Product Analytics

The state of product analytics in 2020, and how to move forward

Alana Tees Content & Communications @ Mixpanel

Sophisticated product teams that are able to merge business needs, user feedback and business objectives—all while proving ROI— are a rare find. 

To learn more about how these teams work, we surveyed over 450 product managers, leaders, and UX designers from across the world to build our State of Product Analytics report in partnership with Product School.

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But data, as we know, doesn’t tell the whole story. 

In an effort to contextualize our findings in the era of COVID-19, we also connected with a host of influential product managers that have informed product strategy at fledging startups and established tech players alike.

Here’s what we learned from these passionate product teams, and what the future may hold as they navigate a new world brought on by COVID-19 in the first quarter of 2020.

Product management has gone global and accessible

It’s no secret that San Francisco, New York City, and other major startup hubs tend to steal the spotlight. They host the world’s largest companies and tech startups; as a result, these areas host large pools of sophisticated product talent. But contrary to popular belief, these major tech hubs hold no monopoly on talent that moves the needle forward.

In fact, WillowTree, a Mixpanel partner, has looked outside established tech hubs for talent, taking advantage of low cost of living and increased quality of life, features that are harder to find in traditional tech hubs. As a result of this concerted effort, the company has its main offices in up-and-coming tech hubs Charlottesville, VA, Durham, NC, and Columbus, OH.

And product management isn’t just going global; it’s also becoming more accessible to cross-functional teams who increasingly need to make decisions with data.

“Everyone is looking to level up their skillset, toolset, and–most importantly–their mindset. We are seeing more and more ‘data champions’ within our clients’ business,” says Alex Cohen of Bottle Rocket. “These are the individuals who are not only finding creative ways to share insights across the organization, but are finding meaningful ways to empower others to discover insights on their own.”

Doubling down on the metrics that matter

Across industries and geographies, some things always stay the same. Regardless of whether you’re in the United States or Europe, it’s likely that the top metrics you care about are Retention, Engagement, and Conversion.

top product metrics by industry - Mixpanel

But not all decisions that move the needle on those focus metrics are backed by data. In fact, most product teams struggle to make many important, data-backed product decisions. This is especially true for metrics that feed into Engagement, a focus metric that varies greatly across industries.

Looking to the future

There’s no doubt about it; in the COVID-era, much has changed—including your users. They’re working from home, likely on their desktop more than ever, and have had to rely on software solutions that need to adapt to a world that is increasingly separated and remote.

Separating out what’s a permanent change from a blip, however, is going to take a data-concerted effort, according to Hope Gurion, a product team and leadership coach at Fearless Product.

“Ultimately, PMs need to decide whether the sudden behavior change is the beginning of a new trend that will have a sustained impact on your business or a temporary change that shouldn’t distract from the fundamental value proposition that will drive long-term adoption and reliance on your products,” she said.

Despite the murkiness, there is no better time than now, according to Blend’s product manager Clement Kao, to start taking a cue from the most sophisticated product teams Mixpanel surveyed—a group that relies on user analytics data to inform every product decision. 

“Now is a fantastic time to double down on instrumentation and quantitative data collection, especially as you continue to learn about the new needs of your customers and end users,” Kao explained to Mixpanel. “That way, as soon as you’ve shipped new functionally to address the new pains that you’ve discovered, you’ll be able to refine and iterate much faster than your competitors can.” 

And according to our findings, that advice is sound. Product teams that leverage user analytics tools have a significant advantage over teams that avoid making a similar investment in their product decision making.

“Given today’s reality, all businesses need to accelerate digital transformation and bet big on Customer Experience to thrive,” explains mParticle CEO Michael Katz. “Mixpanel’s State of Product Analytics report confirms those experiences are only as good as the data used to deliver, measure, and optimize them.”

However, that doesn’t diminish the need for qualitative data.

“Numbers have never told the whole story, there has always been space for qualitative data to inform product decisions,” Carlos González, founder and CEO of Product School, noted to Mixpanel. “While hard data should still be properly analyzed, product teams should also reconcentrate their efforts on gathering qualitative data. The process of re-learning who their users are will be critical for success beyond 2020.”

But while the future remains unpredictable, one truth remains constant: the needs of users are always changing, regardless of whether or not a crisis exists. And while the coronavirus has certainly accelerated the pace of change, it’s an opportunity for product managers to increase the rate of innovation with the help of Mixpanel.

Users still expect, now more than ever, products that serve their needs quickly. Cross-functional product teams, in order to serve those needs, need to be able to pinpoint what drives conversions, engagement, and retention with complete confidence, and to do so, data-backed decisions need to be accessible to all teams, regardless of technical ability.

Click here to get access to the full report.

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