How to conduct an effective post-mortem analysis for your ecommerce startup

How to conduct an effective post-mortem analysis for your ecommerce startup
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What do today’s most successful ecommerce companies have in common? They routinely leverage the power of the post-mortem analysis to help them better understand their customers, reflect on performance, and set themselves up for continued growth and success. To make the most of your fast-growing digital marketplace, it’s important to examine how you sell — but where do you start?

Read on to learn more about why it's important to do a post-mortem analysis, how to conduct one effectively, and how the results can help your ecommerce startup sell better and go further.

What is a post-mortem analysis?

A post-mortem is essentially a retrospective or debrief where companies can celebrate wins, reflect on losses, and assess the success of their business performance to identify any areas for improvement. A post-mortem will look at performance during a particular sales period or season, but the key is being able to derive action items from the learnings that can be applied to marketing efforts year-round.

The end or start of the year is an especially good time to conduct a post-mortem, as it gives your team a chance to take stock of the annual performance as a whole, as well as review how things wrapped up at the end of the year during holiday sales.

What are the benefits of a post-mortem analysis?

There are plenty of reasons to conduct a post-mortem analysis — whether it’s for a one-off campaign or for a set period of time. Here are a few key payoffs of this strategic performance retrospective:

1. Learn from what went well

A post-mortem allows your team to see what worked successfully, and what led it to that point.  This is a great way to see what successes can be repeated in future and what experiments offer learnings that can inform the new modus operandi for continued success. For example, if you tested out a design-led announcement for email and saw significantly better results than the typical written-through email that you send, you can take that as valuable learning for future announcements and adjust resource allocations accordingly.

Reviewing “wins” not only fine-tunes your operations, but also provides a great sense of accomplishment to your team.

2. Learn from what went wrong

The reality is, mistakes happen — but they also provide invaluable opportunities to learn. Let’s say you invested significantly in a rebranding project with an external agency, but after all of that, your customers don’t seem to respond to the rebrand as well as they did the “old” look. Rather than viewing this as a failure, you can take this as a lesson to tap your audience and conduct more thorough customer research before embarking on a big design project in the future.

For example, you could:

  • A/B test your new designs with a focus group
  • Conduct audience surveys with a prize incentive
  • Track brand sentiment through customer feedback

Zooming out during a post-mortem analysis to assess what went right and, more importantly, what went wrong, will arm your team with the knowledge to iterate on processes and future efforts to be more effective.

3. Refine operations and processes

In addition to providing learnings from internal workflows and processes, a post-mortem analysis can be a good way to identify weak points or areas for improvement in your functional operations.

For example, a post-mortem analysis can shed light on friction points in fulfillment, including issues that arise during busier sales periods, such as the holidays. Were any packages lost, late, or damaged? Did a customer have a less-than-ideal delivery experience — and, if so, what was their complaint? Use these insights to map out future processes to optimize, outsource, or automate your shipping and fulfillment to ensure your customers (and team) are avoiding hiccups that create a disappointing customer experience. This will ensure your business can keep up with future customer demand.

Remember that smooth shipping and fulfillment delivers on your brand promise, with 37% of customers stating they’ll never shop with that merchant again after a negative delivery experience — so be sure to review this area thoroughly for any hurdles.

4. Improve communication 

The more comfortable your team becomes with analyzing processes, the more quickly they’ll be able to work through roadblocks as they arise. Was a significant complaint about the checkout escalated to the right team? Was a slow sale promotion reviewed to ensure the right audience was targeted? Implementing a regular cadence of data-led analysis across teams will encourage them to have transparent conversations and lead to faster problem-solving.

Here are a few ways you can improve communication during the post-mortem analysis:

  • Identify and map out an escalation process, with “go-to” team members or checkpoints across each area of the business.
  • Streamline how your team communicates. Do they use Slack, or do they prefer to raise problems in a weekly team stand-up? Getting everyone on the same page will ensure key issues are always captured.

5. Improve team morale

It’s normal for your team to experience moments of frustration, especially when dealing with a big launch or navigating process-related roadblocks. In addition to giving your team a chance to pause and celebrate successes — which, in itself, can have a positive effect on morale — a post-mortem analysis can help you zero in on areas where there were hurdles or bumpy workflows so that you can consider a more productive approach in the future. This will leave your team feeling like the causes of their frustrations are being recognized and addressed, which in turn encourages strong performance next time around and reiterates the collective goal to improve together.

Here are a few ways to can improve morale during the post-mortem analysis:

  • Include an agenda item for “wins” and share what went well during the project.
  • Have your team share ‘kudos’ for another team member to call out good work and collaboration.
  • Encourage team members to speak openly about areas where they felt that workflows had room for improvement.
  • Ask the team to share suggestions for how processes could be made more effective and efficient.

How to conduct an effective post-mortem analysis

Now that we have a sense of why a post-mortem analysis is worth conducting after a big campaign or sales cycle, the next question comes down to approach. Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to conduct an effective post-mortem analysis that lends itself to valuable insights to inform future strategy.

1. Compile a broad invite list

An effective post-mortem looks at all the work done to contribute to the result across teams. For example, if the campaign or sales cycle being reflected on involved a significant website update or heavy brand design work, it’s important to include engineering, design, and product teams in addition to your core marketing or brand team.

Similarly, if you worked with any external agencies that helped drive results, the post-mortem analysis should include those team members, too. Keep the invite list broad, and ensure that everybody relevant has a chance to have their voice heard or to learn from the conversation.

2. Revisit your goals and KPIs

Determining success and evaluating performance can feel overly subjective without the parameters of target metrics to guide the conversation.

In order to ensure that your post-mortem analysis is effective, make sure to resurface goals and target KPIs identified at the onset of a campaign or sales period, whether that’s a quarter or the full year. These metrics will help root the conversation in tangible, quantifiable success metrics and allow the team to reflect on performance based on what targets were hit, what targets were missed, and what variables contributed to the outcome either way.

3. Send out a pre-meeting questionnaire.

A few days before the post-mortem, send out a questionnaire to your team. The responses to this will help shape your meeting agenda and identify any talking points.

Your questionnaire should include qualitative, open-ended questions to encourage honest answers from your team about the process, project, and people involved. This will help to surface any action items for improvement.

Sample questions you can use include:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What made your part of the project successful or unsuccessful?
  • How can we improve our process for next time?

4. Set the agenda and stick to it

The purpose of your post-mortem analysis is to surface areas for improvement and resolve conflicts — not to create new ones.

Rather than concentrating on the negatives, keep discussions constructive by creating a clear agenda and then sticking to it. This will keep the reflective conversation and forward-looking ideas flowing.

Your agenda could look like this:

  • Introduction
  • Shoutouts
  • What went well
  • What could have gone better
  • Suggestions and improvements
  • Conclusion

Did you know?

In the startup world, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) isn’t all too different from chess. It’s often a combination of looking forward and looking backward. And the most successful startups are reacting in both directions.

Learn more about leading vs lagging indicators

Importance of data in your post-mortem analysis

As mentioned above, metrics are the guiding light for a post-mortem analysis, and help ground the retrospective analysis in quantifiable wins. That said, a comprehensive data report is an important part of the review.

Data-driven insights give you clarity around what performs well and what falls short within the context of your broader marketing and business goals. For example, a report may reveal that your Christmas promotion on Pinterest didn’t translate to increased online sales and could benefit from different creative assets and messaging. A closer look at numbers around engagement and user behavior can help you learn and iterate on future campaigns to be more effective.

Using a consistent approach and measuring the same metrics each time will ensure key details aren’t forgotten and will help your team to identify trends or patterns.

A strong post-mortem report should include:

1. Customer feedback

Was there any useful customer feedback that came in through email, social media, customer support tickets, or other channels? Consider including customer support exchanges or screenshots of customer feedback as part of your post-mortem to help drive the conversation around customer response and spark ideas for creating a better customer experience.

2. Charts and data

Use charts to visualize the impact of your marketing efforts and any other key data points (for example, if your business had a drastic uptick in sales in response to an advertising campaign). Alongside conversions and online sales, pay attention to metrics such as:

  • Bounce rate: Did a key marketing campaign landing page experience a high bounce rate? If so, your customers may not be finding what they’re looking for. Consider page presentation and layout as part of your review, and look for opportunities to help your customers find products faster.
  • Page load speed: Every second it takes for a page to load results in customer drop-off. Slow websites bleed revenue, so ensure that your ecommerce pages are fast and optimized for quick sales — especially during busier sales seasons when an uptick in traffic might already slow down the site.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): It might seem obvious, but CTR demonstrates how well your ads, emails, website, and keywords are performing. Achieving a good CTR is essential to better performance across the board — whether it’s your pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, your product announcements, or your website. Depending on the channel, a closer look at CTR can help ensure that your keywords are optimized for relevance and profitability, that your emails are engaging and optimized for email service providers (ESPs), and that your website creates an easy user flow for visitors.
  • Cart abandonment: The customer has viewed your site, added a product to their cart, and then — before they can get to the finish line — dropped off without checking out. Can you get that customer back with a gentle reminder, or tempt them to complete the sale with a discount code or free shipping? As part of your post-mortem, look for signs to optimize your cart experience or win back some of those lost sales through cart abandonment campaigns or retargeting.

3. Bug reports and tickets

Let’s say you experienced higher than usual traffic to a landing page, but customers were unable to complete the purchase due to page time out. These bug reports are critical to review so that you can understand what might have caused them and fix them ahead of future campaigns or busy periods.

4. Screenshots

Did a new landing page perform particularly well? Attaching relevant screenshots of high-performing pages, as well as supplying documentation around the component of the page that worked well, can be a valuable way to identify elements — e.g., design approach, page structure, CTA placement — that drove noticeable changes in page performance and sales.

Did you know?

Anchoring your startup with the right software suite is crucial for streamlined operations and growth. At Mercury, we’ve done the legwork for you.

Discover the right tools

Timing your post-mortem analysis right

An annual post-mortem analysis is a great way to wrap up the year and reflect on results before setting goals and defining the strategy for the new year. Similarly, campaign-specific post-mortems are best conducted as close to the end of the campaign as possible, while feedback is still fresh in your team’s mind.

The sooner you act, the sooner you can make meaningful improvements to your operations and processes and set your ecommerce business up for continued success and growth.

Learning from past performance is a key component of growing your business over time, but ensuring that your company has a strong foundation is step one to building a startup that lasts. At Mercury, we've built startup banking with the power to support every function of your ecommerce company as it grows — from banking basics without minimums or hidden fees, to simple virtual card creation and seamless payment processer integrations to power your sales.

Learn more about how Mercury creates banking built for ecommerce, and give our demo a spin to see it in action.

*Mercury is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group and Evolve Bank & Trust®; Members FDIC.

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