Ten Pieces of Advice Every Marketer Needs to Know

marketing-advice

For the last decade and a half, I’ve thoughtfully grown my marketing career—sometimes moving carefully, sometimes taking big risks. I’ve worked in big advertising agencies, small marketing firms, fortune 500 corporations, and technology startups. I’ve had some incredible bosses and mentors…and some much less incredible. I’ve led large teams of marketing professionals, and now work as a solo consultant and the co-founder & CMO of a software startup. The point is, I’ve racked up some perspective along this journey—perspective I’d like to share with young marketers getting their footing in this fast-moving profession.

This post is the end-product of an iCloud note I’ve kept for the past few years, jotting down little pieces of advice as they came to me. These 10 pieces of advice are geared toward marketers coming out of school or perhaps working in their first job. However, there might be a few nuggets in here that resonate with even the seasoned vet.

  1. Work in an agency

I highly recommend every marketer work in an agency at least once in their career—and the earlier the better. Agencies are wonderfully insane places. They are chock-full of talent, big personalities, demanding clients, and impossible deadlines. Working as an account executive will put your marketing knowledge and know-how on a fast track. You will oscillate between the strategic and the tactical, while balancing the needs of multiple accounts. You will own the details. You will travel. You will get exposure to great clients who are impressive executives at large corporations and exhausting clients who will push the limits of your patience and negotiation skills. You will work directly with a team of designers, art directors, copywriters, and traffic who will teach you (or bark at you) the details of what makes great marketing an art form. You will help build budgets and manage hours and OOPs with more care than you will ever manage your own personal finances. You will log your time carefully each day, teaching you important time management skills that will last a lifetime. The hours are long and the pay is usually mediocre, but the energy and experience are worth every late night.

  1. Find your support system

To really grow a great marketing career, you need a support system. Your system could be comprised of peers or supervisors at your current organization, past colleagues, and/or fellow members of a professional organization. You need at least one person who can help you navigate the process and politics at your company and can proactively identify opportunities for you to take on new projects and show your skills to company leadership. You may need someone other than your supervisor—sometimes called a sponsor—who is ready to take on this role. Take advantage of mentor programs, sponsor programs, and networking events supported by your company. I also highly recommend finding a professional coach. If you are early on in your career, it may be challenging to get financial approval, but this is one of the best investments you can make in yourself. A professional coach is paid to be honest with you, push you, and help you improve your self-awareness. He or she operates outside of the political circle of your organization, making them a perfect complement to your internal sponsor. If you can’t get your company to pay for 1:1 coaching, request approval for a workshop or group event hosted by the coach instead. These will be less expensive and may also help you grow your network.

  1. Ask one great question

I had a great boss early in my career (thank you, Pat!) who gave me a solid piece of advice before we walked together into a major strategy meeting with company executives: Just ask one great question. When you are a young marketer trying to find your voice in a room full of minds and voices more senior than yours, a great question can be your opportunity to get your foot in the door. It signals you are curious and want to learn. It can help leadership remember you. And most importantly, if it’s really a great question, it can spur an important discussion that takes the strategy in a new and better direction. Asking great questions and being prepared go hand-in-hand. Do your homework before you walk into the meeting and be ready to challenge group assumptions.

  1. Stop taking notes

Okay, you don’t need to stop taking notes altogether, but you are probably taking more than you need to. Note taking is a safety blanket that leaves us feeling productive and organized. However, when we are taking notes, we are not participating in the discussion. We are writing down the thoughts of others and not sharing our own thoughts. Studies have shown that women especially are vulnerable to this bad habit—sometimes out of their own accord, and other times because they are directly asked by their male peers to take meeting notes. So how do marketers break the habit? Keep your notebook or your laptop shut during meetings. Make eye contact with your team instead. Be present. Turn down the request to play secretary by letting the team know it’s hard for you to participate if you’re relegated to meeting minutes. Suggest cycling through different note-takers for recurring meetings. If you need to capture big ideas or action items, walk up to the whiteboard and get them down for the entire room to see, debate, and agree upon.

  1. Grow something

I attended a session at the HubSpot Inbound conference years ago and heard then-CMO Mike Volpe (now CEO at Lola.com) present on how to recruit the best marketing talent for your organization. One of his points stuck with me. Simply put, every good marketer has ready-proof that he or she has grown something. It could be marketing sourced pipeline. Or it could be personal Instagram followers. It doesn’t really matter so much what you have grown; it matters more that you are passionate about what you’ve grown and can recite every detail of how it was achieved and why.

  1. Spend time with customers

I know a lot of marketers who have never heard—let alone met—an actual customer. Not to be too harsh on my peers, but that is irresponsible marketing. If you are directly communicating with customers through email, social media, advertising, or any form of content marketing, you have to know the details of how your customer base communicates and likes to be communicated to. Reading survey responses or reviewing marketing data does not count! You need to get close to your customers and literally hear their voice. If your company won’t pay for you to travel to customer sites or industry events, ask your Sales colleagues if they will let you listen in on customer calls. Chances are they will be delighted you’ve taken an interest in their work and would appreciate having you in the room. Your colleagues in Sales, Support, and Services are your best connection to your customers and they have a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped by a savvy marketer. After you’ve spent some time on sales calls, spend a full day in technical support listening in on customer problems. It will open your eyes. It will make your marketing better. And it might just make Sales, Support, and Services better if you can apply your marketing smarts to making their days easier. Think: a new whitepaper that addresses a common customer pain point or a new diagram that helps simplify the sales message, all because you listened to your customers.

  1. Nurture your communication skills

Every great marketer I’ve known is a great communicator. They are strong, concise writers. They take every internal email as an opportunity to refine their communication skills—stating their intentions, motivating the reader, and giving the reader a clear call to action. Great marketers present their ideas both formally and informally every chance they get. So how does a young marketer nurture his or her own nascent communication skills? My advice is to make every piece of communication count. Your words matter. Write high-quality emails—each and every time. Present an idea to your boss in a 1:1. Present programs in small meetings. Volunteer to interview a subject matter expert at your company and write a blog post. Attend a professional development event and then offer to present what you learned at a lunch-and-learn for your department or even the company. Speak at a small, local event for your marketing peers on a topic you’re passionate about.

  1. Get comfortable with data

Comfort with data will make or break the modern marketer. You need to understand charts, graphs, diagrams, and spreadsheets beyond face value to get real value from them. If you haven’t come into your career with a STEM background, you’re going to have to cultivate your data-oriented skills in the workplace. My advice? Practice storytelling with data. Look at a graph and tell its story out loud. What is the graph about? How is the data changing over time? What are the limitations of the data? How can you act on it? What other information should you be collecting? Practice taking numbers and turning them into a story that can be shared with others, debated, and acted upon.

  1. Keep your resume updated

I have spent too much time staring at a cursor trying to jog my memory on what I accomplished at my last job in order to update my resume. Don’t make that mistake. Log your accomplishments in a running note that you train yourself to update frequently. Also, remember to log not just what you were responsible for—but how that action made an impact on the business and why it was important to the company’s success. Build your digital portfolio. Build a beautiful, functional resume. Don’t miss the opportunity as a marketer to market yourself.

  1. Know your values

Every role in every company will challenge your values system at some point. If you don’t have a firm grasp on what that value system is, you will be swept by the tide of others, allowing the people and work around you to define who you are. The most important piece of advice for every young professional is to take the time to write down your values, assess them frequently, and determine if your current job is honoring those values or pulling you further from them. What are work values? They include concepts like honesty, control, prestige, transparency, work-home balance, salary, positivity, quality, helping others, creativity, and security. Consider reading this article from The Balance Careers if you’d like to learn more.

Wrap Up

If a piece of advice in this article resonated with you, please share it with a colleague or let me know by commenting below. You can also send me an email at torey@penrodmarketing.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marketing Metrics That Matter for Marketing Leaders and CEOs

Marketing-Analytics

As marketers, we often find ourselves in the position of validating our existence. “What has marketing done for the business? How much sales growth is the result of marketing efforts? Is marketing investing in the right initiatives?” So we dig into the numbers, hoping to find the insights we need to assure ourselves—and our team, sales colleagues, and maybe even the CEO—that we are on the right track. The trouble is that we are all drowning in a sea of marketing and sales data (thanks in part to the Martech boom that began in 2011) without clear direction on which calculations matter most. And of course none of us—especially those of us in startup mode—have an unlimited amount of time to devote to daily marketing analytics.

I’ve had the interesting opportunity to reflect on meaningful metrics both from my position as VP of Marketing at a large enterprise software company and most recently as a marketing consultant. My work as a consultant has allowed me to step back and really analyze what clients need to know about their own performance to continually improve.

This post aims to share what I’ve found to be the most critical marketing metrics to track for your business. I’ve divided the list into metrics for marketing leaders vs metrics that matter most to your CEO. Yes, they are different. The insights you need to run your marketing team effectively can be quite different from the information your C-suite is requesting from you.

A few caveats before we get started:

  • The metrics shared here are intended for B2B SAAS companies, but could potentially be applied to other business models.
  • Every business is different. There will undoubtably be unique metrics you need to track based on your market, sales model, organizational maturity, etc. that can and should be added or substituted for the KPIs I list here.
  • This list is not inclusive of every granular metric most marketers will want to track on a weekly—even daily—basis for specific channels like social media, Google Ads, email, etc. Rather, this list is intended to uncover strategic metrics that will drive decision making and investment.

Now let’s dive into the metrics that matter.

Metrics for Marketing Leaders

  1. Organic Traffic Percentage. This is such a simple metric to calculate but one I find to be incredibly important when assessing the health of your website—the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. To calculate, divide the number of sessions from organic traffic by the total number of sessions in the same time period, and then multiple by 100. This KPI is an important indicator of how well your SEO strategy is working—including content, keywords, and technical site performance. I recommend measuring your organic traffic percentage at least monthly. Based on research conducted by HubSpot, the benchmark for B2B companies is 33%.
  2. Cost per Lead by Source. Every marketer should know how much they are spending to acquire leads from each of their sources—i.e. organic search, paid search, email marketing, trade shows, etc. You can calculate this KPI by dividing your marketing budget per source by the number of marketing-sourced leads produced in the same time period per source. This metric combines Leads by Source and Cost per Lead to reveal which marketing channels are producing the highest volume of leads at the lowest cost to the business—which can help instruct future spending. There are limitations to this metric. It will not tell you the long-term impact of these leads on pipeline, or if one source produces higher converting leads than another. But it will give you a sense of lead volume and cost across your different marketing channels. I recommend measuring this metric at least quarterly.
  3. Marketing Sourced Pipeline by Source. This metric is a good companion to Cost per Lead by Source and will help address some of the previous metric’s limitations. To calculate, map all pipeline sourced by a marketing activity to its source. If you have well-integrated marketing automation and CRM systems in place, this should be an easy report to run. If not, this calculation will have to be done manually and may be time consuming depending on the volume/velocity of your open leads. Marketing Sourced Pipeline by Source tells you which marketing channels are producing the greatest revenue potential among open opportunities that first engaged with the business through a marketing activity. Compare this KPI to Cost per Lead by Source for contradictions that can yield insights. For example, your Google Ads campaigns might be yielding a high volume of leads at a low per-lead cost, but if these leads aren’t converting into sourced pipeline, you may want to shift dollars into activities that yield more revenue potential. I recommend measuring this metric at least quarterly.
  4. Lead to Customer Conversion Rate. This metric is a good indicator of the quality of leads marketing is sending to sales. When conversion rates drop, it may be time to evaluate demand generation campaigns or put a lead scoring system in place. To calculate, divide the number of marketing sourced customers by the number of all Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) during a given time period. I recommend working closely with Sales to determine how you want to measure conversion rates for products with longer sales cycles that won’t convert within the quarter. This metric can also be misleading if a large wave of leads is produced in the last week of the quarter that will not have time to convert—making your conversion rate look low. To address both of these potential issues, measure rolling cohorts over time based on average sales cycle, rather than by strict fiscal-year quarters. Benchmarks vary by industry, but most reports put the B2B Lead to Customer Conversion Rate around 5-7%.
  5. Sales Lift from Upgrade Campaigns. While I’ve largely concentrated on demand generation metrics in the list above, this metric measures marketing’s impact on the existing customer base. To calculate, run a report on the revenue resulting from customer participation in a marketing upgrade campaign activity (such as a webinar) by any contact on the account within a 90-day period. This KPI measures the impact of marketing campaigns on driving existing customers to upgrade to a new pricing tier, adding additional seats, or licensing additional products. I recommend testing the impact of your upgrade campaign by running an A/B test with a control group. You can get more sophisticated with your multi-variant testing over time.

Marketing Metrics for CEOs

  1. Marketing Sourced Customer Percentage. This ratio shows what percentage of your new business is driven by marketing efforts. To calculate, divide the number of new customers that originated from a marketing activity by the total number of customers won in the same time period. I recommend measuring quarterly. Based on HubSpot research, benchmarks for a B2B inside sales model range anywhere from 40-80%.
  2. Marketing Sourced Revenue. This metric is calculated as the revenue generated by new customers that originated from a marketing activity divided by the total new revenue in the same time period. Like the Marketing Sourced Customer Percentage above, this ratio also shows marketing’s contribution to the business—by comparing these companion metrics, you can get a better picture of both marketing and sales performance. For example, if the marketing-sourced revenue ratio is less than the customer percentage ratio, then the leads originating from marketing activities are less profitable than those originating from sales—or vise versa if the ratio is greater. This is valuable information to a Chief Revenue Officer who is trying to determine how funding across departments should be allocated. I recommend measuring this metric at least quarterly.
  3. Time to Payback Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). First, let’s start with the CAC. The CAC is calculated as all sales and marketing program costs and staff compensation divided by the number of new customers in that same time period. The CAC is one of the most common and critical metrics used by Boards or acquiring companies to determine go-to-market efficiency. You may want to break it out by marketing and sales to reveal discrepancies. Now to calculate the Time to Payback CAC, simply divide the CAC by the average monthly revenue per month of a new customer—which will give you the number of months required to achieve payback. The Time to Payback CAC measures the amount of time needed to recover customer acquisition investment and become profitable. I recommend measuring this metric at least quarterly. Based on HubSpot research, the benchmark is 12 months.
  4. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). I have seen CLV equations that require a PhD in mathematics. How you calculate CLV will depend on your business model. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to understand what an average customer is worth to you over the entire extent of your relationship with that customer. To keep calculations simple, multiple the revenue expected from a customer over a 12-month period by the gross margin percentage, and then divide by the percent churn expected in the same time period. The value in knowing your CLV is amplified by comparing it to your CAC. A CLV:CAC ratio that’s too low may mean poor sales & marketing ROI; a CLV:CAC ratio that’s too high may mean you are not spending enough on sales & marketing. I recommend measuring this metric at least annually. Benchmarks vary greatly based on average deal size, gross margin, and churn rate.
  5. Marketing ROI. Again, there are many ways to calculate ROI, but a good option for SAAS companies is to subtract the CAC from the CLV, and then divide by the CAC. Simply put, this metric tells you what you should expect to receive in return for every dollar you invest in marketing and sales. I recommend measuring this metric at least annually. Most benchmark reports put this metric at a 5:1 ratio for return vs investment.

Wrap Up & Next Steps

I hope this post helped inspire your next data analysis or meeting with the C-suite. The power of metrics—either these I’ve listed here or your own curated list—is that objective data helps marketing prove our value to the business and continually improve our own performance.

Any metrics I missed above that inspire your marketing strategy? Please share your thoughts by commenting below or sending me an email at torey@penrodmarketing.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

7 Digital Marketing Insights for Your Business

SEO

Last month I attended Digital Summit Boston 2018 and—like many of the attendees—spent two days learning, networking, and furiously taking notes.

From the tactical to the existential—and from the analytical to the creative—marketing provides a beautifully bottomless pit for learning. But allowing ourselves the time and space to grow professionally is only part of the battle. The rubber really meets the road when we reflect on what we’ve learned and attempt to apply it to our everyday working lives.

So in that spirit, I’m packaging up seven of the key insights I gained from Digital Summit Boston for you—with additional context on how they might be applied to your business. If you’re a small business owner with a nascent understanding of marketing—or even an expert marketer in an enterprise corporation—this post is for you. I hope there is a little gem in here for everyone.

  1. SEO is king. No surprise here, but Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips, hacks, and tools dominated most presentations and happy hour conversations. Matthew Capala from Alphametic is a true subject matter expert on SEO and was kind enough to share SEO quick wins that make a big impact. (Cheers to Matthew for being one of the best presentations at the event.) So here is what you need to know, in no particular order. Site structure is critical to SEO—think fat category and sub-category pages with a 1:1 keyword-to-web-page ratio. For B2B, rank on pages targeted to specific vertical industries by building content around transactional keywords that bring in revenue, and use language that is unique to that industry. In a similar model, build targeted pages for specific personas to improve not only SEO but also user experience. (After all, user experience and SEO go hand-in-hand.) Long-format content always wins over short-format for SEO. (The average length of content ranking on the first page of Google is almost 2000 words!) While keyword stuffing in meta descriptions is a hack of the past, remember that there is still a strong correlation between page title and ranking. And yes, you need a blog. There is no SEO without a blog. Make sure your blog lives on your domain (not a sub-domain) and then link from your blog to demand generation landing pages as appropriate. Finally, you will find SEO success when copywriting meets effective mobile-optimized design. Site speed, mobile usability, and especially site speed on mobile will make or break your ranking. If this was a lot to digest, it might be worth investing in an outside agency or consultant that can ensure you are building your site content to maximize your organic traffic.
  2. Martech has exploded. There are nearly 7000 marketing technology solutions on the market in 2018, reflecting a 27% YoY growth—and an endless sea of options for savvy marketers looking to optimize their stack. And yet according to HubSpot’s Scott Brinker, 66% of companies don’t believe they have the skills or talent to make the most use of marketing technology. So my advice is to start small. Write down and get agreement on your marketing objectives and goals for the next 6-12 months. What activities do you need to achieve these objectives? How will you measure your performance against your goals? Once you have clarity on strategy, tactics, and reporting, you can begin to build a list of technology requirements. Take this list of requirements into your research process and look for solutions that can help you both execute and report. Extra points for tools that easily integrate with your other systems and don’t create additional data silos, and tools that can scale with you as you grow. And by all means don’t forget to leverage free tools in your stack! For example, for keyword research and SEO strategy, I am currently loving free Google tools like Search Console, Keyword Planner, Correlate, and Trends. Even Moz offers some free tools and a generous 30-day trial if you’re not ready to commit to a paid subscription. Finally, I’ll say that if you’re a startup organization, less is more when it comes to your marketing and sales technology stack. Yes, you need tools that will scale with you as you grow, but you also need to focus on low-hanging fruit like simple marketing automation tools that will help you build communication hooks into your website and nurture leads—or at least route them effectively to sales. Don’t invest in shiny new products that lack alignment with your business objectives or result in too much administrative overhead to maintain.
  3. Email is not dead. Email is still the preferred channel for B2B and B2C communications. As such, optimization tips and tricks abound. Strategically speaking, ensure the email metrics you’re optimizing and measuring align to your business objectives. Why do you send email? Communicating with subscribers, leads, customers, advocates, and partners will all take a different flavor in terms of objectives and metrics that matter most. For example, lead communication might be primary inbound and focus on click-through-rates and landing page conversion rates. While advocate communication might be primarily outbound and focus on social sharing rates. With a vast number of metrics to measure and track over time, it’s important to focus on the metrics that matter most to your business objectives. Tactically speaking, always be testing. Test your subject lines, offers, Call-to-Action (CTA), design, and of course cadence. Add retargeting tags to email campaigns (not just web pages). Monitor email disengagement rates and scrub your database. Avoid all-image designs. Do not use link shorteners. According to Email on Acid data, you only have 8 seconds to engage a subscriber—so name, subject line, and preheader text must be especially impactful. Keep email content simple with a clear CTA, and save more robust copy for the landing page. While studies show that personalization may increase open rates by 25%, I recommend choosing personalization (both sender and recipient) with intention and testing this approach with your unique subscriber base. And finally, design for accessibility. I won’t go into great detail here, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I highly recommend watching the webinar from Email on Acid’s John Thies.
  4. Creative SEM campaigns can yield big returns. There were some great presentations and discussions on how to get the most out of your paid search campaigns. Here are some of my favorite tricks, in no particular order. First of all, don’t under-estimate paid YouTube campaigns—they are less expensive than Google Ads and offer access to an engaged audience watching 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day. And please don’t forget about Bing. Like YouTube, Bing offers some great bargains compared to Google—some times at one third of the cost—providing an awesome testbed for keywords and campaigns. I recommend looking at the volume of organic traffic you’re already getting from Bing to determine if a paid program could offer a significant, cost-effective boost. Also, I love the idea of capturing more page-one Google shelf space by promoting multiple campaigns to different destinations off the same keyword. For example, you might run the table with organic results driving to your primary domain, and then add paid campaigns driving to YouTube, a dedicated landing page, or even earned PR coverage on a third-party domain. (It might seem crazy to pay to drive coverage to another site, but I think it’s a clever way to prolong media coverage and offer a less intrusive means of introducing your brand to potential customers.) You also might want to consider paid campaigns that leverage peaks in seasonal search volumes for third-party industry events. Simply promote a discount code if you’re exhibiting and then collect the user’s business email address to re-target/nurture the attendee up until the event. And finally, break up your Google Ads ROI calculations by early awareness keywords vs consideration/decision keywords. Look at impressions and CTRs for the former, and conversion/pipeline generation for the latter.
  5. LinkedIn success is no secret. LinkedIn’s Megan Golden offered a great presentation on optimizing your LinkedIn presence by sharing the secret sauce LinkedIn’s marketing team uses to engage their own users. I’ll share a few highlights here, but every social media marketer should check out LinkedIn’s Secret Sauce eBook for all the goodies. First of all, based on LinkedIn data, businesses should post between one and four times a day. Consistency is critical. Megan shared the concept that “a great visual is the new headline” and I agree. To put this mantra into motion, match your image with your headline and use original photography when possible. Based on LinkedIn data, images of people tend to perform better than images of objects. Also, every post should have a link; links drive engagement. And like all good marketing programs, you need to know your audience. Be helpful to your audience by understanding what’s important to them and offering content they find valuable. Look to your organic content performance to determine which pieces of content are worth future paid investment. According to LinkedIn data, using statistics or quotes and specifically calling out your target audience by name (“Hey, network engineers, we have a new helpful report for you”) may help boost engagement. Finally, if your company is using InMail to target prospects, it’s better that the message comes from a human (a real one!) rather than your company name.
  6. Get your attribution model right. The devil is in the details when it comes to reporting—and attribution is often at the center of the debate. Your attribution model will determine how credit for conversions, pipeline, and ultimately sourced revenue are assigned to particular marketing touch points in the customer journey. For example, a Last Interaction model will assign 100% of the credit to the final touchpoint that converted the lead to a qualified lead or a qualified lead to a customer. This model may make sense in theory, but can also lead to some irresponsible behavior. (“This Contact Me form drives all the marketing-sourced pipeline, so we should put a Contact Me form on every web page!”) Based on my own experience—and reiterated by several presenters at the event—I recommend using a multi-touch attribution model rather than a first or last touch only model. This model will encourage you to dig in to high-value wins, and then build out that particular customer’s journey before and after the sale. It will also expose other marketing and sales activities that had an impact on what it took for one account to become a customer. You might be surprised how many marketing touch-points and influencers are involved in the B2B sales journey. No matter the model you choose for your business, make sure all of the right stakeholders are involved in the decision. A friendly up-front debate with your VP of Sales on attribution models will save you from frustrating future arguments on how you’re spending your marketing budget.
  7. Rethink how you budget. No marketing list would be complete without a budget discussion. Love it or hate it, our budgets fuel the work we do and how we report our ROI contributions to the business. Especially for digital marketing, I highly recommend a Zero Budget exercise. (Kudos to Google’s Lorena Crowley Budgets for driving this concept home.) A Zero Budget exercise asks us to scope our digital programs without looking at historical budgets for reference. Instead, decide what you want to accomplish and what that program would cost without being clouded by past investments. Program budgets may fluctuate up or down with time, but will be an accurate reflection of what the business needs at that time to meet its goals.

I hope this list gave you some good food for thought about your own digital marketing campaigns. Any tips, tricks, or tools that I missed? Please share your thoughts by commenting below or sending me an email at torey@penrodmarketing.com. I look forward to hearing from you!