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Marketing automation vendor Act-On adopts ThoughtSpot Sage to democratize data for its customers

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez February 19, 2024
Act-On is using ThoughtSpot’s AI-enabled Sage platform to allow its customers to ask questions of their marketing data and gain deeper insights.

Question Mark Speech Bubble Isolated view © ChristianChan -
(© ChristianChan -

Act-On provides marketing automation software to over 4,000 enterprises around the world, where it aims to provide customers with a system of record for their marketing actions and also enable accurate and fast insights into their marketing data. However, up until 2022 the vendor itself had been grappling with siloed systems, data and platform architectures that had built up over its history - making it more difficult to get the information desired by customers in their hands when needed. 

As such, Act-On embarked on a project to become a ‘data driven organization’, whereby it brought all of its data into one place, so that it could more easily gather value from it. As Syed Ahmed, Act-On’s SVP of Engineering, AI & Ops, explains: 

The company is a sixteen year old company, and the systems that were developed had evolved over time. And that led to creating different silos. We wanted to break down the silos, bring it all together in one place, so that we could extract the value of the data. 

That was the first step that we did, we created a data lake and a data warehouse. The data lake stores unlimited amounts of data, while the data warehouse has about two and a half years of data, which we chose Snowflake for. 

Ahmed says that this set-up made the data accessible both for internal and external stakeholders. But in particular, this new infrastructure meant that Act-On could pursue its goal of being a “GPS” for its customers to navigate how their email campaigns are performing. 

The migration to Snowflake took place in 2022 and took Act-On approximately five months to complete and get set-up. At this time, with the data all in one place, the vendor was then able to consider its next task - democratizing data analytics for its customers, with the aim of allowing them to get more value out of the data by bringing more capabilities into the platform. Customers were more often than not exporting data out of Act-On into their own analytics tools, or spreadsheets, making gaining insights a challenge. Instead, Act-On was keen to integrate an analytics platform to extend out to buyers. 

Duessa Holscher, Principal Product Manager at Act-On, says that the company wanted to work with leading analytics providers in order to provide customers with a ‘best of breed’ product. As such, it went through an extensive process of looking at vendors and carrying out proof-of-concepts with a number of suppliers. She explains: 

We were really evaluating based on a lot of different criteria, including: how powerful and easy it was to use; how the data management works in conjunction with Snowflake; what flexibility we had within the tool versus how we could model our data; the ability for visualizations; and how to how easy it would be for our customers to customize the presentation of the data they were looking for. 

We were looking at localization and customization by user, and then of course the technology behind the embedding, security and management of roles and the account. 

Ask a question

After Act-On’s extensive study, the company landed on ThoughtSpot Sage as the vendor of choice. Holscher says: 

What really blew us away with ThoughtSpot was the approach to searching on the data with natural language, being able to be really approachable to the user. 

Because a lot of our users are not really analytics experts. They are primarily just bringing data into a spreadsheet and trying to analyze it. To be able to give them a friendly opening of ‘just ask a question about your data and let's see what the answer is’, we just felt like the innovation there and the backing of the AI was really ahead of what we were seeing in other products. 

As noted on diginomica in recent months, ThoughtSpot has been integrating its own natural language processing engine with those being made available by generative AI model providers, such as OpenAI, to enable a wide-variety of users to get access to analytics. ThoughtSpot’s primary proposition is that it wants to be known as the ‘Google of numbers’, in that users can simply ask questions of their data and get insights. 

Act-On was able to get its first prototype beta out in under 30 days, where the biggest hurdle was setting up user authorization and structuring its accounts, so that it could have different environments for development, staging and production, and that its accounts were segregated in a way that one account couldn’t access another account’s data. Ahmed says: 

Our thought process was: how do we make it really easy for marketers to get insights? We had this idea of democratizing analytics. Traditionally, analytics and reporting have been the forte of business analysts.

But with the natural language search and all the capabilities that came along with AI, it helped us pick ThoughtSpot. Marketers are technically savvy but they aren’t data analysts, so having something really easy for them to access, and being able to understand their data, was very important for us. 

Customer response

Since going live, Act-On Advanced Analytics users have been spending twice as much time on page since the adoption of ThoughtSpot. The vendor has also seen 60% higher customer report usage compared to old reports. 

Commenting on the how customers are responding to the platform, Holscher says:

Overall, they’re delighted with it. Our reporting previously was pretty static, so they didn't have a lot of opportunity to dive in and explore. 

What we can offer them now is the ability to really look at trends and spikes. They might be looking at their open rate or click rate on emails, if it had a spike last week, or it went down. And they can ask: why is that? 

Being able to just dive into that data and have the flexibility to compare across a number of measures, has been fantastic. Instead of just three or four measures that we presented before, our customers now have 25 that they can analyze and look into. 

Equally, an important benefit for users has been that the analytics and data are available inside Act-On’s application. Previously, marketers who were doing extensive reporting were having to use Act-On’s export tool to get the data out into other systems, whether that be a spreadsheet or another BI tool. Now, they get the insights where their marketing automation tooling is, inside Act-On. Holscher adds:

It was a lot of hassle, previously. So we've been working with a lot of customers to transition those homegrown reporting systems and show them how they can make the same kind of charts and the same kind of tables inside of the analytics tool. And they can just have that there automatically, every day, without having to manipulate data and spend a lot of moving it around. 

Act-On is seeing users ask a variety of questions around their data, including the likes of: ‘Which sales template is getting used the most?’; or ‘Which salespeople are sending emails?’; or ‘Which messages are causing high opt-outs?’. Holscher says: 

We're seeing a lot of varied questions like that, which people are asking. We do have additional data that we want to continue to bring in, some other things that will round that out even further. 

But for the core use cases, people are very excited to dive into just really trying to understand what's driving success or find out why something’s not succeeding. 

The great thing is that once they do ask that, they can also run a SpotIQ analysis on it, which is then going to give them 25 other factors that they may not have thought of to ask about, that might be significantly correlated to the performance of a particular message.

Future possibilities

Act-On runs a model that it describes as ‘parent-child relationship’, in that a lot of the companies it works with are agencies, or umbrella organizations, that do marketing for a number of other outlets or brands. So, Act-On may have a customer that has five different marketing channels, which means that the longer term ambition is to allow these organizations to link data across these for even deeper analysis. Hoslcher says: 

That's a big request from our customers, to expand across those instances, providing analytics so they can see how different divisions or branches are preparing to each other. So that's something that we definitely want to expand on in the future. 

Second to this, Act-On is thinking about how it can move beyond behavior-based data towards better understanding contact-based data. Holscher adds:

Most of the data that we have in ThoughtSpot now is really behavior based. So it's ‘this particular email got this many clicks and they clicked on these links’. 

But customers are really looking for us to aggregate that all and for us to be looking across contacts or segments. To be able to say: ‘tell me about the people who clicked on these emails’. For example, were they primarily CFOs or were they primarily purchasing managers? Or what industry were they? 

Tying together our segmentation engine and integrating that better with the analytics so that customers can dive into not just ‘how did this email do?’, but really micro-target who it is resonating with it. 


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