Hilary Hinton "Zig" Ziglar, an American author, salesman, and motivational speaker born in 1926, once said, "You can't be too busy chopping wood to sharpen the ax."

Important advice for marketers.

It's so easy to get caught up in the vortex of daily activities: the website updates, the email campaign that needs to be developed, the tradeshow or event that requires attention, the constant care and feeding of various social media platforms, and the new product launch plan, not to mention efforts to improve search engine optimization, monthly tracking, and, well, the list goes on.

Despite your best efforts, the to-do list never seems to dwindle. But that mindset keeps you focused on chopping the wood when, as Zig suggests, the chopping would be so much easier if the ax were sharper. The amount of "wood" collected would then depend on the quality of the ax, not the number of swings.

Value creators who understand and apply this principle are able to improve and prove the value of their marketing efforts. And they take the following steps.

1. Focus on impact vs. activity

You will never have enough time or resources to do it all. Home in on those efforts where you will have the greatest impact. Not sure which ones have the greatest impact? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which business outcome does this activity support?
  • Do you know how this activity is expected to move the needle for the business outcome?
  • How will you know whether the activity had the desired impact?

If you don't know the answers to those three questions, stop chopping.

Research over the past decade has shown that there is a direct relationship between Marketing's value and impact and Marketing's alignment to the business. Many marketing programs live in isolation; others are designed to support the sales team. Even marketing organizations that create and adhere to a marketing plan are often lacking alignment. You may believe you have alignment, but we see marketing plans from companies of all sizes in all industries, and less than 10% can actually make the claim.

Marketers who craft plans without access to the organization's strategic or business plan are doomed from the get-go. To drive results you need to know what needles to move: not the overall revenue target, but the bets and plays that the organization needs to make and win to achieve the revenue target.

You know you have alignment when you can draw a direct line between marketing activities and business outcome—when you can answer the three questions listed above.

2. Make metrics count

You can measure so many things that it can be hard to decide which ones matter.

Remember, the metrics you choose to report to the C-suite need to answer executives' "So What" questions. Marketing metrics should capture Marketing's impact and contribution in at least these areas: customer acquisition, customer retention, customer/brand equity, competitive position, and operational efficiencies and financials.

You have the right metrics only IF they answer these C-suite questions:

  • How is Marketing having an impact on and contributing to the business?
  • What is and isn't working?
  • Does the data enable course adjustments?

If your metrics don't answer those "So What" questions, do not pass go, but do return to the drawing board.

You may have made some huge investments in tools thinking that they will produce the metrics and dashboard you need, but holding on to what's familiar, easy, or a sunk cost may not get you where you need to go.

Selecting the right metrics that can demonstrate Marketing value and impact is the single best way to secure more resources and gain more respect for your strategic value.

Some marketers believe that impact or ROI can't be measured. Whether that's really a fear of being measured or those marketers have not personally seen or done it, you must debunk that myth. Because "what one man can do, another can do." And many have successfully measured ROI.

Agree that, yes, it won't be easy, it will take work, it may take some new skills, processes, tools, or even external help, BUT, yes, we can and must measure Marketing's value, impact, and contribution.

Use the work you expended to create alignment to develop a data chain to help identify how marketing tactics, objectives, and outcomes relate to each other, what data elements you will need, and what, if any, analytics will be required. Once you have all of these components you can select the relevant metrics. Work with your team to determine how to measure each metric, capture the data from programs designed to influence it, and how to report it.

3. Embrace insights

Having the data is one thing, analyzing and synthesizing it is another. We all know the challenges of data. Data is everywhere! The real opportunity though comes from the insights derived from the data.

Synthesis is where you begin to see the patterns in your data. Your goal is to expose the trends and patterns in your data, to bring the data to life and make it both meaningful and relevant to your leadership team to support key decisions.

The following steps will help you effectively move from data to insights:

  • Purposefully collect and analyze your data. Purposeful data collection and analysis efforts focus on answering questions that are tied to identified needs and goals.
  • Establish a data infrastructure. People with the right analytical skills, access to the right tools, and technology for data storage are three key ingredients for your data infrastructure.
  • Implement a process for collecting and using data on a regular basis. Create a data-insight-driven marketing organization. Doing so entails developing and maintaining a process to support ongoing data cleansing, collection, and analysis.

Most marketing organizations are not lacking in data. In fact, you are might even find yourself drowning in data. To be effective takes selective focus, so focus on the specific types of data that will help you demonstrate and improve the value of marketing to the organization.

4. Run marketing like a business

Many organizations are using their marketing operations (ops) to help the CMO run marketing like a business and to transform and maintain Marketing as a center of excellence. Organizations invest in marketing operations to help...

  • Ensure marketing strategies are executed seamlessly
  • Create, manage, and track marketing processes
  • Analyze and develop metrics to improve effectiveness and reduce inefficiencies

Developing a strategy road map is integral for creating a high-performance marketing operations function. That road map addresses the processes, data, resources, talent/skills, systems, and metrics the marketing ops function needs to enable Marketing to serve as a fully accountable part of the business. Your marketing ops road map should communicate the overall direction and priorities for marketing ops. The operations strategy road map should be aligned with the specific objectives for the business, build on the organization's strengths, and provide a blueprint for future capabilities.

The basic components for the marketing operations road map should address the following areas:

  • Technology, systems, tools. Technology, systems, and tools serve as key enablers for creating performance-driven marketing organizations. The identification, implementation, and deployment of these enablers are now in the domain of marketing operations.
  • Workforce. Marketing operations is responsible for ensuring that marketing personnel are adequately trained and educated, and have the skills necessary to be accountable for their work.
  • Processes/process improvement. This is one of the primary responsibilities of marketing operations. It is important that the key processes be defined, monitored, repeatable, routinely evaluated, and refined.
  • Performance measures. Another of the primary responsibilities of marketing operations is identifying the standards and the timeline for defining and deploying new metrics.
  • Capital allocation/requirements. This section should identify the capital investments and the timing of the investments needed to execute the operations strategy.
  • Supplier management. Most marketing operations organizations need to rely on the expertise of third parties. The types of suppliers that will be needed, the timing, and how those suppliers support the road map should be documented.

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Let's face it, as marketers we are enamored by data; however, more often than not, we find ourselves lost in a daily avalanche of data. To make the most out of your limited time and effort, you must allocate some time to sharpen your ax and stop devoting all of your time and effort into chopping wood. Being able to effectively analyze data and move into insights is what best-in-class marketers have mastered; and, as a result, they are able to create marketing centers of excellence.

Find out in 15 minutes how well you are transforming your marketing organization into a center of excellence via the 14th Annual Marketing Performance Measurement Survey.

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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.