Stop tracking your users, and start creating value

by Michael Bernstein on January 30, 2020

If you work with enough Enterprise-focused software companies, especially companies started by technical product founders, you tend to notice some patterns. When we notice a new one, we try to write it up so that our prospective clients can learn about things from us before they ever even talk to us (and it’s useful for our existing clients too). This is one of those pattern posts.

The Pattern: From Analytics to Tracking

When we move from the strategic to the tactical in Marketing, that’s where things start to become less squishy, and become more results oriented. It’s during this transition that we tend to see this pattern, and it usually starts out with this kind of question:

“How do we know we’re going to be successful with Marketing?”

Since this seems like a pretty simple question on the surface, we try to offer our advice. Sometimes, however, after some time and prodding, it leads to a much darker, more complicated question, which is maybe the question they wanted to ask to begin with:

“Shouldn’t we be tracking people?”

An understandable thought, particularly since we’re always going on about how all Marketing is data driven. The thing to notice about the two questions above is that there is plenty of space in-between “measuring to know if you’re successful” and “going all-in on tracking.” That’s the pattern we’re trying to avoid – focusing on the results instead of making sure your fundamentals are absolutely polished and mastered.

Toward that end, I’ve put together three simple rules to keep in mind whenever you find yourself wondering how you’re going to know you’re successful with marketing (you start making more money), and whether or not you should be tracking people (hint: you shouldn’t).

Rule #1: Don’t Build

The first thing you should definitely not do is build a “simple” user analytics platform from scratch because you don’t want to send your user data somewhere else. Or because you can do it easier and faster than anyone else. Or because you have almost all of the data you need, but not quite. Or really for any other reason.

Maybe if you’re just starting out, and are just trying to answer some basic questions (Is the traffic really coming from Hacker News? Are people downloading our PDF?), focus on traffic source style attribution, and do it the super simple way. Associate some events with your user table and see if resources you’ve created are leading people to you effectively.

The lesson here? Use your analytics sparingly, respect people’s privacy, and do it to answer questions you’ve thought of in advance.

Rule #2: Don’t Go All-In

It’s 2020: things should be different, and they are. End-to-end systems that rely on retargeting, claim to work across devices and clients, and employ other unsavory tactics are increasingly a liability. I mean this both from the point of view of your existing and future users, who don’t want you to ship their data anywhere, and also from the point of view of your business. You never know what impact someone else’s mistake might have on your bottom line.

The reason why it’s not the right idea to go all-in on tracking is that it ignores the bigger question: what are you even tracking them for? What do you expect them to do? How do you expect them to find you? Where will they be coming from?

The lesson here? It’s easy to outsource your conscience, throw money at the problem, and ignore the fundamental ethics we should all be embracing. It’s hard to be thoughtful and produce value. That’s what rule #3 is all about.

Rule #3: Create REAL value

Now that you’ve been reminded (and hopefully convinced) to neither focus on building nor buying a complex and sophisticated user tracking system, you might wonder what the hell you should focus on. Well, it’s right there in the title – creating value.

Instead of focusing on the raw numbers (sometimes called bottom-of-the-funnel vision), take a step back, and try to remind yourself what should be attracting your potential users in the first place. If you can demonstrate that you can connect with and provide value to your prospective and existing customer base, you have a real shot at building a successful business.

So what do we mean? Write a book. A blog series. Make some short videos. Host office hours. Get users together. Do the hard work, and get started now.

As we’ve stated time and time again, Marketing is more important than code in the adoption of software. Anyone can code, build a product, have an idea, and even raise money and bring it to market. It’s those that can successfully build value and communicate that are few and far between.

Remember, we’re addressing a very specific audience

If you’re working on a strictly consumer facing product, or you’ve done everything you can to create real, lasting value for the community that your potential customers come from, and you’re willing to overlook the liabilities stated in Rule #2 – well then, still, please don’t track users. But also, you’re not our core audience.

When you sell highly technical software products and want to or currently sell into the Enterprise, your audience is smaller by nature (and hopefully has much more purchasing power). You already know quite a bit about this user. Do you really need to know their every click?

When you’re focused on conversion metrics, obsessing over micro-copy optimizations, and generally missing the forest for the trees, you’re expending precious energy that you could be spending making sure that you’re clearly communicating the value of your product or your service to your audience. And there’s no shortcuts there. That much we know for sure.