Success in Marketing Starts with Having Clear Objectives
Like anything in business, if you want to have success, you need “leading” metrics and “lagging” metrics. I’ll explain the to start with the end goal in mind. It’s true when it comes to anything in life and in business, and it’s especially true with respect to outcomes that are important for your company to achieve.
We are asked all the time, “What should I measure in marketing? What should I measure to ensure that we are successful in our marketing and in our sales?” My approach is if you want to achieve something, you need to have a very clear vision of where you want to go. You need to have objectives to work towards, because you want to take your company from where you are now to a specific place in the future. Be explicit in what that looks like. You can’t be ambiguous.
When you set clear expectations for your business with your team, there are a few rules of thumb to follow. You want them to be able to define what success looks like. At the end of your quarter, year, or whatever the time frame might be, there should be no ambiguity as to whether you were successful or not.
In business, when you think about tracking metrics, there are two types of metrics that you should be tracking. There’s “leading” metrics and “lagging” metrics. I’ll explain the difference.
To drive down a back country road successfully, you need to have your front windshield clear because you need to know where you’re going. You need to know where the next turn is and if there are obstacles to overcome. You need to know when you can go fast and when you should go slow. That’s the front windshield and those are your leading metrics. That’s looking at things ahead, looking at things that you can react to and have an influence on.
There are also lagging metrics, which are like what you see in your rearview mirror. Lagging metrics are things that have already happened. It’s the part of the road that you’ve already driven on. You can’t change whether you’ve driven on that road successfully or not because it happened in the past. If all you’re looking at is lagging metrics without the leading metrics, it’s like driving down the road with your windshield blocked out. You can keep an eye on the rearview mirror to make sure that you’re still on the road, but you can’t see what’s coming around the next corner. You can’t even see the next corner, for that matter.
So many people in charge of marketing will look at lagging metrics. They think, “I’m in marketing so I want to measure how many qualified leads that I generate.” Well, that’s great, but that’s a lagging metric. Once you’ve measured how many qualified leads you generated in the past, you can’t change it. You can’t influence it because it’s done. The same applies with salespeople who set their goals purely on their sales targets. They’ll say, “I want to achieve X dollar amount of sales in the next quarter or year.” That’s a lagging metric, and by the time you can measure that, you can no longer influence the outcome, because it’s done.
However, lagging metrics are important since they are what you can take to the bank. When we talk about the right things to measure, you want to talk about what it is that you want to accomplish at the end of your time frame. Start there but recognize that although those are numbers you can quote and take to the bank, they are lagging metrics, and by the time you can measure them, you can’t influence them anymore. To hit those lagging metrics, you need to have leading metrics.
I’ll give you an example. Take a salesperson whose lagging metrics might be a quarterly sales target. That’s what must be accomplished, and you want to be clear on that. That’s the only lagging metric that matters—the sales brought in that quarter. That’s it. The definition of success is meeting that sales quota. To achieve those quarterly sales, some leading metrics that will influence behavior throughout the quarter may be the number of phone calls the salesperson is making daily or how many meetings the salesperson is booking with potential clients each week.
By the way, if you’re a salesperson, the only time that you’re truly selling is when you are interacting with a prospect. All the paperwork and the other work that surrounds a salesperson’s daily life is not selling. Selling is when you’re talking with someone. How many phone calls, Zoom calls, or in-person meetings have you set up with your prospects? If you are expecting to do 20 client meetings a month and you’re halfway through the month and you only have six in the books, you can do something about that. You can increase the phone calls to get
more meetings so that you hit 20 sales calls. You can increase Zoom sales calls per month so that you’re much more likely to hit your sales quota, which is the lagging metric measured at the end of the period and the definition of success.
One of the leading metrics for marketing programs that we set up for Client-Partners could be the amount of traffic to their website from online pay-per-click advertising (PPC). It could be the organic traffic that’s coming to their website from content that we’ve created. Those are great examples of leading metrics. Those are somewhat inside your control. If you’re not getting enough PPC advertising clicks, maybe you need to look at your PPC advertising spend or strategy, or your keyword strategy may need some tweaking. The lagging metric is the number of qualified marketing leads. This could be measuring your inbound calls, or the number of contact forms filled out or meetings booked in your sales team’s calendar. These are examples of lagging metrics that we would track and measure success against. You want to be very specific about the metrics that you’re following.
The other thing I will leave you with is that once you define what those metrics are, you need to align everybody that’s involved. Management needs to be aligned with employees, who need to be aligned with outsourcers, whether that’s Tulip Media or whoever you use. Everyone needs to be aligned with 100% clarity behind what the definition of success is—your lagging metrics—and what are the leading metrics that we are going use to influence those lagging metrics. If you do not have alignment with everybody involved, you will have different definitions of success and therefore misalignments and missed opportunities for success.
I challenge you to get clear on your numbers, get clear on the metrics that you want to follow, and be clear about the leading activities that will influence your lagging metrics and the results that you can then take to the bank.