Responsive - Defining Your Success

What is success? Ask 100 people and you'll get 100 different answers -- each one as unique as the person providing it. Everyone is different in how they define success for themselves and their marketing efforts.

Success tends to be a very slippery term when it comes to defining how it will be measured. To get to a useful answer it's often necessary to take a step back and spend some time thinking about what are the key objectives that have to be accomplished in order to make your business successful. It's hard work and takes time that you might not have. However, it's well worth the investment for those who choose to do so.

Instead, many people find it easier to just dive in and create another promotion fueled by high-octane headlines and sexy graphics rather than wrestle with how they will define success for their next campaign or for the next year. It meets the sense of urgency to "do something now," and there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from it.

But after all the promotional smoke clears and the dust settles we're often left feeling a little unsure as to how well our promotion really worked. Did that ad really raise our brand awareness? Did we generate new leads? If we did, where did they go? Did our sales team or product managers see an increase in sales? Was it worth the money? Should we do it again? Should we do it more often? Was it worth the effort at all?

All of these questions are important, but they become very difficult, if not impossible, to answer unless you've taken the time to define what success means to you and your organization. While everyone will define success differently, here are some ideas to help you start thinking about how to define success in measurable ways.

Aiming for success
The old cliché "if you aim for nothing, you're going to hit it every time" certainly applies in your online marketing campaigns. It's critically important to define what it is you want to accomplish from the very beginning.

While most of us have some idea what we want to accomplish, we often are too vague in stating our goals. For example, at AuntMinne.com we often hear from our partners, "my goal is to increase sales." There's nothing wrong with that statement, but it does little to help you decide how you are going to do that, how your efforts will be measured and when it will be done.

A good goal statement incorporates three elements:
  • It has a clear definition of what you want to accomplish.
  • It is measurable so you'll know when you have achieved it
  • It specifies a time period for the things that are to be accomplished.
A goal that can't be objectively measured is not really a goal, it's just a good intention, but good intentions alone won't get you very far on the road to success.

Defining success
How you define your goals and your measurements for success can make a tremendous difference on how you go about trying to reach them. For example, we can restate the goal of "increasing sales" in several ways. Each version below is valid, but notice how they all have a different focus and a different way to measure whether they were successful.

  • Goal: We want to increase sales by improving the click-through rates of our online ads by 50% over the next 90 days.

    Focus: The emphasis is on creating ads that make people want to click on them and learn more.

    Method of Measurement: Ad click-through rate (CTR) - total ad clicks divided by total number of ad views or impressions.


  • Goal: We want to increase sales by improving the lead collection rates of our landing pages and micro-sites by 30% over the next 6 months.

    Focus: The emphasis is on creating material or incentives that compel the user to share their contact information and learn more about your products once they have clicked your banner ad.

    Method of Measurement: Lead Collection Rate - Total number of leads collected divided by total ad clicks


  • Goal: We want to increase sales by increasing our lead conversion (or closure rates) during the next year by making our follow-up process more responsive for people who have given us their contact information.

    Focus: The emphasis here is on how the sales leads are handled internally after they are collected. This focus has nothing to do with the actual online ads you've created but rather an internal company process.

    Method of Measurement: Lead conversion rate - Total number of sales divided by total number of leads collected from your online ad campaign.

    Observation: This area is critical and is something many companies don't do well. Something to remember: leads generated from the Internet go stale faster than other collection methods due to the expectation of immediate gratification. If your company is waiting longer than 24-48 hours (at the latest) to follow up, you are losing valuable sales opportunities.

    Quick tip: If you can't follow up that fast, send an e-mail notification that you've received their information and will be following up soon. Set the expectation for when contact will happen and you'll get better results because you've acknowledged their interest quickly.

Notice how each one of these statements has the same overall goal, but the methods used to achieve it and the measurements used to evaluate success are all different. It's important to acknowledge that the approach you take is often determined by how big the opportunity is, how much it costs to implement, and whether you even have control over that area or not.

In our example, if you have no control or influence over how sales leads are handled after they are collected, then you will probably be limited in terms of how much you can improve that area. While that's not an ideal situation, you can still have an impact on increasing sales - up to a point.

The fragile chain of success
True marketing success is built on a promotional chain composed of many different links. Like all chains, your promotional chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Let's assume that our lead follow-up system is not going a good job. In this example, it's possible for our marketing team to create ads that are generating hundreds of leads each month for our sales team. Yet if our follow-up process lets leads sit idle for a week, or it doesn't have the right information to give those prospects, then the promotional chain breaks and we begin to lose opportunities to grow our business.

As we evaluate our marketing programs and begin looking for what is not working we need to be careful not to draw premature conclusions. In looking at the scenario I've outlined, a knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that since we're not generating new sales that our ads are not creating a good response or that the web site we're advertising on is targeted to the wrong audience.

However, if we know from our reports that our ad click rate is improving and our lead generation rates are increasing, then these indicators can help guide us to the real issue we need to deal with -- in this case it would be our internal sales follow-up. Likewise, if ad click-through rates are falling or lead collection rates are dropping then we need to revisit the ad, evaluate the incentives we're using to collect information, and analyze the sites we've chosen to advertise on.

Our success will depend on our ability to integrate both internal and external components of our plan. Our external components - our ads and promotions - need to integrate seamlessly with our internal components - sales follow-up, in this case - if we're going to recognize the full potential our marketing investment.

Finding a successful balance
Setting meaningful goals that can be objectively measured is important, but it's also important to remember to be realistic about how we will define success. If your company has traditionally struggled in one area don't expect it to be resolved overnight. It will take some time, effort, and experimentation to see improvement.

Usually success is incremental and is measured in a few percentage points of improvement. It's very rare to find a new promotion that fundamentally changes your business. That's not to say that you shouldn't spend some time working on "the next big thing." You should - but don't expect to consistently hit home runs either. By making many little improvements to your ongoing programs the benefits will begin to add up, and, when taken together, will make a big contribution towards meeting your overall goals.

Don't obsess over trying to get things perfect either. It's far better to get started and begin making corrections than it is to try and wait to get things absolutely perfect before starting.

Success at last
Finding success is not easy because it can be hard to define in a way that's measurable. However, taking the time to work on this area will provide a powerful tool that can help steer you through rough marketing waters and difficult meetings where return on investment is the order of the day.

We want to be part of helping your online marketing efforts be successful for you and your organization. If you're having trouble defining success or want to learn more about how we can help you gather measurable data that you can use to set measurable goals, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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