Marketing is a numbers game: and we’re losing

Marketing managers need to set the agenda and measure what matters and not what makes everyone feel good.

Is your life governed by ROI? And the marketing KPI’s? Oh and the ever so important NPS? And any other number of metrics (and combinations of initials) instantly supplied by your digital dashboard or from hours of tedious number crunching? If it is, then now is the time to shake off those shackles. Marketing managers of the world should unite and shout loud and proud that there is only one measurement that matters – sales. Are we selling more stuff and making more money than before?

Ok that is a bit simplistic, and even I wouldn’t countenance no monitoring or analysis, but here’s my problem with all those measurements. I think we use them to hide away from the other discussions that we need to be having with our colleagues across the business, and with senior management in particular. And if we don’t have those discussions and get them on board, I mean really on board, then at the point those lovely numbers turn nasty and bite you in a painful place, you won’t find anyone who is prepared to offer help or first aid.

Safety in numbers

A steady stream of numbers makes marketing look grown up and all fiscally responsible, doesn’t it? It’s the stuff the CEO can understand (and digest quickly). And even more importantly, it makes the CFO feel comfortable, ‘look it’s all in numbers’ they will squeal in delight. Everything is hunky dory. Except as you and I know it isn’t is it? Because when those numbers start to go the other way and all the boss sees is the short-term decision making distilled on to a spreadsheet, they will quite rightly want to know why. What they won’t see or understand though are the longer-term changes in the marketplace, the increased activity of competitors, the new legislation, the change in buyer behaviour, or any number of variables that can mess up your pretty graphs. They won’t have your back as you try to keep up with the changes outside of your control.

When that happens you will be asked for more numbers and even more graphs and yet more scores and stats. And before you know it you might as well be an accountant. That’s not what they promised you is it? It has to stop. And here is how you do it.

Do a number…on numbers

You need to change the approach. Take the initiative and show your value and the real value of marketing. You have to stand up and demonstrate your strategic understanding and your ability. Control the conversation with your boss, and absolutely with the CFO, and tell them what you are going to measure and why. Now, that might be ROI and NPS but it doesn’t have to be. Just because they have heard of these, or judge other departments by them, doesn’t mean they can impose them on you. That’s easy to say and hard to do eh? That’s true, but if you do your work properly you can take them with you.

Start at the beginning, get your strategy right. Essentially, ROI and the rest are measurements of tactics and all the tactics in the world won’t help you if the strategy is wrong. You don’t want to be judged on that. So get the building blocks set in solid strategic decisions. Develop you sustainable competitive advantage, know your customers, and certainly know your competitors, understand the buying process and monitor your environment. Use this knowledge to make your strategic decisions and trust your judgement. You will find it much easier to argue your case if it is built on a sound strategy. From that point you can explain to the rest of the business what you will be measuring and why, keeping a clear focus on sales and profitability growth. Get that bit right and they won’t be able to say no to you will they?

It will be your chance to get your head, and theirs, out of the short-term focus on metrics like ROI and put measurement in its rightful place as part of a wider understanding of your marketing strategy.

For example, because of the understanding of the buyer journey that forms part of my strategic planning, I know the value of every customer who comes on to our website and does something (downloads information, makes contact etc.) They don’t all buy but it follows that if I can increase the number of web visitors (tactic) over time the sales revenue will go up. So, the strategic understanding makes for a more efficient tactical decision and the result (sales) will be better for it.

Looking out for number 1

What I am saying is, don’t get suckered by all the other stuff…because sometimes you will get lucky, no really you will and you just have to ride that wave and hold your hands up and smile because the converse can be just around the corner. The economy, trends and fashions, competitor change, legislation (the environmental variables mentioned earlier) can go in your favour, so even though some of it is luck you should have some sort of expectation or plan in place for when it happens. That’s what having a strategy allows you to do. Which means you will be measuring the stuff you can control and nothing else.

You are the marketing expert and you have to act like one. If you don’t senior managers will eventually see through lazy ROI that makes you look good but doesn’t shift the sales needle or add value to the business. Embrace numbers, even love ROI, but like any healthy relationship don’t be controlled by it. They are tools to use, not sticks to be beaten with. Develop your strategy, control the conversation, set your metrics and you will have the measure of numbers.

This piece could not have be written without mentioning this quote. Like lots of business quotes it gets overused. That’s mainly because it makes good sense, so doff your hat to W. Edwards Deming and put this quote on the wall of your office or on the first page, in 72 point, of your next strategic marketing plan: ‘Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean you should’.