In order to maximize the potential in your marketing and sales funnel you absolutely must be progressing in data maturity. The days of K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) are frankly over when it comes to creating a high performing funnel. You have to be consuming massive amounts of data and turning it into actionable funnel optimizing tactics. How you partner with your marketing agency around data will make or break the relationship. Here are 5 marketing data reasons your agency will fail.
1. Optimizing Marketing Spend on the Wrong Metrics
It’s all about leads, wrong!
For most marketing agencies and companies we work with, it’s all about leads. Sure, most companies have goals for their equivalent of conversions or sales. These sales lead to the revenue/profitability goals of the company. Most companies would also claim they are working with their Marketing Agency to ensure that efforts are supporting these goals.
We would argue that the “optimization” that exists today happens more through agency conversations. The reality is that spend is primarily being optimized around leads. The below scenarios for a proprietary higher education funnel help put this in perspective. At the point of web form submission (lead), Google Analytics and subsequent goal conversions are likely being triggered. This is common. Metrics beyond that lead often exist only in the CRM.
Lead Optimization is Flawed, Here is Why
Let’s review the two scenarios below. We will assume that the Lifetime Revenue Value (LVT) of each new student start is equivalent. If your marketing agency targets CPA bidding around leads (manually or automated), your marketing spend will favor Scenario 2. However, it is clear that you would rather spend $10,000 on Scenario 1 and get 18 new students versus 11.
|Metric||Scenario 1||Scenario 2|
|Cost Per Lead||$105||$74|
|Cost Per Contact||$131.58||$148.15|
|Appointment Set Rate||60%||48%|
|Cost Per Appointment||$219.30||$308.64|
|New Student Starts||18||11|
|Cost Per Start||$548.25||$881.83|
It’s important to realize that these scenarios are endless. This scenario could be a paid search non-branded keyword versus another within the same campaign. Given that this funnel could take 90+ days to play out, how would you or your agency catch this? How would they catch the 1000 other optimization opportunities with human eyes?
Full Funnel Visibility is a Data Maturity Must
So how do you solve this? You must advance data maturity to ensure that down funnel metrics can be tracked back to the click/visit. We recommend doing a Google Analytics Client ID integration with your CRM. This will allow you to feed metrics like “Appointments” or “Starts” into Google Analytics with their corresponding value. This unleashes the ability to do target CPA bidding around metrics that truly drive value (like Scenario 1 above). This data can also help you optimize SEO tactics around keywords that are driving true value and not just leads. At the very least, you should have reports available that show every step of the marketing and sales funnel. These reports should include marketing “cost per” metrics and revenue for each granular marketing tactic.
2. Basing Critical Decisions on Inaccurate Marketing Attribution
Too Many Hands In the Pot
This is a classic issue of too many hands in the pot. Landing pages, chat agents, phone numbers, web forms, surveys…the list goes on. The landscape is complex when it comes to the different ways we capture leads. One person may provision phone numbers, another develops the landing pages, and someone entirely different handles live chat configuration. Your agency handles some, but not all of these activities. The undesired end result is a culmination of disparate efforts with nobody policing the accuracy of marketing attribution.
Crippling Effects of Inaccurate Marketing Attribution
I once worked at an organization that spent $600k a year on SEO with a particular agency. It was the largest investment they had ever made in SEO and they expected major improvements in organic search leads. The company made its expectations clear and the pressure on the agency to perform was high! A few months into the year the performance just wasn’t there and leadership was questioning everyone involved with this investment. After some heart-to-heart performance discussions, the agency turned it around and started knocking it out of the park. We were getting more organic leads than ever. What a success story…or was it?
Unfortunately, the overall aggregate leads across all channels did not improve. It took a while to notice that trend. As a developer turned marketer, I traced the issue back to the underlying code of the website. Random pages had been hard coded to submit all leads as Organic Search regardless of where the traffic came from. We had found the reason for the improvement and it was complete fraud! Bad marketing attribution can reveal its ugly head for a variety of reasons. The question is whether or not you have practices in place to audit and catch marketing attribution issues before they wreck your investment strategy.
3. Data Confirmation Bias Tendencies
Let’s be honest, we all want to succeed and your marketing agency is no different. In most agency relationships the company applies accountability pressure in specific areas that the agency needs to improve. The agency’s desire to show improvement in those areas most often leads to confirmation bias tendencies regarding data. What does this mean?
Confirmation Bias is a Natural Human Flaw
In the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” written by Daniel Kahneman, it addresses the fact that our human brain is flawed and has a propensity to make errors. One of the areas addressed is confirmation bias. Your agency will quickly jump to conclusions upon the slightest performance uptick in the data. They will celebrate with you that their efforts are working. On the flip side, they will ignore or be blind to data that runs contrary to what they want to happen.
Marketing Agencies Distort the Truth Through Confirmation Bias
Your agency presentations, weekly performance reports, and touch-base calls are often distorted versions of the truth polluted with confirmation bias. Unfortunately, without embracing the full truth of the data, marketing agency performance becomes a sales presentation not based in reality. They want to improve and show progress and thus they exclusively seek out data that shows a desired trend. The next week when that data no longer trends, they will move on to new data and a new positive story.
Companies Must Control Marketing Success Benchmarks
It has never been more important for the business to have control over their own success benchmarks. Is marketing cost per customer acquisition (not lead) improving. As you gain new customers is the average lifetime value of a customer the same or improving? Is the visit-to-lead conversion improving for paid and organic clicks? Establishing true value earning benchmarks upfront with your agency is critical. It will also provide focus that limits the diluting effects of confirmation bias.
4. Unaware of Customer Demand Patterns
Customers are Creatures of Habit
We are all creatures of habit. Despite how random our purchasing patterns may seem to us, they follow a pattern clearly visible in the data. Having an awareness of customer demand patterns and how those play into your marketing strategy is critical. Marketing agencies attempt to work with many industry verticals or even different product/service mixes with-in the same industry. This can cause them to lose touch with your company’s demand patterns and it dramatically affects their performance.
Marketing Agency Phrasing is a Dead Give-Away
There are a variety of ways to determine these patterns. It may be that you can analyze historical lead data. You can look at search impression volumes for key words that indicate someone is in the market for your product or service. The key is to pursue the data to know the patterns. Here are some time periods or events over which we often see demand patterns. We also included phrases your marketing agency might say that would indicate their awareness is lacking.
|Customer Demand Pattern||Phrases Indicating Lack of Awareness||Reality of Demand Pattern|
|24 hours of the day||Today has started off really strong||Every day starts off strong|
|7 days of the week||Monday and Tuesday indicate a strong start to the week||Monday and Tuesday are the biggest days of the week|
|Days of the month||We may need to pull back on spend this month||Demand decreases towards the end of the month|
|Month’s of the year||Our month-over-month performance looks great||Seasonality always shows an increase between these two months|
|Coming in and out of holidays||The holiday last week affected us more than we thought||The holiday fell on Monday, the biggest day of the week|
|Reaction to negative industry news||I wonder if that news headline is affecting us||Negative industry news shows pattern of up to 30 day decreased demand|
|Reaction to new competition||It seems like leads are down due to increased click cost||Click bids always go up when a big marketing spender enters the space|
|Reaction to loss of competition||I am surprised to see the negative performance given less competition||Initial bad press of closure decreases demand, followed by a return to previous levels|
Marketing Strategy Should Adapt to Customer Demand Patterns
Being aware of demand cycles, proactively or timely, should change the way you execute marketing strategy. Though you can’t always reverse a pattern, there are ways to lessen impact or take advantage of it by shifting tactics accordingly. This type of nimbleness and data awareness can separate you from the competition.
As an example, you can A/B test how you spend marketing dollars against demand cycles. There are data validated reasons to spend marketing dollars on a curve that correlates to the cycle, is counter-cyclical, or is flat against the cycle to optimize cost per acquisition. If your marketing agency is demonstrating lack of demand pattern awareness, you certainly can’t expect any lift from advanced tactics like this.
5. They Don’t Challenge Unrealistic Goals with Data
Unrealistic Expectations Should be Challenged Respectfully
Sam Walton built an empire on the concept that the “customer is always right”. In a business built on high volume repeat transactions, it was good business to agree with the customer. Even if the customer was wrong, you were selling more products to them in the near future. The data behind repeat sells and profitability supported this approach for Walmart. This is not a success strategy for your marketing agency. If they don’t use data to respectfully challenge your unrealistic expectations, they will fail.
How Unrealistic Marketing Expectations are Born
I lived through an amazing example of this. I new a company that dropped from 190k to 140k marketing generated leads year-over-year (26% reduction). This happened while spending the same amount in marketing. Sales performance at every step of the funnel was drastically up and year-over-year performance in sales/revenue was essentially flat. This went down in history as the biggest marketing agency and internal team failure in company history. They honored the sales department like kings for bailing out the company despite massive lead reduction. The agency and several members of the internal team were fired and replaced.
In the year following the disaster, they on-boarded a new marketing agency and gave them a 190k lead goal. The spend budget was flat. Why? The company had realized this level of success before and they expected the new agency to right the wrongs. They must return to their previous glory days. Long story short, the new agency accepted the challenge without digging into the data and they failed. Leads did not return to 190k and company sales results were relatively flat once again.
Challenging Yet Achievable Marketing Goals are Rooted in Data Integrity
I was able to work with the company in year four following the three-year saga above. As I reviewed the data it became clear that the drop from 190k leads was spread evenly across all sources (that’s weird!). Further research found that they switched to a new CRM in December of the 190k lead year. In that CRM they implemented new duplicate management rules that would merge leads for the same prospect. After this implementation, incoming leads merged at 20%+.
The reports they used to count leads were now using the post merge numbers. The drop from 190k to 140k was nothing more than a data definition change. They essentially moved from counting Gross leads to Net Leads. Admissions metrics now had a smaller denominator (net) with the same numerator giving a false-impression of improvement. The previous agency failed because they were willing to accept any goal to obtain the business. The company failed because a simple data definition change kept them from investing more in marketing. The devil was in the data details and that is where progress for this company was found. You must give your agency permission to respectfully challenge your goals with data. It’s a two-way street.
Marketing data and analytics is the foundation for any good agency relationship. Every company should be reviewing their data strategy and data maturity and putting strategic plans in place to improve them. Ask your marketing agency “What data could we provide that would help you be more successful?”. Before you ever start a relationship ask “How will you be using data to communicate success or failures in marketing?”. Create that common data foundation and stay laser focused on down funnel metrics that drive true value for the company.
Google Target CPA Bidding: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/6268632?hl=en
A Comprehensive Guid To Tracking Offline Interactions in Google Analytics using Measurement Protocol: https://www.distilled.net/resources/a-comprehensive-guide-to-tracking-offline-interactions-in-google-analytics/
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00555X8OA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
Demand Patterns: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demand_patterns