Getting ready to present the results of your first month of activity to the executive team? Well, read this first. Jeff Clark offers five fundamentals that help prepare you and your audience. These are hard-earned lessons from decades of exec team meetings and a few conversations that went down a rabbit hole.

Have you ever been in a meeting where a C-level executive asks, “What’s the return on that expensive event we just did?”  Or, “I see all these webcasts in your plan, do you get real prospects?” Or, “I see lots of activity, but is it bringing in any revenue?” 

Those conversations spiral down the ROI rabbit hole, and never end well. 

You need to set some expectations when talking about marketing’s impact on the business. It even requires a little education for executives who may *think* that they know alot about marketing. But, there are five fundamentals that will train them to be better partners, as well as save you from those embarrassing conversations. 

#1: There’s a Difference Between Activity and Key Results

You want to be talking about key results (aka impact or outcome measures) with executives, not your team’s activity or even lower level outputs. This is KR in the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) equation. See our blog Five F’in Fundamentals; Marketing OKRs.

There is a simple hierarchy that helps you distinguish these measures: 

  • Activity – events, emails, ad runs, collateral published
  • Output – attendance, leads, demo requests, web views/downloads
  • Key Results – revenue, opportunity value, brand awareness, customer satisfaction 

Key Results are what the executive team really cares about. This stack of measures can help you tell a story of “what activity and outputs lead to your key results,” but leave the lower level for the drill-downs. 

#2: Avoid Discussions of Tactic-level ROI

The reality is that any tactic is only 1 or 2 touches on an opportunity’s journey that requires dozens of touches. For example, event attendance or web traffic measures like unique visitors and downloads are outputs of your marketing work posting and promoting content. Even a lead off the website is not in and of themselves a demonstration of an impact on the business. 

Since they are a step your audience may be taking toward, determine where on your customers’ journeys that tactic is important. Is it an element that you can drill down to in an executive level discussion? Is it a measure that can be indexed with others to get a sense of market traction. For example, you could get a sense of brand awareness trends by indexing a few output metrics, such as unique web visitors, search rankings, analyst reviews, etc. 

If they aren’t part of a story of key results, leave activity and output metrics to your team’s review of tactic success and don’t bother the execs with them. 

#3: Define Measurable, Impactful Marketing Goals

What types of “returns” do you want to be discussing relative to the investment in marketing? The obvious answer should be your progress against goals set in your masterplan. Or, the O in your OKR. 

This leads to four important questions:

  • Do you have goals?
  • Are they measurable? 
  • Are the measures key results?
  • Does your executive team care about them? 

You want to have a discussion that follows, “You have invested X because Y is important to our business, and marketing delivered Z to that end.” The Z could be a contribution to revenue, such as marketing influence on won deals. It could be an increase in CSAT or brand preference due to marketing’s customer engagement campaign. It could be an increase in sales productivity due to enablement efforts. The answer is as varied as types of businesses and their objectives, but it almost always has to relate to revenue. 

The challenge often comes in how to measure progress on goals. Brand trend measures are often hard to track in the short-term. Impact on deals won is difficult when marketing shares responsibility with sales for engagement. We’ll come back to this topic in future blogs, but check out the podcast discussions linked below. 

#4: Allocate Measurable, Impactful Goals to Campaigns

Once you are able to talk about ROI at the level of your marketing team, can you take it down a level? Yes. 

If your master plan includes the development of integrated, multi-channel campaigns, then ladder your key results down to the campaign. For example, a campaign targeted at generating new revenue in a new market should generate key results tied to brand, market share and revenue impacts. A campaign targeted at current enterprise customers should generate key results tied to customer retention and satisfaction, renewal revenue, or share of wallet. 

Talking about results at the campaign level can also make it easier to drill down to the tactics, if that’s a burning issue for the exec team. “How did that user conference help us retain customers?” 

#5: Determine How Large Projects Serve Your Top Goals

That leads us to the last fundamental. There are big things that you do that don’t easily fit in your OKR story. Website reboots, sales tool and portal projects, user conferences (noted above), fixing broken processes (e.g, creative production, lead management) – these can take a lot of staff time and energy, and may be on the minds of the exec team. 

Don’t skirt the issue. Put in a context of making it easier to reach your key results. For example, a broken lead process may hinder your ability to report on impact to opportunities and wins. Your website reboot will put you in a better position to launch successful campaigns or improve brand metrics. 

Remember, it’s always about telling a story. And that story needs to tie back to the OKRs you laid out in your master plan.

More on the podcast

189: The Big Payback of Marketing ROI and the Demise of Twitter Episode

This week Jeff and Ian dive into the rabbit hole of marketing ROI sharing 5 tips and over a cocktail Robert is in the bar lamenting the demise of Twitter and organic social

Photo of person dressed as a rabbit by Anton Kotlovskii on Unsplash

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