When it comes to marketing metrics, one of the questions I’m asked most often is which metrics to pay attention to, which KPIs matter the most. The answer is always the same: first, figure out which ones have a direct impact on revenue, and then figure out which one or two of them is most broken. If you are a standard business that works on getting audience, converting them into leads, and turning those leads into sales, then one of those three numbers will be performing less well than the others.

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Sometimes, however, there is an exception to this rule. The exception is any number, any metric that can’t be fixed in a practical way. Here’s an example from a different field: one of the ways to diagnose whether a home has an energy problem is to use a thermal imaging scanner to look at it. On a cold day, you go outside and look for hot spots that indicate heat from the house is leaking to the outside.

Sometimes, you find hot spots that you, as a homeowner, are simply unwilling to fix because the cost of remediating the problem would be vastly greater than just living with it. If you see a heat leak that is going to cost you $15 a month in extra heating bills but $20,000 to repair, you live with the extra $15 a month. That problem isn’t worth fixing.

Likewise, sometimes you’ll run into metrics that are simply beyond fixing in a practical way, aren’t worth fixing, or are beyond your control. One of the most classic cases is the closing rates for the sales department. As a marketer, you have a responsibility to generate leads for salespeople to turn into opportunities, then close those opportunities. If your salespeople couldn’t sell water to a man dying of thirst in a desert, then even though you’re measuring closing rate carefully as part of your overall package of metrics, you really can’t do anything about it.

At that point, you have to decide whether or not you can live with your efforts being mostly wasted. If you can, if the pay is good and the company is managing to thrive even with a failed sales team, then you soldier on and perhaps focus on different metrics, like brand awareness or social engagement. They may not matter to revenue directly, but they are areas which you have clear responsibility and control over and can indirectly impact revenue.

If you can’t live with your efforts being wasted, then you move on to greener pastures.


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