Everyone has pet marketing KPIs. More specifically, anyone who is a metrics-driven modern marketing geek has pet KPIs. I am certainly in that group.
Context is everything and my most recent context is enterprise B2B marketing a premium SaaS to marketers. CAC (cost to acquire a customer) is the holy grail and everything tracks back to that. In fairness, CAC is fully loaded with marketing and sales, not solely marketing. But, marketing has to measure its effectiveness each month and quarter. That measurement has to track back to CAC and these marketing KPIs do just that.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with a lot of different marketing KPIs. This short list has been my consistent go-to for the last three years or so. In addition to experimenting with the specific metrics, I played a lot with the number of metrics—raging from just a few some years to ten or more. I believe five is the magic number as it’s enough to cover the bases and not so many that the team gets confused or loses focus. Year-over-year consistency is important too, just to set baselines and outperform them.
I have also come to believe in simplicity and understandability. Marketing KPIs have to be easy for the team to comprehend and affect. Once metrics become math exercises, they lose their impact. So here are my five favorites, what they measure and why they’re on the list…
My Top Five Marketing KPIs
1. Alexa Rank
Yep, good old fashioned Alexa ranking is one of my favorite marketing KPIs. Why? A couple of reasons. Most importantly, it’s a current indicator of market receptivity. So many times in tech marketing, we’re rapidly iterating product, price and positioning. Often, it takes too long for us to understand how those changes impact our reception in the market. Alexa rank is a consistent, impartial source of relative performance data. Is it flawed? Yes. But, it’s flawed consistently, so I can rely on its period-over-period perspective.
The second reason I like Alexa is that it’s relative. Web traffic ebbs and flows and B2B traffic ebbs and flows within that (often in contrast to overall trends). Alexa accounts for that as performance is relative to everyone else. Does that mean B2B rankings get worse in December? Yep. And I love having that black-and-white explanation of why and how macro conditions impact expectations and performance. More about managing around that a bit later on.
I like to track Alexa ranking as of the end of each month and better year-over-year numbers. This takes into account seasonality and competitive forces. It also keeps everyone focused on a relatively high-level metric that is actually the sum of promotion, price, product and positioning. Of course, the more you’re investing in growth, the higher you’ll set your goals for climbing the Alexa ladder. Alexa also makes it easy to target and track outperforming competitors.
Inbounds are hand raisers and aside from their intention-packed velocity, they’re leading indicators of the next level of engagement (below Alexa ranking). If Alexa measures our ability to lead a horse to water, inbounds measure if we can get that horse to drink. These are people who explicitly ask to be contacted.
You can have a compelling top-line message that drives tons of high-level interest and traffic. But, when you really have your message dialed in, you can convert that interest into action. That’s what inbounds are—action.
Inbounds are also great because you can measure their relative quality. Getting the right people to act is far more critical than just generating activity. Many a sales team will argue that low-quality activity is far worse than no activity. Inbounds are direct and participatory, so they get profiled, scored and potentially escalated to opportunities. How they score and their relative likelihood to become opps (and qualified opps) all goes into evaluating their quality (and the quality of the vehicles that deliver them).
Inbound-gen goals are numeric, measured monthly and quarterly and can focus on both period-over-period and year-ago numbers. Often, inbound goals are a function of higher-level, reverse-engineered sales funnel metrics. In order to generate $X in new contract value, X inbounds must be generated. Keep in mind, if you do reverse engineer your funnel, you should stagger your inbound goal backwards to accommodate your sales cycle.
3. Lead Activity
I admit, on the surface the lead activity metric may appear like a sub-metric to inbounds—and this is not a collection of secondary numbers. However, there is a good reason to have it as a top-line marketing KPI—it measures stimulation of the universe. If inbounds measure intentional action, lead activity measures stimulated engagement or participation. In practice, lead activity is a clear predicator of inbound volume.
I am inherently a content marketer—not by label, but by practice and belief. I believe that content is the value that people seek and that marketing is about producing and distributing authentic content that naturally attracts like-minded people to engage. Measuring the effectiveness of that belief over time is crucial to understanding the resonance of content. What we say, how we say it and where we say it, impact engagement and looking at lead activity helps us understand that.
Since lead activity is focused on engagement of the existing lead universe (leads generated in prior periods), it’s very much an indicator of the effectiveness of nurture programs. If you have a nurture cadence dropping new assets to your universe every two weeks, you need to understand how those assets impact engagement. Again, it’s evaluating resonance, but specifically within your existing universe. In context, you can think of Alexa as measuring public resonance and lead activity measuring private resonance. How aligned are your content assets with the wants and needs of your universe? How well do you know your buyer? Which content should you continue to invest in? Which content is a waste of resources? Lead activity answers these questions.
I like to see lead activity on a monthly and quarterly basis with year-ago look backs for seasonality. Goals can be to beat the prior period and/or prior year depending on your growth.
4. Marketing Generated Opportunities
I believe that sales must participate directly in marketing’s KPIs and MGOs are how that happens. MGOs are leads that sales converts to opportunities. This could be when a lead inbounds or because they were surfaced via engagement scoring, called by sales and converted that way. In either case, if the lead was generated by marketing and becomes an opportunity by any means, it’s an MGO. Attribution goes back to the original source.
Like inbounds, MGOs can be qualified and the best indicator of MGO quality is if sales escalates them to the next level. Obviously, we want to generate huge numbers of MGOs, but we don’t want to create low quality MGOs that end up being non-revenue drains for sales.
Marketing generated opportunities are the closest metric marketing has to closed-won deals. MGOs happen much faster than closed-won deals with fewer variables, so you can get more immediate feedback on programs using MGOs than closed deals. And, if you’re creating quality MGOs, your sales team will be happy—feeling like they can fill-in-the-blanks with sales generated leads and opps rather than carrying the load that way.
Every organization has an ideal balance of MGOs and SGOs. Once you can find that equilibrium, you can set and achieve MGO targets that are reverse engineered to your new contract value goals. Period or year-over look backs are far less relevant than revenue responsibilities.
5. Social Audience
This is a referral metric and it’s designed to identify resonance (again), but this time in how we describe and share our content. It tracks back to message receptivity and is especially relevant to look at period-over-period. There may be seasonal impacts here as well, so I like to look over my shoulder to the year-ago quarter as a sanity check. But, for the most part, I like to see this number growing each month. If it’s not, then our message or market is in trouble.
A nice thing to do is judge social audience quality by combining it with inbounds. It’s a sub-metric for sure, but it’s also a way to assess if we’re getting the right people to engage and interact. Social click-throughs are notoriously stingy when it comes to form-based conversions (they don’t fill out forms, period.) I look at that as a modality, rather than a fundamental difference in the person. Meaning, if you can get that social-referred person back—when they’re not surface surfing—you have an equal likelihood to convert via traditional means.
There’s an interesting relationship between Alexa and social audience as well. While there’s a degree of sub-metric here, there’s an equally plausible outcome that sees Alexa get worse and social swim upstream and deliver a much higher ratio of less traffic. One way to think about that is in regards to seasonality. When you know your dealing with a lower volume of organic, natural traffic, intentionally amp up social to smooth out the dip. It works and it can help keep your inbounds consistent despite the seasonality. (Promotions can do that too, but they can be much more expensive.)
So there you have them—my five favorite marketing KPIs for high-ticket, B2B marketing. Using these KPIs, I have predictably managed and grown programs with a healthy mix of owned, earned and paid media. Generally speaking, I’m a lean/bootstrapped thinker—predisposed to focus on efficiency. It all starts with reliably knowing what’s happening with the KPIs and the myriad sub-metrics that feed each of them. Keep in mind, as the marketing leader, I’m managing using those sub-metrics to determine why and how the top-level marketing KPIs are what they are. That way, the team can focus on the simplicity of the KPIs and I can go deeper as needed.