I've said in the past that marketing is the art of creating demand for your ideas, but in terms of something measurable and impactful, what does this mean? What does marketing make? Yes, it creates things like ads, Twitter accounts, email, etc. - but those are the tools to execute the mission of marketing. What does marketing actually do that's measurable and meaningful?
Throw out all your other metrics. Followers on twitter, hits to your web site, mentions in the media. Toss them all.
The only metric that matters is this: qualified leads.
On the continuum of business, marketing (which includes marketing, advertising, and PR) takes media and audience as its raw materials and makes qualified leads.
Sales takes those raw materials, those leads, and makes them into customers.
Product design and customer service take those raw materials, those customers, and turns them into evangelists.
Everyone and everything that's doing marketing makes qualified leads. We may not call them as such - we might call them volunteers for the non-profit, new members to the congregation, new players in the Warcraft guild - but they are.
I'm being a little facetious when I say toss out everything else - but not by much. Things like site traffic, media mentions, etc. are good diagnostic measures to tell you what's happening with individual tools and processes, but at the end of the day, the only metric that shows you the results of your actions is the number of qualified leads that you pass on to sales to convert. For small businesses especially, marketing, sales, and service may be the same person, the same sole proprietor, but the count of qualified leads is an important number, not to be missed or glossed over.
Finally, metrics that are really trendy and popular, like ROI, are built on qualified leads. You can't compute Return on Investment if you have no idea what the Return is, and you can't get a Return on your Investment until you have some leads for Sales to turn into business. Worry later about ROI and worry more now about how many leads Sales has to work with.
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