During a recent conversation, the VP of marketing at a well-established B2B company told me they couldn't address marketing measurement accountability now because they needed to address marketing automation first.

Multiple questions immediately ran through my mind:

"Will the leadership team accept the inevitable delay in communicating what Marketing is doing with the money and whether it is making a difference to the bottom line?"

"In what way will automation help them define their metrics?"

"How did we ever manage to measure and manage marketing performance before we had all of the latest technology?"

The marketing technology landscape is exploding. In just a few years we've gone from a few key technologies and a hundred players to dozens of technology options and nearly a thousand players. It's easy to get excited by all these sexy new tools. But it is a mistake to wait to address accountability until after you have addressed technology, even if it's just the marketing automation piece.

Why is that so? Because we know from over a dozen years of research that in performance management two best-practices are statistically significant for separating the best marketers from the rest of the pack: alignment and accountability.

Although automation matters, "A" Marketers focus on knowing which outcomes and metrics are essential to proving how Marketing is affecting and contributing to the business, and therefore which metrics need to be reported and improved. Armed with this information, the Marketing function can make decisions on what course of action and what investments will enable the Marketing function to serve as value creators.

Marketing technology, analytical prowess, and other capabilities may need to be among the investments. Technology, including automation, is the cart. With it you can carry and move more—capture more data, make better content, make better channel and mix decisions.

A lot goes into making a technology adoption decision, such as your current platforms, your current capabilities, what you need to be able to do. Alignment and accountability can provide valuable input in developing your technology road map and your process and skills requirements.

Alignment and accountability will also go a long way toward helping make your case for the technology investment.

Looking to model the leaders of the marketing performance management pack? Consider taking these four steps.

1. Start with alignment

For many marketers, the first place to begin is with the marketing plan. Revamp your marketing plan so that the line of sight between marketing activities and business results is clear. Seek expert help if you don't know how to do this work.

Many marketers see Sales as their customer and so limit their marketing objectives to what the sales team is trying to achieve. In addition to the sales plans, identify other business outcomes, such as customer value, category ownership, etc. that Marketing is expected to have an impact on. Then determine how marketing is expected to move the needle. This step will enable you to select the right metrics and set the right performance targets.

2. Commit to accountability

Website visitors, downloads, fans, followers, and shares are among the expanding number of things marketers can measure. Many of the things we can track fall into activity and output types of metrics. Best-in-class marketers, however, move from activity/output metrics to more meaningful measures of effectiveness and efficiency. Doing so may require you to adopt a metrics framework.

Armed with a framework and the performance targets defined in your marketing plan, you will be able to define your marketing dashboard components. Dashboard development is an iterative process that goes from static performance reporting to the ability to use the dashboard for scenario analysis. Once you have the dashboard, use it to facilitate real-time course adjustments and strategic recommendations.

Even without a dashboard, it is important to regularly meet with senior business leaders to review Marketing performance and contribution.

3. Build analytical muscle

Develop and implement formal processes to collect and manage data. Introduce a formal, documented marketing analytics initiative. Create a data inventory and metrics catalog; invest in tools for data analysis. Harness and use data, analytics, and modeling to discern patterns, glean insights, and predict outcomes.

4. Upgrade your infrastructure

Now we're talking technology! Take an inventory of existing siloed processes and tools, and identify best-practices for sharing and standardization. Marketing's infrastructure includes more than email or campaign automation, marketing resource management, and marketing asset management. Move from automation tools to performance management processes that enable you to run Marketing like a business.

Volumes have been written about why automating a bad process or faster reporting of bad data does not improve anything. More important, it may further expose the lack of alignment, accountability, and meaningful analytics.

So put the alignment, accountability, and data horses in order before attaching the cart of technology selection.

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Marketing Accountability Is the Horse, Automation Is the Cart. Put Accountability First

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is the president of VisionEdge Marketing. A pioneer in Marketing Performance Management, Laura has published four books and she has been recognized for her thought leadership, winning numerous industry awards.