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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The 2018 Eastwood Product Marketing Trend Report

The 2018 Eastwood Product Marketing Trends Report highlights where technology companies are currently focusing their product marketing resources and going-to-market efforts. Product marketing is a large job with many responsibilities and this report will help you understand where technology companies are focusing their product marketing resources.

* See how you compare with your product marketing peers

* Learn how product marketing in your industry compares to others

* Rethink your product marketing priorities

The top five product marketing focus areas include:

1. 71% Positioning and messaging

2. 69% Working with cross functional teams

3. 63% Sales tool development

4. 50% Learn key customer insight

5. 41% Product launches

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Tired of poorly run meetings? Try these 7 practices from PMO blackbelts

If you’re like most managers, you live in meetings most of which are run poorly. No clear agenda. No actions items with due dates. No accountability. Just open discussion with some attendees who really don’t need to be there but may lob “grenades” into the meeting to get attention. Sound familiar? There is a better way. Some of our clients have modeled this exceptionally well in PMO or “program management office” meetings. The PMO model can be applied to any cross-functional project or program from marketing campaigns to product development to executive sessions. Here are seven practices we’ve found ensure great meeting outcomes:

Establish and maintain a clear purpose. People meet for a variety of reasons – to disseminate key information, make decisions, assign resources, solve problems, mitigate risks, brainstorm possibilities, etc. Whatever the reason is for your PMO meeting, we strongly recommend you remind people every single time you meet. That’s right. Every time. This practice prevents newcomers from hijacking or disrupting your meeting, and sets the boundaries for the topics under discussion.

Establish roles and minimal attendees. Most meetings have too many players. We recommend the “RACI” model with “Responsible” player being the one who owns a function or key initiative being covered. “Approver” is usually a director, VP or C-level executive who approves what the Responsible player recommends. The “Contributor” offers necessary input into any action or decision to be made. And “Informed” are the ones who just need to be told the final outcome. We recommend at the most 7-8 players in a meeting.

Move deeper discussion offline: you’ve all experienced meetings where someone brings up a topic that becomes a “rat hole” in which the team attempts to solve a problem as a group.  It might be a very valid topic worthy of deliberation but certainly not by the broader PMO team. The better approach is to interrupt after about 3 minutes (use a 3-minute “hour glass” like timer) and clearly articulate the problem statement or item needing deeper discussion. Call it a “parking lot” item for now. Use RACI to clarify who must participate in that topic, assign a deadline, and have the Responsible person report back no later than the next PMO meeting.

Surface risks to mitigate them: the practices above may feel like a “checkbox” approach to project/program management meeting which may inadvertently discourage quality discussion. Moving discussions offline must not come across as squelching the team’s valid concerns. We recommend the leader go around the table asking each person to speak up on a risk they see that requires a mitigation plan. Ask for their recommendation too.

Use a consistent reporting format: a project/program management type meeting is specifically meant to detect and manage risks so that the team can achieve the committed goals on time, on budget. We recommend a dashboard with red, yellow, or green status indicators for each key tactic. Have measurable criteria to determine these conditions. Items that are yellow or red should require the Responsible person to explain why the item is this color, what the plan is to get the item to green, and what help they are requesting of the team. The best PMO leaders will work ahead of the meeting to find out which item is turning yellow/red and coach that responsible owner to work diligently to manage the risk.

Be a strong, disciplined facilitator: first off, have a leader for the meeting! Ever been in a meeting where there’s an awkward silence as everyone is trying to figure out who is running the meeting? An effective meeting requires both team cooperation and a strong leader. It’s helpful upfront to tell the team you might have to cut discussions short, note the item for “parking lot”, and setup an offline meeting, if needed. The team also needs to support the leader by staying on topic, and being clear on when an item needs discussion offline.

Use a good web-based tool like Wrike or Jira:  the PMO meeting is just part of a broader process such as product development, product launch, marketing campaigns, strategic planning, etc.  Tools like Wrike and Jira offer powerful yet easy to use ways of tracking action items, owners, due dates, and dependencies. They also facilitate team collaboration in between meetings with threaded discussions.

We have many more tips to offer you but these are the top seven tips. What practices have you found that are particularly useful?

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These Four Steps Distinguish Good Win/Loss Programs From Great Ones

Most organizations love the idea of a win/loss program. They imagine a process by which they can better understand their buyers’ evaluation and decision-making approaches, track the effectiveness of their sales and marketing efforts, and uncover useful insights about the competition.

As advertised, leading win/loss programs provide all of that and more. However, their effectiveness and impact vary by organization. A number of variables determine program success. Executive-level ownership and participation, sales leadership endorsement and sales team accountability, and a strong and influential internal program manager make a world of difference.

Assuming all of these things are in place, the most successful programs are the ones that take immediate and measurable action on the insights gained by following these four steps:

Prioritize actions

Win/loss programs yield a lot of great feedback and suggested actions, so much so that it’s nearly impossible and counterproductive to follow each lead. Those who really understand the value of the program also understand the importance of prioritizing the suggested actions. Often, they will do so by asking themselves:

  • Which of these actions is aligned with our corporate goals and objectives?
  • Which of these actions will make the greatest short- and long-term impact?
  • Which of these actions will help to address an issue that has the potential to knock us off course and negatively impact our business?

Set baseline metrics

Once an action has been prioritized, it’s important to set a baseline metric. This metric will be used later to measure the success of the action taken. The questions to ask are:

  • What metric can we use to measure the impact of the action we are about to take?
  • Using that metric, where are we today?

Take action

Now that the action has been identified and a baseline metric has been established, it’s time to move on it. Aside from a baseline metric, successful actions have an owner, a timeline, and accountability. Before taking action, the following questions must be asked:

  • Who is going to own this action?
  • How will this person report on the progress associated with the action?
  • By what date will this action need to take place?
  • On what date and in what forum will the owner report on the completed action?


Now that the action, either in its entirety or in part, has been completed, it’s time to measure once again. Here are the questions to ask:

  • When is the right time to measure again?
  • How does our metric compare today to when we first took action?
  • Besides the action taken, were there other factors that impacted the metric?

This simple approach to taking action and measuring results is the biggest difference between good programs and great programs.

Happy hunting!

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Why the Product Team Must Own Pricing

Author: Mark Stiving, Pragmatic Instructor

Who should own pricing? When I ask students this question, it almost always evokes emotion. Some people respond confidently, while others are more sheepish. And a lot of people think their companies are doing it wrong.

Before we answer this question, it’s important to define just what it means, because there are so many pieces to the pricing puzzle. For example, someone must decide which pricing model to use. SaaS or perpetual license software? Do we price by the seat, the gigabyte, the transaction or something else? Usually, executives decide this, or at least participate in the decision.

Another aspect of pricing is to negotiate discounts. In most companies the sales team does (and should) own this part of pricing.

However, when most people respond to the question, they focus on who is responsible for setting the price, which involves determining the list price and often establishing guidance for discounting. For now, let’s agree with most people. We ask, “Who owns pricing?” But what we really mean is: “Who sets the price?”

Using this definition, the answer is obvious: It must be someone from the product team. These are the people in the company whose job it is to know how much value the product delivers to buyers. And the person setting the price must know value to put in place value-based pricing (VBP).

VBP is the basis for all profit-maximizing pricing strategies. It means we charge based on what buyers are willing to pay, which is a function of the value buyers receive. The product team is uniquely positioned to know that value and determine how much markets are willing to pay.

How do customers decide their willingness to pay? They make their decision using one or both of the following methods: value in use or value in choice.

Value in use is when customers estimate the inherent value they get from buying a product. They will pay some percentage of that value to buy the product. For example, how much would you pay for gas if you’re in the middle of the desert, your gas gauge is on empty and you see a sign that says: “Last gas for 75 miles”? Probably a lot. That is value in use.

Value in choice is when buyers compare your product with an alternative. If they decide they get more value from your product, they will buy it. Imagine a busy intersection with a gas station on each corner, and your gas tank is empty. How much would you pay to buy gas at the most convenient station if all the other stations are charging $2.25? Probably much less than what you would pay in the desert. That is value in choice.

To use VBP, a person must understand the value that the markets and market segments receive from using your products. They must be able to put a dollar value on it. Even more challenging, they must understand value in choice. This means knowing competitors, their prices, how they are different (better and worse) and how much buyers value those differences.

Who inside your company understands this value? The product team. They know the competitive landscape and understand how your buyers make decisions. And because they must understand all these things, they should be responsible for setting prices.

Your finance team should not own pricing. Finance has the desire—but not the knowledge—to set prices based on value. Although they care about margins and understand costs, finance people don’t know the value their products deliver and they don’t know their competitors’ products. If finance sets prices, the only method they can use is cost-plus pricing.

You might argue that sales could set price. After all, great salespeople are value-focused; they try to understand value from each buyer, which aligns with VBP. However, they have two strikes against them. First, salespeople have the incentive to close deals quickly, which often means dropping the price. Second, they don’t see the entire market, only their specific customers. Someone needs to aggregate this information to provide companywide guidance.

An additional reason the product team should set prices: They determine what the next product will look like and which features have highest priority. Whoever makes that decision is who I want to own setting prices.

Why? Because companies should strive to make products that buyers value more. To do that, they must choose the best new features, ones that add more value to their product in the minds of their buyers. If product management owns setting prices, they are in that exact mindset. They get to decide which new capabilities might give them the ability to charge more.

What is different if finance sets prices? Again, the only way finance has to set prices is cost-plus. They take the cost and add a margin. When deciding whether to add a new feature, product management then would only need to determine if buyers are willing to pay more than the cost plus the margin. If the answer is yes, then put the feature in. If the answer is no, omit it.

This would be especially onerous for software companies. The marginal cost of manufacturing any new feature is near zero. This would allow product management to say yes to virtually anything and still meet that rule. The product manager has no incentive to find new high-value features. The company won’t charge for them. Hence, the company ends up with only slightly better products.

If sales sets pricing, product management doesn’t need to understand the value of their product. When deciding which features get priority, they would just rely on sales. In fact, when sales sets pricing, they become the de facto product team. To make it worse, each new capability sales asks for will be based on direct customer requests. It’s a surefire way to ensure that the company only builds incremental innovations.

The right answer is to let product management set the price. Their goal should be to choose the price and product features that maximize the profitability of the product. They can trade off the importance of customer requests against the value of brand-new capabilities. They have control of both important levers, price and product.

If you want to maximize profits, the product team is the only section of your company with the knowledge and incentives to effectively implement VBP. More important, if you want to create more valuable new products, the people who define the next product should also be in charge of setting its price.

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The business of telling stories (and how to do it)

If you’re in the business of marketing or selling products, then you’re also in the business of telling stories.

Investor and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz once said, “You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts the company into motion.”

As marketers and sellers, we put the product story to work every day. We use it to forge connections with prospects. We rely on it explain why our product matters. And we leverage it to grow our share of today’s scarcest resource, attention.

Stories are powerful. Studies have shown the profound impact that stories have on our brain. Stories not only engage us emotionally but also help build trust and even inspire action. Indeed, B2B buyers are nearly 50% more likely to purchase when they see personal value in a product.

When we rewrote our sales deck earlier this year, we did so by putting our story – not our features – first. And the results we saw confirmed the power of storytelling to drive business outcomes.

But, if you’re not sure what it means to tell your product story, this is easier said than done. Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered.

5 steps to telling an effective product story

1. Ditch the list of features and the features matrix.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Prospects don’t care about your product. While your product might be technically impressive, simply calling out your features doesn’t tell prospects why they should pick your product.

We’ve all seen feature matrices like the one below. You find them in product overviews, in sales decks, and even in reports and white papers. Look at it for a minute.

example feature matrix - product story

How does this feature matrix make you feel? Excited to jump into the product? Probably not.

And that’s exactly the point.

A feature matrix shuts down rather than invites conversation. It overwhelms prospects with details about your product without providing any real clues as to the value they might get out of it. And relying on prospects to figure out why your product matters rarely wins you the deal.

2. Put your product story in context.

All great product stories start with context. In order to grab and hold prospects’ attention, you need to establish what’s at stake. You need to show prospects that you intimately understand their situation and know exactly what it will take for them to come out on top.

More than that, naming stakes enables you to answer the question, “Why now?”.  You create urgency by connecting those stakes to the highly positive outcomes prospects will (only) achieve by using your product. Remember, how prospects feel – including the anticipation of professional and personal rewards – impacts how likely they are to purchase.

We use our discovery deck – the deck we present during our first sales call – to establish why our product matters for modern sales and marketing teams. And one of the ways we do that is by pointing out how buyer behavior has changed and the need for sales to get smarter, faster.

changing buyer behavior - product story

Putting our product in context shifts the conversation from why our product is a nice-to-have to why it’s a must-have. And the highly positive outcome we’re pitching? To win in today’s buyer- driven world, businesses need real-time insight into the content that’s fueling the sales funnel.

3. Understand why customers hire your product.

Your customers are your best resource for getting to the heart of your product’s value. That is, what problem do customers solve with your product? And what makes your product the right solution for the job?

One of the tools we use to answer those questions is “Job Stories.” Job Stories focuses on capturing situations, motivations, and outcomes. The result typically looks something like this: When [situation]happens, customers want to do [job or motivation] to accomplish [outcome].

Here’s an example of how Salesflare describes the job that customers hire their product to do. The job story below might read, When sales reps are closing deals, they want customer data at their fingertips, so they have full visibility into the relationship.

salesflare product story job stories

When it comes to selling software, many times the only thing your customers share in common is the job they want to get done. And knowing why customers hire your product provides invaluable insight into what stories and what messages resonate with them.

A good product story weaves together what your product does with why your product matters.

4. Repeat your product story often.

Once you get started telling your product story, it’s often tempting to continually invent shiny new ones for different scenarios. Resist the urge to do so.

Why? Because the secret to good storytelling is consistency.

You need to tell the same story over and over again to actually be heard. The power of repetition is the bedrock of marketing principles like the “Rule of 7” or Thomas Smith’s Successful Advertising.

Take a look at Intercom’s story. Their mission is to make business personal again – and they tell their story in blog posts, on landing pages, at live events, and elsewhere. While they might repackage ideas for different mediums, the core message stays the same.

intercom product story landing page

When a customer purchases your product, they end up buying part of your story. That is, your product becomes part of how they realize the story you’ve just told. And it is to your advantage to tell your story wherever and whenever you can – throughout the funnel and across channels and formats.

5. Measure, learn, and iterate.

While consistency might be key, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon what’s been said before. In fact, the goal should always be to refine your product story and to bring clarity to what’s at stake. But you need to do so with a plan and data in hand.

You can measure the power of your product story in a number of ways. Methods we use include getting user feedback, conducting A/B tests, and measuring content performance. For sales content, we regularly use metrics like time spent per page, average percent viewed, and dropoff rate to keep a pulse on engagement.

DocSend sales content metrics - product story

We’re constantly testing whenever and wherever we can. Just like your product, your product story can and should evolve. Actively optimize how you tell your product story, what words you use, and where you feature what parts of your story.

Remember, a good product story starts and ends with your customers. And they – their preferences, attitudes, and emotions – are absolutely subject to change.

Crafting a good product story is hard

It’s not easy to come up with a product story that’s just right the first time around. In the beginning, it often feels like a shot in the dark – and, sometimes, it is. It takes time to move past the what and how of your product and to really nail why your product matters.

Our best advice? Take the time to get to know your market, your customers, and even your product. And make that learning process part of what it means to tell your story. We’ve seen incredible lifts from sharing our product story, and we rely on feedback – both critical and positive – to continue telling a story that’s meaningful for us and for our prospects.

How have you leveraged storytelling? And what’s worked best for you?

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Boost enterprise sales with leads from product trials

A majority of SaaS companies that I have built products for have brought their products to market with a sales led G2M motion. The sales reps would source new customers through outbound efforts and engaging their professional network. This method was great when we were trying to find product-market fit as the sales reps were close to the customer and we had easy access to interview the customers we engaged with.

However, as our business grew we ran into challenges efficiently scaling our G2M efforts. We did all the right things. We invested more into marketing and reduced the size of the sales team and as a result gained some customer acquisition cost (CAC) efficiencies. Marketings goals were to get more customers speaking with sales reps. Once the deal was done, the customer then got access to our product.

We thought we had it all figured out, but a new problem emerged. There was a growing gap between what customers thought our product could do for them and what it actually did. As a result we now struggled with keeping our top-line ARR as our customer churn rates were too high. We were stuck in the SaaS grind of acquiring customers knowing that we couldn’t serve them well. We beefed up our customer success organization, trying to patch the revenue leak and ended up increasing our operational costs to deliver our product.

Many SaaS companies find themselves in this same situation and I want to share there is hope.

To get out of the SaaS grind, you must address the customer expectation gap by getting customers into your product earlier in the buying cycle. This is achieved by offering either a free trial version of your product, or providing access to your product during a POC period.

To make this transition both effective and efficient from a cost perspective, you need to update your marketing and sales operations to account for leads who are in a trial period by:

  1. Mapping buyer journey to sales process

With your current process, you track a lead’s lifecycle in your marketing automation and CRM systems. Using this setup, you set the following lead statuses along the way; Lead, MQL, SQL, Opportunity, Customer. You now need to incorporate a new state; where the lead is in a trial state within your product, either having started a free trial, or have been provided access to a POC.

The first step is to decide collectively between your marketing, product and sales team how to categorize a user who has signed up for a trial. Should they be considered a lead? When should sales engage? When do they qualify as an opportunity?

Given you are aligning the activities across multiple departments, it’s recommended you start by documenting your buyers journey and how it aligns with your sales process. For each stage in the process, who is responsible for what activities. With this shared understanding you can now paint the process together on how to incorporate trial users into this process.

Find below a simplified example where each stage in the buyer journey is mapped and how the trial users can be incorporated. The goal is to align your teams and provide visibility into conversion rates at each stage to know where to optimize the process.

Example: Buyer Journey mapped to Sales Process

2. Measuring Product Qualified Leads™

Not all trial user are ideal candidates to become customers and as a result you don’t want your sales teams to engage deeply with every user who signs up for a trial account. Just as you had implemented the concept of Marketing Qualified Leads based on the person’s demographics, firmographics and marketing content consumption, you now can create the equivalent based on the features they use in your product.

Your product’s role just got much more important to the sales process.

You now want to define the set of features your customers can use to realize value, also known as the “first mile of product”. When your trial user adopts specific features, you can then categorize them as a Product Qualified Lead™. When trial user reaches the defined threshold of product feature activity, you can then notify your sales team to engage.

3. Creating the Product & Sales Handoff

This step is where your planning meets your execution. Now that your teams are aligned on the process and you’re able to use your product to identify qualified leads, you need to make it easy for your sales teams to know when a trial user is ready to buy.

In your CRM, you need to have the information you sales teams need to properly engage with the lead. In addition to the demographic and firmographic information on the trial users, you will want to provide your sales team with what features they used in your product. Triggered alerts can be sent to lead owners when trial users become product qualified and specific views can be created to help prioritize their engagements.

Armed with this information, your sales team now have a more complete picture of what challenges the prospect is looking to address with your product and can offer the best package to fit their needs. You have also allowed your customer to realize the value of your product first-hand and set value expectations to make them a happy life-long customer.

In this article, we cover the marketing and sales operations changes to incorporate a free-trial or POC within your enterprise sales process. For a complete guide to using your product to accelerate growth, download a free copy of our book Mastering Product Experience.

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5 Growth KPIs Every Product Marketing Manager Should Know

Author: David Daniels, BrainKraft @

How do you measure the impact product marketing has on your business? It’s a common question I get. Most of those questions are in response to pressure by bosses wanting attribution metrics. That is, data to prove that a given marketing effort has an impact on the business in a positive way.

Measuring a direct correlation is possible but it’s far easier to measure in the aggregate. That way you’re reporting on trends rather than incidents. You want to use KPIs that correlate to the business goals for the products you’re supporting. In other words, don’t measure things that don’t matter.

There are 5 basic KPIs I recommend you monitor. Each one brings something to the table to help you figure out what’s working and what’s not. This is a good starter list of KPIs, but it isn’t a complete list by a long shot. The list is limited in scope to what product marketing should focus on.

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) is a high-level KPI. It’s a trending indicator, like your weight, cholesterol, or blood pressure. In this case though, a higher LTV is better. It means that each customer, on average, is spending more money with you. It means your business is getting healthier.

A declining LTV could be the result of competitive pressure or there could be excessive discounting. If all competitors are experiencing declining LTV it could be an indicator of a declining product category.


LTV = Sum (amount each customer spends until they leave) / # of customers that have left



LTV = ($250,000 + $375,000 + $225,000) / 3 = $850,000 / 3 = $283,333

What I like about LTV is it can be easily calculated from past data. Ask your Finance team to pull the data for you from the last few years and see where it’s trending.

Close Rate

The close rate tells you how many qualified leads actually close and become customers. A higher close rate is better. It means there is a higher efficiency in acquiring customers and it’s being done at a lower cost.

Lower close rates could be an indicator of a poor product-market fit or a sales enablement gap.

You need to decide where you begin the measurement of a close rate. Some organizations use a marketing qualified lead (MQL) as the starting point and some use a sales qualified lead (SQL) as a starting point.


To calculate the close rate using SQLs, your formula looks like this…


Close Rate = # deals closed / # SQLs




Close Rate = 320 deals closed / 1,000 SQLs = 32%


Average Cost per Lead (CPL)

The cost per lead is an indicator of lead gen performance. A lower cost per lead is good. A higher cost per lead is not as good. The goal is to generate the best leads at the lowest cost while increasing close rates.

You can calculate CPL based on MQL or SQL. The game for your sales team doesn’t start until there’s an MQL, so that’s the minimum threshold. Take the total cost of marketing programs to get MQLs and divided it by the number of MQLs acquired.


CPL = Money spent to acquire MQLs / # MQLs acquired




CPL = $500,000 / 850 = $588


Average Contract Value (ACV)

The average contract value is the average amount of money per transaction. Think of shopping at a grocery store. There are hundreds of people who go to the grocery store each day. If you take all the sales generated for the day and divided it by the number transactions, you get the average contract value.


ACV = Sum (value of deals closed) / # of deals




ACV = ($150,000 + $200,000 + $175,000) / 3 = $175,000


Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Customer acquisition cost is like CPL only bigger. It adds the cost associated with going from awareness all the way to a close. A higher CAC is generally thought of as bad but that’s not  always true. The CAC can rise as long as the corresponding ACV goes up too.


CAC = Sum (all marketing and sales costs) / # customers acquired


All marketing and sales cost includes salaries, promotional costs, commissions, and any other costs associated with acquiring a customer. If you calculate your CAC on a monthly basis, you can monitor trends. It’s not an exact science because there’s an assumption that near term  marketing efforts turn into near term customers. It’s not perfect but it definitely trends over time.




CAC = Sum ($50,000 marketing cost + $25,000 sales cost) / 5 customers = $15,000


It’s bad when the CAC is greater than the ACV, like the parody of SliceLine on the TV show Silicon Valley. You can’t make money if the cost to deliver pizzas is $10 and cost to buy them is $9.

In the example, we’ve calculated a CAC of $15,000. If the ACV is below $15,000 then you have a business decision to make. It might be a strategic play to accept deals that are under water to optimize for profit later. It might be a bad business model. Or, there could be leaks that need to be plugged.


Putting it All Together

Think of this list of KPIs as basic diagnostics, like when you visit a doctor. The doctor gets measurements from you to evaluate the status of your health. You know from experience the initial collection of data can result in more diagnostic tests to pinpoint an illness.

The reason I’m using this analogy is that I just returned from the doctor’s office. I have a small scratch on my cornea which was diagnosed after a secondary set of diagnostic tests. It occurred to me this is a perfect metaphor for product marketing KPIs.

Using multiple KPIs is important. It allows you to compare how KPIs correlate to each another. One KPI can be great while another KPI is bad.



Assume that you have a Cost per Lead of $300. Your finance team has decided the cost per lead is too high and you need to bring the cost down. Over 6 months your team has dropped the CPL down to $50. High fives are in order because it’s the lowest CPL you’ve ever documented. The CFO is thrilled. But he’s noticed something else.

You now have a Close Rate of 10%, which by any measure is abysmal. It used to be better. In January the close rate was 30% and trending higher. What went wrong?
You can’t diagnose the problem yet, but you have data to analyze. You graph the CPL against the Close Rate from the past 6 months.

Uh-oh. You see where the problem started and can figure out the right treatment to help the sick patient.

We can’t be absolutely certain there is causation to the correlation, but it sure does stink. It requires more investigation but now you have data, not a guess.

If you were tracking CPL against the close rate on a monthly basis, you would have spotted the trend sooner.


There is an endless supply of relevant KPIs. Don’t get lost in analysis paralysis. Pick a handful of KPIs that are meaningful to your business model and to the goals of your organization.