In the face of the economic disruption, more and more marketing teams are seeing their budgets cut. And it’s no wonder—according to McKinsey, nearly half of CEOs (40%) don’t believe that marketing budgets should be protected in a downturn. While marketers know that leadership may inadvertently cut muscle rather than trim the fat, it’s often an uphill battle to convince executives that your marketing investments are worth protecting.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Everything should be data-first,” says Kiley Sheehy, Marketing Operations Consultant. “Setting up a clear marketing dashboard makes your value clear—it gives executives a visual representation of what you’re working on and how your marketing activities are moving you closer to that goal.”
While this idea is simple in theory, she agrees it’s often more difficult in practice. This is because many marketers lack the right data reporting systems to demonstrate the ROI of their programs. As MIT Sloan reports, “There is a tendency to rely on existing data and reports rather than start with a clean slate to map out what is needed.” Without accurate or properly integrated data systems in place, your data quality might give you an inaccurate picture of how marketing drives leads and revenue and, worse still, not show your leadership team how much your hard work actually pays off.
If this struggle sounds familiar, it might be time to start from first principles and create a solution that fits your needs today. We sat down with Kiley to discuss the three steps you need to follow to refresh your data reporting architecture.
1. Start by understanding your business's challenges
“A very good friend told me on a backpacking adventure, ‘fail to plan, plan to chafe,’” says Kiley. “Growth and backpacking aren’t so different—the best outcome starts with the simplest of planning. Getting to a great reporting infrastructure requires a solid plan at the very outset of your journey.”
A solid reporting plan starts by having a deep understanding of what is important to your business at this moment in time. According to MIT Sloan, “Marketers need to understand the strategic business challenge first, identify the required data needed, and then design the appropriate analytical solution.”
In some cases, your top business challenges will be identified by your leadership. Other times, you’ll have the chance to figure out what’s most pressing to address. “Ideally, it’s a collaborative effort between marketing, product, and your exec team,” says Kiley. Either way, you need to be really clear on the parameters of your goal—that’s where our next step comes in.
2. Pick one incredibly specific metric to focus on
You can track an abundance of metrics, but that doesn’t mean you should. “Like backpacking, ultra-light is better. To start, pick one metric and own it completely,” says Kiley. Below that, you can have sub-metrics, but they should all be supporting one larger metric.
This metric needs to be tightly defined. “Saying you want to improve your pipeline quality isn’t nearly specific enough—you need to be able to quantify that,” says Kiley. “If your buying persona is early-stage startups and they typically use your freemium product with one or two users, a good metric could be: Fifty percent increase in accounts with 2-4 users over the next 90 days. That’s specific and measurable.”
Having a singular metric to focus on also ensures that you don’t fall prey to distractions. “We need to be really confident in not having FOMO, not jumping from project to project, but saying ‘this is our bandwidth and this what makes sense for marketing to chase,’” Kiley adds.
But that doesn't mean you can’t be creative and experiment within the bounds of your singular metric. “The good thing about having an ultra-light framework is that you can pivot your activities quickly and easily under it,” she says. “You can give yourself six or twelve weeks to run a webinar program, ruthlessly evaluate your conversion from free to paid, or A/B test landing pages or CTAs.” The important thing is that it’s all in service of your key metric.
At the end of the day, there are an infinite number of things you could theoretically do as a marketer. “It’s tempting to want to be involved in all of them because you’re a huge advocate for your customer and your product,” says Kiley. “But you have to pick the ones you care about most.”
The importance of optimizing for the right metrics
3. Set up a marketing dashboard the whole team can rally behind
Now that you’ve defined your one key metric, it’s time to create a system for monitoring the data that you’ll need to assess your performance. “I love having an overall marketing team dashboard—it’s something the marketing team can rally around and also something you can easily share with your executive team to prove the value of your projects,” says Kiley.
You might find it useful to start by sketching your end vision—the kind of dashboard you want to have—and working backwards to figure out how to build it. Your company likely uses a wide range of SaaS tools, so you have multiple data sources. Once you have a clear end vision in mind, you can start collecting data from various sources and feeding them into your business intelligence (BI) tool to build the dashboard of your dreams.
How should you set up your dashboard? “Ideally, put your main metric above the fold and your segmentations below it,” says Kiley. “To go back to our example metric of doubling your accounts in 90 days, you can capture a baseline of accounts with one user, start tracking new user sign-ups, chart accounts that have two or more users and one new user sign-up and then report progress over time.”
There are many ways you may want to segment your data below your main metric. You might consider breaking down customers by lead source, industry, plan type (freemium, basic subscription, business plan, etc.), and so on. This is where you’ll start to see patterns—for example, maybe your user count doubles faster when customers find you via LinkedIn ads, so you know that’s a channel to double down on.
It may also be a good idea to include some other down-funnel metrics to help give you a holistic view of marketing performance. “If a marketer is solely focused on what she’s doing, that doesn't really help her team,” says Kiley. “She needs to be thinking about what's going on further down the funnel with adoption, engagement, and retention. It doesn't matter if you improve an acquisition metric, if downstream, users are churning.”
Use data to show the worth of your marketing efforts
During a downturn, it’s critically important for marketing teams to get reporting right. Even though many executives still view marketing as a cost center, as Kiley has shown, with the right data at hand, you can definitively prove it’s also a revenue generator.
While this does take some effort, it’s well worth it. McKinsey studied 260 marketing leaders and found there’s a type of marketing leader who enjoys trust from their executives and is significantly less likely to have their budget cut during a downturn. They call this archetype “the Unifier” and what makes them different is they gain their executives’ trust by communicating exactly how marketing drives revenue growth for the company. The right data reporting system can turn you into a Unifier and give you extra resilience amidst a period of upheaval.
Ultimately, by honing in on your business challenges, putting your effort behind moving the needle on one key metric, and setting up your dashboards in a way that gives your team clarity, you too can become an indispensable asset to your organization. That’s how you’ll achieve your growth goals, prove marketing’s value, and survive the downturn.