Many of us who were kids in the ‘70s have strong memories of being taught that The Metric System was on the way. As we memorized facts like how many centimeters are in a foot, we were told that we’d soon be thinking about distance in terms of meters rather than yards and that we’d never buy a gallon of milk again once the United States made the big transition to the measurements used by the rest of the world.
Spoiler Alert: That never actually happened in this country, at least not on a mass scale. Americans still try to lose pounds instead of kilograms, and a 40-degree day is still considered chilly, not scorching hot.
A metric system of another sort, however, has transformed the way we do business. Now organizations of all types realize the importance of using marketing metrics to track and measure many kinds of information. B2B marketers use this data to shape campaigns, figure out their team’s impact on revenue, and justify budgets, among other applications.
“One of the biggest investments a company makes is in its marketing organization,” said David Lewis, President and CEO, DemandGen International. “The pressure on marketers to say how these investments are paying off is enormous, and it’s going to keep growing.”
Those trends mean that marketing metrics aren’t just nice to have – they’re absolutely essential. Having the right metrics at the right time can reveal how your campaigns perform, where you’re spending has the greatest impact, and how your campaigns impact the sales pipeline. Marketers need to know which metrics enable them to explain — and sell — a marketing plan to their CEO and CFO.
1. Picking the Right Metrics: Keep it Simple!
Part of the metrics challenge for B2B marketers is choosing what to assess. The good news is that you don’t need to track and analyze every possible data point to build a successful measurement strategy. In fact, the best course is usually to take a simple approach: Concentrate on a relatively small set of clear metrics that you can understand and put to work right away.
In that spirit, we’re going to focus here on two categories of marketing metrics: revenue metrics and program metrics. Some people think of these in terms of “strategic” big-picture metrics versus “tactical” day-to-day metrics. But it may be more useful to think of them this way:
- Revenue metrics are what you’ll show to your CEO, CFO, and board to document your contribution to revenue and profit growth.
- Program metrics are what you’ll use internally to gauge the impact of your campaigns,
database management, and sales-marketing alignment.
Let’s look at both types of metrics in greater detail and discuss some specific examples.
2. Revenue Metrics: Painting the Big Picture
Revenue metrics are easy to understand when you engage in a simple thought exercise:
Pretend that you’re being asked to explain your marketing plan to your CEO and CFO. What kinds of metrics tell a story that they will understand and embrace – especially when the time comes to justify your budget?
The answer to this question begins with your marketing funnel and continues through your company’s sales pipeline. It’s extremely important to quantify your marketing team’s impact in terms of converting leads to closed deals and revenue.
“A lot of marketers produce metrics that only measure activity, such as inquiries or leads generated,” said Jon Russo, Founder of B2B Fusion Group. “That’s meaningless at the executive level; it needs to be translated into revenue impact.”
Here are some key revenue-related metrics that allow you to accomplish this goal:
- Marketing Lead Metrics
Inquiries or Raw Leads are often the first metric that matters to a CEO, since this is the point where your marketing team actually begins its qualification process and separates the “suspects” from the “prospects.”
A related metric involves net new leads added to a marketing contact database. This number – for example, 5,000 new names added per quarter – allows marketers to demonstrate that they can generate the raw material required to feed a company’s funnel. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) represent the next step into the marketing funnel, where individual prospects show the right level of buying intent to pass them along to sales.
- Sales Lead Metrics
Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) are MQLs that the sales team has qualified and moved into the sales pipeline. SALs are an important indicator that marketing and sales are on the same page about what they consider a qualified lead. These criteria usually involve factors like
job titles and firmographics, such as “CIOs of companies with 100 or more employees,” or
online behavior, such as “people who downloaded at least three pieces of content and visited our website more than twice in the past month.”
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)
SQLs have been moved into the sales pipeline and get actively worked by sales reps. This is a critical metric for both the sales and marketing team: It’s the point where leads are entered into Salesforce.com or some other CRM. As a result, this is also the point where a lead is often associated with a potential revenue value.
Many CRM systems or third-party metrics tools allow a sales team to measure this revenue potential as it moves through the pipeline. When this information is combined with data on a sales team’s historical close rates, it’s possible to make accurate revenue forecasts – a key figure for anyone concerned with revenue-focused metrics.
- Conversion Metrics
Conversions from one funnel segment to the next are actually a function of the other metrics we discuss here. Higher conversion rates, especially as leads turn into opportunities and then customers, indicate a more efficient marketing effort that delivers what the sales team needs to hit its numbers.
The same applies to velocity metrics that measure how long it takes for leads and opportunities to move through each stage of the marketing funnel or sales pipeline. Velocity metrics can provide important hints about which marketing activities have the best impact on ROI. Higher velocity usually indicates more efficient marketing activities that generate faster, higher ROI.
- Nurturing Metrics
Lead nurturing gives you a way to stay engaged with leads that aren’t ready to buy yet but will be in the future. Re-engagement metrics cover situations such as leads that don’t score high enough to convert to MQLs, or SALs that turn out not to be valid opportunities. The better you are at placing these leads in a nurturing campaign, and ultimately moving them back into the sales pipeline, the more you’ll contribute to revenue growth.
3. Program Metrics: Dealing with the Details
Your CEO may not want to hear the details about which programs or campaigns deliver the best results, but your marketing team certainly does. After all, your day-to-day program execution – everything from email and social media to webinars and website content – provides the raw material that ultimately drives your strategic revenue-building efforts.
It’s impossible to list all of the metrics that you can extract from email campaigns, web analytics, webinar attendance, and other sources. But there are some general measurement criteria that you can use to sort through them all:
- Benchmarking Metrics
Marketers track a wide variety of day-to-day program activities because they’re easy to measure – and because almost everybody else measures them, too. These include benchmarks such as:
- email open rates and click-through rates
- website visits and page views
- content asset downloads
- website form completion and abandonment rates
These numbers can be very useful. If your email open rates, for example, are lower than the industry average, then it’s time to examine your email campaigns for potential problems. The same is true for web analytics, especially when you compare current data versus historical trends. Just be careful not to dwell upon these metrics, because they don’t always have a direct impact on marketing campaign performance.
- Social Media Metrics
Social media mentions, connections, “likes,” and conversations are similar to other benchmarking metrics; you’re often comparing your metrics to industry averages, your competitors’ numbers, or your own historical data. Many marketing automation tools allow B2B marketers to track social activity on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and benchmark their own activity against their competitors’ doings. The key here, as with benchmarking metrics, is not to confuse social media success with bottom-line impact. It’s one thing to celebrate a record number of Twitter followers; it’s quite another to demonstrate just how those followers convert into leads, opportunities, and revenue for a B2B organization.
- Lead Source Metrics
Some marketing automation tools allow companies to create complicated, multiple-attribution systems to decide which campaigns actually generate prospects. For most companies, however, simpler single-attribution systems work just fine.
Single attribution – deciding, for example, whether a new prospect was recruited via an email campaign or direct mail effort – allows you to do some relatively simple calculations for the investment required per prospect. That, in turn, allows you to calculate the ROI for your campaigns.
- Database and Data-Quality Metrics
Data quality issues are a growing problem for marketing organizations, as databases with outdated or inaccurate records tend to increase costs and drive down campaign ROI. Tracking metrics such as database size, average lead age, and performance by database/list source can tell you whether there are potentially serious data quality problems lurking in your marketing database.
The Payoff of Marketing Measurement
Most marketers know that metrics are important, and they already attempt to track at least some of the data points discussed here. The real payoff, however, comes when a B2B marketing organization learns how to automate its data-collection process and to present this data to tell a coherent story about its contributions.
Marketing automation offers tools to identify, track, and analyze key metrics, allowing marketers to spend their valuable time on tasks other than spreadsheets and other manual tracking methods.
Marketing metrics are still a work in progress and an always-moving target for even the most successful companies. As a result, it’s important for any marketing team to experiment with its own metrics and test new approaches. But for today’s B2B marketing organizations, it’s clear that effective measurement is a tool you can’t afford to work without.