Scenario — You’re an up-and-coming ecommerce/SaaS startup. You’ve got your site up, you’ve A/B tested your message, and you’ve got your SEO and social ad buy. You’ve got your email drip campaign and reminders. You also have basic BI reporting telling you channel traffic and conversions. Traffic is decent, and revenue is growing. It’s likely that you are in the initial growth phase, you’re flying on skates and business is booming. You think you’ve found your voice; you’re expanding; you’re reinvesting for more growth; you’re going big on marketing… things seem to be going great for a while.
Then, all of a sudden, traffic slows down. Ad buys are not as effective as they used to be. Promotions still bring a spike but they are temporary and short-lived. Overall growth can’t seem to get over the hump and LTV is in decline, which means it would take twice as long to be profitable. Why? There could be many reasons, but a likely reason is that inevitably, the same sales and marketing engine that has worked in the past have started to slow down over time, explained by famous growth hacker turned VC Andrew Chen in his post “Law of shitty clickthroughs”.
Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty clickthrough rates. - Andrew Chen
We’ve all heard the term “crossing the chasm”: all successful technology products eventually have to cross the chasm; to leap from early adopters to mainstream consumers. Finding product/market fit is hard, and making this leap is not trivial.
Whether you’ve started from scratch with a novel idea and hustled your way to what it is today, or you had a successful transition of your offline business to online — you’ve taken your first beachhead and you’ve secured your first batch of loyal customers and early adopters. To get to the next level, you’ve got to look closer at optimizing internal operations as well as opportunities to expand. It’s more important than ever now to have all the information you need to make the right decision, and make more winning bets than losing ones. Now you’ve got to think deeper, exercise data muscles you’ve never thought to use before. You need to know who your customers are, when are they likely to purchase, and what are they going to buy. In other words, going from knowing “what happened” to “why it happened” and “what will happen”, or in short, predictive analytics.
This is where Data Science and Machine Learning come into play.
But wait a minute you say, you have already looked into this but couldn’t find good out-of-the-box solutions on the market… or maybe you tried to hire a data scientist but found out it’s hard to find the right combination of talent/cost/skills? Or maybe you think the metrics you have and your decision making are good enough, because they’ve gotten you this far, right?
This is what I’d like to call the Data Science Chasm — the gap between web analytics/BI reporting to predictive analytics. It’s like going from Google Analytics to Google Deepmind (of AlphaGo).
The typical choice of Buy vs. Build breaks down because of the inaccessibility of data science today. Due to a shortage of talent, insufficiently defined problem space, lack of intuitive, affordable products, and lopsided labor market towards top tier companies has prevented many startups and SMBs from gaining access to early data science and insights that could make the difference.
To be sure, products like Google Analytics, Optimizely, and Mixpanel have more-or-less filled the gap on web/mobile traffic analytics and BI reporting; but the deeper power of advanced analytics and machine learning — and more generally artificial intelligence — are still well beyond the reach. We want to change that. We believe in the human element of data science. To effectively cross the chasm, you need access to expert advice to outline and explain clearly what steps to take to get there. On the other end, you need a person to interpret and hold accountable the results, as well as design the go-to-market that makes sense for your business.
To get you started, we present here an analytics roadmap to help you navigate exactly what you need to get to the next level. Let’s cross your #DataScienceChasm together.
The hard part of using plug-and-play tools is when things don’t go as planned (eg. a metric spikes or plummets), it requires knowledge and experience to understand why and to get back on track. Business intelligence and reporting can tell you what happened, but to really understand why, you will need to go deeper. Descriptive analytics sits right on the edge of the data science chasm — SaaS tools can solve pieces here and there, but many problems require a seasoned eye. Several useful analyses and techniques include:
- Seasonality and historical trends
- Product purchase cycle
- Promotion and discount effectiveness
- User segmentation and clustering
- Funnel conversion analysis
- Market basket analysis
Large companies will often have many in-house analysts dedicated full-time to the above areas to optimize and accelerate their businesses. At LinkedIn, every product line has extensive user segmentation and purchase funnel optimization. For example, you are likely to see a different subscription product offered when you check out based on your profile. For smaller companies, there are no resources for hiring full-time analysts. The chasm needs be crossed by DSaaS (Data Science-As-a-Service) services that provide analyses and algorithms that deliver immediate results without spending big on R&D and shorten time to insights.
Effectively crossing your chasm into hyper growth is all about knowing where to allocate your resources. What if you knew exactly which users were more likely to purchase your products? What if you knew the upcoming few weeks were going to have a massively outsized effect on your sales this quarter? The higher probability you can have of certain events or outcomes, the higher the chance of surviving another year. Some predictive analytics include:
- User acquisition propensity models
- Repurchase or churn models
- User lifetime value predictions
- Sales forecasting and promotion planning
- User lifetime value (LTV)
Large companies have even more senior data scientists working on these problems. These techniques can result in the defining factor in dominating a market; if you can use data to understand your business and know where to spend your resources, you will be in the top 1% of businesses.
Prescriptive Optimization is the holy grail of data science and machine learning — a fully automated, self-learning, low code deployment of AI connected components that reacts to your business based on real time purchase behavior and action based protocols. AI handles ordering, shipping, pricing, emailing and customer service that delivers optimization to all corners of your business. Some key components you would likely need are:
- Dynamically updating product hierarchy
- Purpose driven product categories based on purchase behavior
- Smart pricing models
- Autonomous AI that updates rules and flows as it learns
In the coming weeks, we will spend more time diving deeper into the above mentioned Data Science topics to give you an in-depth explanation of how those models/analyses applies to your business. Please leave a comment if there’re particular topics of interest you’d like to see!
Wherever you may be in the analytics roadmap, there is always room for learning and improvement. The data science journey is a long one but rocketship growth and ultimately a unicorn business is a reward worth working towards. If there’s anything we can do to help, please drop us a line!
(Tresl is a DSaaS company, focused on making data science accessible with our team of expert data scientists and plug-n-play AI-driven products.)