The Fallacy of Leads as a Measure of Marketing Success

Marketing should be considered a comprehensive demand generation system that builds substantive business results across all its functions.

I don't care about leads. Yes, I said it.

Lead generation as the primary measure of marketing success has become the anecdote that every armchair marketer judges and questions the efficacy of his or her marketing investment. "Why are leads increasing/decreasing?", "How are we doing on leads?", "How can we generate more leads?" are all questions that too often become the focus of business conversations. Conversations that, at best, minimize the value marketing generates for a business and, at worse, can create narrow ROI filters of value that impact a marketing organization's focus and its marketing investment decisions. Marketing executives and organizations must drive beyond leads to effectively determine the success of the marketing system as a whole.

Marketing managed as a system

From experience, I would suggest that many organizations fail to understand the value effective marketing can deliver to a business. Too often, marketing is classified as the "squishy ball and T-shirt team" that sets up events, manages advertising, and, hopefully, generates leads. While those things may be an output of marketing strategy, they limit and narrow perspectives on the function.

Leads can play a necessary role, and if managed well, will ultimately convert into revenue-which, of course, every business needs to grow. But, lead volume alone is a poor proxy for whether the marketing system is performing well. Ask your VP of sales if he or she would rather have one opportunity that converts to $10 million in revenue or 10 million opportunities that convert to $1. If the primary determinant of success is lead generation, marketing will shy away from investments that are truly impactful and end up with an organization that is unaware of how each marketing role adds value and builds revenue for the company overall.

Redefine the purpose of marketing

To be successful in any organization, marketing must be viewed as a broad system focused on pipeline impact and closely aligned with sales, channel, and overall business strategy for targeted demand generation, relationship building, and field enablement. In this environment marketing's primary role is to create opportunities, forums, materials, and capabilities required to engage in meaningful and substantive conversations that open, accelerate, and convert pipeline opportunities between a company and key constituents including customers, prospects, and business partners. The two important areas to consider here are "meaningful conversations" and "pipeline opportunities."

If everything produced by marketing must be evaluated on its own merits as a catalyst for a meaningful or substantive conversation, the standards for acceptable quality increase dramatically. Combined with an organizational focus on those factors in each marketing function most directly impact pipeline-and pipeline coverage-and the results accelerate exponentially. This filter can apply to everything from measuring the success of email marketing efforts and press engagement to advertising and brand awareness campaigns. In every case there is a customized success metric for each function that ties directly to the sales cycle and the building, accelerating, and closing of pipeline activity.

Demand generation programs and targeted marketing campaigns like webinars and upsell and cross-sell campaigns have a fairly intuitive connection to pipeline building. However, several marketing functions at times struggle to demonstrate an impact on the business. For example, how do you measure the effectiveness of your PR strategies with this lens of substantive conversations and pipeline impact? PR should be positioned as a sales enablement tool and PR success as a direct link to the sales process. Evaluate the sales cycle and identify which media and analyst coverage is most impactful to opening, accelerating, and furthering deals. Based on the research, you will learn that the credibility of the author and publication, as well as re-usability-defined as the degree to which the information exclusively focuses on the company or a customer-will be the biggest drivers of use in the sales cycle.

Another example is found in the customer marketing function and the evaluation of its success. Leading experts, including Frederich Reicheld in his book The Loyalty Effect, argue that customer satisfaction has proven to be a poor proxy for actual business performance. It is critical for the customer marketing function to operate on a number of Reicheld's principles by measuring the referenceability of the customer base at any given point in time. Meaning, to what degree do customers interact with an organization and support marketing efforts publically through serving as a reference. The percentage of customers willing to act on your behalf in public and measurable ways is a terrific proxy for their interest in helping you drive revenue and their level of engagement. Again, the correlation between customer marketing success and meaningful conversations and pipeline impact is direct and measurable.

Push the limits

In the end, it is essential that every functional area of a high-performing marketing organization have a unique set of success measures that reinforce the goal of opening, accelerating, and closing pipeline. If the measure of marketing performance is weighted toward lead generation only, marketing becomes less relevant and can be viewed as a cost center. Viewing marketing as a demand generation system and pushing each team to creatively connect marketing activity to the building of substantive business discussions and pipeline is the first step to transforming the perception and the standards by which successful marketing organizations should be evaluated.

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About the Author: W. Sean Ford is
chief marketing officer of Syncsort Inc.