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How To Break Down Marketing KPIs

When we think about KPIs, key performance indicators, we tend to think of them monolithically. We think about them as though there are one set of KPIs that apply to everything we do in marketing.

“Marketing’s KPI is qualified leads.”

“Marketing’s KPI is brand awareness.”

These monolithic statements are fine for a big picture view of our marketing, but they aren’t terribly actionable for anyone except the biggest stakeholder. Those KPIs would be fine for a CMO. What about for a marketing coordinator? What about for a marketing director?

When we have monolithic KPIs and little else, we tend to run around in a scramble. Everything becomes a crisis, firefighting this and that, scrambling from metric to metric, in the hopes that something moves the big picture needle.

How do we manage our KPIs better? How do we avoid turning our marketing operations into constant firefighting, into behaving like a terrible Tarzan, swinging from crisis to crisis?

The Definition of a KPI

Our first step is to clarify what a KPI is. In the simplest terms:

A KPI is a measure for which you get a bonus or get fired.

Nothing makes KPIs more clear than that statement. If you won’t get a good or bad performance review for a metric, it’s not a KPI. If you won’t get a bonus for exceeding a number, it’s not a KPI.

Take a hard look at all the numbers you report on, right now. Which ones will get get dinged on in your next performance review?


If the answer is none of them, then you need to have a sit down with your manager or stakeholder and ask them for one, maybe two, at most three numbers for which you will be judged. If they can’t figure out any with you, then you need to update your LinkedIn profile, because your organization is in a lot of trouble.

Understanding KPI Hierarchies

Our second step has to be to understand KPI hierarchies. KPIs expand – or should expand – to match the organization responsible for them. If you’re a one-person sales and marketing team, then yes, revenue generated is pretty much your KPIs, and everything else is a metric.

But once you have multiple people working in sales and marketing – be they fellow employees, contractors, or agencies – then you need to start splitting up your KPIs. Here’s how. Ultimately, everything we do in marketing in a for-profit environment must lead to revenue. If we’re not creating revenue, then we’re not doing our jobs.

In your organization, what’s the next number that feeds directly into revenue, and who’s responsible for it?

This is where people get lost with KPIs – and they don’t have to. Let’s say you’re the VP of Sales and you report to the Chief Revenue Officer. Their KPI is revenue; the next number that feeds revenue is probably closed sales. Thus, their metric – closed sales – is likely your KPI. Now, you have a sales team. The number of closed won deals is directly fed by open deals. Thus, your sales team’s KPI could be open deals.

Extend this thinking all the way down your marketing operations funnel, and suddenly it becomes more clear what each person’s KPIs are in your operational hierarchy – a KPI hierarchy:

KPI hierarchy

Each person has a KPI, and the metrics that feed into that KPI are the next person’s KPIs. Draw this out for your entire marketing organization, and what you should be focusing on should become very clear.

Map KPIs to MarTech

KPIs are no use if we never look at them, if they’re not part and parcel of our everyday life. Data ignored are data unused, and data unused are decisions unmade.

So, how do we truly integrate our KPIs with our work? By understanding where in our marketing technology stack they live, and then making that the primary reporting tool for each person.

Where should a sales person spend their time? In their sales CRM, of course. So where should their dashboard with KPIs live?

Not in systems they don’t use. They should be front and center in their CRM.

When we map our KPIs to our technologies, it becomes clear how we should structure our reporting:

KPIs and martech

Each person’s KPI reporting should be in the system they use the most. If they’re not… then they’ve either got the wrong KPIs, or your organization’s marketing technology is deeply broken.

KPIs Mean Decisions

A KPI is a speedometer for your efforts. Too fast can be bad. Too slow can be bad. Going just at the ideal speed limit for your efforts is the goal – to hit or exceed your goals by a reasonable margin so that you generate the results expected of you.

Like a speedometer, your KPIs should be in front of you almost all the time, and you should be making decisions based on them. If you’re going too slow, what should you do to speed up? If you’re going too fast, what should you do to slow down just the right amount?

This is especially true when you’re working with things like paid advertising – too fast means you’ll burn through your budget much too soon.

So, identify your KPIs. Watch them closely. Make decisions often. That’s how you break them down and make them useful.

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