B2B Marketing ROI — Focus on Quality Over Quantity

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

  1. Stop Making Sales Conversion Your Only Marker of Success. Yes, sales conversion is a very critical metric, but it is notorious for getting diluted or lost in a long sales cycle. Examples of this include: credit for a sale being split along multiple marketing and non-marketing touchpoints or the sales department wants full credit for the sale. The latter happens because five years back, the customer had briefly talked to a sales agent — and marketing gets no credit. As a result, marketers should have multiple conversion metrics (aside from sales) which are within the marketer’s sphere of influence. Examples include: white paper downloads, social sharing of content or mail list sign-ups.
  2. Stop Assigning Click Volume as a KPI. Yes, it is a performance indicator; however, it is not a KEY performance indicator for most B2B campaigns. First, let’s get past the fact that a clickthrough can be unintentional, click-baited or a bot. None of those clicks will have any value and baited clicks usually have negative value. However, even legitimate clicks tell you nothing about why the prospects are there and their level of engagement or sales disposition, which are the real metrics in B2B sales. Instead, focus where those clicks lead to macro-conversion activities, such as downloads or contact information shares. These post-click activities tell you much more about the level of engagement with site visitors, the types of prospects you are attracting and the relevance of your content.
  3. Finally, Stop Cold-Selling Through Digital Channels. As a B2B customer, if I don’t know you and you have not come recommended by someone, why would I take the time to learn about your company? Unless you have a very unique product that addresses an acute need and you catch me at the right moment, I am simply not going to “click here to learn more.” In my experience, these campaigns are full of low-quality clicks. Jeff Molander’s recent post “Ditch the Call to Action in Your Cold Email Strategy” provides a great discussion on why you should be aware of selfish calls to action. Aside from just being ineffective, these communications can also place your email campaigns on blacklists and hurt your overall brand.

A healthy B2B measurement program begins during the campaign planning stages. I often recommend the clients think about the digital sales development journey and how they want to develop sales opportunities. When thinking about content, I suggest that they don’t simply focus on sales conversion, but also think about content that helps prospects develop a relationship with their company. Finally, I ask them to think about measuring immediate content’s effectiveness. Tracking shares, mail list signups and other engagement activities help you understand prospect intent and confirm marketing effectiveness faster than waiting for the eventual sale.

Improved Marketing ROI Shouldn’t Be Your Metric, This Should

My team often engages in client projects designed to improve marketing outcomes. Many times, clients describe their primary objective as an increased return on marketing dollars or return on investment (ROI). However, this is often the wrong object and their real goal should be improved marketing effectiveness.

My team often engages in client projects designed to improve marketing outcomes. Many times, clients describe their primary objective as an increased return on marketing dollars or return on investment (ROI). However, this is often the wrong object and their real goal should be improved marketing effectiveness.

“That sounds like semantics,” you say? Yes, this is an argument over semantics, and in this case, semantics matter.

When stating the primary objective as improved marketing ROI, the aperture is usually focused on an optimization exercise, which pits financial resources on one side of the equation and levers — such as channel spend, targeting algorithms and A/B testing — on the other side.

A couple of decades ago, marketing analytics recognized that specific activities were easier to link, with outcomes based on data that was readily available. Over time, this became the marketing ROI playbook and was popularized by consultants, academics and practitioners. This led to improved targeting, ad buys and ad content. These improvements are very important, and I would argue that they are still a must-do for most marketing departments today. However, resources are optimally allocated across channels, winning ads identified and targeting algorithms improved, marketing is still not as effective as it can be. Now is when the hard part of building a more effective marketing function actually begins.

For a moment, let’s imagine a typical marketing ROI project from the customer’s perspective. Imagine you are actively shopping for a refrigerator. A retailer uses data to appropriately target you at the right time, across multiple channels, with the right banner ad and a purchase naturally follows, right? Of course not.

  • What about helping you understand the variety of features, prices and brands available?
  • What about helping you understand the value of selecting them over other retailers?
  • What about the brand affinity and trust this process is developing in the consumer’s mind?

Because this purchase journey can play out over weeks or months, these marketing activities are more difficult (but not impossible) to measure and are often left out of the standard ROI project. However, these activities are as impactful as the finely tuned targeting algorithm that brought you to the retailer’s website in the first place.

Back to why semantics over ROI and marketing effectiveness matter. Today, the term “marketing ROI” is calcified within a relatively narrow set of analytical exercises. I have found that using marketing effectiveness as the alternative objective gives license to a broader conversation about how to improve marketing and customer interaction. It also lessens the imperative to link all activities directly to sales. Campaigns designed to inform, develop relationships or assist in eventual purchase decisions are then able to be measured against more appropriate intermediate metrics, such as online activity, repeat visits, downloads, sign-ups, etc.

What makes this work more challenging is that it requires marketers to develop a purposeful and measurable purchase journey. In addition, it requires a clear analytics plan, which drives and captures specific customer behavior, identifies an immediate need and provides a solution so the customer can move further down the purchase journey.

Finally, it requires developing an understanding of how these intermediate interactions and metrics eventually build up to a holistic view of marketing effectiveness. Until marketers can develop an analytical framework which provides a comprehensive perspective of all marketing activity, marketing ROI is merely a game of finding more customers, at the right time and place who will overlook a poorly measured (and, by extension, poorly managed) purchase journey.