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Finding The Right Product Engagement Metrics with Kate Swanberg | Social Studies Podcast

Social Studies Podcast is a talk show produced by TINT about marketing, social media, and technology through the lens of the industry’s most innovative minds. Hosted by Nathan Zaru (@YES). In this episode we welcome Kate Swanberg, growth marketing manager at Tradeshift. You can find her on twitter at @keswanberg and tweet us with comments and requests @TINT.

Nathan Zaru:             Hello and welcome to another episode of today’s social studies pod cast. Today our guest is Kate Swanberg, growth and product manager and tradeshift.com Kate, welcome to the pod cast.

Kate Swanberg:        Thank you so much Nathan, it’s so good to see you.

Nathan Zaru:             Great to see you. I’ve been looking forward to this podcast for a while.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah, me too. Thank you for the introduction and I think it would be kind of fun just to tell your audience how you and I know each other.

Nathan Zaru:             Oh boy, this is going to be good.

Kate Swanberg:        A few years ago you had hired me when you were working at Koombea which is a web and design development agency and you were looking to bring to me to Columbia to help with marketing and everything’s outsourced there so you were like “yeah, this girl looks good, we’ll bring her to Columbia and we’ll see how it goes” and it ended up being a pretty good [crosstalk 00:00:58] team.

Nathan Zaru:             Experience. Maybe for the people listening it sounds like I’m just shipping girls from Chicago to Columbia all the time. In fact our headquarters was out there and you were part of an exchange or internship program, right?

Kate Swanberg:        It started as an internship program.

Nathan Zaru:             Internship program. And then you were really excited to go to Columbia and I said “heck, come on out.” And here we are now, right.

Kate Swanberg:        Here we are now. We’ve shifted a little bit. You’re now at Tint and as you mentioned I’m at Tradeshift and I do some mentoring for some 500 start ups, like coinpit which is going to be an international money transferring company.

Nathan Zaru:             We’ll probably talk about that a little bit, but the long story short is you are a marketer. We’re marketers together.

Kate Swanberg:        Yes, data driven marketers.

Nathan Zaru:             I remember when you first came out of college. You wanted to do marketing and you had really great skills but I loved the shift and evolution you’ve made into data and growth and product.

Kate Swanberg:        Thanks to you.

Nathan Zaru:             I don’t know. And that’s why you’re here right now. I think you’ll talk to us today about building a product with the right engagement metrics.

Kate Swanberg:        Yes. So important. You know, we’ve worked on products like [inaudible 00:02:08] together and setting up those engagement metrics is just so important early on. Especially when you start driving users to whatever landing pages or whatever product you’re going to do. You need to have everything tracked in order for you to get really good substantial research from your users and see exactly what they’re doing and optimize your product you, you act a little bit of a product manager type of role to make sure that you’re driving users where they need to be and if you have a monetization model and you want to make sure that they get to your billing and settings, that’s really hard part of the funnel.

Nathan Zaru:             Right. I understand the importance of engagement metrics and tracking everything users are doing, by the way we’re taking about saas business typically, correct?

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah, saas, I’ve only done saas.

Nathan Zaru:             Right, only done saas, we’re talking about saas right now.

Before we jump into why this is so important and figuring out what the right engagement metrics are you can you tell us a little bit about the pitfalls of doing this wrong or what you risk if you don’t actually track the right metrics or if you don’t start with metrics first approach. What would happen there?

Kate Swanberg:        Just the other day, and I won’t say who it was with, we were looking at some metrics and we were like, “okay, so how many points of sign ups and how many of them took the main action that we wanted for them to take inside the application?” Because we did not have it set up correctly we did not have those numbers and were like “so what the heck are we doing? We’re spending on this money on user acquisition, we are getting sign ups, we at least know that much, our event is tracked for sign ups, but is that even a quality sign up, is this sign up actually engaging inside of our application?” That’s the biggest over arching one. Of course you run into little problems, your comparing your data perhaps your very fluent in Google analytics and you compare it to that and whatever tools you’re using now, they don’t always add up correctly, and you’re like “okay, what’s the real number?”

So having all that tracked is important for that. Your events that you’re particularly defining in java script codes, they’re not necessarily decided upon development and marketing on the same glossary of terms. Also product features, when you’re releasing new parts of your product and those are events that you want to track you need to make sure you’re on the same exact page as the development team so that way they can update these events inside the product with the new product features so you can actually track it, or else everything could go haywire.

Nathan Zaru:             So you’re saying without setting up engagement metrics properly you’re going to risk not being able to measure anything, not any idea as to what’s working what’s not working. Or furthermore measuring things incorrectly, which probably is even worse because then you might gather insights that are wrong and then act on them accordingly, right?

Kate Swanberg:        100%, that’s the worse thing you can do.

Nathan Zaru:             The worst thing you can do, okay. So let’s talk about proactively making products that have great marketing and taking the right engagement metrics into account. I think this starts with product building, right?

Kate Swanberg:        It does. The perfect formula, in my opinion of course, is having a growth or product type online marketer who really knows the product and having someone in front end, a front end developer who can really execute upon this and get this done. Building a glossary of terms is your first and foremost thing you should be doing …

Nathan Zaru:             Terms of what?

Kate Swanberg:        Terms of events. For example, Tradeshift which I currently work for, and I work on the small business side so our number one feature is invoicing, making sure that you’re tracking how many invoices are sent, how many invoices are received, that would be something like a main feature. Making sure that you have a glossary of these events and it’s not just that, you can track the main event of your application, that’s a great place to start, especially if you’ve never done this before but then getting into really detailed stuff, have they gone into the billing, have they actually checked out your pricing plans if you have them in app or not.

Nathan Zaru:             Let’s say you were working in company that’s product already exists, you don’t have the luxury of building a product from scratch, but the product exists without any kind of metrics or tracking, can you walk us through an example as to how you can, number one figure out what the engagement metrics are, number two implement them.

Kate Swanberg:        Yes. That happens a lot. Just when I was doing consulting and some freelancing on the side I will come in and the product has been around for maybe a year or two and they haven’t been tracking in app activities, at all. Maybe something as far as sign up and a main action. First you have to hunt down the whole product and engineering team and be like “Hey guys, who owns this? Who really has ownership of this and who can execute on events furthermore?” Like I said, it’s usually a front need developer type position so you’re looking for more of that type of role to help execute and you ask your VP of engineering or your product manager if you can squeeze this into your team you give them the value props of why this is so beneficial, like I just gave.

Nathan Zaru:             Don’t engineers like doing metrics and analytics?

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah. The passionate ones do, and they’re like oh, why didn’t we have this before and they’ll get passionate about it. But then there are some who are … So many people focus on … I was reading an article the other day from Andrew Chen about the product lifecycle dying and it’s because people keep focusing on building new features and they keep building new features to get their product right and to increase engagement inside their application but they’re not actually tracking what’s going on inside the application, which is just crazy for you and me. Then they’re just focusing on their actual product road map and just getting back to that.

Engineers, they have things that they need to do. It’s just a matter of someone being like hey, this is important, we need to do it.

Nathan Zaru:             How do we bring marketing and engineering together for products.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah, it’s an internal goal Nathan. Bringing product and marketing together is the most important thing that I think you and I both try to do. When you’re working with engineers they’re always speaking more of a technical language and marketers may not have that type of technical language. It’s about getting on the same page, literally including them in meetings, and working together to get them one, motivated about this and two, determine who is going to be executing upon these events. Ideally it should only take one to two weeks.

Nathan Zaru:             Interesting.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Let’s say we have buy in from the team to get engagement metrics figured out, what tools do you work with to get this kind of thing done, and can you walk through any specific examples of stuff you did perhaps in your consulting in the past to make it happen.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah. The very first one I did was Google analytics and event tracking and that’s okay. If that’s what you’re using and that’s what you’re familiar with go ahead and use it, but it’s not always the most accurate.

Nathan Zaru:             It’s kind of vanilla flavor of analytics, right?

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah, it’s vanilla, very vanilla. If you want to get caramel fudge you can maybe go to Mixpanel, to Keen, or RJmetrics

Nathan Zaru:             RJ2 interesting.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah. As long as you yourself know how to customize these certain dashboards, especially very customization you would want Rjmetrics. But if you want something pretty simple, great UI, you would need to use Mixpanel.com and maybe even use segment to push events out to these multiple different places, because when you’re working with engineering they’re going to want use one third party application and marketing I’m just like hey, I just want a really pretty dashboard that really gives me good key insights. You can use both.

Nathan Zaru:             Let’s say Mixpanel example, I know about Mixpanel, it’s very configurable, everything that you do inside the app with the coding is actually reflected in the dashboard. Who do you make the dashboard for, who are the business users here and who do you optimize for?

Kate Swanberg:        The dashboards you can use, I think more marketing.

Nathan Zaru:             Marketing people, got you.

Kate Swanberg:        I think it is more, not just marketing, not just an online marketer but specifically growth and product marketers who are making those types of decisions and product mangers. If you two can get on the same page with this you are definitely going to be the people who are using this the most and then you maybe reflect these in your OKRs or your big syncs with your teams.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay, what’s an OKR? Let’s make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Kate Swanberg:        Optimize key performance, so it’s more the HR side but you have your own team OKR and you have your company wide OKRs and so you’re all … maybe your whole thing is to increase activation rate by 20%, something like that as a company wide OKR. This is something that could play hugely into that. Mixpanel itself will tell you what your engagement rates are and your day ones, day sevens, day thirties and your retention rates.

Nathan Zaru:             If you’re rolling out a new program what’s better or what’s worse, to not track enough things or to track too many things?

Kate Swanberg:        I like to use the 80, 20 rule for this.

Nathan Zaru:             All right, what’s that?

Kate Swanberg:        The 80, 20 rule is 80% you try to get as much detail as possible with these events. But then again if you’re doing too much at one time it’s overwhelming, unless you really have a full time engineer only on this project, which is usually not the case. He or she is usually working on something else at the same time. And then you leave 20% for iterations and other things that come about, product manager might be like “I need to know this.” And we’re like “okay, well let’s make sure that we implement this event into our configuration” if we’re using Mixpanel for example and let’s see what the results are. The downside of that is you’re starting later with your data so you can’t look back, it’s moving forward so it’s future time. If you want to see what happened two years ago and you never measured that event it’s not going to be there, you have no idea.

Nathan Zaru:             When I think of engagement metrics I often think of the Twitter example. The Twitter example was four or five years ago, something along the lines of once someone followed ten or twenty people then all of the sudden they started logging on more frequently, they started contributing tweets more frequently. For them it was, this is kind of Twitter V1 or V2 a few years ago, but it was all about that central metric of getting users to follow X number of people.

Kate Swanberg:        Yes.

Nathan Zaru:             That’s a B to C consumer application. In the world of saas, what are the big engagement metrics that you often see time and time again.

Kate Swanberg:        Yes. You know it’s funny, even when I’m putting together these events I try to look for blogs on this and there’s nothing. It’s going to tell you “hey, it depends on your industry. Hey, it depends on your company.” Which is great, and it’s true. You’ll look at your number one for [inaudible 00:14:04] it might be, perhaps an embed or something. But there’s a ton of different things that you would want to look for in seeing what’s valuable. Ones for me, you can get as basic as segment IO they say log in, log out and then your number one key thing. For your Twitter example they only did one. When you’re looking at business metrics there’s a lot more detail I would definitely recommend. Maybe because it was two or three years ago they were only looking at one key thing but knowing what other people are doing, especially when you are an early stage start up, and figure out what components of your product are really valuable to your user and keeping on optimizing your marketing and messaging to that user, that’s what’s important.

Nathan Zaru:             Kate, I really like that, knowing your one key thing and optimizing your messaging to your one key user.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Kate, thanks so much for enlightening us today.

Kate Swanberg:        Yeah, absolutely, thank you so much for having me.

Nathan Zaru:             Thanks for being on. Cheers

Kate Swanberg:        Great.