Turning data into effective ROI-driven campaigns

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In a healthy economy, many b-to-b marketers can afford to run multiple campaigns to fill their pipeline with large volumes of leads, knowing that a certain percentage will naturally convert. Today, it's a different story.

Marketers, especially those working with large, complex databases, need to maximize resources and thoroughly understand each part of the buying and selling cycle.

According to a recent report from JupiterResearch and Verse Group, the No. 1 priority for U.S. marketers in 2009 is achieving measurable ROI on their marketing efforts. But effectively calculating that ROI requires being able to easily access relevant information from a single, consolidated database and making intelligent decisions that are based on facts, not gut instinct alone.

Because b-to-b sales cycles can last months or years and involve multiple touches, measuring the impact of an individual direct-marketing program can take time and become messy. It's like measuring a moving target.

According to a 2008 CMO survey by Xerox Corp., 75% of marketing directors believe that marketing has a real impact on the bottom line but can't prove it because they can't properly measure campaigns within programs. And even if they can get at the data, the conclusions are often questionable and open to interpretation.

Everyone talks about measurement for ROI but, despite available technologies, it is still incredibly difficult to do. With long campaigns and multiple touch points, it can be overwhelming to determine where and at what point in a cross-channel direct-marketing campaign to focus on measuring.

The key is to figure out what marketing performance metrics to track and measure, then enhance those metrics over time.

Here are some suggestions on how to measure campaign effectiveness in the early stages of execution, to derive meaningful insight and take decisive action:

•Define qualified leads. As a starting point, it's important to work with the sales team to agree on how to define qualified leads before launching a campaign. Qualified leads are a quality measurement for your campaigns that can be used early on in conjunction with your quantity metric (number of leads) to project the impact the campaign will have on company revenue.

By defining which lead characteristics can be easily tracked and managed, marketers have the opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their efforts early on. This should result in better-quality leads and validation of databases, targeting approaches and lead sources.

•Don't boil the ocean. In cross-channel marketing environments that encompass e-mail, print, Web sites and more, tracking conversions by touch point can be overwhelming, especially for campaigns that run several months and are generated from large databases. To keep it simple, pick a few metrics that you can easily manage throughout the campaign to establish benchmarks; then, use those benchmarks to track how prospects move through the pipeline.

Metrics here can include e-mail open rates, Web page views, repeat Web visits and collateral downloads. Ultimately, conversions to the pipeline will give you a good sense for how well the campaign performed.

•Initiate rapid course corrections. According to the Aberdeen Group, marketing performance measurement is a continual improvement process; companies need to constantly refine their performance metrics. And as you track your predetermined set of metrics, don't hesitate to change course if something doesn't look right.

For example, if you're seeing a high number of click-throughs on an e-mail campaign but no conversions, maybe your landing page isn't set up correctly to pass the information to your sales force automation or CRM system.

By taking a look at a handful of leads early on and analyzing commonalities, you will likely be able to correct the problem and resteer the course of current (and future) campaigns.

There's no debate: Marketers must make every program count. This means using an accessible, centralized database that enables marketers to perform better segmentations and extractions; considering appropriate automation to help keep budgets intact with a single, consolidated approach to measurement; and making sure every program is measurable and has a defensible return on investment.

Stephan Dietrich is president of enterprise marketing software provider Neolane Inc. ( He can be reached at [email protected]

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