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6 min read

How to simplify product measurement with a North Star Metric

Metrics & OKRs

In the world of SaaS product marketing, we're taught to use data to measure everything – but with so many metrics and data points to consider, it can often feel overwhelming.

Diving into analytics tools can easily occupy a large portion of your day. With the ever-growing power of Google Analytics, to customer data platforms (CPDs) like Mixpanel and Pendo for product analytics, and bespoke tools Ortto, we’re spoilt for choice.*

As a product marketer, you sit at a pivotal point in a GTM team. This means you’ll have a broad range of stakeholders – across product, marketing, sales, UI, and UX – to manage, and collaborate with, to achieve your goals. With so much information at your fingertips, it can be tempting to measure and report on too many metrics – some of which may merely be a distraction. 

As someone who's brought to market and scaled a number of SaaS products, I know first-hand that PMMs can often tackle the measurement conundrum in different ways. Based on my professional experience, here's my evidence-based advice on metric measurements for product marketers.

Top tips for measuring SaaS metrics as a PMM

Develop a customer-centric North Star Metric

Tony Robbins famously said “where focus goes, energy flows", and I couldn't agree more. I’ve been in situations where too much is being measured and reported on, and it leads to convoluted strategies and misunderstandings in execution. 

So, to find your energy flow, Sean Ellis recommends the North Star Metric – a business-level metric agreed upon by all. Like your product or business strategy, your North Star Metric will be the highest target for everyone and the thread that binds cross-functional teams together. My preference, but not applicable to every situation, is a customer-centric North Star. After all, isn’t the customer our most important stakeholder?

To achieve this goal, it's vital to ensure that all supporting teams own a set of objectives and key results (OKRs) which are collectively agreed upon, and shared with a frequent reporting cadence.

Leverage the Focus Metric Framework

Another means to attack this is the Focus Metric Framework.

Focus Metric Framework by MixPanel

Focus Metric Framework by MixPanel

When using this framework, I place the single most important indicator of success at the top with a waterfall-type approach to supporting metrics. 

I find this approach is hugely effective in a visual sense as it simplifies communication. On one page, you can convey the highest goal while illustrating how individuals or teams feed into that, and what their indicators of success are.

For a new product launch, for instance, your focus metric could be active users (as defined by product marketing and product management) in X period of time. You may have one or two key level one metrics, such as activated sign-ups which are reported on regularly. And to support this, you outline level two metrics: marketing activity outcomes, like webinar attendees and sign-ups.

Now, the focus metric is a common goal for all lines of the business, and the level one and level two metrics can be allocated across product, marketing, etc. 

My personal take? I've found the Focus Metric Framework to be suitable for early-stage SaaS products in smaller teams. Whereas the North Star framework is a simple means to align stakeholders in larger organizations with siloed teams. 

Bringing the business along for a successful ride  

Product metrics are a leading indicator of not only marketing, but also wider business, efforts. For instance, key focus areas for PMMs – like the value proposition, product-market fit, and go-to-market – all closely relate to vital business priorities, including pipeline, activation, usage, and revenue. With this in mind, it's hugely important to secure alignment with your key business stakeholders.

An important step towards achieving this is to leverage the frameworks outlined above. Recalling Tony Robins' quote, "where focus goes, energy flows", it makes sense to bring your North Star, or Focus, Metric to the forefront at all possible opportunities.

An example of this in action is when I was working for Australia’s fastest-growing allied health group earlier in my career. We had a two-year plan for exponential growth, and our North Star was 20 / 50 / 100. We plastered this everywhere, from placements that sat under our keyboards to being projected onto the wall in the common room of the office. This was our simple, yet effective, primary driver for all decisions – everyday decisions through to the major strategic decisions. 

More recently, when working with a B2B SaaS business, I introduced a team-wide (product, marketing, growth, sales, engineering) fortnightly review of business health metrics. I coined this “Jump into Mixpanel” and it was just that. 

Our growth marketer and I would prepare a short summary and share a customer Mixpanel dashboard containing our North Star and supporting metrics. For a team that, at the time, was engineering heavy, this brought a new lens to our business discussions, and connection for the engineers to the customer and business. More often than not, sharing these important metrics, and how we were tracking our North Star, resulted in informative conversations because of the diverse roles present.

The right tools – because actions speak louder than words

PMMs are cross-functional leaders, and as such, you're in a position to advocate for the right tools. No matter your organization’s approach, whether it be purely sales-led, product-led, or a blend, having the right tools to understand behavior will skyrocket success. 

For example, in tighter times (such as what we’re experiencing right now), you can’t expect renewals or expansion targets to be hit without having a solid understanding of how your customer is (or is not!) using your product. 

Realizing that product adoption is lower than the expected baseline for renewal or expansion, using product data, will enable your sales and success teams to determine strategies to intervene as easily as possible to support account growth. 

As a product-led business, are you building a new product or feature, or do you have long-standing, unwavering products/features? Ensure your measurement tools of choice now, not later, because user behavior is paramount. Plugging your North Star metric into your preferred tool will help to highlight the value that you’re delivering to customers. 

You can also reap the benefits of the right tooling to deliver the most valuable product-qualified accounts to your sales team, support roadmap development, and prioritization of determining when to sunset a product or feature. As a PMM, you can support the decision as to which metrics are the right indicators for these requirements. 

The data you collect, filter, and assess about your users’ behavior is the most important indicator of success – because actions speak louder than words. 

Let’s recap

Product metrics can often feel mind-boggling, but simplifying your approach is essential. The key for SaaS product marketers is focusing on the one or two most important metrics that indicate success. These North Star or Focus metrics will help to align your team and bring energy towards a common goal. 

Next? Back these with supporting metrics across functions like marketing, product, sales, and customer success.

The right tools will provide you with the key data you need to track your essential metrics. Make sure you have visibility into user behavior and product adoption. This will enable data-driven decisions on roadmaps, campaigns, expansions, and more. 

With the right metrics framework and tools, you can cut through the noise and enable your product's success.

Ultimately, metrics should enable your team – not become a distraction. Simplify, align through shared goals, and use the right data. This results in focus, successful collaboration, and the insights you need to deliver and iterate innovative products that customers love.

What is your take on product performance measurement? How many metrics do you keep track of? Let me know in the comments. 

And that’s just scratching the surface – PMA has an exhaustive list

A little about Alicia

A senior PMM, Alicia works with emerging and growth-oriented B2B SaaS businesses. Her career spans a variety of industries including developertech, regtech, professional services, health & wellbeing, and higher education. Alicia blends a truly customer-centric approach to product marketing with a precise commercial lens. She is notably passionate about continually optimizing the path to purchase, creating a friction-free journey to ‘aha’, and optimizing product and marketing to create a product users love, retain and refer.



Written by:

Alicia Foreman

Alicia Foreman

Senior PMM and product marketing consultant.

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How to simplify product measurement with a North Star Metric