Engagement – Do We Need Updated Language For B2B SaaS?

by Apr 29, 2019Outcomes

Things move on. For a while measuring success was all about page views or user counts. Your bragging rights, and more importantly investor interest, was all about getting people onto your platform to do something, anything. In 2012 Marc Andreessen called for an end to what he called “bullshit metrics” and argued that better numbers to track would be engagement and retention. In this case engagement would mean a particular action a user takes: one that’s specific to each business. Twitter measures engagement by the number of tweets, Yelp by the number of reviews posted, Instagram by the number of photos uploaded.

Notice these are all primarily B2C examples, the B2B aspects of those platforms, which most of us never see, are informed by but not measured by this notion of engagement.

And therein lies a problem. When “engagement” is used in a B2B context we’re in danger of placing too much emphasis on one metric and losing sight of the multi-faceted nature of B2B use cases. There are two issues at least that I see:

  • there’s rarely a ‘golden’ engagement metric for a B2B SaaS vendor or customer: a metric that says “if this is going in the right direction” we’re all good. The attempt to find one risks losing focus on the richness and complexity that needs to be measured and managed to ensure the success of all customers and all of their users;
  • it encourages a focus on engagement as a singular objective when I’d argue that there are at least three areas a B2B SaaS vendor should be thinking about when figuring out how to maximise value for the user and by extension their customer.

Engagement vs Outcomes, Resolution & Feedback

A user of a SaaS solution isn’t thinking about how they engage. They are thinking of at least two and often three specific activities all of which a vendor wants to encourage and enable. These are:

  • achieving specific business outcomes;
  • resolving issues & questions;
  • providing feedback & satisfaction insights.

Achieving Specific Business Outcomes

Your users need to know how to find and log-in to your platform (not necessarily a trivial exercise if you are rolling out to 10,000’s of users). They need to know how to make their way to and correctly use the features (or use cases) you provide that are relevant to them and their role. Both of these are critical steps (and might be termed engagement) but neither is sufficient to maximise their long term value. The most important results for your customers are realised when they are able to unlock the full value from the business outcomes you are enabling them to achieve. It goes without saying that ideally you have the KPIs to measure all of this.

In the aggregate these KPIs , in particular the business value realised, are the key objectives of your stakeholders and how you persuade them to renew, advocate for you and to expand.

Resolving Issues and Questions

Not matter how effective your customer success team, training or user experience, your users will encounter problems and have questions. Planning to capture and address these just-in-time, ideally in-app, is a consideration every SaaS company should have. An off-platform approach such as a service desk offers today’s typical alternative but the best experience you can provide your users is one that supports them through to resolution at the moment of need and in the context of that need. The only way to truly provide this is in-app support that ultimately, if required, engages a human in the process of resolution.

In the aggregate this information captured here points to areas your customer success, product and implementation teams can use to better design, build, deliver and fine-tune the use of your platform. It also gives clues to the next area: user satisfaction.

Providing Feedback & Satisfaction Insights

Rarely if ever does a B2B company canvas end users as part of an NPS survey (itself a far from perfect measure). Often we ask ‘how satisfied were you’ questions on a 1-10 scale because that’s how we’ve always done it. These questions are almost always asynchronous and backward looking.

Consider the absurdity of asking, once every 6 months, 2 or 3 stakeholders at a company with 10,000 users of your product whether or not they are willing to recommend your product to their peers and thinking that’s a reliable measure of satisfaction with your product at that customer. Not to say NPS does not have its uses: if it’s asked at or shortly after the delivery of service and captures a response from a broad part of the population then it’s a useful measure. This is typically how it’s used in B2C environments but less so in B2B.

Users need to be able to provide their feedback to you at the time of both frustration and delight. If you want to measure true satisfaction with your product then you need an in-app tool to prompt for and collect satisfaction data and feedback at the optimal moment (for example as a user completes an outcome generating set of steps).

In the aggregate this information will help identify areas for further development, be a source of ideas for product innovation and provide a highly reliable measure of user satisfaction which again, aggregated, is critical information at the key stakeholder level..

So yes, it’s time to move on from thinking about how we drive engagement to planning our customer success strategy around enabling outcomes, issue resolution and capturing feedback & satisfaction insights.

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