Why Marketing Must Measure More Than Leads: Four Tips for the New, Customer-Focused Reality

March 11, 2016

February 26, 2015 | By Megan Heuer

Congratulations! You’ve just been asked to help with a new customer advocacy program … or take on an account-based or customer marketing role … or help with a customer experience project. The good news is that these are great opportunities for b-to-b marketers and their leaders. The bad news? You’re going to have to measure more than leads if you want to show the impact of your work. What’s that you say? Marketing only measures its value based on demand creation? That has to change. Let’s talk about how to do it. 

First, some background about how far we’ve come. In the old days, marketing had a bad reputation for spending money and then not being able to show financial results. Thanks to process and technology updates, those days are gone (or they really should be if they’re still lingering in your company!). Marketing organizations have now tuned their measurement models to declare victory based on demand creation; specifically, marketing’s contribution to the sales pipeline and to revenue. This is a positive change, with accountability bringing credibility to the marketing function in the eyes of sales and senior leaders.

Now we’re in a new phase for b-to-b marketing – it’s all about the customer. In a way, this shift was brought about by the previous phase. As marketing has become better at understanding what happens during the buyer’s journey, we’ve come to recognize that demand creation success is limited by the quality of the overall customer experience, especially post-purchase. As a result, in many companies, marketing is taking on new responsibilities in support of customer-lifecycle-focused objectives, especially those with frequent renewals or those that rely on cross-sell and upsell for growth. We’re seeing increased focus on post-sale marketing support for customer engagement and customer advocacy. Marketing is being asked to contribute to later stages of buying, long after sales or partners are involved. More b-to-b companies are adopting account-based models where marketing participates in planning and relationship support, not just demand creation.

When it comes to this new set of customer-focused responsibilities, measuring leads won’t help because many activities were never meant to generate a lead. When marketing’s responsibilities expand beyond demand creation, it’s essential to update how its performance is measured to reflect new goals. Here are four tips to help you show marketing impact in the new customer-focused world:  
 

  • Be an expert goal setter. Remember SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound)? They are your new best friend. Be militant about looking across marketing’s new responsibilities and identifying the business goals they support. Describe these in SMART terms. For example, “support retention” is not a SMART goal. Try again – in what ways will you support retention? How much do you want to see it improve and over what time period? Which customer segments are a priority? Don’t forget the “attainable” part. Marketing is not a miracle worker. In the retention example, it’s important to pinpoint what is causing retention issues. Are these something marketing’s toolkit can fix or are there other functions that must be part of the solution?
  • Embrace continuous improvement and shared KPIs. When it comes to customer and account-based marketing, the goal is to get better and better. It’s a journey with milestones, but no end, and a lot of people are on the trip with you. Make sure to take stock of where you are when you start (e.g. a benchmark, a current-state snapshot of a metric you want to change, etc.) and measure to show progress and improvement. With retention as our example, if the company wants to improve retention within three customer segments, take a snapshot of current retention in those segments (or get one from a function that tracks it today) and track improvement from that baseline over time. Marketing will not be the only function to contribute to this retention outcome, but the baseline makes it easier to show progress and make comparisons to when marketing wasn’t involved.
  • Become great at influence reporting. Marketing’s work in the customer-focused world often comes down to getting a customer engaged and creating a positive environment for your brand around the quality and effectiveness of the customer’s experience. It’s essential to have a complete, accurate picture of who marketing has engaged plus how and when it happened, all linked back to those SMART goals. To get started, track activity at the individual contact level, across all marketing’s touchpoints. This is the first building block for meaningful influence reporting.
  • Communicate clearly. Create succinct reports that show the relationship between marketing activity and specific business goals. This doesn’t mean tactic attribution to show how much a new customer reference is worth, or the volume of new customer references or social media mentions. It does mean showing trails of activity and output that support a desired impact, compared to when those activities weren’t happening. In demand creation, this is showing all the touches that led to the delivery of a marketing-qualified lead, not just last-touch attribution. For the expanded marketing charter, using our retention example, this means showing all the touches that take place in a defined time period after a customer buy is linked to a higher rate of retention in a targeted customer group. 

An old Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” While marketing may have previously trained its internal audience to expect a story all about demand creation, now is the time to revise that story. Tell a better story about the wider reach of marketing in the new customer-focused world that reflects its very meaningful contributions.

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