Marketers do not have a shortage of tools in their tech stack. And with those tools come an abundance of data about how users are clicking ads, engaging with the website, or browsing products. But that abundance of data can be overwhelming. How do you sort through the noise to find what you’re looking? And once you found what you’re looking for, what do you think with it?
We recently sat down with Gallant Chen, who’s led digital marketing at SurveyMonkey, Apple, and Zendesk, to find out what is actually important to track and analyze.
Q: Gallant, thanks for joining us today. Every marketing team you’ve worked for is probably pretty different yet similar at the same time. When you start at a new company, how do you start to figure what to measure and track?
A: No matter the company, I find there to be two types of metrics to look at: business metrics versus operational metrics. Business metrics are what upper management cares about, like revenue, spend, and ROI. Operational metrics, like campaign performance numbers, are what the team cares about that enable us to manage the day-to-day campaigns. I always start any new marketing role by understanding the company’s business metrics first and from there see what operational metrics are currently in place that feed those business metrics.
Q: When working with your team, how do you determine what core key performance indicators (KPIs) your team should focus on?
A: It really depends on the type of campaigns you want to run and the volume of data you have. Let’s say cost per acquisition (CPA) is a core focus for your team’s ad campaigns. Then you want to work backwards and look at all the metrics that impact CPA. For example for paid search, metrics like conversion rate and click-thru rate impact your overall CPA. With that focus in mind, your team’s projects could center around experiments and testing to improve click-thru rates on ads and conversion rates for landing pages. Over time, you iterate and learn what the right metrics are—and at what level of granularity you need.
Q: Okay, now that you figured out the metrics to track, what do you and your team do with them? How does it fit into your team’s workflow?
A: We use our metrics to guide weekly decisions, identify potential issues, and find new opportunities to optimize. You should make it a habit to review reports or dashboards regularly in team meetings or share via channels like email or Slack. As your track and watch for trends, you learn the patterns in your data and get to know your data. You recognize what is an actual issue to look into vs. noise. Once you have that foundation, you can expand on the level of granularity like time cadence, region, creative design, and more.
Q: How do you get your team to care about the numbers like you do? How do you foster a data-driven culture?
A: I try to hire curious folks that are data-driven in their approach to solving problems. But being data-driven means more than just being able to crunch numbers. You want your marketers to be able to draw insights and make conclusions from the data. You want to help them understand the impact those insights and follow-up actions can have. Ultimately, you have to believe that understanding the numbers can have a real impact. If you do that then you can foster a culture where people care about numbers.
Q: How do you get the broader organization to care about the numbers?
A: Share metrics and reporting consistently and frequently, and share more than you need to. And give everyone access to the data they care about. Not everyone will look at it, but the people who care, will. The more you can get people to understand the business metrics, the more you can get people to understand your team’s operations metrics and goals. When you align your team’s operational metrics to the agreed upon business metrics, you can show how the operational metrics drive business impact.
Q: Do metrics differ at the different companies you’ve worked for? And has it evolved over your career?
A: Yes. Every business has different metrics based on the type of business it is in. For example, marketing for an e-commerce business is very different than a B2B software company. E-commerce companies are very focused on orders and revenue, while B2B companies are more focused on leads. It can be trickier at B2B organizations, given that there’s more latency to the purchase cycle. Even if your team’s focus is on a metric like cost per lead, not all leads are created equal. Some are more valuable than others. So you can get more sophisticated and look at more downstream impact in terms of what leads convert to wins and the associated MRR (monthly recurring revenue).
Q: Do you work with agencies? If so, when do you decide to build an in-house team versus use an agency?
A: Yes. I’ve worked with a number of digital marketing agencies that are performance focused. It doesn’t matter actually whether or not you go the agency or in-house route. What matters is the people on your account. If you can hire, train, and retain an in-house person, that’s great. And if you find an agency that can be an extension of your team, that’s great too. Just know you have to invest in the agency account person, like your own in-house person.
Q: What’s your marketing tech stack today?
A: Right now, it’s primarily Google Analytics, Convertro, and BIME.
Q: How do you pick what technology?
A: Figuring out your marketing tech stack can be difficult. It depends a lot on the stage of the company and the current (or future) investment level from a media perspective. When I was at Apple where there were bigger budgets, it made sense to invest in expensive tools like a marketing data warehouse and a bid management platform. But when you’re at a smaller company with a smaller budget, these things may not necessarily make sense.
Q: Now one last question...if you had to pick, what's that one KPI that matters?
A: ROI. I know it’s broad and dependent on your business. But ROI basically means return on any money you spend, like ad spend, people resources, or technology investments. As marketers we should be measured on if we can provide a positive return on the dollars invested.