How to set realistic, integrated marketing goals that fully align your marketing strategy, plan and campaigns
Setting realistic goals
Marketers don’t take goals as seriously as they should. This most likely stems from the fact that marketing has been an inexact science until a decade ago. Since it was tough to prove success back in the day, goals were more arbitrary or qualitative in nature and limited in their ability to demonstrate clear ROI. When marketers set goals, a good number either willingly, through sheer optimism, or unwillingly, by being pressured by other executives, overestimate their goals. Below are some common reasons why marketers end up with unrealistic goals:
- Data gap: no relevant historicals, resulting in“best guess” goals
- Executive pressure: doing what the board/CEO wants
- Hero complex: CMO takes on too much responsibility for achieving the company goals
- Resource imbalance: available human and financial resources not taken into account
- No strategy alignment: no clear strategy and campaigns to achieve goals
- No team alignment: do not assign sub-goals to each member of the team that roll-up to help achieve topline objectives (resulting in wasted resources)
Conversely, over the last decade the game has changed due to digital transformation, which has provided marketers better performance tracking and visibility. Finally marketers can measure most of their marketing success with the same level of detail as the sales and finance teams. But since marketing ultimately has a more diverse set of responsibilities, building a goal-based structure that everyone on the team maps to is essential.
So how do I get started creating the goals
First, start early. You should set your goals for the following year 6 months in advance, but build them in such a way where you can be nimble in case any major market, competitor, or company changes emerge and significantly impact your objectives. Before you build a plan or set your budget, first clearly define your goals. Make sure you engage in a scenario planning exercise to determine a best vs. worst case view of your performance against the goals. Use that same scenario-based philosophy when you start building your plan and creating campaigns. Depending on the size and sophistication of your team, you want to keep the number of goals under 9 a year, with an optimal range between 3-6. Too many goals will spread a marketing team focus too thin, leading to no goals being achieved.
When setting the goals you need to take into account the following:
- Company goals: Always start with the company goals for organizational alignment. Determine the goals where marketing can have the biggest impact and set your metrics of achievement accordingly.
- Historical data: Review your historical numbers and look for patterns and trends that could give you an indication of future results. If the trends do not align with your stated goals, then you will need to either reset expectations or increase investment.
- Marketing team: When evaluating your team’s ability to achieve the goals ask the following questions. Does your team structure have functional gaps? Are there team members with limited skill sets? Do you have enough productive people with bandwidth? You will not achieve your goals unless you have the right team, period. Any gaps need to be filled in a timely fashion, either through hiring new employees or through outsourced staff, or you risk missing your deadlines for hitting your goals.
- Marketing budget: Set your goals and build your plan, then go to finance and fight for the budget. Don’t let finance tell you what the budget is; work with them to get what you need in order to achieve the goals.
- The competition: Too often we only think about the competition when it comes to market share goals. The competition needs to factor into all your decisions since there will be competitive reactions to every strategy your company undertakes. If your competition is successful in blocking you, it will make achieving your goals difficult.
- Market conditions: If you're heading into a period of economic unrest without a recession-proof product or service, you’d better take these economic factors into account. This is where scenario planning can help you be ready for any situation so you can course correct.
- Your sales function: Marketers need to take a critical look at the sales team and ask the tough questions before setting goals. Is the sales team set-up to support your marketing goals (i.e. BDRs, geographical distribution, sales training, etc.)? Can the sales team grow fast enough to handle the demand generated by marketing? Is finding talent a problem? Does your company have a great onboarding process or does it take a long time for sales reps to get up to speed? Since sales and marketing go hand and hand, these questions will help you gauge how aggressively to set your goals.
- Your product/service: Sometimes products and services do not come out on the expected launch date and marketing is left at the altar. When tuning your goals ask these two essential questions. Does your product/services team have a solid track record of on-time delivery? Do they have a history of great quality? If the answer is yes to both, then you can set your goals accordingly.
Creating a Goals Pyramid for full visibility and accountability
High-level objectives with no supporting goals will result in nothing. For this reason, you need to make sure your whole team understands what their roles are in achieving the goals. Next, when creating the strategy ensure it is aligned with achieving the goals. Lastly, all your campaigns must all be goals-based. Campaigns without goals are busy work marketing that accomplish nothing. The best way to create this type of structure, visibility, and accountability is to build a Goals Pyramid.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with what a Goals Pyramid is, it pulls all your strategic marketing together to provide clear direction to the team. The Pyramid starts with your topline marketing objectives which are matched up with more specific qualitative goals, metrics, and strategies to achieve the objective (see the diagram below for the flow and example). A goals pyramid contains:
- Topline objectives: if you remember from my last blog post on goals I talk about the 3 topline marketing objectives (sales, awareness, and perception). Almost all marketing goals fall into one of these topline objectives, which is why they are at the top of the goals chain. They help structure all rest of your thinking as you start the marketing planning process.
- Qualitative goals: more descriptive and customized goals to your unique business needs. For example a qualitative goal of “generate opportunities” provides more color to the topline goal of “sales”
- Metrics of achievement: these are the quantifiable goals that provide specific measurement to the qualitative goals. For example, generate “400” opportunities.
- Team/individual sub-goals: metrics-based sub-goals the team or an individual needs to achieve. For example the digital marketing team may need to create “250” of the 400 opportunities next year.
- Marketing Strategy: what is your strategy for achieving the goal. In the example below, the digital marketing team is using a “digital advertising strategy” to reach the target audience in order to generate the 250 opportunities.
- Campaigns: all your campaigns should be goal-based, no matter how big or small. The campaigns will leverage the strategy and will shoot to achieve the goal metrics.
If you use the Goals Pyramid method your team will always stay focused on what really matters so you can avoid empty calorie marketing. For the next blog post in this “Goals-Driven Marketing” series, we will discuss strategies for achieving the goals (come back next week).