Do you have a love-hate relationship with marketing statistics or numbers in your business? Numbers can solve a mystery, increase production or help you reach a goal. They can also overwhelm, especially when information overload is mixed with the daily demands of running a small business.
Email service providers advise us to track open rates, bounce rates, click-through rates and opt-out rates. Our webmaster instructs us to watch website visits, unique visits, bounce rates, (starting to sound like a basketball game,) leads, conversion rates and inbound links. Accountants wave reports at us monthly, quarterly and annually. If we use a CRM there are even more things recorded for which countless reports are available.
In the face of such a numbers blitz, it’s easy to procrastinate or even ignore them completely. Others might dive into numbers to such an extent that they ignore vital marketing and client issues.
I think we all agree that measuring marketing results is essential. So how do you restore your focus in a world of big data and make numbers your friend again? There is a simple technique that’s easy to implement.
Examine the marketing trends that are happening in important numbers. Focus less on minor changes in marketing statistics or lamenting that this rate or that rate is lower than ‘average.’ Trend spotting works for sales, web site statistics, email stats, salesperson activity, marketing campaigns or any other marketing activity that drives your business. I’ll give you two examples to explain.
We track total visits to our website on a monthly basis. After two years of relatively steady growth using our new content management system (visit numbers were trending up) we noticed a dramatic drop off in visits in July 2011. (screenshot above) At first we chalked this up to the summer months. Then August got worse. September and Oct were only slightly better and still down substantially from the steady growth trend we had been seeing. This was a distinctive break in an important trend.
We looked at all of our marketing activity and found the one activity that had changed was that we did not produce our regular printed newsletter during those months. We got it back on a regular schedule. By years end the trend was reversed and visits settled in solidly as shown in the chart below.
One of the connections we noticed by following website visits was that greater web activity was tied to sales growth. Increasing activity generally meant that sales would increase and vice versa. So while it is not the only activity that affects sales, ignoring the negative trend would have hurt sales.
In our next example, we found that higher open rates and click-through rates in our weekly email newsletter translated to increased sales. Since we drive traffic to our website with the enewsletter, it makes sense they should be connected. Again, more activity in this area means more engagement, interest, awareness and ultimately, action on the part of the reader.
Watching the trend in the rates alerts us to a possible problem. One week with a small decrease isn’t alarming. It could be the weather, a holiday, flaky reporting from the email service provider or an off week with our content. Three weeks in a downtrend signals that something is probably happening and we should investigate to see what is turning people off.
Monitoring the email trends keeps us motivated to provide good content. An uptrend indicates we’re doing the right things for our audience and helps to plan future articles and blog posts.
Trend spotting works well for any statistic that is important to your marketing strategy. Use it to track new customers, referrals, lost customers, inbound calls or time spent on a web page. If the activity is important to your sales growth, it pays to watch the trend.
Monitoring statistical trends will help you allocate resources more efficiently. You might, for instance, use a media that is showing declining response rates. If you’ve monitored the trend and tried to correct it with new campaigns or new content, it may be time to axe the flat-lined media from your budget and try something else.
The nice thing about trend spotting is that it’s a fairly easy administrative task that can be delegated. Have someone keep an excel file of your important statistics and update it weekly. There is no reason not to track important marketing activity trends on a regular basis. As I watch our own numbers I see correlations and connections among various business activities that start to appear. You too will see that marketing numbers come alive in a dynamic, living, breathing form.
Don’t wait until you are asking, “Why are sales going down?” Taken by itself, it’s an impossible question to answer accurately, despite what economists say.
We’ve heard it said that we can only manage activity, not results. Behind every small business is a lot of activity driving sales. If you monitor trends in important behind-the-scenes marketing activities, they become early-warning indicators for the health of your sales. You can then influence the direction of sales by modifying your marketing activities.
Remember, we’re not collecting numbers for their own sake. We only have time to do those things that have a significant impact on the maintenance and growth of our business. Monitoring trends in your vital marketing statistics will do just that without sacrificing your valuable time.