John Wanamaker - described by Wikipedia as the father of modern advertising, and a pioneer in marketing - is famously and frequently quoted to have said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”. Now, you might think in today’s digital age that it would be easier to determine the return on your marketing resources - and it is, but only up to a point. In fact, as we’ll see, the real problem is often much worse than Wanamaker supposed.
Even in the immediately measurable world of digital media, when click through rates and website hits are easy to record and track, you need to be careful to ensure that you are measuring the things that really matter and drawing conclusions that are truly meaningful. This is particularly important if you are selling a high-value B2B product or service with a complex and lengthy buying decision process that involves multiple customer touch points.
Value, not volume
In such environments, you are never likely to convert a visit into a sale from first contact. Tracking the number of website hits may tell you nothing of any relevance about the value or volume of business you will eventually close. Obsessing on maximising the number of “leads” you generate may swamp your sales team - with the result that nothing gets followed up, and the occasional diamond in the rough gets overlooked.
In many cases, driving the volume of activity rather than the quality of the outcome will lead you to making very bad resource allocation choices. Here’s why: in high value complex sales environments, the best you can hope for is that your marketing action will serve to persuade your prospect to move forward to the next stage in their buying decision process with your organisation.
The Buyers' Journey
But if you’re not absolutely crystal-clear about the specific role that each marketing activity is intended to play in supporting your prospect’s buying decision process - whether it be a campaign, a downloadable white paper, or a piece of sales collateral, you will inevitably end up wasting the vast majority of your marketing resources. The American Marketing Association estimated that up to 90% of the marketing materials created to “support the sales process” had little or no useful practical role.
Unless you’ve taken pains to understand the stages your prospects go through as they make buying decisions, unless you’ve clearly understood their changing issues, concerns and motivations at each step along the way, and unless each marketing tactic has been designed with the clearly defined purpose of helping the prospect decide to move forward from their current clearly-defined stage in their Buyers’ Journey to the next with you, your figures are likely to be the same or worse.
Start with the end in mind
So before you sign off on any further marketing activity, I urge you to ask “what is this for?” You need to understand with great clarity what stage of the Buyers’ Journey it is targeted at, what issue, concern or motivation you are seeking to address, what you want the prospect to do as a consequence, and how you will measure success.
You might want to review your current marketing activities through the same lens. Is the purpose of every activity completely clear? Do you truly understand (and agree) its’ intended role in helping to attract, engage or convert more of the right sort of prospects? Are you clear about how you can measure its’ success in achieving that objective?
I’m going to take a wild guess at this point and suggest that at least some of your current activities might not tick all of those boxes. In which case, I’m going to suggest that you ask two supplementary questions: “why are we doing this?” and “what can we learn from this experience?”
Time to focus on outcomes
You see, when you start with the end in mind - when you focus on outcomes, not activities, and how you are going to measure success - you end up doing much better marketing. But if you don’t truly, deeply understand (and establish a company-wide consensus about) who your most valuable prospects are, what they really care about, how and why they actually choose to buy, and what you’re going to do to support their process, you’re likely to have the same problem as John Wanamaker - but with fewer excuses.
You could do worse than start by agreeing on what your ideal prospects look like - you might find it helpful to download this simple guide. And be sure to ask those questions about what you are doing today, and why.