Category: Marketing dashboards

How to Get Business Leaders to Pay Attention to Marketing Data

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA,

An appalling 12% of CEOs and BU leaders rely on marketing data to make decisions. The percentage drops to 7% for CFOs and finance executives. Despite the fact that 60% of B2B marketing organizations are producing dashboards and sharing them with business leaders, the business leaders simply aren’t paying attention.


Getting your business leaders to listen to marketing is not rocket science. The answer?

Tell them what they want to hear.

That is one of the key lessons from the ITSMA/VEM newly published survey report, The Link Between Marketing Performance Management and Value Creation.

Here’s how:

1. Ask them. Best-in-class marketers meet regularly with business leaders, not necessarily to report marketing results, but to have an interactive dialog. Through this dialog, the marketers gain clarity around the business outcomes and metrics that matter most to executives. If the business leaders are not coming to you to have these substantive discussions, then step up and take the initiative! The tighter the link to these executives, the greater the understanding of the business strategy and how marketing is contributing value.

Marketing at EMC, large complex, global technology solutions company, needed to determine where to focus its investments. Barb Robidoux, VP Marketing, EMC Global Services, explained, “Stakeholder engagement is an important initiative. Publishing a good-looking dashboard is not a substitute for a meaningful discussion.” Robidoux and her team saw an opportunity to transform the marketing quarterly business review from a one-way report to a meaningful dialog:

  • Do we understand your priorities?
  • Are your priorities changing?
  • Here’s what we have been doing in marketing. Do we need to change our focus?

2. Speak their language. Best-in-class marketers are business people first, marketers second. Business leaders are interested in what marketing has to say because marketing isn’t talking about twitter followers, unaided awareness and whitepaper downloads. Instead, marketing is talking about revenue, market share, propensity to buy, and customer lifetime value.

Karen Walker, SVP of Global Marketing, Cisco, said, “The business is going to make an investment in marketing if it knows that marketing is going to be a predictable, repeatable revenue-generation machine.” By reporting marketing results based on business outcomes, and not marketing effort and activity, marketing gains a new level of partnership with the sales organization and a seat at the proverbial business table.

3. Set performance targets and track results. Best-in-class marketers are more likely to set quantifiable performance targets for their marketing programs and objectives and then close the loop by tracking their actual performance against those targets. Every marketing program must have well-defined and documented performance targets. The performance targets should be very specific: Which customers? Which markets? Which offerings? What timeframe? Most marketers, if they set targets at all, don’t get this specific.

A senior field marketing director at a large, global professional services company met with the BU leaders for 30 minutes every quarter. Marketing was being pigeon-holed as the event planners and email marketing arm of the company. “We needed to set performance targets and track what matters to our executives.” Marketing stepped up and asked the BU leaders what they wanted marketing to do and how they wanted marketing to report the results. The field marketing director requested monthly meetings to report progress toward achieving the targets. The once per quarter 30 minute meetings have now been replaced with monthly 90 minute meetings, proving that when marketing has something to say, business executives will listen.

4. Report results in a multilevel dashboard. Best-in-class marketers build multilevel dashboards with the top level being the business outcomes and metrics that matter most to their business leaders. The top level tells the story based on the articulated business strategy. It’s market share, total contract value, share of wallet, price premium. Notice that these are not metrics “owned” by marketing. A business outcome, by definition, is not owned by a single function. Rather, multiple functions contribute to business outcomes. The drill-down levels are the metrics that matter to marketing—the metrics that help the marketing organization improve their productivity and effectiveness, and track their activity. The metrics that matter to marketing should never be put in front of the business leaders, unless of course they ask for them.

Nick Panayi, director, global brand and digital marketing, CSC observed, “The most difficult part was not the dashboard itself. It was collecting all the underlying elements,” The power behind the CSC dashboard is the integrated digital ecosystem that enables tiered data. Everything brilliantly rolls up into one number: total contract value (TCV). Other metrics on the top level include, marketing- qualified leads (MQLs), marketing- sourced pipeline (MSP), and marketing- assisted pipeline (MAP). If the executive wants more detail, the dashboard also provides drill-down capability. Users can click to see: the name and contact of every lead, where he or she is in the buying process, assets viewed on the website, events attended, and responses to campaign calls to action. Or users can dissect individual campaigns or the sales pipeline, analyze content quality based on usage, or determine the contribution of social media over live events.

As marketers, you want to be indispensable! You want to build internal demand for marketing data as critical input for strategic decisions. As one marketer I interviewed said:

“You want to be so integrated with their success that they
can’t live without you.”



How to Create a Great Marketing Dashboard

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA,

Metrics yield insights that demonstrate value and improve performance. Yet for all the talk of data-driven decisions, only 40% of marketers agree that “measuring marketing’s value and contribution to the business” is “very important” or “critical”. Only six in ten produce a marketing dashboard—and that’s using a liberal definition of the word that includes PowerPoint decks. Of those who do produce a dashboard, as many as one-quarter don’t share it with executives outside the marketing function. If marketers produce a report only for each other, does it make a sound in the organization?


Those are some of the findings of the 2013 ITSMA/VEM/Forrester Marketing Performance Management Survey conducted in June 2013. Many marketers are only starting to address measurement issues that departments like finance and operations have been dealing with for years. But there is good news too: some marketing organizations have figured out what works—and the survey illuminates several best practices, so that when a CFO asks, “Is marketing doing its job?” the CMO can say, “Let’s see what the data says.”

The Ideal Dashboard Tells a Story

Visualization expert Steven Few defines a dashboard as “a visual display of the most important information needed to understand and manage one or more areas of an organization which fits on a single computer screen so it can be monitored at a glance” (“Common Pitfalls in Dashboard Design”).

The ideal dashboard is:

  • Dynamic. A vehicle dashboard is dynamic. It faces the driver or pilot. It picks up data from sensors and displays it in real time. It shows whether you’re making progress or about to crash. In its ideal form, a dashboard is as visual and intuitive as the screen of an Xbox.
  • Visual. The visual aspect minimizes what’s called “cognitive overhead”—the number of jumps your brain makes in order to understand what you’re looking at. Visuals help patterns and trends emerge from tables of numbers, becoming instantly apparent.
  • Accountable. The use of metrics that relate to business performance—especially performance that the users of the dashboards are accountable for—ensures that the audience will care.
  • Focused. Limiting the dashboard to a single screen with few metrics ensures that viewers focus on what’s important. (Remember the rule “seven plus or minus two?” In today’s attention-deficit age, the rule is often modified to “five plus or minus three.”)
  • A Story. The best dashboards tell a story. Think of a dashboard as a narrative, with each chart a paragraph and each data point a sentence. If someone is accountable for the metric, the story has a built-in emotional hook (and perhaps a hero or villain). It could be an inspirational story or a horror story, but it should pull the viewer forward towards a question: what, if anything, are we going to do about it?

Most Marketing Dashboards are Far from Ideal

It’s a rare marketing dashboard that meets these specs. Often dashboards are nothing more than Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint decks. These are not really dashboards—they’re static reports created manually on an as-needed basis, once a month or once a quarter, for a periodic business review. Another option is a report created from the marketing automation or CRM system.

These reports are easy to create but often too narrow in scope. Marketing automation systems show one kind of information extremely well: leads collected, scored, and passed on to sales. CRM reports show how much business has closed so far, how much must close in order to meet the sales target, and what sales must accomplish to close the gap. marketing automation and CRM data is too tactically focused to stand on its own. It tends to be focused on the short term, while marketing’s contributions usually surface over the longer term. At best, CRM measures represent only a piece of a bigger marketing picture that also includes metrics like customer value and market share.


Here’s How to Create a Great Marketing Dashboard

  • Start with a plan. Almost half of the marketers ITSMA surveyed followed a conventional IT process of planning a framework, defining the data required, creating a report, and testing and iterating until the dashboard was acceptable. Although just over 90% would take this approach again, a surprising two thirds of these had caveats about the process. These unspecified caveats may have had something to do with the unwieldiness of the framework-data-prototype-iteration process, especially in an environment where IT project management is second nature. The lesson: start with a plan, but be ready to streamline it—or even lop off unnecessary parts—depending on your circumstances.
  • Buy dashboard software. Nineteen out of 20 marketers who developed dashboards after evaluating and purchasing dashboard software would do the same thing again. If the dashboard does not meet expectations, it’s usually because of underlying data problems, not because of the dashboard software. The core functionality—grabbing data from a spreadsheet, Google Analytics, or SQL Server, transforming it, displaying it, and distributing the output across an intranet—is universal.
  • Hire a consultant. Only 3% of the respondents used a consultant, but all were happy with the results. Everyone who went to an outside consultant was satisfied, at least to some extent, with the outcome. The lesson: don’t try to do it all yourself. Take advantage of specialized knowledge outside your organization. Go to people (both inside and outside) who have faced the same problems and learned from experience.
  • Avoid the ad hoc approach. Fiction writers often use a method called “discovery writing”: they start to write without much thought, knowing that they can always go back and revise later. It’s not a good method for dashboard developers.

Marketing Dashboards Are Not Optional

It is easy to track what marketers do, but hard to track what they achieve. When marketing shows the CFO its activity and sales shows its results, there is a good chance that the CFO will respond in a way that doesn’t reflect favorably on marketing and the revenue to sales.

The difference in circumstances between sales and marketing is all the more reason that clear, accurate dashboards are essential in order to get the attention of executives and highlight the links between marketing activities and business results.

Marketing departments are relatively new to the process issues that departments like finance and operations have been dealing with for years. But those processes need to be mastered if marketing is to build a dashboard that shows its contributions not just to revenue, but to market share, customer satisfaction, shareholder value, or any important business outcome.

Learn More!

Now that you’ve seen the key findings from 2013 Marketing Performance Management Survey, please take 15 minutes to participate this year’s survey. All participants will receive a report of the survey results. The survey can provide invaluable insights and be an excellent catalyst for internal debate and discussion. Please feel free to share the link with your marketing colleagues and your leadership team.