Why a B+ has to be Good Enough for Marketing Reports

As marketers, we’ve put ourselves in a bit of a pickle. For years we have talked about earning, and now keeping, ‘a seat seat at the table’ by being able to speak the local language—revenue. We’ve developed and adopted powerful software platforms to amplify our work and measure the efforts.

It’s an almost perfect success story, isn’t it?

‘Almost’ being the keyword. No matter what tech stack they use, many marketers invest an immense amount of time seeking reports that are perfect. This has been motivated by having to answer questions from CEOs and CFOs about how the information was gathered and why certain marketing reports do not match sales reports or financial reports data. Requests to slice the data into tinier and more targeted segments can sometimes provide information that seems inconsistent.

However, we must not mistake bulletproof marketing reports with successful marketing and measurement. Instead of striving for perfection, we should be aiming for actionable insights. With that as the foundational goal, in most cases, a B+ is good enough.

Why is perfection not possible?

The success of marketing reports, and most reporting tools in general, are built on 3 basic fundamentals:

  1. The software platform itself
  2. How and when the software is implemented and used
  3. What the platform is measuring

The software (#1) is rarely the issue. And while #2 can certainly be a culprit for less-than-accurate marketing reports, even a poorly implemented software platform or inexperienced marketing team is not the biggest barrier to flawless marketing reports. The true reason marketing reports can never be perfect is issue #3 - what the software is measuring.

Most marketing reports measure things like Leads by Source, Marketing attribution by Channel, Stage Conversion, Time in Stage, ROI on advertising, etc, etc. Reports often attempt to apply a single field value to measure things, such as using Person Source within Marketo or Primary Campaign Source within Salesforce.

Even an attribution tool like Bizible, which is one of the most sophisticated platforms available, applies a single channel value for various points along the stage such as first touch (FT), lead creation (LC) or opportunity creation (OC). With those touches, Bizible uses a complex algorithm to mathematically calculate the ROI on those marketing investments. Even with Bizible, perfect marketing reports are elusive. Why is that?

In a nutshell, it’s the people the systems are measuring. People aren’t perfect and they do unpredictable things. While it’s nice to imagine that people follow obvious progressions and take actions that make sense, its clear to see this isn’t always true. Some of your leads and prospects will defy logic as they move through their system.

Real world examples include:

  • A person may fill out a form to access a piece of content, but when the content goes to their junk mailbox, they fill out the form again two more times within a minute
  • Someone registers for a webinar, but then signs into that webinar using their personal email address rather than their business address
  • People have even misspelled their own email addresses when filling out contact forms.
  • A decision-maker may have a teammate or intern do all the online research and not appear in your database until you reach contract negotiations

In over eight years of using and consulting in marketing automation, I can assure you that these scenarios have happened more than you can imagine.

This is not to say that you cannot investigate and correct these data gaps. In fact, you can invest time and get your reports nearly perfect. It’s a process I like to call Forensic Marketing and it involves delving deep into individual records as well as searching for patterns of potential inconsistencies. Once you identify the issues, you can take the time to fix them.

Here is the downside - Forensic marketing has a high opportunity cost.

Forensic marketing is not free. Time spent trying to perfect reports is time that doesn’t get used to improve other marketing initiatives. It’s always important to investigate and fix the root cause of any reporting inconsistencies, but it should be done with the future in mind—not with the goal of perfecting reports that look at past data.

The best way to reconcile the balance between perfect and good enough is to remember why you started reporting in the first place. The goal of marketing reports is to understand your past and present outcomes so that you can make better investments in the future.

Is which is better?

  • Option A - Spend 20 hours a month to get to reports that are 99% accurate
  • Option B - Spend 6 hours a month on reports are 92% accurate and use those other 14 hours writing content, learning about your audience and many other revenue-generating activities

The answer to the question is another question… which option has the highest ROI?

Footnote: A trusted colleague reminded me that a 92% is still technically an ‘A’, but we both agreed that B+ sounded better in the headline 🙂