audience, a commitment to building community, and measurable goals that align with the project. With these elements in place, you’ll have no problem successfully promoting your products and content.
Avery Horzewski helps Aventi clients develop and execute marketing and customer communication strategies. Her projects run the gamut of communication vehicles, from print to Web to social across a wide range of industries. She also regularly speaks about and offers training on social media, and she was a social media program advisor and instructor at San Francisco State’s College of Extended learning, where she taught “Social Media in the Real World” and “Creating Effective Social Media Campaigns.” Contact us today for an introduction.
Morissa Schwartz is the Aventi Marketing Manager. She is a doctoral candidate in literature at Drew University and holds a Masters in communication; she uses this education and her marketing experience to allow for seamless communication throughout Aventi Group. Be sure to stay up to date on our social media and blogs for more tips and helpful resources curated by Morissa and the team.

How to Determine Product-Market Fit using Cohort Retention Analysis

By Travis Kaufman, VP of Growth @ Aptrinsic

A cohort retention analysis is a helpful tool for product teams to understand how many of their users return to their product and after what period of time. In this article we’ll cover four specific questions you can answer using a cohort retention analysis, “has my product achieved product market fit?”, “what is my window of opportunity to deliver an aha moment to my users?”, “how do I discover product growth opportunities” and “how can I increase my user retention?”.

Being able to answer each of these questions is critical to delivering the best customer experience and successful product.

Has my product achieved Product Market Fit?

When your product has achieved product market fit, your user retention will flatten out over time. If the line trends towards zero, users are not realizing value in your offering and not returning back to your product. This trend line down to 0 is also described as a having leaky bucket. No matter how good your customer acquisition is, ultimately you’re in trouble if you cannot deliver value and keep users coming back.

Your ideal user retention graph will look like a smile. This means that over time, you’re giving your users more reason to come back and adopt your product. This can come from introducing new product capabilities that users want and executing specific re-engagement efforts outside of your product to help them realize the value of your product.

What is my window of opportunity to deliver an aha moment?

To determine the window of time you have to deliver an aha moment to your users, you can look to the slope of the user retention curve. Using the example below you can see that we’ve retained 43% of our users after the first week. The steepness of the curve indicates that it’s within this window of time that we loose the most users. So we’ve got less than 7 days to help users find value in our product.

A weekly time frame is a good range for less transactional or business applications. For more consumer apps, you’ll want to measure your cohorts in days.

How do I discover product growth opportunities?

When you have multiple customer segments and/or types of users in your product, you’ll want to review the user retention for each segment as they will have different usage patterns. In the example below, the orange line indicates all users from your Enterprise accounts compared to the green line indicating all other users. The users within Enterprise accounts are retained at a much higher rate and show the increasing engagement over time.

How can I increase my user retention?

The first step to increasing your retention is to understand who are the users with the best retention rate and what are they doing in your product. Using the detailed cohort analysis below, we can see that users who signed up between April 2nd and April 8th have the highest retention over time.

The smile effect in your user retention report is what you strive for. This indicates a thriving customer base that is returning to use your product more and more over time.

For all users within this cohort I want to know three things; what features are they using, do they have common characteristics (demo/firmographic) and what was their signup source. With these three characteristics you can gain a complete picture of your ideal user profile & their motivation for using your product.

Armed with this information, you now can introduce personalized product experiences to guide all users to adopt the “aha” moments within your product.

Cohort analysis is one of many product analytics tools available within the Aptrinsic product experience platform. Start analyzing your product experience today with a free trial of Aptrinsic.

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The Road Not Taken: Choose the Right Agile Marketing Approach

By Andrea Fryrear, president and lead trainer for the agile marketing consultancy AgileSherpas,

Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” is a brilliant cautionary tale about decision-making. The traveler must choose one of two paths that “diverged in a yellow wood,” looking down each as far as possible before finally choosing “the one less traveled by.” The speaker believes this choice makes a major difference in how his future unfolds, since it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have the opportunity to take the other route.

Marketers who hope to change their broken processes face a similar choice.

Agile marketing is inching toward the mainstream, enticing more and more teams to take their first tentative steps on this exciting path. And very early in their journey, marketers encounter a fork in the road. Will they take an iterative approach to agile, as embodied by the scrum methodology, or will they choose a flow-based approach, commonly known as kanban?

It’s not an inconsequential decision, but fortunately we have more data to act on than Frost’s uncertain narrator. Like the paths in the poem, both options are viable. There is no universal right choice when it comes to picking an agile approach. But making an ill-informed decision can still make all the difference, leading to frustration, lost opportunities and possibly even abandonment of agile marketing.

Let’s explore both of these common options, so you can pick the right path the first time and look back on the start of your agile journey with pride, not regret.

An Overview of the Scrum Path
Since the early days of the agile software movement, scrum has enjoyed a high degree of popularity. Recent surveys show that about 58 percent of agile software and IT teams use it, making it by far the most common agile approach.

The appeal is easy to understand. Scrum centers on short iterations, or sprints, during which an agile team commits to finishing a set amount of work from their backlog. Once they make that commitment, they’re supposed to be allowed to focus on those tasks to the exclusion of all other work.

During the sprint, the team meets every day in a 15-minute daily standup to talk about their progress and discuss removing any roadblocks in their way. By the time the sprint is over, the team should have something suitable for release to their audience or customers.

They demonstrate their completed work to others outside the group during a sprint review meeting and then get together as a team one final time during a retrospective meeting to talk about their process and how it might be improved. Then the process starts over with a new sprint.

Scrum methodology assumes a particular kind of team exists. The five to nine team members should be cross- functional, meaning most of them could pick up any task from the backlog and start working on it. The team should also be fairly autonomous and self-organizing.

To help ensure the scrum team is doing the right work during each sprint, a new role known as the product owner
is created. This person is the liaison between the team and the business, relaying priorities and strategies from above while protecting the team from unneeded distractions. A second role unique to scrum is the scrum master, who helps the team follow scrum’s recommendations and improve their process steadily over time.

As you can see, scrum is very prescriptive. For most teams, it represents a change to nearly everything about how they function. Sometimes that’s good, other times it’s not.

Scrum for Marketing
Teams who use scrum routinely report massive improvements in productivity and satisfaction, because they’re regularly finishing projects and getting them out the door instead of getting bogged down by interruptions. Marketing teams are particularly prone to emergency requests and unplanned work, so sprints can help us break out of that cycle.

However, the strict timeboxes can also create friction for marketers. We often have daily recurring tasks that aren’t necessarily part of a bigger plan but must nonetheless get done. Social media, for example, requires constant attention. How do we fit these things into a sprint?

Then there’s the problem of roles. Marketers are, for the most part, not building a product. This makes the product
owner role seem out of place. We can give it a different name—
marketing owner is what I typically suggest—but it can still be a bit out of sync with how marketers are accustomed to working.

The product owner usually acts as a buffer for the agile team, taking in requests, politely turning them down if they don’t align with the team’s goals, protecting the team from interruptions, and so on. But marketing leaders aren’t used to acting like this. They’re far more comfortable saying “yes” to everything and then figuring out how to get it all done. This role is usually the most difficult one for agile marketing teams to take on.

“Marketing leaders say “yes” to everything and then figure out how to get it all done.”

Who Should Use Scrum
If you take even a perfunctory glance at scrum, you can see that it won’t be right for each and every team or organization. But here’s who typically benefits from choosing this agile path:

Relatively small teams. Scrum works best on a smaller scale. If you have a team of five to nine people, or could create several teams of that size that are all cross-functional, then scrum could work well for you. Don’t, however, try using scrum within your existing silos. Having a content scrum team and a design scrum team and a social-media scrum team that all try to pass work back and forth will not get you the benefits you’re after and may even create more problems.

Cross-functional marketers. You’ll have the most success if you already have people who can do different kinds of work with confidence. Just as handoffs among different teams can create issues, the need to pass work through several different people on the team is likely to introduce stress into your sprints rather than increase productivity.

Teams who need protection. If your teams are constantly derailed by last-minute demands or other interruptions from outside of marketing, the protection of a sprint may help them. Being able to put a new request into the backlog for an upcoming iteration is a nice way of saying “no” while still providing good customer service to the person making the request. Of course, this does require a strong marketing owner who’s committed to being a buffer for the team.

Teams who can embrace change. Applying scrum isn’t an overnight project. It requires serious changes to how the team plans, how they interact with one another and how they think about their work. If your team is ready for something new, they may wholeheartedly embrace scrum. If they’re already overworked and overwhelmed, they may balk at such a big change.

Kanban: The Road Less Traveled
On the continuum of agile approaches, scrum and kanban are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Scrum is highly prescriptive, while kanban is supremely adaptive. Whereas scrum asks a team to follow its practices precisely, kanban is designed to be applied to your current way of working.

In other words, you don’t have to change anything about the way you do things now to adopt kanban. Sounds nice, right? The tradeoff is that kanban’s lack of structure requires agile marketing teams to do more critical thinking about their process (and its shortcomings). Here’s how it works.

First, sit down and sketch out your workflow, meaning what happens to a piece of work from the time it’s requested to the time you deliver it. This is honesty time. Your workflow should reflect what really happens, not the pretty imaginary picture of what you wish would happen. Then you turn that sketch into a real kanban board, which you’ve probably encountered thanks to the wild popularity of tools like Trello.

This board will be the lifeblood of your kanban team, so take a couple of hours to make sure it’s as accurate as possible.

Once you have a board, you need to fill it with work. Since kanban works within your current system, you can go ahead and put whatever you’re working on now in the appropriate column. So if you have a blog post planned but not started, it belongs in the defined column. A new email campaign that the team is actively creating would be in progress.

This is the simplest version of kanban, and just visualizing your work like this often reveals startling new information about where things are getting stuck and why that’s happening. But we can get even more benefit by adding in two more components of kanban: work item types and work in progress (WIP) limits.

Work item types are essentially categories of work. You can think of them like buckets that help you quickly sort projects and guide the team on how to handle things. Some common work item types are based on the level of urgency associated with a project, for instance:

Expedite: An urgent request that requires immediate attention
Fixed delivery date: Deadline-driven work, such as a webinar or in-person event that can’t be delayed
Standard: Regular work that needs to get done but doesn’t have a specific due date
Intangible: Nice-to-have work that will benefit the team or organization
After we know what kind of work we’re dealing with, we need to put some boundaries around how much work the team can handle. This is where WIP limits come in. WIP limits are applied to each column of the workflow, and they force the team to complete what they’re currently working on before they can start something new.

In this example, we have a WIP limit of five on our in progress column and it’s currently at that limit. That means we can’t start on a sixth project until we finish one and move it into the done column.

As you can see, all of these components can be applied to your existing workload without making any changes to how your team gets things done. Then, as you use kanban you can find opportunities for enhancement, unlocking a cycle of continuous improvement that delivers better results and more satisfied team members. Kanban teams manage this process through regular retrospective meetings, just like scrum teams do, and they also have daily standup meetings.

Who Should Use Kanban
Since it’s designed to improve your workflow rather than change it up front, kanban can work for just about any kind of team. Even teams of one can use its principles to improve their effectiveness.

But there are situations in marketing where kanban is particularly useful.

Teams outside the scrum size range. If your team is particularly small (four or fewer) or particularly large (10 or more), kanban is probably a better fit than scrum. You can certainly make scrum work at those sizes, but the adjustments needed might not be worth the time and effort.

Specialized teams. Scrum teams work best if they’re cross- functional, but kanban doesn’t have that requirement. If your team members have specialized skills, or if you rely on third parties (agencies, freelancers or other departments) to complete your work, scrum sprints may just stress you out. Kanban doesn’t stipulate cross-functionality, but it can reveal gaps in the team’s skills that you’d like to fill.

Teams inside a skeptical organization. Some organizations love agile, and they’re delighted when marketers want to give it a try. Others need proof before they commit, and for those situations kanban is a good option. Since it doesn’t require a lot of up-front change, kanban lets you get up and running quickly so you can deliver results and prove agile works without doing a big scrum launch.

Burned-out teams. It’s far less cumbersome to start using kanban than scrum, so if your team is in desperate need of process improvement but can’t bear the idea of making major changes, kanban is probably a better fit.

Choose Your Path Wisely
As you can imagine, this isn’t everything you need to know about either of these methodologies. Take these suggestions as a starting point, and try to look down each path as far as you can see. Keep reading, keep asking questions, and most importantly keep your team involved in the process.

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer. We’re forging new ground, and whether you choose kanban or scrum, you’re going to be exploring some new territory. Like Frost’s traveler, given “how way leads on to way,” we won’t be at this crossroads again. Choose wisely, and an amazing agile future awaits.

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Things I’d Like to See Go Away – Unrealistic ROI and TCO Calculators

Let’s face it, customers care about Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment (ROI).   These figures are a key part of most business cases that are developed to make a purchase.

And, the calculations are complex.  Actually, that is wrong.  The calculations are not complex, but understanding what to include in the calculations is not always obvious.   To help with this, many vendors create ROI and TCO calculators.

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are incomplete.  And that is why I would like them to go away.

Try for yourself, search for ROI or TCO calculator.  Find one on a vendor site.   Look at the range of inputs.   Most of the ROI versions I see only talk about what the potential returns are–they rarely if ever include any details on the investment.  And those that do, often only look at the cost of their solution–not the added costs to the business (administration, training, etc.).  True, with SaaS, some of these costs (Installation, Configuration, Hardware acquisition) are eliminated or minimized, but only talking returns is not ROI.  Similar things happen with most TCO calculators.

Ask your customer if they can take forward a business case that does not outline the investment.   The answer is  pretty obvious.

What Buyers Can Do To Stop This:

Let’s face it, you could use help building your business case.  But when you see a fake calculator, immediately question the company about some of the costs that you know are part of your story.  Ask them why they don’t include the ability to add those to the calculation.

And highlight for them that delays in your business case delay—potentially forever–decisions.

What Vendors Can Do:

Be more transparent.  If you are providing a calculator for potential returns, call it that.  Don’t call it ROI.   Maybe provide that on your Web site, but offer a more complete ROI modeling tool for sales interactions.    Work with existing customers to understand the business cases they developed and then use that to flesh out the range of inputs for your ROI and TCO tools.  You might also discover some other areas of differentiation.

There are cases where ROI is difficult to determine, but there may be other approaches to the business case–take ownership of making business case easier and provide your customer with tools that are complete and not slanted to you.  That will build trust and accelerate deals.

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