Five Important Stops Along the Road from Metrics to Accountability


I’m sure you’ve had this experience, you’re talking with a colleague who shares your passion on a subject and during the course of the conversation there is a moment of clarity on a particular point.  This happened to me recently in a conversation with a European colleague on the topic of marketing performance.  As we were talking I posited the idea that there is a difference between marketing accountability and metrics.  There was a very brief pause and then he said, “yes, there is, but probably very few marketers have considered this important distinction.”  As we talked further we realized that all of the attention on “Big Data” had most marketers focused more on metrics than on the accountability aspects of marketing performance management. It is accountability, however, that lays the foundation for driving a performance-driven culture.

Did you pause for a few seconds to consider the difference?  Before we take a look at the difference let’s define the terminology.

Metrics are standards of measurement. We’re surrounded by metrics, from the weather forecast, to the crime rate, to our blood pressure.  In business we use metrics to gauge some quantifiable component of our company’s performance, for example ROI (return on investment).  Functions within a business have metrics too, and in marketing we have no shortage of them. There are now many books (of which we’ve written two) devoted to the topic of marketing metrics and measurement.  Marketing metrics include:

 •  Activity measures related to productivity, cost, and timing

 •  Output measures such as response rates, download rates, open and share rates, and site traffic rates; operational metrics such as  cost per lead and leads per rep

 •  Outcome metrics such as win rate, pipeline contribution, share of preference, and share of wallet.

Accountability describes a perspective.  Accountability is about making a commitment to a particular action, accepting responsibility for completing that action, and then reporting on how well you performed again your commitment.

Since 2001 we’ve been studying marketing performance management and measurement.  Each year in the study, marketers consistently report that they are using and reporting on more metrics than ever before.  Yet, for the past 14 years only about 25% of marketers earn high marks from their leadership team on their ability to communicate their organizational value, impact, and contribution, despite all the metrics.  Accountability separates this group of marketers from the rest, even though they may capture and report on fewer metrics than other marketers. Accountability requires metrics, measurement, and much more.

What’s the more? In our conversations with Best-in-Class (BIC) marketers who are doing a great job tackling marketing accountability, we have found they share these five common traits, they:

1. Are Guided by Outcomes.  Marketing objectives, programs and activities are tied to business outcomes.  Outcomes are those things your company needs to accomplish to achieve financial targets (revenue, profit, margin, etc.) in order to declare success.  Marketing may not be expected to impact or contribute to every outcome, but there will be a significant few.  This step seems to be the most critical.  To have the right level of accountability to the business, marketing efforts cannot be orphaned from outcome.

2. Establish Commitments. The BIC have clear and specific performance targets. Their marketing commitments are typically incorporated into marketing objectives. Can you frame your commitment into a quantifiable meaningful and relevant statement?  The BIC can.  Statements that incorporate phrases such as “increase” such as “increase the qualified to accepted opportunity conversion rate,” “reduce” such as “reduce the number of customers who defect,” doom your accountability from the get go.  What exactly does increase or decrease mean, by one, or by one percent? Will that be success?  Does who the customer is matter?  There is both an art and science to establishing performance targets and commitments for your objectives.  Think of these commitments as your quota.  This step essentially sets the expectations for what you will deliver to the business.

3. Clarify Constraints.  BIC marketers clarify all of the moving parts associated with achieving their objectives. For example, the owners, the data, the process, the timing, and the investment. To set yourself and your team up for success, you need to be clear about what you need.  Identify three to five resources you will need to be successful.  Usually these have something to do data, tools, processes, time, people, and/or money.  It’s important that your leadership team understand any constraints that might affect your performance and commitment.

4. Seal Deals.  Speaking of leadership, the BICs know how important it is for their leadership team to be on board and in sync regarding their performance targets.  Marketers who set their performance targets in isolation and march to their own drum are less likely to earn high marks even if the metrics and targets are good.  So, be sure that your leadership team signs off on your commitments and agrees that your accomplishment of these will have impact on, and value to, the organization.

5. Report Performance.  A key part of marketing accountability is to “account”. And to account means to report.  This is where you will need to select metrics to support your accountability.  The metrics of the BIC form a hierarchy and not just a “mixed bag” of measures.  The hierarchy enables them to tell both a story about how the activities are effecting the results.  The performance reports/dashboards of the BIC reflect this hierarchy. You may need to revisit your dashboard/performance report, if you created these simply by clicking on your marketing and/or sales automation platform options or by importing data from your digital platforms.  These may serve as good data sources for your dashboard but the performance report will need to tie your marketing back to the outcomes and reflect your progress against your commitments.

Accountability is the foundation for creating a performance management oriented organization. While these five capabilities aren’t the only things you can do to be a more marketing accountable organization, they are essential to the process. But accountability for the sake of accountability is a shallow goal. Ideally Marketing’s impact on the business is substantial.  Your work should affect market, product, and customer, as well as investment and tactical decisions.  Make your marketing accountability efforts about more than merely reporting on your performance.  Use the process, the metrics, and the reports to glean insights into what the organization can do to be more successful.

Register for the free webinar How the Marketing Performance Pack Leaders are Widening the Gap on April 29th to learn how Best-in-Class marketing organizations are using accountability and metrics to secure greater credibility and achieve better business results.