Why it’s time to Start Talking about a Product Engagement Stack

Derek Skaletsky
7 min readSep 4, 2018


For a while now, we in the SaaS world have been talking about our “stacks” — most commonly our “Marketing” or our “Sales stack”.

My personal favorite kind of stack

For some, this may sound like obnoxious Silicon Valley buzzword-play, but a stack is nothing but a collection of software tools we use to execute a set of jobs in a specific function.

A Marketing stack = set of software tools used to run the marketing function.

But what we haven’t started talking about is a stack to cover what is arguably the most important function for a SaaS business: product engagement.

What do we mean by product engagement? We mean everything about how your users engage with your product. Who uses it, when they use it, how often, what they use, for what reason, etc, etc.

Product engagement is literally the lifeblood of a SaaS business. The entire SaaS business model is based on continuous engagement — without which there is no activation, there is no retention…there is no business.

But until now, we haven’t really talked about the tools needed to drive this function in any formal, organized way. But we should. So let’s do that. It’s time.

Why the Product Engagement stack? Why now?

Why do we need to start talking about a Product Engagement stack? Well…for a few reasons — let’s call it five:

Reason #1 it’s time to start talking about a Product Engagement stack:

Product engagement is super f’ing important!

Software as a Service is a recurring business model. Customers pay for the software as long as it is providing value. As soon as it stops providing value, they stop paying. If they stop paying…well…that breaks the whole model.

Let me be so bold and say that continuous engagement with your product is the most important and most fundamental element of your entire SaaS business.

No engagement, no retention. No retention, no business. It’s pretty much that simple.

Reason #2 it’s time to start talking about a Product Engagement stack:

Because the job of keeping people engaged with your product has become harder and more sophisticated

Image Source

This image may look like a really bad Jackson Pollock knock-off, but it’s actually an infographic showing all the tools available to marketers today. Need I say more?

In today’s world, your customers have infinite options for getting a specific job done. And there are new ones popping up everyday.

What’s more, the switching costs to try out — or move between — these various tools has dropped significantly. Free trials, freemium offerings, self-serve options. Switching costs, in many cases, are virtually non-existent. This means the bar for generating product loyalty has raised considerably.

Because of this, we have all stepped up our engagement games. We’re working harder. We’re being more creative. We’re building better products. We’re doing whatever we need to do to keep users from straying.

Infinite tools, lower switching costs and better engagement efforts — a trifecta of forces working together to make it harder and harder to keep your users engaged.

Reason #3 it’s time to start talking about a Product Engagement stack:

Because product engagement is not the job of a single person or department

This is a big topic for a future post, but for the sake of this post, it’s important to mention that product engagement is not something that can be owned by a specific person — or even department — in a SaaS organization. It is the kind of job that extends across multiple functions.

While one could argue that every department in a SaaS business should be involved in driving great product engagement, the Product, Product Marketing, and Customer Success teams are all hands-on when it comes to driving strong engagement.

Because this job can’t be defined and owned by a single group, it simply can’t be served by a single tool. You need…well…a stack.

Reason #4 it’s time to start talking about a Product Engagement stack:

Because there are a lot of Jobs-to-be-Done when it comes to product engagement

As mentioned in #2 above, the job of driving engagement has gotten a lot more sophisticated and the list of specific jobs that you need to do to effectively drive engagement has grown accordingly.

In order to drive engagement effectively today, you need to be able to:

  1. Build an engaging product (pretty good starting point)
  2. Activate new users (onboarding)
  3. Drive education of existing features
  4. Secure adoption of new features
  5. Gather user feedback
  6. Manage support requests
  7. Drive proactive CS programs
  8. And to do all/any this effectively, you need to know exactly who and how your user base is engaging with your product

While this list of jobs seems daunting, realize that for each of these jobs, there are several important elements. For example, in order to activate new users (#2 above), you need to provide:

  • Great in-app onboarding;
  • Timely and relevant onboarding email programs;
  • Good help docs & education programs;
  • High-touch CS support and training; and more.

And that’s just for your activation efforts.

For each component of your product engagement efforts, you will likely need a — or several — different specialized tools. Seriously.

Reason #5 it’s time to start talking about a Product Engagement stack:

Because there is not a great ecosystem of products built to support the different dimensions of product engagement

As mentioned above, for each piece of your product engagement plan, you will likely need a specialized tool. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’ve come to a really good place in the evolution of the product engagement space. What has seemingly been, up until now, a random spattering of tools touching different pieces of the product engagement stack is now a full-blown, robust collection of offerings. In almost every category, we have multiple solutions — multiple options.

So…while it may have been time to talk about a Product Engagement stack years ago, we didn’t have the tools to fill out that stack.

But now we do — so that’s why it’s officially time to start this conversation.

What’s next?

This post represents the beginning of this conversation. As mentioned earlier, the first step is just to accept that we need to start having a serious conversation on this new, essential stack.

The next step is to peel apart the topic and looking at its different elements. A good place to go next is to start to organize the ecosystem around the highest-level needs of a product engagement program. At this level, you could organize the ecosystem of product engagement tools around three main/high-level jobs:

  1. Drive engagement Messaging programs
  2. Manage Customer Support/CS programs
  3. Understand Product Engagement

And start to organize the tools around these job categories:

Now is not the time to dive into the detail of each tool, but we can add some more color around the needs of each of these categories:

Drive engagement MESSAGING programs

Obviously, one of the core tenants of any product/user engagement program is messaging. Messaging programs help introduce users to your product; drive them toward activation; alert them of features/benefits they may have missed; drive conversions; announce new features; re-engage; etc, etc, etc. Much of what you will do in your product engagement practice will involve some sort of messaging program.

These messaging programs can be manual or automated and be executed across multiple channels — email, in-app, mobile, sms, direct mail, etc. It is likely that you will need multiple tools to execute all of these messaging programs.


Many people might not consider Customer Support/Success efforts as part of a product engagement program, but, they’d be wrong. Your Customer Success team is an essential component of your product engagement efforts.

Yes, most of us have a vision of fully self-serve product offerings that can be supported by completely automated, touchless engagement programs. We think our products are so good, they don’t need support but this is simply not the reality for the vast majority of products.

The reality is that a good CS team is essential for ensuring proper implementation and customer activation as well as for keeping accounts engaged and expanding throughout their entire lifecycle.

UNDERSTAND Product Engagement

And of course, it’s impossible to drive great product engagement without truly understanding who and how people are engaging with your product. There are some fundamental questions that you’ll need to answer on a regular, ongoing basis:

  • Who are my most/least engaged users?
  • Who are my most/least engaged accounts?
  • Who’s engagement is increasing/decreasing (ie — who do I need to pay attention to?)?
  • What are they doing/not doing?
  • Which accounts are activated? Which ones are stalled?
  • What are the key points for activation and when do they happen?
  • What features/events are actually driving engagement?
  • Are my new features or engagement activities helping to drive overall engagement?
  • And many more…

Generally speaking, having a true understanding and pulse of your product engagement represents an essential assessment of the health of your overall SaaS business. Product engagement, as a KPI, is a leading indicator — a predictor — of conversions, churn, upsells, etc.

In Conclusion

The battle to keep your users engaged continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing most of today’s SaaS businesses. This is not just because the success of any SaaS business is dependent on great product engagement, but also because the whole practice is becoming harder and harder. That, combined with the fact that the market for the tools to help are starting to mature nicely and grow precipitously in number, are making one thing certain — we need to start talking about a Product Engagement stack.

So let’s do that…let’s start.

About Sherlock

We developed Sherlock because we needed a better way to understand product engagement. We take all activity by your users and accounts and rank them based on engagement determined by the actions that are most important in your product. Answer all of your engagement questions instantly.

We collect data through Segment, so if you use Segment getting started is a snap.

Originally published at www.sherlockscore.com on September 4, 2018.



Derek Skaletsky

Tech founder (mostly SaaS). Latest — Sherlock (sherlockscore.com); Boston expat; Hollywood escapee; hack photographer; dad (x2)