Subscription Analytics: The Dream
Whether you’re the next Dollar Shave Club or the latest SaaS success, data-driven decisions are critical to business survival, particularly in eCommerce. That’s why in your dream world, you’ve invested in creating an industry-leading data analytics approach that integrates granular data across your entire end-to-end operation. You are regularly mining actionable insights from that analytics data.
Subscription Analytics: The Ugly Reality
Unfortunately for the typical subscription businesses, that’s not the way it works. The most valuable insights are obscured by analytics platforms that weren’t created with a subscription business model. You try to make sense of your analytics data, but the “insights” you glean aren’t meaningful to your particular business. The worst part, because you lack a detailed understanding of data analytics, the data you think applies is, actually, incomplete and misleading. That can prompt bad business decisions — ones that reduce your overall ROI and promote a false sense of security based on small spikes in meaningless metrics that have minimal impact on your most important business outcomes.
False Security: Your Current Analytics Data has Big Gaps
If you’re a subscription business using Google Analytics or another mainstream analytics tool, the reality is that your data has significant gaps in it. Most of the analytics platforms have some real strengths, but none of them were designed with the subscription model in mind. Because of this, the metrics they produce generally work well for “one sale and done” eCommerce funnels but struggle to meet the data needs of a subscription business model. While the exact data collection and analysis issues differ between platforms, most of the gaps are related to two key subscription data areas:
- Historical customer behavior data that provides a clear picture of individual customer behavior over months and years, particularly when the behavior includes multiple sales made on multiple devices or channels.
- Integrated data about individual consumer behavior across the range of a customer’s lifetime interactions with the business, including billing, returns, fulfillment, and customer service.
Both of these areas are critical for creating an accurate projection of customer lifetime value (CLV or LTV). Without the ability to link accurate CLV metrics to the acquisition costs of a typical customer (CAC) from specific marketing efforts, subscription merchants are flying blind when making vital business decisions (e.g., marketing spend, new program/product launches, etc.)
To briefly illustrate how these analytics gaps occur and why they are such a liability for subscription businesses, let’s focus specifically on the three most relevant data issues. These issues are what industry leader, Google Analytics, creates for a subscription merchant trying to leverage analytics data to make smarter business decisions:
- First, Google Analytics tends to stop tracking at the time of initial conversion, missing subsequent billings, additional one-off sales, etc. This missing data is essential to an accurate picture of customer lifetime value. While Google Analytics has made some beta moves toward tracking CLV over the past few years, its 90-day customer history period is a major limitation. Very few subscription merchants have such a short relationship with their customers, and mistaking 90-day CLV data for actual CLV is a critical error. Because Google Analytics relies heavily on browser cookies, it is limited in its ability to track customer behavior across browsers and devices. This can distort even the short term CLV data it does report, especially for regular customers revisiting the same website on different devices and browsers.
- Second, Google Analytics typically only links audience and customer acquisition data to initial or short term events. In practical terms, this means the data on customer acquisition highlights the channels, campaigns, or ads that immediately lead to an initial sale or subscription, ignoring essential metrics from the subsequent customer relationship: customer service, fulfillment, billing, upsales, etc. All of these factors should be considered when weighing the relative value of the typical customer acquired via a channel or ad against the customer acquisition cost (CAC) for that channel or ad.
- Third, Google Analytics has limited tools for cash flow analysis and forecasting. This is partially because forecasting is not its focus. It’s also because Google Analytics is missing the historical customer behavior data required to forecast key elements of long term subscriber behavior (e.g., CLV and churn).
When combined with a general lack of knowledge about the strengths and shortcomings of Google Analytics by many executives, these critical data gaps can be absolutely crippling to a subscription business’ attempts at data-driven marketing decisions.
Filling Gaps: Rethinking Analytics for Your Subscription Business
If you’re going to make your analytics data meaningful, you need to work in reverse. Instead of letting your metrics be dictated by the defaults on Google Analytics or another “one sale and done” focused platform, you need to ensure that your business objectives and corresponding strategies drive your data measurement. For most subscription businesses, this means a few significant changes:
- First, make sure your analytics platform is set up to focus on customer lifetime value in a holistic, historically accurate way. This means tracking all of the revenue from the customer, not just the first sale.
- Second, be sure your CLV focused analytics is integrated with data from all aspects of the business, including fulfillment, billing, and customer service. This is the only way to get a true quantitative picture of customer value. For most subscription businesses, measuring sales or revenue alone is not enough to determine which customers provide the most value.
- Third, link this integrated historical customer value and behavior data with detailed information on customer acquisition channels. To make informed marketing spend decisions, you need to know both acquisition rates and relative CLV not just for each acquisition channel in general but also for each campaign and ad. The more granularly you can acquire and analyze this linked data, the more efficiently you will be able to acquire and retain your most valuable customers. The ultimate business result is the optimization of marketing spend far beyond anything you have previously experienced.
- Finally, begin making concrete business decisions based on your improved analytics. It can still be an adjustment to switch to data-driven decisions once meaningful data is available for leaders accustomed to receiving, and to no small extent, ignoring poorly organized or incomplete data.
Sublytics Provides Analytics Built Specifically for Subscription Businesses
If you knew what you were doing and had plenty of time on your hands, you could probably cobble together solutions to work around most of the issues that Google Analytics and other platforms pose for subscription-based businesses. Still, the process would be technical and unwieldy, with messy and inaccurate results. That’s why we created Sublytics. It’s designed specifically for the subscription eCommerce model. It is highly customizable, but by default, it contains the analytics insights that most subscription businesses need. Specifically, Sublytics has several characteristics that prevent the data distortion that happens on other analytics platforms:
- Sublytics’ historically accurate CLV metrics provide an integrated picture of lifetime customer interactions with flexible and intuitive filter options that provide clear and actionable insights without leaving big historical data gaps.
- Sublytics’ acquisition analytics associate all relevant marketing details, including channel/source, campaign, individual ad, and other custom parameters back to customer lifetime value metrics. This allows subscription merchants to optimize ROI by prioritizing the most valuable origin points.
- Sublytics has simple API connections to the most popular eCommerce related platforms, including Shopify, ReCharge, Shipstation, etc., as well as custom API functionality for in-house/custom integrations. Most of these integrations allow the importation of past historical customer data, ensuring a more accurate and historically contextualized analytics picture.
- Sublytics offers built-in forecasting that integrates data points to provide more accurate projections to help with long term business planning and immediate cash flow management.
- Perhaps most importantly, Sublytics provides all insights in a simple, intuitive, holistic, and customizable reporting format that allows business leaders to quickly make data-driven decisions rather than slogging through page after page of confusing charts.
These features mean your analytics platform doesn’t have to fail your business anymore. Sublytics fixes your subscription data gaps and provides actionable analytics insights based on integrated and historically contextualized subscription analytics data.
Written by Walter Long
Platinum Partner, Sublytics