Measure and Report with Meaning – an Interview with Meghan Keaney Anderson

Does your job involve periodic briefings to managers or senior leadership at your department? If yes, then the chances are that this is the busiest time of the year for you. You are probably gathering data to prepare your end of the quarter or annual reports.

Whether it’s about social media performance, marketing campaign results, or financial outcomes, you need to include tangible data and metrics in your reports. 

As part of our reporting series, we interview leaders from major brands and ask them how they manage their reporting processes. This time, we sat down with HubSpot’s VP of Marketing, Meghan Keaney Anderson.

Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of Marketing at Hubspot

We talked with Meghan about specific ways her team approaches data and how they implement it in their reports. Here’s what we found out:

Can you tell us what role data plays in HubSpot? 

“We use data as a decision-making tool. It helps us determine what strategies are working, where the potential risks are, and where to lean in. We use it as an assessment of how we’re doing and a way of evaluating performance. It’s most useful to help us decide on a direction. There are countless cases where we’ve redirected our work, pivoted back on something we thought was the right thing to do because data showed us otherwise. Data helps us figure out what’s important to invest in and when. It’s an invaluable tool because of that.” 

Can you give us a specific example of how you make decisions based on data?

“A great story that has become a legend at HubSpot on using data to make decisions is about the time we took a look at the data from our blog. We analyzed our viewership and tried to figure out where most of our visits and leads are coming from. 

And someone from our team realized that when you look at all our content – 92% of the leads, we get on a given month come from posts that were not created that month. They could have been created a month ago, a year ago, six years ago – mostly old content. And when you go further up the funnel, 76% of the total views come from old content. Now, you could look at that and think – cool, content compounds. 

But, think about it further. What’s fascinating is that we had a situation where from day one in the month, we knew we were going to get 76% of our visits and 90% of our leads from content published before the current month. Yet all of our bloggers were focused on creating new content. 

Why would you put 100% of your team focused on generating 8% of leads and 25% of visits? So we decided to make a shift and shift some of the people on our team to focus on optimizing old content instead of creating new content. 

So they went back and found the posts that were ranking well on search, but weren’t doing so well on converting. They did some optimization there to help them convert better. Afterwards, they went back to find posts that were converting really well, but weren’t performing as good on the search and did some SEO work on them. They ran that experiment for a couple of quarters. What they found at the end was crucial. Just by optimizing old content, we more than doubled our number of monthly leads generated from the posts that we optimized.

“We increased our monthly number of organic search views by an average of 106%.”

That came out of data. That’s probably something we should have thought through or known before. It took the data to draw our attention to it. We realized how crazy it is to not have anyone focus on the past when the past is so valuable to the future.”

This is a great story, and it shows how important it is to utilize older content, and not only concentrate on producing something new every time. Let’s talk about reporting now. Do you follow any specific cadence?

“We have a centralized reporting team at HubSpot that keeps track of the big health metrics. Overarching numbers of organic traffic, leads, things like open rates, things that could be a sign of a failing channel or a failing strategy and we have those reports roll out on a monthly basis. We call it the “pothole prevention deck” because it helps us spot areas that may be headed for a fall before they become a big issue. 

And so we do that at a teamwide basis from a centralized reporting team, and every individual team will keep track of metrics that makes sense for them. Our blogging team, for example, used to look at things on a monthly basis. This was more as a part of a larger narrative for a long-term sense of where we’re headed. The blog is predominantly driven by SEO and organic search. Sometimes changes in strategy for organic search don’t show up for several months in terms of impact. So they look at the numbers monthly, but they are really, really focused on quarterly and annually. This is the direction of the blog.

For the product marketing team, their numbers are tied to a particular launch. So they head into launch with a set of goals they need to achieve. In the week of the launch and the trailing 30 and 90 days. They’ll then report on those. So one of the things we’ve learned over time is that you can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to analytics. 
You have to make your approach to data match to what you’re trying to do. For some people, it makes sense to report monthly or even weekly on progress. Our social media team reports weekly because things move so fast on social. But other teams are more episodic and longer tail, so we’ve evolved to enable teams to report on the cadence for what they are trying to achieve.” 

What would be the metrics you are most interested in? 

Every report is different. They have to fit what you’re trying to achieve for that channel, campaign or initiative. We have an SLA with our sales team for the amount of expected MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) that we’ll generate for them. An expected MRR is an interesting metric. The way we get it is we take the volume of leads and users that we expect to generate and we multiply that by the average sale price. Afterwards, we multiply that by the close rate, and that gives us our expected MRR in a given month. We work with sales to figure out the unit of value. We deliver it to them every month so they are equipped to help businesses reach their revenue goals.”

Do you have one metric that matters? 

We’re going through a transition in the way we think about this. In the past, if you asked me about the ONE metric that matters, I would have said revenue – everything would be tied to revenue. And we’ve been able to do that throughout the business. We were connecting a single tweet to the revenue that it was generating. But here’s the thing – that will only tell you how you’re doing in the short term. 

More and more today, we’re finding that businesses are fueled by customer success and customer happiness. Word of mouth is by far the biggest driver of our business – more than any marketing activity or sales outreach that we can create. It’s a reference from another customer and that customer’s continued growth and wanting to upgrade, and buy new products – that’s the biggest driver of our growth. So if you think about that, then measuring today’s revenue is a nice step, but not the best metric.

The best metric would be to measure customer success. It’s a little harder to get at that. You could measure it at customer retention – how good are you at keeping customers engaged and loyal on your software? But ideally, you’d have a way to measure customer growth. So which customers are doing better as a result of using HubSpot? We’re starting to think about how you can actually measure customer success and the momentum you gain from that. 

We used to measure all of our business in terms of a funnel. You put prospects in at the top, some of them convert into leads or customers, and at the bottom, you have your customers. The problem with this is, it thinks of customers as an output. There isn’t a ton of thought that goes into the life of the customer after they buy. 

Every single study, measure or experience we can point to today shows that it’s actually what happens after the sale that really dictates how successful you will be as a company. It’s that customer’s experience, that customer’s likelihood to talk about you as a preferred product or solution. It’s that customer’s growth and how much more they’re going to need you in the future. 

And that resembles a “flywheel” within HubSpot – the idea is that a customer, at any point, will add to the momentum to your business. Customers buy, then refer, and upgrade. At every moment that they do that, they help your business spin faster. So right now, we’re actually working on a project to try to reinterpret all of our metrics against more of a circular flywheel model instead of funnel economics. 

That might seem like inside baseball. But it kind of shifts how we think about the role that customers play in our growth. It has real implications on the experience that customers have, the products we build, and the choices we make as a business. So that matters.”  

There’s a lot of talk about vanity metrics vs actionable metrics. Which one matters to you more?

You have to know why you are looking at metrics. Looking at views for the sake of views doesn’t do much for you as a business. We can do nothing but churn out videos of puppies and kittens all day long. We would certainly get the views. But it wouldn’t increase the likelihood of buying HubSpot software.

One thing that gets looked past is to be wary of paid amplifiers. We use paid spend to amplify our content across the board, especially on Facebook – which has become a predominantly a paid channel. But what you need to remember is that paid can help you take content ideas and test it at scale, but that content has to be strong. It rises and falls on the strength of that content. 

So make sure you are not just using paid to boost numbers. Use paid in a way that helps you take what is already a strong, performing content, and amplifying that. You should have done some testing of that content and seen some interest and spike of activity around it before adding paid into it. 

Sometimes when you throw a budget on something, it can obscure what you know about that strategy.

We now know what you report on, so let’s find out how you do reporting. What are some of your favourite tools for content reporting?

We use HubSpot for a lot of things we’re working on. We use our software. We’re entirely on Hubspot. Besides, we use Google 360 for some of our website analytics. We use Amplitude, which is a tool to help us connect the dots for our behaviour and our software. That’s been really useful.” 

Do you use specific tactics to make your reports more appealing to everyone? 

To present data and insights, we’re using the reporting functionality within HubSpot to pull graphs and put that into presentations. And we use every reporting tool that has some way of visualizing the data. 

The key here is to know what is the single insight you are trying to show with that chart. And make sure that that chart and surrounding content is doing a good job at drawing attention to that insight. Use charts to create an inflexion point, to show dissonance, and show correlation. Know what you’re trying to explain when creating a visual representation of your data.”

Meghan is responsible for HubSpot’s content strategy, social media, PR, product positioning and product launch strategy.

To learn more about reporting and the best way to visualize your data, read our article: Progress Report: How to Write, Structure and Make it Visually Attractive or visit our Reports page. 

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