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Jes Kirkwood on November 15th 2021

Shopify's VP, Growth Morgan Brown reveals how the company's growth team drives results in an exclusive interview.

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Andy Jiang on September 28th 2020

A tracking plan is a document or spreadsheet used across an organization to standardize how it tracks data. Often serving as both a project management tool and a reference document, a tracking plan aligns multiple teams around one strategy for customer data collection.

Essentially, a tracking plan consists of a list of events (i.e., user actions) accompanied by a description for each event. These events are used to map the most important steps of the customer journey, from free trial sign-up to recurring subscription to churn.

This central list of events can grow and change alongside your company. All the while, it will provide a consistent road map for what data is important, where it’s being tracked, and why. In the end, your tracking plan can help you create an airtight process for scaling data collection across a growing company.

What is the role of a tracking plan?

Your tracking plan serves as the single source of truth across your organization for understanding what data you’re tracking, where you’re tracking that data, and why. A tracking plan usually has columns for each of these values, like this:

In this example, the “what” is the events and properties you track, which are logged in the NAME and PROPERTIES columns above. The “where” (logged under LOCATION) is the location and time at which the event is being tracked. Finally, the “why” (logged under WHY) is a short description of the business purpose that justifies tracking the event.

Not all tracking plans look exactly like this. They’re living documents that are built to suit the needs of the businesses they serve. You might use a different naming convention for event names and event properties, you might be more detailed in your “why” entries, or you might need to add new events. And as your business objectives evolve, so will the data you track. For instance, your naming convention might need to change as you add new features to your product.

No matter how it shapes up in the end or how it changes, the core purpose of a tracking plan remains the same: to coordinate your data collection in a central reference. Every team that touches customer data will be able to access and use this central reference, keeping them aligned with your current business objectives.

Meanwhile, every piece of your data infrastructure—including data warehouses like Snowflake, analytics tools like Mixpanel or Google Analytics, product intelligence tools like Amplitude, and much more—will speak the same “data language.” All these tools will be implemented with the tracking plan in mind, so they’ll all focus on the data you outline in your plan. This ensures your data is more consistent across the tech stack.

Over time, an airtight process will emerge for customer data tracking that’s consistent, compliant, and customized to your exact needs. All made possible with one document.

What are the benefits of a tracking plan?

A tracking plan is a collaborative document, taking input from every department that touches customer data. This process of collaboration forces your business to think of analytics as a team sport, where everyone agrees to play within a certain set of guidelines and work together toward a shared goal. Working together this way will help ensure your business utilizes higher-quality data, gains alignment across teams, and establishes a framework for consistent growth.

In the short term, the quality of your data will improve, and your teams will be more efficient, thanks to a codified process for tracking customer data.

  • Your data will be cleaner because every team is using the same process for collecting it.

  • Your data will be compliant with regulations because you’ve documented the what, why, where, and how of your customer data tracking.

  • The whole organization will gain alignment around one clearly documented and easy-to-understand plan for tracking data.

In the long term, a tracking plan becomes a living part of your company’s infrastructure and one of the primary drivers of growth.

  • Tracking plans are living documents that will provide a flexible framework for your customer data that grows and changes alongside your company.

  • For launches and update releases, a tracking plan will help you set metrics-driven goals that can help your teams build a better product.

A tracking plan is a long-term investment into the future of how your business collects data, the benefits of which are both immediate and long-lasting.

What events should I track?

The specific events you decide to track are unique to your business and depend on a lot of factors, like how your product is designed, who your audience is, your overall business goals, and more.

In short, you should track events that provide answers to questions you have about your customers, like who they are, how they behave, and what they want. To identify your questions, you need to decide on what exactly you want to learn—that is, what questions do you have that, if answered, will help your business grow?

Consider the question, “When do people who sign up for a free trial decide to purchase a full subscription?” In this case, you might start by tracking the events “Signed up” and “Subscription started” to hone in on that conversion rate.

Start broad then narrow in on opportunities for improvement. The first question you might ask could be, “What are the key steps to our customer journey?” Once you have your answer, you can move on to “Where is our conversion funnel inefficient?” Then, you can get really specific with questions like, “How does our new subscriber rate change if we change in-product navigation?”

In the early days at Segment, we started by tracking three simple events:

  • Signed up

  • Project data sent

  • Subscription started

These events provided answers to our questions around who was signing up, how many of them were active in our product, and when to make the choice to upgrade. Over the years, our tracking plan has grown and changed with us. You can check out a basic version of our current tracking plan here.

Ready to get started?

Fair warning: Creating a tracking plan is a lot of work, but it’s well worth it in the end. As we’ve outlined here, start by approaching analytics as a learning process. With this approach, your customer data collection will center around finding answers to important questions.

Once you’re in that mindset, you’re ready to start forming your plan. Here are a few resources to get things rolling:

Geoffrey Keating on September 10th 2020

Learn how to power your A/B tests with clean, quality, and hyper-specific customer data.

Kevin Garcia, Lisa Lawson on August 19th 2020

Are you evaluating CDPs or writing an RFP? If so, we know this can be a daunting task. With so many CDPs in the market and so much noise about the problems they solve, it can be hard to know where to start. On top of that, a CDP can be a foundational investment, and implementing the wrong one can waste resources, frustrate teams, and slow progress. 

After helping thousands of companies—including several Fortune 500 enterprises—understand their cross-functional CDP requirements and write an effective RFP, we’ve consolidated our learnings and battle-tested processes into a CDP RFP Guide that uses a simple 4-step process. 

Within each step, we provide frameworks for identifying use cases and requirements, best practices, and templates to help you get started. Here’s how we can help you:

  • Step 1: We help you identify your project goals, success metrics, and the type of CDP that best solves your challenges.

  • Step 2: We help you assemble a cross-functional RFP team and define and prioritize your use cases, and identify the technical requirements and integrations needed. We provide frameworks and common use cases and technical requirements. 

  • Step 3: We help you write your RFP. We provide an RFP Template, pre-populated with best practices and key business and technical questions you should consider having CDP vendors answer.

  • Step 4: We help you select the right CDP vendor by providing a process to review vendor responses, assign scores with your cross-functional team, confirm technical requirements, and select the right CDP for your business. 

You can download the full CDP RFP Guide & Template here. Good luck on your journey to selecting the right CDP for your business.

Geoffrey Keating on August 12th 2020

To do their jobs, marketing, sales, and product teams need information about their customers. And to collect and manage this information, two types of technologies have developed that are easily mistaken for each other: customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and customer data platforms (CDPs).

Despite their similar names, each serves a distinct purpose that has a tangible effect on the bottom line. In fact, they’re both so important that, according to Salesforce, CRMs rank as the most common technology used by high-performing companies to manage their marketing data, while CDPs rank a close second.

They’re both ranked so highly because they’re not mutually exclusive. They serve different purposes and are often used in tandem to provide a consistent, personalized customer experience.

The difference between a CRM and a CDP comes down to this: CRMs help manage customer relationships, while CDPs help manage customer data. 

Of course, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. Let’s get into it.

CRM vs. CDP: what’s the difference?

While both CRMs and CDPs collect customer data, the main difference between them is that CRMs organize and manage customer-facing interactions with your team, while CDPs collect data on customer behavior with your product or service.

CRM data will give you a client’s name, their history of interactions with the sales team, and support tickets they’ve filed (among many other things). CDP data, on the other hand, can tell you each specific step that a customer has taken since engaging with your company, from the channel they found you on to how they behave within your product.

Who CRMs and CDPs are for

Most of the differences between CRMs and CDPs stem from who they’re designed to help and how they help them. The two overall camps are customer-facing roles, which are people who interact with customers and prospects, and non-customer facing roles, which are people who impact the customer’s experience with direct interaction.

CRMs are for customer-facing roles

CRMs are mainly designed for customer-facing roles, like salespeople and customer success representatives. According to Capterra’s industry survey in 2015, businesses that use a CRM report that their sales teams use it the most.

Source: Capterra

Sales teams love it because CRMs log interacting data with customers, allowing them to speed up, study, and improve their outreach efforts. They also log things like website form fills, support tickets, and more.

The ultimate goal of a CRM is to help customer-facing employees secure new business and retain existing business by making it easier to manage individual customer relationships. With a running log of interactions, CRMs excel at achieving this goal. Here’s a view of a customer communication log in HubSpot, which is a CRM:

A salesperson can reference this record as they work to develop a relationship with a prospect. Here, we see that Marc from the company IMPACT recently had a baby boy, which the salesperson can then log. Next time they interact with Marc, the salesperson sees this and can reference it without having to remember it on their own.

The customer success team can also use the CRM to quickly gauge how many support tickets a client has submitted and how well those tickets got resolved. This can be used for tailored follow-up communications to keep that customer happy and engaged with the product, which is vital for good retention.

CDPs are for non-customer facing roles

CDPs help non-customer facing roles like marketing, product, and leadership, not just sales.

The goal of a CDP is to manage and understand all customer data to make high-level business decisions. CDPs do this by gathering data from every customer touchpoint – everything from ads to website traffic, to points of transaction, to in-product user behavior – in one place.

This data is then used to produce a single view of the customer through a process called identity resolution. Here’s an illustration of what that can look like in Segment’s Personas product:

Marketing can use this single view of the customer to understand which tactics are effective or to personalize things like drip email campaign messaging. Engineering can get an idea of how users are engaging with the product and prioritize new features over others. Leadership can use this single view to understand the overall cost of acquisition and lifetime value of each customer.

Other teams like sales, using highly personalized account-based selling, can utilize CDPs as well; however, the main focus of the technology is to unify fragmented customer data and make it usable.

How CRMs and CDPs gather and manage data

CRMs and CDPs serve different roles because each solves a different problem businesses face when collecting and using their first-party customer data (i.e., data they own).

CRM data is gathered manually

CRMs are a response to the need for a centralized record of interactions between the customer and the people who represent the business. This central record is something anyone can reference, but it’s mainly used when a customer-facing employee needs to be briefed on the customer they’re going to communicate with.

The data CRMs collect is usually manually gathered, highly specific in its purpose, and hard to automate—for instance, sales notes from your latest demo.

Each salesperson has their own way of taking notes, which is difficult to standardize. Also, the data collected on this demo is solely focused on sealing the deal. These two facts together make CRM data hard to export or use elsewhere.

This data is meant to be used within the CRM only, which means the data you put into a CRM is controlled by the CRM. To get that data out, you’ll have to jump through some hoops.

CDP data is gathered automatically

On the other hand, CDPs are the answer to the fragmented marketing landscape and the need to understand how, where, and why customers engage with the business.

The data CDPs collect is usually automatically gathered using integrations and code snippets. This means you can gather customer data from mobile devices, laptops, the web, and your own software or app into one place, clean it, and send it to where it needs to go.

An example of this in action might be a new landing page you just launched. Your marketing team plugs in a JavaScript code snippet like analytics.identify and analytics.track, which collects data on who the visitors are and what they do on the page. The CDP combines this data with existing customer data to find matches and create new profiles through identity resolution. By the end, you’ll know who your visitors are, if they’ve interacted with your business before, what they did, and why.

To produce these profiles, CDPs collect customer data from many sources, including CRMs. They filter, clean, and match all that data in order to make it usable in many different tools for many different teams. In other words, the data you collect with a CDP is fully controlled by you.

What CRMs and CDPs are for

Between who they’re built for and how they collect data, CRMs and CDPs end up serving very different but important purposes.

CRMs are for improving the personal interactions you have with your customers. They provide historical data on the relationship between your business and the individual customer in order to inform future interactions with that customer.

This a useful but limited view of the customer because it only takes into account your interactions. Because of this limitation, CRMs are laser-focused on their one job of managing customer relationships.

CDPs are for understanding your customers and their behavior. They consolidate and manage all customer data across all touchpoints to gain a single, unified view of the customer. In aggregate, these “unified views” of many customers will reveal the entire customer journey.

You’ll know, for each customer, if they:

  • Clicked a Facebook ad to reach this landing page.

  • Scheduled a free trial on that landing page.

  • Upgraded the free trial to a paid plan one month later.

With this insight, all teams can make better, more data-informed decisions. Marketing knows which ads work, product knows what actions led to an upgrade, engineering knows if a feature breaks and leadership understands customer acquisition costs and lifetime value.

CRM vs. CDP: Which one is right for you?

For most companies, it’s not an either/or decision between CDPs and CRMs.

Use a CRM if you need to manage customer relationships in a more efficient and personalized way. They’re great for teams of all sizes and can prove invaluable in a pinch. Often businesses will start with a CRM and realize that, while it’s an effective tool, it’s simply not enough.

Unlike CDPs, CRMs can’t provide a single, unified view of everything you know about each customer. The data is designed to serve the specific purpose of aiding future interactions with customers.

Use a CDP if you need to better understand who your customers are and how they engage with your business. This provides a broader view of your customers, which you can apply in many different ways—from marketing to product to larger business decisions.

The other technology CDPs are commonly compared to are DMPs. Read our breakdown on how DMPs and CDPs differ here.

If you’d like to get started with a CDP today, sign up for a free Segment account. Or, if you’d like to explore your options, check out our CDP Buyer’s Guide.

Kevin White on August 3rd 2020

There are now 8,000 martech tools available. Which ones should you choose? Our new guide will help you decide which ones are right for your business.

Demand Curve on July 31st 2020

In this recipe, you’ll learn how to identify the moment your users receive maximum value from your product. That’s the best time to prompt them to refer colleagues and friends to your product.

Demand Curve on July 24th 2020

With this recipe, you’ll learn how to revive users who’ve become inactive. Reviving churned users is often the highest-leverage growth strategy your team can implement.

Demand Curve on July 23rd 2020

In this recipe, you’ll learn how to use Segment Personas to create hyper-specific audiences in Facebook and increase advertising efficiency.

Justin Setzer on July 12th 2020

Learn how to design, run, and analyze an A/B test to determine what marketing tools are generating the most ROI.

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