Overthinking, hacking retention, and rallying around metrics | Better Proposals' Adam Hempenstall
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Better Proposals can get obsessed with the numbers just like every other company or individual out there. However, they do focus on a few key metrics to help determine when to worry and when to reel in the anxiety. Trial sign-ups, traffic, churn, new customers... those are the numbers Adam and co. look after. "As long as they aren't disastrous," as Adam puts it, "we're all good."
On today’s episode of Retention Talk, I speak with Adam Hempenstall, Founder & CEO at Better Proposals. We talked about combatting overthinking on big decisions, ingraining experimentation into your culture, and rallying the team around a key set of metrics.
Key points discussed in the episode
These are numbers that are important to us: trial sign-ups are important, traffic is important, churn is important, [the] number of new customers we do a day is important... And as long as those numbers are kind of generally looked after and they're not completely disastrous, we're all good.” – Adam Hempenstall
Combating overthinking on big decisions
There's a lot to focus on when it comes to retention. Trying to focus on everything at once can be a bit of a system overload. Stay on top of churn early in a customer’s journey and everything else will fall into place.
Ingrain experimentation into your culture
Adam talks about how Better Proposals has a culture and framework to experiment at a rapid pace. Don't underestimate the impact that a weekend hackathon can have on your retention.
Rally the team around a key set of metrics
Nothing else matters if you don't measure success. Rally the team around a key set of metrics to make sure you're monitoring the health of your business.
Metrics are incredibly important to track—anything from the health of your business to the movement of customers. There are several categories of product metrics that can provide helpful information about various aspects of your business. While we offer a free comprehensive product that puts all of your subscription reporting in one place, here are the most common product metrics you can track:
Most common product metrics you can track
1. Product acquisition metrics
Product acquisition refers to your company's ability to sell a particular product in the first place. These metrics let you know if your company is on track as far as producing products and preparing them for sale.
2. Product adoption
Designing and releasing a quality product that will make your customers' lives better does not mean they will automatically know it exists or have any interest in purchasing it. Product adoption describes the process your customers will go through from first learning about your product to building interest in it and ultimately making a purchase. This process typically consists of four stages: the awareness, interest, evolution, and conversion phases.
3. Product engagement metrics
Product engagement describes the various ways in which customers can interact with your product. Keeping track of these actions gives you an understanding of how to adjust your actions toward them to affect that behavior. Analyzing the steps your customers are taking over time can help you determine which products customers are sufficiently interested in, and which ones you may need to increase your promotion of or consider discontinuing.
4. Customer satisfaction metrics
Although your company will receive the same profit from a specific purchase regardless of your customer's level of satisfaction, customers who are highly satisfied with their product, customer service, and ordering process are much more likely to become repeat customers than those that are not. This means that tracking customer satisfaction metrics can give you an idea of which customers may be among the most likely to continue to place more orders and increase your revenue over time.
5. Customer/user retention metrics
Retaining as many customers as possible is key when it comes to increasing your overall revenue. Tracking which customers have placed multiple orders, and factors that may be related to their decisions to do so, can help increase your ability to create a customer experience that results in an overall customer retention rate that is as high as possible.
6. Revenue metrics
Tracking and analyzing your revenue is key when it comes to determining how well your business is doing overall. Although your revenue and sales can be broken down into several of the above metrics, studying your overall revenue and comparing it to that of past quarters and years, is one of the most important steps you can take to gain a complete picture of your current business.
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People can get too obsessed with the numbers, but we do have kind of a approach. These are numbers that are important to us to all sign ups are important. Traffic is important. Chone is important. No new customers who do a is important.
Those are kind of the four main things. And as long as those numbers are kind of generally looked after and did not completely disastrous, we're all good. Welcome to Retention Talk. I'm Tulasi and we're talking to the best minds in the world of product and customer success to bring you actionable strategies on reducing churn and boosting retention
This week, we're talking to Adam HAMP installer, who is the CEO of Better Proposals. Today, we talk about how to combat, overthinking on big decisions, how to experiment at a rapid pace and pay close attention to Adam's answer on measuring success.
Let's dove in. Adam, thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate you being on retention, talking, you know, sharing some wisdom around how better proposals thinks about and drives retention. I'd love to give an audience a quick lowdown on who you are, what you do, and essentially what better proposals does know is a better proposals is
a essentia so an online document management service. So it takes the pain out of creating quotes and proposals for service businesses and more so these days, SAS businesses sell into enterprises and that kind of stuff. So it enables you to sort of create really nice, really small brand documents and then send them to your clients or potential
clients, get them to sign off, make payments, deposits, all that kind of wonderful stuff, and just generally creates a really nice workflow around your sales process. Awesome. And it sounds like you guys are going through an interesting phase where the team is growing, revenues growing.
How has your like, you know, role in the context of retention changed over time? I'm sure in the early days you were onboarding every customer. And as the team grows, that changes. Like how do you think about retention in the context of like your role now?
Yeah, it's an interesting question. I think one of the things that's definitely made life easy for us is that we didn't onboard every new customer. We've been self-service since day one, and it was really important that we did things like that, because I think when you're manually onboarding people and this maybe is a little bit naive now
, because you don't have those sort of conversations where you learn little things. But, you know, we look to the metrics of everything and conversations that have metrics. If you're trying to deep dove into something, a conversation is amazing.
But if you try to look at the stats of onboarding, you know, seven, eight, nine, ten thousand customers, you can't really do that, have conversations. So we made the decision very, very early on that we were self serve and we would be self-service forever.
In fact, we went so far the other way. I had to be convinced to hire a sales guy because we would have big companies come through and say, can we have it? Then I'm like, no, we've got a trial.
Click the button. They're like, yeah, yeah, we're big. We don't do that. Well, don't buy from us then. Like, would you want to do? I'm not going to stop what I'm doing in my day to show you everything that a demo would in five minutes was the point.
And it took me ages to shift out of that mindset. And I haven't fully. To be honest, I'm still a bit like you could just do a trial. But the amount of people that buy software without actually even having a trial, they do the entire thing through a sales experience.
We've sort of come at it backwards in a weird way, because a lot of people exactly like you said, do this or personal onboarding first and then shifted to self-service, wants to know what they're doing. We came at it from the other way.
So we started by looking at how, you know, our conversion rates and our activation rates and all that kind of jazz. And, you know, we've sort of had to go a bit more manual instead of a more automated.
So it's kind of been a bit backwards for us. But in terms of my role, I mean, I just came up with ideas. That's really er just ideas that I thought would improve some metric somewhere along the line, something in the funnel.
Can we improve it? And you'd come up with a mad idea and you try and execute it as quick as you possibly could to get a proof of concept. And then if it worked call roll out. If it didn't.
Fine does sleep, wake up, come up something else tomorrow. And I don't think my role has changed that much. I still do that. I just do it a lot less now because everything takes so much longer, because, you know, you've got a team there and there's people that are in charge of things.
I can't just go rogue and start designing stuff because we've got designers and they'll get pissed off if I do that and they're better than me. The most important point. So you do have to start sharing things out.
So we've definitely come at it from a bit of a weird angle. Probably not super traditional, but let's say my role has changed in the sense that it's definitely a lot slower, but it's still me coming up with the bold ideas.
So the couple of things that break down there, you know, put a stake in the ground saying we're going to be self serve. And I think today, at least in like the product led growth world we live in, so many folks are on the other end of the spectrum.
Right. You hear about like the superhumans of the world that literally onboard every single customer. And to your point, that might mask real problems you guys have. Right, because when you're having one on one conversations and you don't take a step back to look at the aggregate metrics of the funnel, you don't know what's working and what's
not. Right. I guess I'd love to know, like what was the tipping point? What eventually got you to the point where you did add, you know, perhaps on inbound sales motion there for larger folks? It was just the same thing happening again and again.
You just got enough big customers. Yeah, it is the same thing happening again and to live on. When can you just stop being so stupid, please? If I look back at my business career, I think basically getting out of my own stupid way is generally my key to success, really.
We just used to get tons of demo requests come through every day, and we never had a book, a demo button. We only added that like six, seven months ago. And that was literally they sent me away on holiday.
And then I did it when I wasn't looking like that's how against it. I kind of was like, no, guys, like keep it self serve, like not having any in this demo stuff. And yeah. So that's that's kind of our thing.
But we used to get tons of it and then. In the end, our designer, who I've known for about 15, 16 years, in fact, the last job I ever had was email marketing company. We both worked there and he was an account manager there.
So he's got a lot of sort of sales experience and stuff. And he just started doing demos by myself. And it just so they all won this person, won that person. How did you manage that? And what do you mean you won them?
You design things. Yeah, I did a few demos. And yeah, these guys are joining like, all right. OK, or we do that now then I guess. And now he's our sales director. So incredible. If anyone ever says you can't give yourself a promotion, that's not true.
You can. That's great. So it seems like based on our conversations of our end, just what I know about you guys, you guys are very, very meticulous about measuring a set of metrics, evangelizing that throughout the company and then running experiments to drive those.
Right. How do you shift right as the business grows? Obviously, there is a dopamine hit every time you sign up new customers. But how did you guys develop this culture around caring about retention? Because I know it's something you guys measure often and frequently.
How did you guys get to that point? Well, I think in a lot of ways, we sort of didn't really know how to measure churn, really. And then when we started using profit, well, it gave us a number.
And, you know, there's a million different ways you can calculate churn you and you got to Google that and you'll find out very quickly that there's a lot of different theories and a lot different ways. But I don't actually think it matters one little bit which one you use.
I mean, simple example. I don't know how well well caters for people coming back and reactivating. I wouldn't say that's a lost customer in all sense, because somebody just decided they're not going to send proposals for three months.
That doesn't mean we've really lost the customer. We haven't lost their loyalty. If someone said, what do you use to send proposals, I'd still say better proposals, even though they're not paying us. So I still see that person as a customer in theory.
But the world doesn't recognize it like that. But I don't care. I think that's the kind of the key point. It doesn't actually matter. What matters is there's a number there. And our job is to try and get that number down.
And we just come up with ideas and we test it. I think at some point, it's probably doesn't fit the narrative of the conversation, but it's who I am. So I'm gone with it. At some point, you just kind of accept your fight in a weird way.
Like I know that with the kind of people that we sell to and the way that we've done it, the self-service idea, and sticking with that for so long and still being a massive part and not onboarding everybody and not having 20 different sales dudes and all that kind of stuff, we are probably not really ever going
to get to some sort of net negative churn. That's the holy grail of SaaS. That's what everyone wants. We probably won't ever do that. We're so not that we can't get our business to do that. Probably. And maybe maybe we could.
But at some point, you just kind of go, actually, you know what, for the all of the stress and grief and hassle and, you know, pressure that you're going to put your team under. Is it really worth it to just move something zero point one percent like materially?
Does it matter to me as an owner, you know, does it matter to a staff bonuses? Does any of that stuff actually matter? No. So let's not kid ourselves trying to move something one fraction of a percentile. I mean, what's there to gain by doing that?
Do the right thing. Always try and get that number down, but don't super stress about it like it doesn't really matter. People can get too obsessed with the numbers, but we do have kind of a approach. These are numbers that are important to us to all sign ups are important.
Traffic is important. Chone is important. No new customers. We do. A day is important. Those are kind of the four main things. And as long as those numbers are kind of generally looked after and they're not completely disastrous, we're all good.
We kind of follow the base camp, 37 signals kind of approach to keeping it a little bit chiluba. Obviously, you can't go too mad with it, otherwise people overtake you. So you've got to stay on it. But Mudon yourself to try and improve something.
ZIRKLE one percent is silly, in my opinion. Totally. I mean, I think you bring up an interesting point, right? Which is, look, first metrics are relative. And given the nature of your product, where it might be seasonal or cyclical.
Right. And usage, net negative churn might be beyond the scope of your product today. But at the same time, it sounds like you guys do have a culture of running experiments that drive the metrics you care about. Right.
Tell me more about that process, because it sounds like, you know, you said you have a bunch of ideas. You guys test them, you iterate on them. Like tactically, what does that look like? Is there just a running queue of experiments that the product team will try?
Like what does that really look like? Well, mostly what we try and do is we try and do it really fast. That's the main thing. If it takes too long, it won't happen. And that's probably a really negative thing, but it's just sort of the way it is.
So the way that we kind of do things is we often try and do little Heidi's terms, but almost like little kind of weekend projects, let's let's call them. And that's kind of how we do it. So we break off into tiny little small teams.
So be sort of myself of a bit of a design background, my co-founder, Sabrina, who's the CTO, the company. She's obviously got tech background. I'm Petroff CMO. So the three of us really good friends, and we're often to sort of break away and just do something by ourselves.
Over the weekend or it's Belacqua, you know, just kill everything for a few days and just do that. And it's amazing what you can get done when you don't have to ask someone's permission and you can just decide something now and then.
It's insane how quick you can do things. And if there is a key to success, if you want to call it that, it's the fact that there's probably been 40 or 50 moments, if you like, across all sort of, you know, six, seven years, whatever.
We've been doing this thing for where we've just made a really massive move really fast and just got it down super quick. And it's never been perfect, but it's been a quantum leap change. And lots of little things like that spread out over five or six years start to make a real big difference.
So classic example, one of our biggest ways of generating traffic to our site is through proposal templates. So we've got 200 plus proposal templates in our free marketplace. So if somebody is a Web designer or an interior designer or an architect or something like that, Google Architects proposal template, you probably find us and then you go through
that takes you through a landing page showing you that proposal template. Then you'd click to try an editor to get you to sign up. Almost half of our traffic comes from that, maybe more, and we look to them.
So actually, for every single person that's typing in architect, interior design, web designer, furniture making proposal template that probably also typing, quote, template. So usually probably what you do is you get your SEO guy to go and do a ton of research as to what keywords to use and all that kind of jazz.
We just went, okay, let's just assume that for every person that's typing in proposal template, or if you two people that are typing that in, there's probably at least one person typing the same industry with, quote, template. It's the same content.
It's the same template. So we just duplicated all 200 templates, 200 landing pages, created manual algorithm, if you like, that enabled us to not fall foul of duplicate content on our landing pages. And in three days, we had doubled the number of templates in our marketplace, massive in three days.
It took us five years to write 200 of them. And in three days, we doubled it. Time will tell if that's actually going to be successful or not, because we only did a few months ago. But that's kind of an example of something.
You know, we made a pricing change which switches to a per user model. That was massive. That, again, we did that probably in 10 days for a bunch of legacy pricing. That's quite quick. At least I think so anyway.
And it all starts really quick. Talking to a lot of companies working on pricing, revamping of pricing in ten days is no joke. So I love the theme around moving quickly. Right, because I think time kills energy and momentum and you just don't get to know what works as quick.
Right. So that's awesome. You ever think especially with something like the pricing thing we dilly-dally about with that for about a year and we didn't do it and didn't do it, did do it. And then at some point I just woke up and went bollocksed.
We're doing it this week literally to start right now. We know it's the right thing to do. We just basically just being purse's. Let's just get on with it and let's just do it. And if it turns out to be a massive mistake, then we can always undo it.
And that's it. So we did that best decision we made. Well, Rebin, top five at least. Absolutely brilliant decision. It's made a massive difference. It was another similar thing as well when somebody sent a proposal in our platform.
Well, Don, you said in your proposal some sort of success message. And on there underneath the success message was like this auto tweet block thing. And it probably was the oldest piece of code like single piece of code in the entire platform.
It literally been the only thing had not been changed. And it's still just said like, click here to tweet. You just sent a proposal about two proposals, and I don't think anyone did it. And what does that not seem like a really good time to tell someone about a premium plan maybe or maybe your annual plans or
something? Anything may be. So we did that and made unbelievable how many people just instantly started upgrading. So we went from I don't know, let's just say five or six people a day jumping from our smallest plan to a media plan.
And all of a sudden we're like double in that, triple in that. We're like, what the hell? It was almost painful to my. Why didn't we do that sooner? Yeah. Count in the private jets that you could have had lined up along the driveway.
So you move quickly. And you guys obviously have a number of metrics you guys look at to see if you were successful. Right. Because I think that's the key thing, which is moving fast only works if you're measuring the outcomes.
Right. And it sounds like you guys track these things pretty closely to see if you guys had, you know, the desired impact of whatever experiment you guys were running. We do use possible for a lot of stuff. Because it's quite of effort to track metrics.
It really is, especially to produce your own out of a database or whatever. I mean, it's quite a lot of effort, especially when you want to work on your product and everything else. You know, we intentionally have a small team, so at 16, 17 of us or something like that.
And, you know, it's a real big moment when we look for somebody else. So we try to not do stupid stuff, like have somebody just constantly looking at internal systems. People do that. I think it's a waste of time and effort and energy.
So if there's systems out there that will enable us to just pay a small monthly fee or, you know, in the profitable cases, free to have a huge number of metrics that's tied to almost all the finances in the business and can show you a really simple picture of a lot of different things.
That's massive. And what profit world doesn't show us. Sounds like you've paid me, doesn't it, Silus? I don't know. Is really worth looking at. I mean, it's a couple of things here and there, but most of it is just like keep an eye on that stuff.
Keep that looking good. And generally, life is going to be OK. Yeah. By the way, we did not pay Adam to say that. I always appreciate the love, Adam. I think the one thing that I always know by your team is like you guys are very meticulous about the data.
Right. Which I think goes really, really nicely with the theme of moving quickly, experiment a bunch like don't overthink it. And it's probably makes for a good gaudreau working out better proposals to where, you know, like you said, you guys aren't stressing about point one, incremental improvements, where you guys are going off to these big ones.
Yeah, exactly. And I think at the end of the day, we'll also get into weird about it, that life is a bit more important than work sometimes. And I think that if there's an industry out there that's guilty of overworking people and creating stressful environments as the tech world, and then you add a table tennis table to
the office and say it's not stressful, it's like, yeah, but when you put in, you know, ridiculous bonuses on hidden certain targets and metrics and all that stuff, and I you know, I do get it the same time is like, can we do a bit better?
Maybe like can we not create this silly, stressful environment in the first place and just be a bit more mature about it and just go, okay, Kollek, here's what we're trying to do. This is what we're trying to achieve.
But we've got a stupid goal for our year and our team knows what it is, and we're all working towards it. We know we're not going to hit it because it's literally borderline impossible. But we know what we're really aiming for.
But we're still going to aim for the other thing anyway. And that's like a little bit of fun to us in a weird way. It's not to say that we don't work hard. It's not to say that we're not trying to always improve stuff.
Of course we are. But the cost of what I guess what I'm trying to get across is like pick your battles. Chance is really important in new customers. You've got to keep that coming in, because if you don't, you're going to put yourself in trouble.
Start up your like. Those sorts of things for us are kind of the bread and butter for us. You have that saying in America. Yeah, we do. How are you, Dako? We share something. But yes, like that's the bread and butter to us is just like keeping the basics together.
And if you stay on top of that stuff, everything else just kind of also corrects really and just sort itself out. Honestly, I think the biggest takeaway for me here is like really focus on the fundamentals. At the end of the day, it's about customers that truly love your product, track your metrics and keep experimenting.
Right. And remember, at the end of the day, not to overthink things, I think that makes for a really good culture of focusing on what matters and still having fun. Yeah, this is important. At the end of the day, you got to work with these people and you want to provide a nice place to work, as I
suppose as my roles evolve. That's the kind of stuff I've started to be a little bit more interested in. It's like, OK, someone goes to bed on a Sunday night and all they sitting there thinking, oh, God will work in the morning.
Or is it like, oh, yes, Coach, sweet, we're going to get to do that thing with that person who I really get on with. And they're really clever and they have a lot of cool ideas. And we're going to, you know, do this thing or that thing or whatever.
So it's just trying to encourage that. And, you know, obviously not everyone's going to love everything 100 percent of the time as obviously ridiculous. But you want to just try and still do that as much as possible. And like you say, just keep your metrics in check.
You know, try things. You know, business is supposed to be fun, isn't it? I mean, I don't know if anybody else, but that's what I got into this stuff. I thought this was a lot more fun than working somewhere else.
In fact, I was the reason I had to send in my last ever job 17 years ago, lying there thinking, oh, shall I or shall I have my nose in? And the key thought was, you know, what's going to happen if I had my nose in?
But I know that's a lot more interesting than knowing that I'm going to be sitting here in six months time if I stay thinking exactly the same thing, so I might as well go and see what happens and just try to sort of, you know, create a cool place to work, have fun, get some cool customers in
, make great products. That sounds great. I guess. Just to wrap, Adam, one thing that I'm always curious about and like to share with the audience is like looking back or what you've been doing this for a number of years, and clearly you guys have a culture that is thriving.
What's like something you're really proud of overcoming could be a challenge and struggle that you guys rallied around and overcame. We've not really had like masses of real problems because, you know, if you think about like the way I've described our culture, you don't really have these sort of mad, stressful times.
I think honestly, the biggest thing that actually is probably now actually we've been working on a major update to our platform for what should have been seven weeks, eight weeks, and it's approaching seven or eight months. So it's been a good little lockdown project for everybody.
It's definitely bordered on the stress side of things, even though we've tried not to. It's been so big. It's been really, really difficult. And that's taught me a lot about deadlines. Really looking out for people and making sure that you don't overwork people even though you want something done and they want it done.
And everyone agrees that it's a good idea to keep working, because what else have I got to do? Can't go anywhere. Have things closed? It's still like, no, man, you've got to take a break. There needs to be a structure here.
I know it's a good use of time to spend like the winter or this down nonsense period or whatever to get a really big project done. And then you can have a nice like chill summer. Makes total sense in theory.
But there's a limit to how much you can do. And I've learned a lot, you know, through my own work ethic and founding team and a management team or whatever. We're all happy to just throw down and get some stuff done.
But people have different limits. And as your team grows, you realize that. And when you've got your kind of your founding team and your people, you've basically been there since day one. They will do anything for the business, but not everyone will SARS-CoV-2 from a team under the bus and no one trying to get out.
It's just really important to recognize that everyone's different. And I would say that's probably the biggest thing I've learned in a really, really, really long time, is really just that you've got to try and treat everybody as an individual and look at their individual skills.
And, you know, the work ethic, the energy levels, that kind of stuff. It all matters. And when you have big projects with big important deadlines and major launches and all that kind of stuff, that is a crazy time for people.
And some people are better equipped to deal with it than others are. And I love it. I love the stress of it, the stress, because I know I can manage it and I sort of thrive on it and find it fun and it's exciting.
It's something to do in a way. And I always try and at least put two or three big moments like that in the year because I feed off of it. But not everyone does. Not everyone likes that kind of stress and pressure.
So that's been a big learning for me this year. And it's been interesting seeing our different people have reacted to that. That's been a really interesting one. But, you know, like you say, I mean, everyone's sort of pulling together and and helping each other out.
And that's been massive this year. It's been a real sort of coming together. I think being a remote team, you don't get those Friday night sort of beers down the pub sort of thing. That doesn't happen. So to have that as a remote team is is really cool.
That makes total sense. Yeah, I hear you. Same thing here. I think the past year has shown a lot of resilience and I think brought out to your point. Right. How different everyone is and ultimately got to like band together to work through that.
But a lot of it's bad. I mean, different doesn't mean bad if we just don't know. So I think, Adam, this was terrific. Again, really appreciate your time. How do people find you? How do people find better proposals if they're interested in learning more?
That's a nice and straightforward genius creative company known there. If you think about naming your company, try to think more creatively than we did. Great for us. The terrible for branding. Yeah. Better proposals to come find out about us there.
I don't really do much of branding, really, of myself. I do stuff like this every now and again. But yeah, I mean, everything I do is all tied to better proposals these days. So if you want to find out what I'm up to does where to do it.
Awesome. Well, thanks, Adam. This was a great preacher at the time, and it was fun learning more about how you guys work and what's up. A better proposal. See this now. Thanks so much for having me on, guys.
Big fancy work and. Yes, appreciate it. Thank you. A huge shout out to Adam for dropping all of that knowledge. Let's recap first. Adam talked about not overthinking things. Sometimes the simplest answer is the most effective one. Number two, better proposals has a culture and framework to experiment at a rapid pace.
Don't underestimate the impact that that weekend hackathon can have on your retention. And lastly, nothing else matters if you don't measure success. Rally the team around a key set of metrics to make sure that you're monitoring the health of your business.
Thanks for listening to this week's episode of Retention Talk. Don't forget to subscribe at retention TOCOM. And if you want to help spread the word Tagame on Twitter YouDecide 23. And let's dish out today's episode. Please give us a five star review on the podcast platform of your choice and let your friends know as well.
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