If you spent a day at Sherlock, you’d hear us throwing these terms around as often as “coffee” and “SaaS” (very well, perhaps less than “coffee”). But what does Activation mean? What does Engagement mean? How are they related? What’s the difference?

Quite excellent questions!

Here’s our CEO, Derek Skaletsky, on the topic.

TL;DR

Let’s begin with Activation (Rate)

n. A static measurement of how far along a user or account is in their journey toward “first value” or the “aha” moment where they realize how great your product is.
n. An indicator of how far along someone is to becoming a product qualified lead

There are a few things a user would need to do to get set up in your product and get value out of it. These things vary based on the product. Let’s say you’re a modern SaaS company with a GSuite plugin for email collaboration. Your Activation steps might look like this:

The account journey from signup to Activation
The account journey from signup to Activation

Here’s an obvious fact that follows: Activation rate is just the percentage of steps completed. That means if an account or user has done 2 out of the 5 steps above, they are 20% Activated. 

They are 20% of the way to hitting first value with your product. Excellent!

Sherlock screenshot showing Activation rate
Account Activation is on the left in Sherlock

In Sherlock, you can see an account or user’s Activation rate in a few places. The full Activation checklist is on the left side of any account or user detail page, and the Activation rate is visible on any user or account overview (because it’s such an important metric!) Additionally, you can see Activation rates in other platforms you’ve integrated with Sherlock — Intercom, Slack, and Hubspot being among them.

Use Activation rate in Slack, Intercom, Hubspot
Sherlock integrates with Slack, Intercom and Hubspot

Setting up Activation in Sherlock is simplicity itself. Get started and never miss another Activated trial again

When to use Activation (Rate)

Activation Rate in the Customer Journey
The Customer Journey

Activation rate is quite important in the early phases of the user journey, especially if you have a freemium version or free trial. In that case Activation, occasionally combined with firmographic criteria, is the best indicator of when a trial account is ready for an interaction with your sales team. (It becomes even more important when you have a large number of trials and your Sales team needs ones to focus on.)

But that doesn’t mean that Activation is no longer important after the free trial is up. Post-sale, Activation gives your Customer Success team a way to measure how far along the account is in the on-boarding process and what steps each user needs to complete to be fully on-boarded onto the product.

Separate you paid and trial accounts so your different teams can use different Activation criteria

User vs. Account Activation

It’s been said (and will be said again): If you are a SaaS business, you operate at an account-level. 

  • Accounts sign-up
  • Accounts adopt
  • Accounts convert 
  • Accounts pay
  • Accounts expand
  • Accounts cancel

Curious, it seems there’s a trend here.

Sales teams have always known this. Just look at how any CRM is organized. Marketers know this. That’s why ABM has taken off in recent years. SaaS businesses sell to other businesses — your product is used by teams. You operate at the account-level. 

Why wouldn’t you track Activation the same way? You would track it the same way. But accounts are made of users.

Track activation at both the account and user levels
Sometimes users have different Activation criteria than accounts

There are some Activation criteria that the account needs to do. For example, adding a certain number of team members to the account. On the other hand, there are some Activation criteria that a single user needs to do to become Activated. Think actions like setting up a profile or creating an individualized template. To truly understand how far along an account is on the path to Activation, you need to understand both the account Activation and the Activation rate of the individual users on the account. 

Track both account and user activation with Sherlock

Now, Engagement Score

n. An over time measurement of how much a user or account is using your product

This is all about the events (or actions) a user or account can take in your product. As you are well aware (surely), there are several things that one might do in any given SaaS product. Some of these things are more important than others. Login, for example, is not that important. Sure, everyone does it, but how much value does someone get from logging in? 

An obvious fact, that — not a lot.

Creating a report, however, is more valuable. A user would certainly derive more value from creating a report than logging in. (This is, of course, assuming you have the sort of SaaS app where creating a report is part of the value.) There are events that are likely even more valuable than creating a report and similarly events that are less valuable than creating a report.

engagement scoring model pql
Some events are more important in your product than others, so why would you weight them all the same?

So to get a good sense of how engaged a user is with your product, you need to collect all the (at least somewhat) important events that one might do in your product and weight them accordingly. Then, you need to do some math to find the engagement score for both users and accounts.

Don’t want to do the math yourself? Weight your events in Sherlock and let us calculate your engagement

When to use Engagement Score

Yet another obvious fact — all the time! In all seriousness, there are several things an engagement score can tell you. 

  • It surfaces accounts that are at risk and ones that are ready for an up-sell. 
  • It shows you which users on an account are going to be internal champions for your brand. 
  • It gives you an indication of which accounts might be good to reach out to when it comes time to build out your social proof

But most importantly, and partly because it is over time, the engagement score offers singular insights into the overall health of your business. If it’s on a downward trend, it could indicate you need to make some changes. A graph with a positive slope means you’re doing something right!

engagement going up/down over time
Engagement is a good indicator of how your product is doing

At-a-Glance: Activation vs. Engagement

Activation RateEngagement Score
Static metric to determine how far a user/account has progressedOver time metric for assessing how much a user or account is using your product
Use it at the beginning of the customer journey – both pre and post-saleImportant to track across the entire customer lifecycle
Trends are essential for identifying risks and opportunities

Ready to start scoring? Give Sherlock a try.