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Making the most of a marketing dashboard

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With an ever-greater emphasis on accountability and measurement, b-to-b marketers are turning to information dashboards to help them track their departments' opportunities, successes and shortcomings.

Dashboards come in many shapes and sizes, but typically present marketers with a highly graphical capsule view of key performance and operational metrics. For marketers that haven't made the dashboard plunge yet, the concept can seem intriguing and even playful. But moving from conception to deployment can be quite a challenge.

Talking with experts and early adopters, it becomes clear that launching a marketing dashboard involves a range of formidable tasks, including:

  • Defining meaningful metrics for marketing success.
  • Coordinating with other departments-including sales, finance and operations-on strategies and goals.
  • Cleaning up data sources across the company, including marketing databases, sales prospect data, third-party content feeds and more.
  • Deciding on an interface that provides key data and triggers without overwhelming users.
  • Building the business processes that enable marketers to process dashboard data and act on them in a meaningful way.

"Very few marketing organizations haven't at least thought about creating a dashboard or begun investments into it," said Michael Gerard, research director of IDC's CMO Advisory Research. "Marketers might not have a dashboard today, but the reality that they need to be more accountable is here to stay."

Last year, IDC and Gerard did some of the first research into marketing dashboards, tapping Cisco and Tektronix as winners of its CMO Best Practices Awards for marketing dashboard development. The companies credited the dashboards with helping them better align sales and marketing and make marketing more accountable to the bottom line.

Improved measurement via marketing dashboards "brings clarity of charter, clarity of roles and clarity of responsibility," said Martyn Etherington, VP-worldwide marketing at Tektronix.

Another b-to-b marketer making use of dashboards is Endeca Technologies. Endeca, which sells enterprise-scale search software, used built-in wizards in applications from its CRM vendor, Salesforce.com, to roll out dashboards for its sales managers, sales staff, marketing department and others, said Emmanuelle Skala, Endeca's director-business operations.

The process of building the dashboard is in many ways as important as the dashboard itself, Skala said.

"It was a catalyst to sit down and really discuss what our key metrics were," Skala said. "We always had those things in the back of our mind, and once per quarter someone would build a PowerPoint and present that kind of data to key stakeholders. But it was done in an ad hoc fashion. Building the dashboard really made us have the discussions and focus on the most critical 20 or so metrics that we were going to pick."

For Endeca, key metrics included leads, opportunities and forecasts. The company also stepped back and measured the overall health of its business, as well as future opportunities, Skala said.

The real power of dashboards is that they "make it easy for the first time for companies to have insight into the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns," said George Hu, VP-marketing and strategy for Salesforce.com. "You do that by taking marketing data and tying it to operations information."

Hu claims that of Salesforce.com's 18,000 customers, more than 16,000 have built some sort of sales or marketing dashboard.

One challenge for marketing departments is figuring out exactly how to build a dashboard. Given the complexity of the data and business processes involved, it isn't necessarily something that can be bought "off the shelf." Marketers will have to work with their IT departments to get a dashboard deployed, according to experts. In addition, companies typically will need to work with a software vendor-say, a CRM, marketing automation or business intelligence vendor-for both the data integration and analytical tools needed to make a dashboard hum.

One of the great challenges is determining where all the relevant data reside, said Fern Halper, consultant and principal with Hurwitz Group. "You have to really define what the key performance metrics are and think about where to get the actual data to populate those metrics," she said.

Halper added that there is a major trend toward recognizing that the information one really needs to make decisions almost always comes from multiple sources: internal sales and marketing data, as well as external partner or third-party data. A typical dashboard will include data from six to 10 sources, she said-"a major challenge."

"You really have to integrate, align and square up the very disparate data sources that companies use to run their businesses," said Mike Pommer, VP-business development for ImmediateFX, a consulting and software company focused on marketing measurement and dashboards. "The real question is, `What is the ROI?' That's really the core value" of what an effective measurement strategy and dashboard can provide.

ImmediateFX, which counts Bristol-Myers Squibb, ConAgra Foods and Johnson & Johnson among its customers, says these types of marketing leaders rely on dashboards. "It's all about continuously measuring the impact of marketing activity," Pommer said.

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