Why a Pretty Dashboard Isn’t the Key to Marketing Success

Group of multicolor paint buckets representing marketing creativity

With mounds of data within their reach, marketers are still struggling to prove that their marketing efforts are working. We have a solution—a dashboard. But if your dashboard is riddled with pretty graphs and charts and lacks substance, it’s more of a problem than a solution.

Picture This: Your Office, 2021.

Golden Girls Sophia gif

You and your marketing team meet with the executive leadership to present your marketing plan for the coming year. Your presentation includes flowery marketing language and ambitious goals, and your CEO interrupts to ask questions like:

Which marketing initiatives proved most successful last year?

What was the ROI of those successful campaigns?

How many marketing-generated leads became sales opportunities?

And the biggest question of all: How much revenue did you drive for the company?

You may have these questions already answered and laid out in an easily consumable format for some marketing teams. If so, kudos to you! If not, you’re not alone. 

Accurately measuring the heaps of data marketing generates daily to report on campaign success and correctly attributing it all to revenue is the end goal. But getting there can take a toll on the average marketer.  (We wrote an entire report on this here if you’re curious as to how other marketers are handling the revenue attribution dilemma.)

As marketers and marketing departments continue to grow and mature, so do our expectations. Marketers must be able to report on impact and growth. Sometimes with little to no notice from stakeholders. So, how can marketers keep marketing metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) at their fingertips to demonstrate success to stakeholders without delay? The answer is–a marketing dashboard.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dashboards

I think it’s safe to assume that many of you reading this post know what a marketing dashboard is. But in case anyone needs some clarity or a refresher, Gartner gives a great definition:

“Dashboards are a reporting mechanism that aggregates and displays metrics and key indicators so they can be examined at a glance by all possible audiences. Dashboards help improve decision making by revealing and communicating contextual insights into metrics to display indicators with intuitive visualization, including charts, scales, gauges, and traffic lights that show indicator progress toward defined goals.”

That’s a mouthful. In simpler terms, a marketing dashboard is a way to visualize marketing metrics and KPIs to prove marketing’s success and effectiveness. I like to think of it as:

  • A pulse check for marketers to assess the state of their current and ongoing efforts
  • A validation tool that replaces “gut feelings” with cold, hard numbers that can validate marketing effectiveness
  • A decision-making tool

It’s not a place for vanity metrics or an overabundance of metrics and KPIs. And it’s not just a place for pretty charts and graphs. While the visualization part of your dashboard is important, it’s not the graphs and charts that make a dashboard effective. It’s the reports and data.

Marketoonist KPI overload cartoon

When metrics and KPIs do more harm than good… via Marketoonist

So, with the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get to the nitty-gritty–how to build a marketing dashboard.

Building an Effective Marketing Dashboard

There are many types of dashboards out there. Email marketing, lead gen, SEO, email, social, lead gen, email marketing… you name it. For this post, we’re going to focus on building a general KPI dashboard. If you’ve been “winging it” and piecemealing reports together to demonstrate some semblance of marketing success, this is a great dashboard to begin with. It will help you clearly illustrate how marketing is killing it–or not killing it.

Step 1: Determine Your Marketing Goals

No matter what you’re doing in marketing, always start with your goal(s). I repeat: Always. Start. With. Goals.
 
If your team has already developed, validated, and finalized your goals, congratulations! We’ll meet you down in step 2. If not, let’s start by reviewing your company goals.

How much does your company want to grow in the coming year? What goals have been set by the executive leadership? 

Your marketing goals should directly tie into your corporate goals, which means they should be growth and revenue-focused. For example, if your company wants to increase its YOY revenue by 10%, your marketing goal may be to drive 40% of the revenue growth. Whatever the goal, it should not be developed in a bubble. Consider your audience (aka your team and stakeholders) and review it with everyone involved before they are etched in stone.

Step 2: Translate Your Goals Into KPIs

With your goal(s) confirmed and endorsed by stakeholders, the next step is to determine the KPIs you’ll use to track and measure your goals. Let’s go back to the example we used above: your company wants to increase its YOY revenue by 10%, and marketing commits to driving 40% of that revenue growth. What metrics does your team need to influence? What should you be tracking?

Here are a few example metrics your team may want to track:

  • Lead Generation: how many leads, contacts, and accounts has marketing generated?
  • Website Conversion: at what rate are website visitors converting to leads?
  • MQL to SAL Conversion: how many marketing-generated leads have reached the MQL status? How many have been handed off to sales and moved into an opportunity?
  • Revenue: how much revenue has marketing generated?

What’s critical is selecting KPIs that truly demonstrate whether or not your team is headed in the right direction – towards meeting goals. If a metric does not give you this insight, it may not have a place within your dashboard. This doesn’t mean that said metric is not worth tracking, just that it might better fit on a different dashboard or report.

PAUSE: If steps 1 and 2 are tripping you up, our Change Agents resource set includes some great, simple templates to help guide your thinking.

Step 3: Establish Your Data Sources & Create Reports

Depending on the height of your martech stack, there are lots of different sources to pull data from. Map out what needs to be tracked within your marketing and sales tools like your marketing automation platform, CRM, and web analytics tools. Each source serves as a different resource of truth for specific information.

For instance, your Marketo instance might be your go-to source for all things lead generation and engagement metrics, while your CRM has the most accurate revenue data. Be sure that whatever sources you use, provide complete and accurate data. From there you will create reports that measure the KPIs you’ve determined above.

Step 4: Visualize

Establish Goals 
Select KPIs 
Confirm data sources 
Build reports
 

Here’s where you can have some fun. This is the step where you turn those reports into pretty charts and graphs that matter. I caution you not to go overboard here. The graphs and charts on your dashboard need to clearly communicate metrics and KPIs. Your marketing team and stakeholders should be able to glance at your dashboard and understand what’s going on.

Just like there are loads of platforms that exist within our stacks, there are plenty of dashboard vendors out there. Salesforce is one example, as you can see below. It goes beyond the platform-centric reporting that exists within some engagement platforms and allows companies to pull reports that show company-wide impact. However, you will be limited only to data that lives within Salesforce.

Salesforce marketing KPI dashboard

Google Data Studio is also a go-to for our team because it is free and allows you to connect and visualize various data sources. It’s about finding the right tool for you.

One Step Closer to Success

While a marketing dashboard won’t make you successful, it will help you and your stakeholders make decisions that will lead you to success. I hope these steps will help you understand the what, why, and how of building your marketing dashboard. And most importantly, put you on track to proving your marketing success and attribution revenue.

If you’re feeling inspired to go deeper, visit our Revenue Attribution Resource Center. You’ll find a lot more resources on what it takes to prove marketing success.

About the Author

Kiyana Neil

Kiyana is DemandLab's Marketing Manager. She brings seven years of experience to her role in supporting DemandLab's sales and marketing efforts, leading brand management and corporate communication efforts, and helping to ensure a seamless sales cycle and a better experience for the company's prospects and clients.

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