BtoB

Communicating ROI

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Brian Kardon, CMO of Eloqua in Vienna, Va., has a simple message for most marketers: Your bosses don't care about the things you care about.

“The board of directors and CEO doesn't care about open rates, click-throughs or landing page hits,” he said. “I think a lot of marketers get lost in the forest.”

Eloqua knows both sides of the fence. The company sells marketing automation software to corporate clients and, to support this business, Kardon runs a large b-to-b direct-marketing operation to keep fresh customers coming through the door.

As Kardon sees it, b-to-b marketing is midway through its evolution—at first marketers didn't even bother to measure ROI. Now marketers are learning how to “measure marketing against marketing,” using the metrics that boards don't care about, he said. In its final stage, Kardon hopes that marketers will figure out a way to measure marketing against the business' basic objectives, then effectively communicate this information to the people who underwrite budgets.

“The holy grail is marketing's contribution to closed business,” he said.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to speak the language of revenue and sales when it comes to marketing's increasingly amorphous activities. How can you actually show that a Twitter feed with 1,000 fans directly resulted in sales? And if it didn't contribute directly to sales, is there a way to show that your customer's engagement at least contributed to the sale?

A few companies are trying to unlock this puzzle.

In the red-hot social media space, San Francisco-based Crowd Factory has developed tracking analytics that help marketers show exactly when and how often customers engaged with different marketing channels, whether it's a poll, a website, a newsletter or anything with a social component.

But to make these figures meaningful to corporate officers, Crowd Factory CEO Sanjay Dholakia said his company has developed a simple dashboard presentation that “puts a monetary value on social activity.”

This kind of communication is key to marketing's long-term visibility and success, said Merry Elrick, author of “The Truth About B2B Marketing ROI” (IABC, 2008) and principal in DataDriven MarCom.

“Half the battle is communicating with your bosses,” Elrick said. “I think everybody should have a matrix that says, ‘Here is the objective of the whole enterprise; here is the marketing objective; here is the marketing strategy; and here is the value proposition that helps deliver those strategies.' ”

One thing to beware of, however, is aggravating the traditional tension between sales and marketing by attributing revenue to marketing that the sales team might be inclined to claim for itself.

The solution, Kardon said, is to put everyone on the same team from the beginning.

“We find marketers who are most successful talk about a journey, but they don't take it alone,” he said. “They take it with the director of sales. And you have to be sure that marketing and sales are both comped the same, otherwise that infighting will begin. It also helps to have transparency because there won't be anywhere to hide.”

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