Are you making these mistakes with your metrics? Here’s how to avoid them

It is important to audit analytics practices and maintain flexibility in your tactical approach to adapt to market conditions and technology that could affect results.

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As a marketer, you are keenly aware of how important it is to monitor your website performance. It’s why Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics are so prevalent and have become integral to understanding the health of any online business. The widespread adoption of data analytics and the user-friendly reporting interfaces of Google and Adobe have led to a general familiarity with data among marketers, along with the confidence to interpret website performance using common metrics. However, while many of these metrics seem straightforward, some of the most widely used ones are trickier to interpret than they first seem. Below are three common mistakes marketers make when deciphering the results, along with advice on how to avoid them. 

Mistake #1: Using time on site/page to make decisions

Content producers, ad agencies, and many other marketers love to mention higher time on site as if it is a clear indicator that visitors to your website are more engaged and a justification that you should pay them more to continue creating such excellent content. Conversely, lower time on site is generally regarded as a bad trend and to be avoided. After all, shouldn’t people be spending more time on your site and taking the actions you want them to take?

The problem here is that nobody, and I mean nobody, can interpret time on site correctly. Why? Consider these three examples:

  • Person A visits your website looking for product information and wants to download a specification sheet for a few similar products. She is also are interested in reading about new upcoming products. She spends six minutes on the site.
  • Person B visits your site and knows exactly what she is looking for, which is the name of a specific part for one of your company’s products, so she can order it via her local reseller. She knows the specific page she is looking for, where the information is located on the page, and ultimately only spends 10 seconds on the page before leaving and taking no other action.
  • Person C visits your site but has 20 tabs open in Chrome and only one of those is your page. He isn’t especially interested in your product or brand, but one of your links showed up in a search results page so he opened it to compare your product to others like it. After 15 minutes of browsing other open tabs, he makes it to your site where he views two pages quickly, clicks on a couple items on the page, then moves on again to a different tab. Eventually, the cookie for his visit times out and he is logged as having spent 45 minutes on your site.

Using typical time-on-site logic, Person A is a “good” visit, Person B is a “bad” visit and Person C is a “great” visit. That obviously makes no sense whatsoever, as both A and B are desirable visits, but C was clearly not. Unfortunately, by using time on site, you cannot determine what type of visit you’re really getting, which makes it virtually useless in decision making. 

Solution: Instead of using time on site, consider using a combination of bounce rate, page views per visit, scroll depth, CTA clicks and overall traffic volume to get a sense for whether your visitors are truly engaged. Most of these metrics are already included in basic versions of Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics, however, scroll depth may require some light instrumentation work in Adobe and similarly it must be manually activated within Google Analytics

If you use time on page because you don’t have much click-centric content for visitors to interact with, consider breaking up your text into sections and hiding some of it behind a “see more” click so that you can better understand if people are interested in reading the full breadth of your content. Some visitors may find this format less friendly for easy reading, but if you’re struggling to find ways to measure engagement, then this minor inconvenience to your visitor may be worth the risk.

Mistake #2: Relying on a single metric with no other context

Another common scenario is when the marketer uses a single metric as the sole indicator of success, without considering any other context. You might think an easily understandable metric like sales or revenue would make perfect sense. But, even with a measure as straightforward as revenue, there may be other factors at play. Maybe revenue looks good in isolation ($10 million dollars, awesome!), but you still missed your target for the quarter, and investors will not be pleased, causing your company’s stock value to tank. Perhaps all your revenue is from one customer, but what if that customer is Sears, they just went bankrupt, and you don’t have any other substantive revenue sources after Q2. Not good!

Although revenue is an extreme example, many marketers use metrics in isolation like this, holding them up as amazing successes, when they are far from it. Traffic volume is one example that pops up frequently. But without the bounce rate and conversion context for that traffic, there is no way to determine if it was good quality traffic or if the ideal intended audience was on the site.

Solution: To avoid making ineffective business decisions, always consider the correct context for your metrics before acting. Often, you can confirm that you’re headed in the right direction by making a quick verification that clean data is coming through or by triangulating your findings with an additional metric. 

Mistake #3: Continuing to report on metrics just because they’ve been used in the past

This mistake could certainly apply to more than just metrics: the often-irresistible tendency to perpetuate a business practice simply because “it’s what we’ve always done.”  Many brands insist on using low-quality site metrics for no other reason than they were used in the past. I once worked with a marketing executive who wanted to continue summing daily unique visitors across the company website in Adobe, because that is how the old Coremetrics platform worked (it did not offer de-duplication like today’s more advanced tools do). In doing so, the actual number of unique visitors was over-counted across the site by roughly 30% during the year. That error had a net negative impact on expected revenue and growth targets, which were unachievable due to inflated visitor counts.

Solution: Sometimes legacy metrics make sense, particularly for benchmarking purposes, but it is critically important that you perform regular audits to ensure that all the metrics and reports you’re using to make site decisions are still appropriate, given the changing business environment.

While analyzing metrics is an essential component for making informed decisions about your website strategies, it is imperative that you audit your analytics practices and maintain flexibility in your tactical approach. Be sure you examine a broad and varied set of conditions and metrics. And be adaptable to changes in market conditions and technology that could affect not only your perceptions but your results.  

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Salesforce asserts its position in CDP space, reports another record quarter

Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff shared vision for Customer 360, Einstein and AI and the company raised FY20 revenue guidance.

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Salesforce co-CEOs, Keith Block and Marc Benioff

Closing out another quarter with record earnings, Salesforce reported revenue growth of 22%, bringing its quarterly revenue up to $4 billion — 22% year-over-year growth for the San Francisco-based software giant. The company cited organic and inorganic growth with its acquisitions of Tableau, and ClickSoftware.

“Following an outstanding quarter, we’re raising our FY20 revenue guidance to $16.9 billion at the high-end range,” said co-CEO Marc Benioff during an analyst call.” With our Customer 360 vision, Einstein AI and the millions of Trailblazers innovating on our platform, Salesforce has never been better positioned for the future.”


Following the earnings release, Salesforce shares climbed nearly 7% in extended trading on Thursday.

“There is good reason why analysts are bullish on Salesforce, given the company’s strong organic growth, fueled by loyal and passionate customer advocates, as well as its recent strategic acquisitions of Tableau, ClickSoftware and MuleSoft,” said Dustin Grosse, chief marketing and strategy officer at Nintex. “What will be interesting to watch is how Salesforce continues to scale its business in pursuing its goal of doubling revenues by 2023. Given Salesforce’s consistent performance, Marc Benioff and Keith Block are positioning the company well to achieve this huge goal, possibly even ahead of their timetable.”

Revenue growth in the clouds

Salesforce’s four primary clouds all saw growth, notably its Marketing and Commerce Cloud which reportedly grew 36%. Its flagship product, Sales Cloud, generated $1.13 billion in revenue, jumping 13% from the previous quarter.

Source: Alpha Street

Service Cloud, which for its first time surpassed $1 billion in revenue last quarter, grew 22% to $1.09 billion. Its Salesforce Platform and other category also grew 28%.

Salesforce asserts a strong position amon CDPs

Benioff asserted Salesforce’s position in the customer data platform (CDP) space, as he and co-CEO Keith Block referenced its Customer 360 platform several times during Thursday’s analyst call. While the list of CDP vendors grows to help marketers pull together their data, Benioff said that’s something Salesforce has been working on for “the past twenty years.” We can expect to hear more about Customer 360 at Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference in November.

“Now, we have really been very strategic in building out our Customer 360 platform. This is our vision that really is at the heart of what’s happening at the fourth industrial revolution,” Benioff said during Thursday’s call. “Everybody knows, the fourth industrial revolution is under way. Everyone and everything is getting connected. But behind all of those things is the customer.”

Benioff expects Customer 360 will be a “huge growth engine” for the company over the next decade.

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SurveyMonkey Audience expands offering, helping marketers gather deeper insights

Global survey software solution SurveyMonkey has announced that its SurveyMonkey Audience arm will be extending its offerings with a new, premium service bundle called SurveyMonkey Audience Premium.

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SurveyMonkey Audience, known as SurveyMonkey’s “do it yourself” research solution, helps marketers gathering findings for various research use cases including market sizing, brand tracking, ad testing, content marketing and customer profiling – among others. The solution will be expanding its capabilities to improve marketers’ research experiences with the launch of SurveyMonkey Audience Premium.

Why we should care

Customer data is essential for marketers, and SurveyMonkey has proven to be a solution for creating engaging interactions with our customers while generating new data points. With SurveyMonkey Audience Premium, SurveyMonkey anticipates that marketers will be able to rapidly scale their market research programs — and build robust customer profiles and improve their marketing efforts based on these learnings.

The premium add-ons to SurveyMonkey Audience are expected to help marketers quickly dive deeper into their insights. In addition to expedited reporting capabilities, Premium also includes a dedicated account team, and product trainings, among other offerings.

For those working in different geographies, this could help marketers better understand their customers in various parts of a country or the world. SurveyMonkey audience allows users to target respondents based on different demographics, firmographics and other customizable questions, which could produce key insights

More on the news

With SurveyMonkey Audience Premium, customers will gain access to:

  • Dedicated account management
  • Team-wide product trainings
  • Access to B2B and low-incidence niche targets on multiple panels to reach the right respondents efficiently
  • Tracker management so customers can focus on making decisions by leveraging insights into market trends

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Google introduces App + Web for unified reporting in Google Analytics

The new capabilities let marketers look at customer data in more complete and flexible ways.

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The customer journey has become increasingly complex over time, with users often switching back and forth between desktop and mobile and various channels before buying. It is thus fairly challenging for marketers to gain an accurate and complete view of their customers’ paths to purchase.

Two great tastes. Google has historically had two separate tools for web and app analytics: Google Analytics and Google Analytics for Firebase, for mobile apps. Now the company is combining their capabilities in a new property that seeks to provide a more unified view of customer data: App + Web for Google Analytics.

Director of Product Management for Google Analytics, Jesse Savage, said that he hopes the new offering will help marketers and brands improve the customer experience by giving them “a single, consistent set of metrics for more integrated reporting and a more comprehensive view of the customer journey” (on Google properties). Starting today, App + Web will begin rolling out to all Google Analytics and Analytics 360 users for free.

Flexible reporting. Out of the box, it will offer a set of common events or actions that marketers can measure (e.g., clicks, video views, downloads, opens, etc.). But Savage said the tool is very flexible and can be customized according to the needs and specific requirements of the marketer.

Google points out the types of questions publishers and brands can now more easily answer with App + Web, including:

  • How many total users do we have regardless of the platform?
  • Where are the majority of conversions happening (web or app)?
  • Which marketing or advertising channel is most effect at driving new user acquisition?

Analysis module offers new ways to look at the data. A new Analysis module also enables users to look at customer data in various and flexible ways, outside of standardized reports. These include “Exploration,” which allows drag and drop data visualization, “Funnel” analysis to determine where customers are entering and leaving your properties and “Path Analysis,” which helps marketers better understand the steps along the customer journey and why users did or did not convert.

Google says that if customers are currently using Google Tag Manager or the global site tag, you don’t have to do any re-tagging to take advantage of App + Web analytics. But you’ll need to implement the Firebase SDK for your app if that’s not already the case.

Why we should care. It’s critical for brands and marketers to gain as complete an understanding of their customers’ behavior as possible. Of course, Google isn’t the only platform consumers use in making buying decisions. For marketers entirely focused on their apps, or for those who don’t have an app, the new capabilities won’t be particularly meaningful. But for those focused on both mobile apps and the web, the new App + Web capability offers much greater visibility and insight than Google Analytics and Google Analytics for Firebase each could on their own.

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Simplifying Google Analytics configuration with Google Tag Manager

Using analytics through GTM allows you to simplify the code in place on your site and quickly set up advanced features like cross-domain tracking.

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Google Analytics is a crucial part of any online marketer’s toolbox. Getting analytics data starts with a proper installation of the tracking code. Thankfully, Google Tag Manager makes this process simple, even when modifications to the Analytics code are required.

Google Tag Manager (GTM) allows you to deploy Google Analytics tracking without adding any further code to your website. Extensive configuration options allow you to tweak the setup based on your needs.

In this article, I’ll cover how to set up Google Analytics through GTM, along with some tips for customization based on your needs.

Installing a global Google Analytics tag

Navigate to your desired GTM account and container. From the Overview screen, select “Add a new tag.”

Next, click within the Tag Configuration box to choose a tag type. Select “Google Analytics: Universal Analytics.”

Leave the “Track Type” dropdown set to “Page View.” Next, under “Google Analytics Settings,” choose “New Variable.”

Now, you’ll create a variable that includes your unique Google Analytics Tracking ID. After a one-time setup, you’ll be able to reuse this variable in any future GA tags. You can also customize settings for the variable under “Advanced Configuration,” or override settings within a specific tag by checking the “Enable overriding settings” box.

Find your Tracking ID (you can locate this quickly by going to Tracking Info > Tracking Code within the Admin section of your GA account) and paste it into the respective field in GTM. Name and save the variable.

Now, return to editing your tag and select the GA variable you created.

Next, click within the Triggering section to choose which pages you want the tag to appear on. To deploy globally wherever your GTM code is in place, select “All Pages.” Submit changes to push your tag live.

Event tracking

Events are incredibly useful in Google Analytics to track any interactions that aren’t registered by default. Some possible actions include clicks on elements within pages, scroll activity, file downloads, video views, and form submissions.

To fire an event, choose “Event” from the “Track Type” dropdown when creating your GA tag. Next, fill in the fields with the appropriate parameters for your event.

For instance, in this example, we’re tracking a whitepaper download. Our fields include:

  • Category: “Whitepaper”
  • Action: “Download”
  • Label: “Blue Whitepaper”

Also note the Non-Interaction Hit dropdown. By default, when set to “False,” the event will count as an interaction, meaning the session won’t be considered a bounce if the user completes the associated action. If you set this dropdown to “True,” a user could complete the action but still count as a bounce if they leave the page before doing anything else.

Cross-domain tracking

If you’re using the same Google Analytics account across multiple domains, you should enable cross-domain tracking to ensure that users are being tracked properly when going from one domain to another. Otherwise, they’ll be seen as separate visitors to each domain.

First, under “More Settings” for your GA variable, open the “Fields to Set” section. Type “allowLinker” for Field Name and “true” for Value.

Next, further down in the “More Settings” options, click the “Cross Domain Tracking” dropdown. In the “Auto Link Domains” field, insert all domains you’d like to track, separated by commas.

If you’re using a form that takes a user to another domain upon submission, you’ll also want to choose “True” in the “Decorate Forms” dropdown.

Save the variable and submit to push live. You should now see unified reporting across domains, eliminating duplication of user counts if the same people visit multiple sites with your GA tag.

Enhanced link attribution

Google offers a handy Page Analytics Chrome extension, which allows you to visualize click data for links on your site. You can see how many clicks occurred on each link, as well as what percentage of total clicks for a page went to each.

Unfortunately, by default, this report groups together counts for any links going to the same URL. So if you link to the same URL from both a top navigation bar and your site’s footer, each link will show the same click count.

Thankfully, a simple setting change allows you to differentiate between clicks on different elements. When editing your Google Analytics variable, look for the “More Settings” option below where you entered your Tracking ID.

Within the options that appear, click “Advanced Configuration.” You’ll now see a dropdown labeled “Enable Enhanced Link Attribution.” Select “True” here.

Once you’ve saved and published this change, you’ll now see unique counts for each link in the Page Analytics report.


Google Tag Manager offers an extensive integration with Google Analytics, allowing you to configure anything from installing the default code to covering advanced tracking scenarios. Setting up Analytics through GTM allows you to simplify the code in place on your site, as well as easily allow access to tweak settings without requiring development updates. You can quickly set up advanced features like cross-domain tracking.

If you haven’t done so yet, make GTM a part of your workflow for setting up Google Analytics implementations. Explore advanced options to customize as needed. You’ll save time and reduce friction with developers.

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4 steps to becoming an experience brand

If you are truly interested in meeting consumer expectations, you’ll not only be measuring and tracking those experiences but also consistently making updates to improve them.

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Once a primary differentiator, reliable customer service has now become a mandatory commodity. With rising consumer expectations and automated technologies, experience has replaced this long-heralded advantage.

Brands positioned with a customer-first, always-on experience optimization approach and those who build for personalization are poised to be market leaders. Becoming an experience-focus brand has been painted as more difficult than it is. The answers and truth are right in front of us. Your consumers have those answers, you just need to ask – and pay attention.

In working with more than 30 brands on their experience strategies, I’ve found four critical steps to helping brands successfully migrate to become customer experience leaders in their market. The simple formula is to identify, measure, build and test.

Identify audiences and journeys

Identify your audience

Let’s start with an exercise. Suppose money is no object, and you get to pick out a new vehicle. Take a moment to picture what you’d like to buy. Now that you have that vehicle in mind, let’s assume that this is the vehicle everyone else wants. It seems ridiculous that the vehicle you want is assumed to be the vehicle everyone else would want. But, how often do you create experiences using that same assumption? As you design an experience, you need to have an audience in mind, but oftentimes, experiences are developed in a vacuum without consumer feedback. In our current environment audience strategy and experiences should never be developed without some type of consumer insight.

Here are a few questions to help you get started in assessing your audience(s).

  • Who is my current audience? 
  • What data sources do I have available to me (research, analytics, databases, etc.)? 
  • What do they prefer? What are their motivations? 
  • Who is/not responding?  
  • Do my loyal customers look different than everyone else? What type of data and insights am I missing? 

Identify audience journeys

I often think of the journey as the foundation. The good news about building out an audience journey is that there are a lot of good approaches. I do not believe there is one single source of truth to creating an audience journey. The important thing is that you create one. If your budget, resources, and time only allow for a whiteboard brainstorm session, then do it. If you have behavioral data at your fingertips and can look at connected event stream data by specific channels and by individual, then do it. If you have the ability to conduct primary research, please do it.

After building a journey, the first mistake I see is that too many brands try to tackle fixing all of the possible interactions they’ve discovered. Prioritization becomes key; if you are able to gather consumer-driven insights to measure and help you prioritize experiences, then that should be your next step.

How do they behave? How do they buy? What are the most common paths to purchase? What are all of the possible interactions?

Measure experiences

Beginning to think from the consumer’s perspective is the right first step, but it is far more effective to actually measure experiences from their direct interactions. Always-on customer-listening engines have been around for decades. Today’s new wave of measurement is more effective but needs to be further elevated. The Customer Effort Score (CES) has come to the forefront of this movement but is lacking in three critical components: measuring multiple interactions, measuring importance, and measuring revenue. This four-dimensional approach has the power to begin moving the needle.

The measurement of ease to work with a brand across interactions, prioritized within the journey, allows brands to identify the most critical points within the consumer experience. This enables brands to find quick wins to remove as much friction as possible. In the example provided in the image above, one would initially think that “compare plans” and “cancel subscription” should be the areas of focus, but a closer look at importance guides you to prioritize “compare plans” to have the greatest impact.

What are their significant phases of interaction in their journey? Which interactions are the most important? What interactions are in desperate need of help? What is the revenue associated with each interaction?


With a foundational and an architectural assessment, you’ll be poised to build best-in class experiences based on consumer insights. Along the way, an audit of data and technology will become critical to supporting the automation of personalized, people-based experiences. The alignment of key stakeholders across the organization will be another critical component to driving change, which is why a data-driven approach to prioritization from the consumer’s perspective is needed for the potential political battles you’ll be up against.

Another supporting point for your internal journey will be the results from prioritized quick wins. A four-dimensional prioritization of experiences allows the brand to hit the ground running, making immediate improvements to prove out the work, while also laying out critical interactions that may take more significant efforts to improve for long-term planning.

Who are the key stakeholders (detractors/supporters)? What quick wins are we going to tackle? What is our long-term experience roadmap? What technologies/data do I need? 

Test experiences

Another shift in the market over the years has continued in the same vein of always-on, quick-win optimization. Take, for example, website redesigns, as depicted in the image above. Traditional methods would call for significant redesigns every couple of years, requiring weighty amounts of time and money, with gaps and subpar experiences in between. There is a better way. If you are truly interested in meeting consumer expectations you’ll not only be measuring and tracking those experiences on an ongoing basis, but you’ll be consistently making updates to improve them.

What approach are we using today? What tools do I need to conduct testing? What should we test first? Who (internal and/or consumers) should I gather feedback from?

I believe Dentsu Aegis Network Americas CEO Nick Brien sums it up best when he says, “There’s been a fundamental shift in the balance of power. When I started in marketing, I lived in a brand-led world – you changed consumer behavior. But now we live in a consumer-led world. It’s about changing your brand behavior, it is about personalization, it is about relevance, it is about engagement.”

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IBM’s Watson Marketing spinoff launches with agile strategy

The company will focus on delivering marketing solutions that could compete with larger marketing cloud vendors.

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Back in April, IBM’s Watson Marketing announced plans to spin off to form a standalone marketing company under the new ownership of New York-based private equity firm Centerbridge Partners.

The new company, which is still yet to be named, launched on Monday.  The company aims to deliver marketing automation, marketing analytics and content management solutions. 

In separating from IBM’s larger umbrella, Watson Marketing should be able to focus more keenly on its marketing customers’ needs.

“Marketers and advertisers are burdened with mediocre technology and disappointed that most of the promises MarTech and AdTech companies make aren’t kept,” CEO Marc Simpson wrote in a blog post. “They’re being asked to change the way they work to retro-fit to the tools they use, rather than the other way around. The difficulty of making sense of their data is made even tougher by consumers questioning if it should be available to marketers in the first place. We’ve leaned heavily into technology, but seem to be losing the inherent humanity needed to actually move people.” 

While positioning itself separately from its former parent, the new company also aims to adopt an agile approach to help drive its competition with other marketing cloud vendors – notably Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce.

“With over 1,000 people on day one, we’re far from a small company. And yet, we’re also able to be one of the nimblest and most responsive to industry changes of any other marketing cloud,” Simpson added. “We aren’t weighed down by unrelated businesses and large company structures like our competitors, but we have the experience and capabilities to match them and are able to focus 100% on the marketer.” 

Why we should care

In separating from IBM, the new Watson organization is able to move away from some of the antiquated processes of the legacy organizations, allowing it to adopt an agile growth strategy. As Simpson noted, it is not a small company, but launching with an agile-first mindset could play a key role in how the company evolves and maintains its competitive edge against other martech goliaths. 

More on the news

  • The name of the newly-launched entity is slated to be announced later this month.
  • The company plans to “double down” on AI by investing in an experienced team of data scientists
  • IBM marketing and commerce solutions include Campaign Automation, Marketing Assistant, Media Optimizer, Customer Experience Analytics, Content Hub, Real-Time Personalization, Personalized Search, Universal Behavior Exchange, Intelligent Bidder, Price & Promotion Optimization and Payments Gateway.
  • Centerbridge plans to establish a board of directors with deep marketing solution experience.

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How marketers can take the lead with revenue optimization teams

Many marketers are best positioned to drive change, improve alignment and create new opportunities for business results.

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Most marketers are equipped with copious amounts of data that help us understand our customers, create meaningful messaging that resonates with our audience and drives the business outcomes we need to achieve our goals. Marketers also have the ability to translate different trends across customers and prospects such as strong lead generation sources, common themes, objection trends and overall responses to different campaigns. But, many organizations operate in siloes, making it difficult to share these data points with the necessary people.

A solution? Establish a revenue optimization team to bring together the key internal players in your organization to improve alignment and ultimately, drive more revenue. 

Marketers and sales need to track the same goals

Thanks to the amount of valuable information accessible through our martech stacks, marketers can — and should — play a critical role in establishing a customer-centric revenue optimization team.

“Revenue optimization starts with the idea of putting the customer in the center of every interaction an enabling everyone to align around the customer to generate value in every interaction,” said Patrick Morrissey, chief marketing officer of customer revenue optimization platform, Altify. And according to Morrissey, marketers should play a critical role as part of the revenue team, and are best positioned to lead the charge. For many marketers, this requires a shift in thinking about our revenue contributions.

“From a marketing perspective, thinking about the fundamental outcomes, marketers have to start thinking of themselves as part of the revenue team,” said Morrissey. “This intersection presents an opportunity for marketers who are generally better communicators to become the translation mechanism for an entire team. Instead of tracking pipeline, marketers need to track revenue in closed/won business along with the sales team.”

The shift in mindset expands past the marketing team, however. According to Jenn DiMaria, senior manager of client services at marketing automation solution provider Digital Pi, the shift in mindset needs to be organizational. “Marketing is often viewed as a cost center, but in reality, other teams are lusting after the tools and data we have access to,” said DiMaria. “Aligning a revenue team creates opportunities for marketers to improve accessibility  to the data and help bridge gaps with other parts of the organization.” 

Marketers, get closer to the customer

Marketers tend to be far removed from any interactions with customers, but it is extremely valuable to engage face-to-face with customers. After all, marketers understand that relationship-building is key to retaining customers.  According to Morrissey, marketers need to put themselves in the shoes of the customer in order to understand their challenges.

“Marketers should focus on how we can get out of our own way and put ourselves in the shoes of the customers,” said Morrissey. “Going on the road to meet with salespeople and sit with customers will help marketers better understand the market, the broader changes in technology and fundamentally how to help customers succeed, personally and professionally.”

“Marketers need to have some real-world customer experience, explained Mary Ngai, founder of Connector42 and head of analytics and technology at RI. “Even if marketers are listening on sales calls, it can be incredibly insightful in grasping a better understanding of their needs.” Ngai also recommends that marketers attend customer site visits during ongoing projects or sales deals to increase visibility into accounts.

In addition to more face time with customers, Morrissey recommends that marketers lead internal account reviews and deal reviews with the sales and customer success teams. Regularly reviewing the accounts with members of different parts of the organization will expose different issues and areas that can be addressed by the necessary members of the revenue optimization team. Working with customer success can also bring to light what some of the daily challenges and successes the customer experiences — valuable insight for marketers as they developing retention campaigns to drive renewals. 

Leading the path to revenue optimization

Revenue optimization teams present an opportunity for marketers to leverage their communication, analytical and creative skills to improve holistic marketing efforts in coordination with other internal departments. 

“Marketers have proven that we can lead revenue optimization teams as we typically bear the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to acquiring new leads and we have to track our efforts,” said DiMaria. “Also, tools that have entered the market in the past ten years have made this possible.”

The concept of implementing a fundamental shift in thinking may seem overwhelming, but the long-term benefit is streamlined efforts across your organization and consistent communication around prospect and customer activities.

“If you think about the customer journey, we’re all trying to get a numeric view of the customer — BDRs are measured by the total number of call they make and are concerned with propensity-to-buy data,” said Morrissey. “Marketers are providing that data, creating segments and determining what funnel to put a prospect in. Then we talk about deal size or ACV, then finally we’re just an NPS score. Marketers are the ones who can best translate this into plain English, for everyone to understand.”

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Conversion optimization is an operating system (not a tactic)

CRO and growth teams should be cheerleaders for evidence-based decision making, experimentation and the judicious use of data in campaigns.

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I know it sounds banal, but I’d like to revisit the question: “What is conversion rate optimization.”

If you search Google, the answer seems obvious enough. The first result, from Moz, defines it as, “the systematic process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action — be that filling out a form, becoming customers, or otherwise.”

That seems right to me.

Then why do so many articles, courses, lectures and talks focus on conversion rate optimization tactics?

These articles – some of which include hundreds of tips and tactics – include advice like “use high-quality images” and “offer free shipping.”

These are assuredly good pieces of advice.

One would assume highquality images would perform better than low-quality images (subjectiveness aside), and I’m sure customers delight in not having to pay for free shipping (though operationally, this adds some complexity).

Any single tactic or tip on this list is not in itself conversion optimization (or growth or growth hacking or experimentation or whatever word you’re using for the practice of evidence-based decision making).

For the sake of this article, I’m going to say conversion optimization and growth, by and large, are pretty much the same thing.

Growth usually encompasses product and marketing, whereas conversion optimization usually just looks at the website experience, though that seems to be a pretty minor distinguishment in the grand scheme of things. Both of these things encourage experimentation, data-driven decision making, and fast learning and iteration.

And people have a ton of “growth hacking tips” and tactics:

However, without context none of this is helpful. Would the aspiring growth hacker or conversion optimizer just run down each list and implement each thing? Test each thing individually?

CRO tactics vs. strategy (and operating systems)

The first learning from these searches is that people misunderstand tactics and strategies and use the words interchangeably.

Strategy is the “overarching plan or set of goals.” Tactics “are the specific actions or steps you undertake to accomplish your strategy.”

For instance, if it were my strategy to appear as a growth thought leader (whatever that means), one tactic in my toolbelt may be writing articles like this. Another may be doing webinars hosted on my personal website. Another might be doing local meetups.

For my role at HubSpot, I could carve out a strategy to appear at every possible organic location for bottom funnel search results. Tactically, this could mean writing listicles like our “best help desk software” article. It could also mean getting more customer reviews to lift our prominence on review sites that already appear near the top of Google for these terms.

Now, I think that CRO or growth should neither be looked at as a strategy nor as a tactic. It should be viewed as an operating system.

An operating system, removed slightly from its technical origins, defines the rules, functions, heuristics and mannerisms that control a system. In short, it’s a code (both implicit and explicit) that defines how decisions are made.

What this means practically is that a conversion optimizer or growth hacker should look much less like a vigilante ninja, complete with both a broad and simultaneously specialized skill set, who can come in and optimize a landing page or fix a referral loop.

Instead, the practice should look much more like building and maintaining infrastructure.

This is an idea inspired in part by Ed Fry (from this blog post and from several conversations). In his article, he distinguishes marketing (those who write the copy, launch the campaigns, define the brand) from growth (the scientific method, which has come a long way in marketing due to technological enablement like front-end testing tools).

He writes:

“Our observation is growth enables marketing, product, sales and other teams across the organization. It sits at an operational role, supporting multiple teams across the company, and rolls up to Operations or the CEO. This is not about managing marketing activities that have to happen every day. Growth is far more concerned about moving levers behind the sales & marketing activity instead of the functional practices of campaigns, brand, and so on.”

This is where I think CRO (or growth) thrives, particularly as a company expands in size and sophistication.

No matter how you cut it, the process usually looks something like this:

We collect data and information, put it through our proprietary growth or CRO process (made up of a unique blend of technology, processes and humans), and our output is better decisions and experiences for our users.

But why should that live within the purview of one person or even one team? What if we could enable everyone in the company to make better decisions, systematically?

Where does CRO fit into the company structure?

CRO teams tend to be either centralized or decentralized (or in growth parlance, independent or function-led).

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In a centralized model, everything flows through that team, resulting in a more structured and predictable system, but can perhaps become bottlenecked if other teams want to join in. Here’s an article about the relative pros and cons of each model.

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There’s a third model as well that I see more often now, particularly in large organizations with sophisticated experimentation programs: the center of excellence model.

Ronny Kohavi talked about this in an HBR article and explains it like this:

“A center of excellence focuses mostly on the design, execution, and analysis of controlled experiments. It significantly lowers the time and resources those tasks require by building a companywide experimentation platform and related tools. It can also spread best testing practices throughout the organization by hosting classes, labs, and conferences.”

In other words, if we move to a center of excellence model, CRO or growth teams can focus on building up three components of company infrastructure:

  • Technical ability (tools)
  • Education and best practices
  • Attitudes/beliefs (culture)

CRO should support technical enablement and tooling

First and foremost, to build a company where everyone can run experiments and make better decisions, it’s important to give people the tools and technology needed to do that. I think that falls under three areas:

  • Data
  • Experimentation capabilities
  • Knowledge sharing

To make better decisions, we need better data. A growth or CRO team can help implement, orchestrate and access the data each team needs to make better decisions.

Of course, there are a million tools on the market, ranging from the free and ubiquitous (Google Analytics) to the enterprise (Adobe Analytics) to the custom setups loved in technical organizations.

There’s no right choice for every organization, but it’s an important decision to discuss.

The second point is to decide on an experimentation framework or platform. Again, there are tons of tools available, ranging from free (Google Optimize) to enterprise to custom built.

How you set this up should have a lot to do with your organization’s technical capabilities, culture and functional needs. Echoing the above, there’s no easy answer here – but here’s a really interesting paper on how Microsoft has built their experimentation platform.

Finally, knowledge sharing is probably the most underrated. Assuming you have several teams running trustworthy experiments, delivering better experiences and getting results – the next logical piece in the puzzle is to allow archiving and communicating these results.

Education, training and best practices

The second component of infrastructure is education. If you’re going to democratize experiments, then you’ll want to make sure everyone knows how to run them.

Personally, I love the Airbnb model – they send employees through Data University to train everyone in the fundamentals.

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I realize this is a heavy up-front and top-down effort, so it doesn’t need to be as robust right off the bat. Your team could simply act as an internal consultancy, holding office hours and supporting interested teams when they run experiments. Normally it takes a small ramp up period before the team or the analyst/marketer is off and running by themselves.

At the very least, documenting how to set up and analyze experiments is something that should be done. Having a resource center, or at the very least a checklist or list of guidelines like I’ve tried to put together in this article, helps people feel more comfortable running their own tests properly.

Empowering a culture of experimentation

Finally, the last component of infrastructure is the subtle and the emotional. CRO and growth teams should be cheerleaders for evidence-based decision making, experimentation and the judicious use of data in campaigns.

I’ve written a lot about building a culture of experimentation in the past and can’t say there’s any one tip or tactic or magic bullet to do it.

Often, the best way is to have a powerful and influential evangelist at the top leading the way.

Sometimes it’s built up through the bottom through consistently showing results and disseminating them through the company via Wiki posts, newsletters, and weekly experiment readouts.

This may be the most important job of the CRO or growth team, as it builds a sort of “flywheel” effect. The more excited others are about growth and experimentation, the more they’re willing to learn and improve their own skill sets, and the more evangelists you’ll have for the program – a perpetual motion device of data-driven decision making that will surely help you edge out past the competition in the long run.

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Are revenue optimization teams the answer to alignment issues between sales and marketing?

It is more critical than ever that sales and marketing collaborate in the full sales process.

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Challenges between sales and marketing, stemming from broader organizational issues, are not uncommon. From miscommunication to mismatched data, there are plenty of frustrating problems that hinder alignment across siloed teams. A recent report (registration required) from Aragon Research found that customer revenue optimization helps organizations increase sales volume, improve win rates and deal sizes while delivering increased customer value. The research also showed that marketers tend to grade their relationship with sales higher than their counterparts on the sales team — indicative of just how disconnected these teams can be.

Co-founder and executive vice president of enterprise software firm Altify, Áine Denn, recognized these challenges when she co-founded the firm in 2005. “Sales and marketing aren’t speaking the same language,” said Denn. “Buyers have elevated expectations, but many brands’ sales and marketing teams are disconnected.”

Revenue optimization teams can reframe conversations

As businesses increasingly shift toward subscription-based models, brands apply an account-based marketing strategy to support the sales process. According to Altify’s chief marketing officer Patrick Morrisey, it’s time for a fundamental shift in our sales and marketing efforts, and even our larger organizational structures. “We need to shift the conversation from ‘what are we trying to sell’ to ‘what problems are we trying to solve?'”, said Morrisey. “That’s where the revenue optimization team comes in.”  He also noted that by creating a revenue optimization team, brands can increase transparency into sales campaigns and provide better insights into their digital marketing efforts.

“As marketers, our roles are changing as the buying cycle continues to shift,” said Allie Hughes, founder of Hughes & Co., a digital marketing agency with a strategic focus on profitability and revenue generation. “We need a better picture of the sales process to get better at what we do.”

One step towards solving the challenges of accessibility, insights and transparency across teams is to establish deal review meetings with the internal stakeholders involved in an account’s sales process. “It’s not the ‘old-world’, tech-driven center of excellence,” says Morrisey. “It’s establishing cross-functional resources grounded in account plans and driven by processes and metrics bringing internal stakeholders to the table.”

Cross-functional teams can lead to more effective campaigns

By establishing a cross-functional revenue optimization team and involving stakeholders from across sales and marketing in the process from beginning to end, digital marketers can set the tone for the entire sales process. Building rapport with your counterparts in sales — from business development to customer success managers — will provide valuable insights your team can act on to drive conversions. Partnering with the product marketing team and involving them in the process is also critical for ensuring that sales is well-equipped to manage customers’ expectations and solve challenges.

“Buyers can be extremely well-informed. Sales need to be equipped with accurate information from business development, product marketing team to deliver the right message — and solutions — to the customer during the sales process,” said Morrisey. “The tangible value that marketers are delivering to customers is actually equipping the sales team to understand the customer and products that will best solve the customer’s problems.”

Alignment can lead to competitive advantage

The view into accounts that marketing receives from sales generally doesn’t extend much further than the information put in the organizations’ CRM. This makes it challenging for marketers to understand the customer’s expectations and needs. “Sales very inadequately supports marketing with the information and insights that they need to understand how to shift marketing campaigns,” said Denn.

“Marketing is a sales-enabling activity, with more access to information about the entire sales process our efforts are more informed, our data-based decision making has a stronger foundation and ultimately our marketing efforts and products will scale up in quality as these teams are implemented in companies,” said Hughes. “We see clients shifting in this direction and our capacity to help generate strong ROI is improving.”

The importance of alignment cannot be understated; our sales and marketing teams should be as well-informed as the customers we are trying to reach.

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