How to Set and Track Your Marketing Goals

How to Set and Track Your Marketing Goals

“Begin with the end in mind.”

That was good advice back when Stephen Covey wrote The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People so many years ago. And it’s good advice now.

In fact, if you had to write The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Marketers for 2018, “begin with the end in mind” would be a smart chapter title. Perhaps even the first chapter title.

You could begin it by talking about how to define marketing goals.

This is trickier than it sounds. If you’ve ever been around the conference table when the question of which marketing goals to pick comes up, you know how the conversation goes. People start tossing in all sorts of ideas…

“More revenue!”

“More ROI.”

“Better leads.”

“More website traffic.”

 Those are all admirable goals, of course. One or two of them might even be the right goals. But you need to distill all those suggestions down to one or two priorities. Because if “improve every single metric we track” is your marketing goal… you don’t have a goal. You have a herd of competing priorities.

 The trick, of course, is to pick one goal that will support all the others. That one thing that, if achieved, would make pretty much every aspect of your business better.

Then your second trick would be to find the perfect, trackable metric through which to measure your progress. The one metric to measure every piece of content by, every advertising campaign, everything you do. To find the “one metric to rule them all” in Lord of the Rings parlance.

Now, can you have more than one marketing goal? Sure.

You can have no marketing goals if you want. You can even be like 66% of B2C or 55% of B2B content marketers, who don’t have a working definition of what success even looks like.

But we do not recommend this.

And frankly, if you’re reading this, you wouldn’t take that path, either. So pick one goal (or two, if you must).

How to pick your marketing goal/s

You may already have an idea of what your primary marketing goal should be. Here are a few ways to test if it’s a worthy goal, or to develop a marketing goal in the first place:

·      If you could change one thing about your business, what would deliver the biggest impact? More revenue? Shorter sales cycle? Something else?

·      A year from now, where do you want your business to be? What’s one specific, succinct goal that would prove you had achieved that?

·      As you look through your reporting – particularly your marketing reports – what’s one metric you feel your company is just really weak on? Another way to ask this is: Where’s the black hole in your marketing funnel?

·      If you could achieve this one goal, what else would you be able to do? Often, goals are like chess pieces – you pick a particular goal simply because it opens up so many possibilities and options for your business. Achieve that one goal, and you’ll be in a position of power.

·      Can you realistically achieve this goal? Tripling the number of leads you get sounds great, but could you actually map out what it would take to get that done – and realistically plug those tasks into your calendar? Give yourself a winnable goal, not a moonshot. Unrealistic goals often get ignored.

Choosing a primary marketing goal is something that you should get a group consensus on. That’s because if you’re really picking this one goal as the focal point of your marketing work, that means a lot of people are going to have to be committed to this goal. All those people need to believe in this not just give it lip service.

For those of you who aren’t 100% sure of what your goal should be, here are the most common goals digital marketers have:

marketing goals and objectives

Those are all excellent, admirable goals. But notice how spread out the answers are. None of them gets more than 20%. This speaks to how individualized most companies marketing goals are – and that’s as it should be.

How to attach a metric to your marketing goals

 This is where we get specific. The metric you pick – and how you track and measure it – is the ruler by which you will measure success.

Sometimes, goal metrics are easy to measure. Like new leads. You define that as how many unique individuals fill out a particular form, for example. That’s a nice, clear, easily trackable way to see what’s happening.

But as Michael McEuen writes in his post on B2B attribution, more leads is not always a great way to actually improve your business, because not all leads are created equal.

Some leads are more affordable to get, sure. But when you track their performance all the way down to revenue earned, the source of the most leads is not necessarily the source that generated the best leads. Or even the most revenue.

marketing leads excel spreadsheet

This is exactly why so many marketers have shifted from “get more leads” to “get better leads” for what they track. Or their metric may be even more specific, like “reduce the cost per Sales Qualified Lead by 30%.”

There are many other types of metrics to track, of course. Customer retention is a great thing to track, as it can result in so much revenue growth.

Lifetime value is another one of marketers’ favorite metrics. This is an especially smart metric to focus on because the marketer who has the highest lifetime value can outspend all of her competitors.

If they only earn, say, $50 per customer as a lifetime value, and she earns, say, $150 from each customer, she can outspend them three to one with advertising and still break even. She can afford to spend more to keep those customers loyal, too.

But again, that’s just one metric. And if you’ve got your analytics dialed in, you may want to track a very specific thing.

That can be a limitation of some marketing analytics tools. All tools help, sure, but often you’re stuck with only 5-6 “out of the box” metrics to track. You can’t create a custom metric unless you’re a Google Analytics whiz or can cobble together your own reporting tool via Excel or Google Sheets.

calcualted metrics adstage

Our new Calculated Metrics Builder lets you define and track pretty any metric you can calculate. You don’t have to be limited to just a handful of KPIs to track.

You may also want to track a constellation of goals. Sometimes this is the best way to see the details of how you’re achieving a particular marketing goal.

Here’s a series of marketing goals, and their supporting metrics:

o   Increase website traffic

  • Time on site
  •  % of returning visitors
  •  Social media referral traffic
  • Value per visitor
  • Email marketing referral traffic

o Increase revenue

  • Average order size
  • Customer Lifetime value
  • Cost of customer acquisition
  • Value per lead
  • Shopping cart conversion rate

o   Increase advertising effectiveness

o   Incremental revenue from advertising

o   Cost per click

o   Conversion rate

o   Cost/engaged visit

o   And even more:

You get the idea. Often, the hardest part of tracking marketing results is deciding which metrics or KPIs to focus on – and which ones to screen out.

Again, it’s a good idea to talk to your teammates about which metrics they think will support your chosen goal or goals. Their perspective on what should or shouldn’t be measured can be extremely helpful.

The limits of analytics… tracking things offline and the squishiness of attribution models

If you’re purely a digital marketer, you might be lucky enough to actually track every single step from when someone first sees a brand message through to when they place their fifth (or 50th) order.

Most of us are not so lucky.

This can really cloud the issue of picking a marketing goal. And it can make tracking that goal even harder.  Sometimes, marketers just give in and decide to measure what can be easily tracked (like leads, or gross revenue). The metric and goal they pick might not be perfect, but the idea of wading into their analytics to really track the hard stuff is just too daunting.

Unfortunately, this is kinda like that old joke about the drunk scuffling around under a street light. Someone asks him, “What are you doing?” “Looking for my keys,” he says. “Where did you drop them?” “Oh, down the street” “So why are you looking here?” “Well, the light is better here.”


Image: Unsplash

I hope you laughed at that.

For those of us who have tried to track complex sales cycles, it might be a little less than funny. It may hit a little too close to home. Many marketers are guilty of looking “under the streetlight” for our data, simply because, there are a lot of dark alleys along the buyer’s journey.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Marketing analytics tracking is getting better all the time. What was a data “dark alley” five years ago can now be a well-lit path.

Just look at how far attribution models have come – and how many companies are using them.

eMarketer change in company's prioritization of marketing attribution

Despite all the advances, you and your team will need to be honest about where the dark spots in your tracking are. There’s bound to be a few places where you’ll have to make an educated guess about what’s really going on.

You’ll also need to define which attribution model really makes sense for your sales funnel.

This is when things can get weird around the office. Who knew intelligent people could get into heated arguments over time decay or last non-direct click attribution models? But if you’re awarding bonuses and raises based on how people meet the goals defined by these metrics, expect to have some friction.

We often tie performance bonuses directly to these type of metrics, and that can make almost anyone surprisingly passionate about marketing analytics.


We hope it doesn’t seem like marketing goals are overly hard to pick. And we hope that tracking those goals seems within reach – not something that you’ll have to overhaul all your reporting to do.

It definitely is something to put some thought into, but don’t get too worried about making a mistake. Even if you don’t pick the perfect marketing goal, at least you have one at all. That puts you well ahead of many marketers – or companies.

And if you can’t track that goal down to the atomic level… so what? Get the best data you can, shape it so you can make the best decisions possible, and forge ahead.

Not having a marketing at all is by far the biggest mistake. And not even trying to track it? That’s the second worst mistake.

Even if you can’t track things perfectly, you can get a good enough idea of what’s going on. Having even one or two reliable, trackable metrics will always be more successful than just guessing.

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Pam Neely

Pam Neely

Pam Neely has practiced digital marketing for 20 years. She has a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award and a Hermes Creative Award for blog writing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University and has successfully managed multi-million dollar AdWords campaigns. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.