SaaS (Software as a Service), and its variants, PaaS (Platform as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), DaaS (Data as a Service or Desktop as a Service), and more… are all on a tear right now. In the classic Buy vs. Build argument, we’ve now got more reasons than ever before to hire out for more and more components of our businesses. Unfortunately, these still nascent services may often lack core analytics capabilities or the ability to provide hooks or tags to insert your own collection capabilities.
Quick Review on Why to Build Your Own Code
There remain some key reasons for continuing to build your own technology, even when there’s some great aaS out there for you. Among them…
- The Value being created is your core differentiator.
- Legal or Regulatory needs necessitating complete assurances of performance. (Or perhaps security.)
- Necessary Customization or performance simply is not accessible in existing marketplace.
- Needed Availability / Quality assurances can’t be assured by others.
- Branding. Consumers may not accept third parties if they become aware of them.
- Using suppliers may benefit suppliers more. Or competitors over time.
- Concerns about piracy via outsourcing.
- Full ownership and ownership of Intellectual Property.
The Analytics Problem
I’m in a bit of a tough spot here as I can only speak generally. As a Consultant, I have the privilege of working across multiple companies and providers. This can sometimes give me insights across a wide scope of businesses. But sometimes it also puts me in a position where it’s inappropriate to share specific examples of where something may be lacking. That being said…
Whatever business you’re in, one of your key marketing challenges is managing the acquisition funnel. Is your digital marketing bringing the right people to your site? Are they transacting? Who else is transacting? That is, are unexpected customer cohorts transacting? Did you learn about this through reverse goal funnel visualization?
When using a third party provider; for eCommerce, booking software, marketing, or whatever, a lot of these products lack the ability to allow integration with your overall analytics platforms. Even if they offer their own analytics, it can be challenging, (to not really possible), to track customers end to end.
Come On. Let’s Have at Least ONE Example
OK. I’ll do one that’s a company that has nothing to do with any of my Clients or even categories I’ve worked with. Consider LinkedIn’s SlideShare product. I like this product a lot and use it frequently. If I put a presentation up there, they give me some analytics about it, but if I’m doing content marketing, I can’t put in a tracking pixel to integrate with other analytics platforms. So let’s say I’m using Google Analytics and want to build a multi-channel attribution model. Sure, I can look at referrers and if I’ve named things well, I can draw some inferences and build custom reports, but if they would just let me put in my own code, (from Google Analytics or wherever), it would make life easier.
Here’s an example of a PowerPoint slide deck I’ve uploaded to SlideShare.
Let’s say, (as a more general example), you’re using a SaaS solution for some kind of Bed & Breakfast booking and ecommerce software. Or SaaS software for activity or events booking and sales. There’s actually two different goal endpoints you might want to track; booking and sales. These aren’t always the same. For example, a sports center may sell blocks of time for sports venues or equipment, but people only book part of that time. There’s a variety of businesses that sell based on subscription models and customers burn down their allotments. (E.g., fitness centers, toddler gyms, and more will be coming with more shared economic models.)
You really need to track both sales and bookings as different goals and the customer paths to those points. But your software doesn’t allow you to do this! Over time, as customers of SaaS products scream, this feature will likely find its way into their roadmaps. But what’s interesting is these SaaS providers often have their own analytics.Typically either poorly done or limited to activity within their own platform. As a Product Manager, I can look at this and easily tell you the effort level to build the external tracking insertion feature into their product would be something like 5% of the effort, (or less), than what they spend building their own analytics solutions. As a marketer, I can tell you not having these things integrated means you’re marketing dollars are not as effective as they could be.
So What Can You Do?
Depending on your business and the skills of your development team, you have to determine if you’re missing key marketing analytics, (which can potentially make or break you), along with other deficits in the SaaS software your considering make it worth your while to build. It pays to check with the provider to see if they have your needs on their roadmap and how well they’ve been executing on their roadmap.
There’s an age old debate among product companies and customers. Customers will say they need feature X and the product company will say, “Well, when we’re sure enough customers really need that and we can make $$ off of it – or we have to do it for competitive or regulatory reasons – we’ll put it in. In the meantime, it’s on the back burner or worse, the ice box. So…
- Anytime you’re using SaaS it’s likely SOMEthing you want is missing. Sometimes you can backfill the feature. Other times, you have to decide if it’s core to your business or not. If it’s going to take you a year to build out what the SaaS provider comes with out of the box and by the time you’re done, they’ll likely have your needed feature, maybe you’re better off waiting. (Rather than saddle yourself with a whole legacy code base you could get for up to 90% less cost.) If a SaaS provider – who works across dozens or hundreds of companies including your competitors – has a great solution that’s only missing this one thing, then you’re probably stuck. It’s not worth it to build. If they’re missing other key features you need and are unlikely to add them soon, then you likely have to build anyway.
- Push hard to your SaaS providers to allow you to put in your own analytics hooks. This happens all the time in digital advertising. (Sometimes to ill effect if there’s so many tracking pixels in an ad call it slows down the user experience, but that’s another story.) If WordPress has 50 different ways to put in a Google Analytics code, and you can do that with so many other platforms, why not your provider’s platform? Ideally, you’d be able to throw events for tracking as well, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Minimally, you want to be able to put tracking on whatever the endpoint page is; an ecommerce confirmation page, (with appropriate transaction data if possible), booking confirmation pages, lead gen endpoints. Whatever. The more customers of such products that push for these features, the more all of us can be more efficient and effective with our marketing.
- If your SaaS provider is doing its own analytics and has any capability to take in referrer info, or promotion codes, or whatever, try to overload your internal links into that provider with codes allowing you to track at least something. For example, if the provider allows for and tracks coupons, but you don’t really use coupons, you can possibly define a zero dollar coupon and pass that along with the link based on your own user types. This might be some work. But minimally, you could at least segment users between paid vs. organic users. This alone can help you make decisions about marketing spend on earned, owned and paid media.
SaaS is still in early stages across many business categories. The big early in providers, such as the SalesForces of the world, have highly sophisticated products and are far along their product execution roadmaps. For many more niche industries that are only just finding their digital footing, and have more solution providers selling them on buy vs. build choices, we’re still at the “beginning of the beginning.” The best you can do if your budget or ability to get internal development talent is lacking is be aware of this issue and push for this tracking feature. It can be as or more important than some functional features. That may seem an extreme thing to say given that generally, one should have a user first attitude. However, without the ability to track just exactly what is being successful, you really can’t tell the effectiveness of other seemingly useful user facing features. In this case, both you and the SaaS provider are really just guessing as to what’s really working.