How HubSpot Customers Use Subscriptions: Insights From a Product Manager

tl:dr

In late 2018, the product team at HubSpot began investigating our email subscriptions usage data, along with the data in HubSpot’s email product, to examine what subscription types are used for and their impact on communication for HubSpot customers. Our goal was to find a correlation between subscriptions usage and email performance to see if there is any best practice to recommend.

We found that email performance is more or less the same across customer accounts when it comes to open rate; however when examining customers by size, we found that larger customers perform the worst (*albeit by a small margin). We also found that the more subscription types a customer has, the more emails they send (normalized by contact), leading us to conclude that subscription types on their own do not lead to success with email. In fact, reviewing the data feels a lot like this: 

However, instituting feedback mechanisms for contacts to manage their subscriptions and communication more effectively may improve customer<>contact relationships.

Our starting point

If there’s one thing I’ve found as a product manager, it’s that there is a great deal of literature on the internet about getting subscribers, but not quite so much on what to send to those subscribers. For example, here are some search results when googling “types of email to send subscribers”

How many is it Google, 15 or 7?

Not to mention that subscriptions is still very much tied to email despite us heading towards a world where subscriptions can apply to any form of communication from carrier pigeon to telekinesis (though more likely channels like phone, text, or chat).

We worked with our Product Insights team to dive deeper into our customer’s email usage and performance data. We pulled aggregate data from 26K accounts that sent email between October 2017-October 2018. We excluded accounts with fewer than 1000 email sends on the year so as to ensure that the data we pulled was representative of more active companies in the email tool so as to not skew our results.

The ultimate goal of our research was to understand where Email Subscriptions fit in the communication story, and what success with subscriptions looks like. For those customers that do create subscription types, we wanted to see how successful they were across the app, namely in email. Do the customers with 10 subscription types perform better through email than ones with 3?

Our findings

Let’s break our research down into a series of key steps we took. First we looked at subscriptions usage on its own, then in conjunction with email, and finally we dug deeper into email usage and sending habits.

Subscriptions usage:

In analyzing subscriptions usage (ie, number of subscriptions created by a customer) we can see a breakdown by portal in this distribution chart. Recalling that the mode is 3 and the mean is 4.42 this chart makes sense. The bulk of portals fall around 3-5 subscription types, with very few (comparatively) having 10+ active subscription types.

With this overview we can see that subscription types just aren’t much used beyond the minimum particularly often. Our customers may come up with one or two more, but they do not seem to get very creative past that point.

back of the napkin calculations

This leads us to our next question: of the subscriptions that our customers are making, what types of subscriptions are they actually creating? We pulled the name of every active subscription type across the portals we analyzed to gather this data. We were able to pull together a breakdown of common words in Excel and the results were not all that surprising:

As expected the top three are

  • Marketing Information
  • Blog
  • One:One

These are defaults so it is natural they would appear the most often. Additionally, we found the other common words used are:

  • Event
  • News
  • Update

Slightly less common were

  • Product Information
  • Offer
  • Resource

Essentially companies, beyond the standard three, are sending email regarding events and industry news, with smaller sample sizes sending emails about offers. This is expected – there aren’t many types of email that a company would send beyond the basics, though at a higher level these six buckets make sense as a benchmark.

We can see how subscriptions are used, and what they are used for, our next task was to examine usage alongside email performance. Perhaps the key isn’t tied so much to the variety of email so much as frequency and relevancy.

Open Rate

To make things simple we’re looking at a scale from 1-12 subscription types given the vast majority of portals fall in that scale.

Going in, my hypothesis was that the more subscription types you had, the better you would be at email. The reason being (I thought) that with more subscription types you were conscientious as to how you structured your email strategy. Instead what we found is that there is no such direct correlation.

In looking at open rates, they actually appear to drop once you get past 5 subscription types, with a slight spike uptick at 12 (likely due to the smaller sample size). Overall though open rate hovers around 20%-30% whether or not you have 2 subscription types or 10. As to why open rates would drop with the addition of subscription types we’ll get to that a bit later, for now let’s look at the other metrics.

By Portal Tier

While the above findings are interesting, they are a bit skewed. Our Enterprise portals email very differently than Basic. The following charts examine the same metrics while taking pricing tier into account. Then we’ll normalize some data based on the number of contacts per portal.

Open Rate

More subscriptions = lower open rates, but how about by portal tier? Between the Marketing tiers, we can see that Basic portals have the highest open rates whereas Enterprise portals have the lowest.

This is both surprising and unsurprising: we know that Enterprise portals are more sophisticated but also with more contacts comes broader mass communication and difficulty in targeting. 

Sends by # Subscriptions

If large customers perform relatively poorly with email, and these accounts are generally more likely to have more subscription types, let’s take a look at how they are using them. When examining sends by the number of subscription types we can see a pretty clear correlation here – more subscription types seems to mean more email.

Is it that more subscription types are the cause for poor performance? Or rather, do more subscription types lead to heavy email usage?

This is an interesting view, though normalizing the data by the number of contacts provides us with greater insight. Here we can see whether or not more subscription types lead to emailing individual contacts more. When normalizing the data by the number of contacts in a portal we can see that as the number of subscriptions increases we do see an increase in sends per contact.

Now, when it comes to portals sending the most email per contact (not just the most in general), we can take a look at a breakdown by product family.

It comes at no surprise then, that Enterprise portals once again lead the pack in sending the most email per contact.

Perhaps then, the key to subscriptions is not simply to provide customers with a method of communication to ensure they do not annoy their customers, but instead to provide contacts with the power and means to say exactly how, when, and how frequently they want to be communicated with.

Next Steps For the Product Team

Armed with our research there is a great amount of work to do in educating customers while setting them up for success with subscriptions. Of course, we’ll also take our findings and work to make the subscriptions feature better and easier to use.

Working with Marketing

We plan on putting these findings to practice so our customers can get themselves in the right habits when it comes to email.

A quick glance through our top blog posts on email marketing shows that, much like the rest of the internet, we have quite a bit of literature on how to style emails, optimize them by client, or write engaging subject lines – but not much on the types of email to send and best ways to target emails. Providing customer-facing materials will be carried out in a series of phases.

Best practice guides in conjunction with new features

As much fun as research is to read research we realize that 3000 word documents aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. We’ll produce a series of guides and posts to encourage best practices in communication so our customers have an easy and approachable resource to aid their marketing efforts.

Working with HubSpot Academy

Coupled with our work with the Marketing teams, we’ll also partner with Academy in producing training materials to guide our customers to a better communications strategy.

Our Academy team does an excellent job of coaching our customers on best practices in marketing principles as well as in the tool. Our goal will be to educate customers on how to develop an empathetic communication strategy that forges good relationships with their contacts. The goal is to nurture subscribers to become customers, not drive them away, after all.

To infinity and beyond

Where email publishing may be the star of the show (have you seen the new Drag and Drop editor?), I like to think that Subscriptions is the best supporting actor (if we had Oscars for Product), meaning that Subscriptions has the opportunity to elevate communication and make it better/more impactful. While it may be a modest takeaway it’s groundbreaking for HubSpot, I see Subscriptions heading to a place where customers are able to optimize their communications strategy and adjust on the fly.

Research Process and Data

For our research we settled on a sample size of roughly 26K customers that had sent email between October 2017 and October 2018. While Subscriptions covers all types of communication, the bulk of our data and history lies in email, as a result the evidence of subscriptions usage will lie in email data and performance.

Get our 30GB Wi-Fi hotspot device: no contract, as always

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Examining the NEXTi2i incubator and the Ghanaian entrepreneurial ecosystem.

MIT D-Lab

My D-Lab: Inclusive Economies project focused on how to accelerate the Ghanaian social entrepreneurship ecosystem through Ashesi University’s incubator New Entrepreneurs Xchange for Transformation: Idea to Impact (NEXTi2i). NEXTi2i is a program validating and accelerating early-stage African social ventures addressing global development challenges.

Entrepreneurship brings about many societal and economic benefits but where does Ghana stand compared to other market players?

Throughout my research and interviews, I have seen the entrepreneurial paradox that Ashesi students and alumni are facing. On one hand, the Ghanaian entrepreneurial ecosystem faces various types of challenges: the high cost of physical infrastructure, limited access to finance, and increased demand for coworking spaces. For these reasons, student and alumni-led social ventures are not thriving in the same way as regular start-ups do. Social entrepreneurship is often seen as an unproven career choice. On the other hand, there is growing interest from the private sector and the government in entrepreneurship. Intermediaries are also actively collaborating on ecosystem building.

New partnerships and funding from GIANT Food Stores will allow Philabundance to distribute 57,000 kids’ meals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Philabundance to Triple Number of Free Summer Meals for Children
New partnerships and funding from GIANT Food Stores will allow Philabundance to distribute 57,000 kids’ meals

Philadelphia, PA – June 25, 2019 – Philabundance today announced that it will nearly triple the number of free summer meals it is offering for children this year, providing about 57,000 meals to kids who lose their school breakfast and lunch when school is out for the summer. Thanks to new partnerships and generous funding from valued corporate partner GIANT Food Stores, Philabundance will now better help fill the summer meal gap through its LunchBox program, an important addition to its year-round efforts providing food for those in need – and their children.

“For hundreds of thousands of kids across the Delaware Valley, summer vacation is not just a break from school, but also from the reliability of school meals,” explained Philabundance Executive Director Glenn Bergman. “Kids should go to bed tired out from summer fun, not hungry.”

Approximately 400,000 children in Philabundance’s nine-county service area receive school meals, and now face uncertainty about whether they will have enough to eat this summer. To help fill that gap, the LunchBox program will provide 57,000 meals to children 18 years and younger through the end of August, thanks to the generosity of GIANT Food Stores, which made the largest one-time corporate donation to Philabundance in its history. Each week, free and nutritious meals with items like wraps, fruits, veggies and milk will be available at Philabundance partner agencies; some meals will be fresh, while others are shelf-stable, with items like barbecue chicken, fruit cups, hummus dip, and more. LunchBox locations are prepared by students at the Philabundance Community Kitchen (PCK), a culinary job training program for adults with low-to-no income, and distribution locations are available on Philabundance’s website.

“Food insecurity is a problem in every community, and it’s something we take very seriously at GIANT – more so when it effects our children,” said John Ruane, Senior Vice President of Merchandising at GIANT Food Stores and Philabundance Board Member. “In this fourth year of supporting the LunchBox Program, we couldn’t be more appreciative of our long-standing partnership with Philabundance and value each other’s mission to end hunger in the region. By working together on this and several other initiatives, we are helping make a difference where it matters most.”

Philabundance serves 90,000 people each week, 30 percent of whom are children. Philabundance cannot achieve its mission of driving hunger from our communities today and ending hunger for good without the support of organizations, corporations and the general public. Philabundance is excited to partner for the first time with The Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, the Narberth Community Food Pantry and Greene Street Friends School.

Although Philabundance is excited to have almost tripled the number of meals the LunchBox program will provide in 2019, it is just one of many hunger-fighting organizations that offer summer meals for children. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger’s Summer Meals Map can help youth locate free summer meal sites in their neighborhoods.

For those who want to help beat summer hunger:

• Purchase Philabundance’s Abundantly Good products, proceeds of which benefit those facing hunger and Lancaster dairy farmers, and rescue food from going to waste. The Common MarketDiBruno BrothersRiverwards Produce and Third Wheel Cheese Company sell Abundantly Good. Learn more: https://www.philabundance.org/upcycle/

• Ordering from PCKatering, PCK’s social enterprise, allows customers to eat great food, proceeds of which go back into feeding the community. Cater a family picnic, graduation party or meeting and help feed those in need.

• Donate to Philabundance’s fight against hunger. Each dollar donated helps Philabundance provide two meals for a neighbor in need. Donate now or learn more.

Avoiding workspace loops by expanding navigation properties in the GetGroupsAsAdmin API

We are excited to announce the recent release of support for $expand in the GetGroupsAsAdmin API! As a Power BI service admin if you need to list all workspaces in your tenant, including their users, reports, dashboards, and datasets, $expand helps you do this quickly and efficiently.

Support for $expand in the GetGroupsAsAdmin API enables you to retrieve the details of the navigation properties for users, reports, dashboards, and datasets directly in the workspace properties. You no longer need to loop through each workspace and call 4 separate APIs. With $expand, you can accomplish that work with a single API call. This makes your solutions dramatically simpler, more intuitive, faster to develop, and easier to maintain.

Using the $expand query option is very straight forward. Here’s the API call to get the first 5000 workspaces in your tenant.

https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/admin/Groups?$top=5000

This just returns a list of workspaces names, GUIDs, and other metadata. Now let’s see how easy it is to get all the users, reports, dashboards, and datasets in these workspaces.

To do this just append $expand and specify which objects you’d like to expand as shown below.

https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/admin/Groups?$top=5000&$expand=users,reports,dashboards,datasets

The following listing shows a sample result returned for a single workspace:

  "value": [ 
    { 
      "id": "183dcf10-47b8-48c4-84aa-f0bf9d5f8fcf", 
      "isReadOnly": false, 
      "isOnDedicatedCapacity": false, 
      "name": "Sample Group 2", 
      "description": "Deleted sample group", 
      "type": "Workspace", 
      "state": "Deleted", 
      "users": [ 
        { 
          "emailAddress": "[email protected]", 
          "groupUserAccessRight": "Admin" 
        } 
      ], 
      "reports": [ 
        { 
          "datasetId": "cfafbeb1-8037-4d0c-896e-a46fb27ff229", 
          "id": "5b218778-e7a5-4d73-8187-f10824047715", 
          "name": "SalesMarketing" 
        } 
      ], 
      "dashboards": [ 
        { 
          "id": "69ffaa6c-b36d-4d01-96f5-1ed67c64d4af", 
          "displayName": "SalesMarketing", 
          "isReadOnly": false 
        } 
      ], 
      "datasets": [ 
        { 
          "id": "cfafbeb1-8037-4d0c-896e-a46fb27ff229", 
          "name": "SalesMarketing", 
          "addRowsAPIEnabled": false, 
          "configuredBy": "[email protected]", 
          "isRefreshable": true, 
          "isEffectiveIdentityRequired": false, 
          "isEffectiveIdentityRolesRequired": false, 
          "isOnPremGatewayRequired": false 
        } 
      ] 
    } 
  ]

If you have more the 5,000 workspaces, then use the $skip parameter to page through the remaining workspaces with a batch size of 5,000.

https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/admin/Groups?$top=5000&$skip=5000&$expand=users,reports,dashboards,datasets

If your Power BI tenant has 50,000 workspaces, you can retrieve all that information with just 10 calls. Compare that to a loop through 50,000 individual workspaces with 3 separate calls to get the reports, dashboards, and datasets – a dramatically easier solution.

The workspace PowerShell cmdlets don’t support $expand yet. However, you can use the Invoke-PowerBIRestMethod cmdlet to make the calls. Just keep in mind that you must escape special characters in the URL. For example, %24 represents the dollar sign in $expand. Below is an example you can try.

Login-PowerBI 
  
$result = Invoke-PowerBIRestMethod -Url "https://api.powerbi.com/v1.0/myorg/admin/Groups?%24top=1&%24expand=reports,dashboards,datasets" -Method Get 
  
$workspaceContents = $result | ConvertFrom-Json 
  
$firstWorkspace = $workspaceContents.value[0] 
  
Write-Host "" 
Write-Host "Reports in first workspace:" 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 
$firstWorkspace.reports | Format-List 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 
  
Write-Host "" 
Write-Host "Dashboards in first workspace:" 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 
$firstWorkspace.dashboards | Format-List 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 
  
Write-Host "" 
Write-Host "Datasets in first workspace:" 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 
$firstWorkspace.datasets | Format-List 
Write-Host "---------------------------" 

Here is the output:

To get started quickly, you can try the $expand query option in the Web browser. Just go to the Admin – Groups GetGroupsAsAdmin page in the Power BI REST API Reference. There you can click on Try It, sign in, and specify the $top and $expand parameters as discussed earlier. Optionally, you can also define the $skip parameter. Just make sure you click on the Plus (+) sign to apply the additional parameters to the URL. As a bonus, you’ll notice the URL displayed under Request Preview includes all parameters nicely escaped, which makes it easy to copy and paste the URL into a Invoke-PowerBIRestMethod call. The following screenshot shows you the Try It feature in action.

And that’s it for a brief introduction of the recently added support for the $expand query option in the GetGroupsAsAdmin API!