Measuring ROI from B2B Marketing: Part I

Unlike consumer marketing, where sales from advertising expenditures are a direct operating expense and measuring conversion rates and lifts in retail sales are resident to the business model itself, measuring the sales impact from B2B marketing initiatives is often a more challenging task.

My clients often ask, and this post seeks to answer:

• How do we determine the overall impact of our marketing investment? • What return on investment we should expect from individual marketing initiatives? • What benchmarks can be established to compare the effectiveness across our programs?

When measuring the impact of marketing, it is important to do so in the context of the larger corporate agenda. If the stated company objective is to grow revenue while maintaining high customer satisfaction, the related marketing objectives might be to increase awareness while better educating existing customers about products and services they aren’t currently buying. Only from this understanding can sales, marketing, product and operations align under a common value proposition that gets everyone on board with measuring the impact of the company’s external marketing and communication investment.

What to Measure “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” - Albert Einstein

Measurement of B2B marketing effectiveness is a relative one, and somewhere between hyper-obsessive measurement and doing nothing, there lies the opportunity to monitor how a company’s investment in marketing is affecting the bottom line.

The best unit of measurement for B2B marketing is cost-per-lead because it holds Marketing accountable to driving new inquiries at some measured cost while giving Sales a familiar metric by which they can also be held accountable. Ultimately a cost-per-sale analysis should be applied, but a cost-per-lead metric is the most common metric by which sales and marketing can share responsibility for their combined efforts.

Since all marketing programs will reach some percentage of both current and prospective customers, applying a CPL metric removes from the equation events that are out of Marketing’s control, such as competition, objection handling, timing, etc.

Actions a target audience may take along the sales funnel that can feed an ROI modle are:

• Impressions • Clicks • Leads • Conversations (at events) • Inquiries (by phone ormail) • Qualified meetings • Opportunities (RFPs) • Sales • Retention • Lifetime Value (LTV)

There is wide variance in the types of B2B marketing programs available, and an equally broad range of ways to measure their associated impact. Whether considered individually or collectively, B2B marketing programs can be justified and evaluated by their:

• Cost • Potential to drive revenue (or other rationale made by management) • Size of audience • Quality of audience • Measurability/accountability

Marketing Spend as a Percentage of Revenue According to a 2008 IDC study, on average B2B companies spend 2.8% of revenue on marketing (ranging from .8% in the services sector to 5.8% for IT companies). Spending levels depend largely upon the stage of the company and its strategic need to invest in awareness initiatives. The study showed marketing programs represented 61% of total marketing spend, with an average of $293,000 of program spend and $16.8 million in revenue for each corporate marketing staff member.

Return on Investment Benchmarking Ultimately, a company needs to ascertain its ROI from marketing in order to assure shareholders that the expense is warranted, and to more intelligently make investments in the future based on the results experienced in the past.

While every marketing investment will return a different result, at a macro level we can calculate is how the overall amount invested in marketing (entire spend and salaries) relates to revenue. For example, spending roughly $500,000 to generate $20 million in revenue (2.5% of sales put toward marketing), would be a gross ROI of 3900% (ROI = Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment/Cost of Investment).

Such a gross metric, while interesting, is not that useful for making decisions about where to invest in specific marketing programs. On an individual basis, my rule of thumb has always been that it’s reasonable to expect an average gain of 10x the amount spent, or an ROI of approximately 1,000% from any single program. Some will generate more and some less, but using this as a basic metric provides a starting point from which to create historical benchmarks.

Measurement by Objective While ultimately, the goal of any organization is to drive sales growth, the process typically begins with marketing programs that drive awareness and leads, each of which have unique properties when it comes to measuring ROI.

Awareness (CPM)

Awareness among customers and prospects, and -- more importantly -- their attitudes and feelings toward the company, is an important metric by which to determine the impact marketing is having on sales. It is also somewhat difficult to measure.

At one (very expensive) extreme, custom research companies can develop custom panels of would-be customers who can be studied year-over-year to show trends in industry attitudes toward your brand. In the online advertising industry there is another less expensive, and potentially more effective, solution is offered by Advertiser Perceptions, which measures awareness, attitudes and perceptions about specific media vendors by marketers and the agencies that represent them.

At the other end of the spectrum, surveying your own customers is an easy and inexpensive barometer of perception. An adept management team should also have an instinct for whether the company’s marketing is resonating with customers based on their direct feedback from the sales channel. If sales are going up and customers are echoing certain brand values and calling for products and features by name, then something about the company’s marketing is clearly working.

Leads (CPL)

I’ve found marketing to drive demand generation in the B2B space less important than the “air cover” a national sales team can benefit from as they seek to ensure their prospects have heard of the company and have a basic understanding of how it’s different from competitors whom they may perceive to all “sound alike.”

Leads are a viable metric for determining the relative effectiveness of all marketing programs, and wherever possible a contact form should be used to obtain for more information. However, lead-generation as a marketing objective is likely to be inefficient for a high-end sale because it is more likely to attract smaller, unsophisticated advertisers when the company has likely already identified and is pursuing through its national sales force.

Sales (CPA)

Fundamentally, all marketing activities exist to support revenue. Marketing’s impact on sales can be felt at many levels – from positioning to equip sales reps with the right words and collateral, to sponsorship and advertising, editorial coverage, promotions and event marketing – done with the intent of driving revenue.

Unfortunately, it’s harder to measure the impact of great sales collateral and a well-differentiated positioning strategy than it is to track a click-to-sale ratio. These intangible measures can only be captured through the close alignment of sales and marketing to ensure market feedback is systematically incorporated into future iterations of product marketing and corporate positioning.

Retention

Conventional wisdom says it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. Therefore, some emphasis should always be placed on cost-effectively generating new opportunities from existing clients and sales management should undertake a periodic customer retention analysis to determine the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer.

In Measuring ROI from B2B Marketing: Part II, I will take a closer look at the differences between different B2B marketing tactics and how each can be measured for their relative effectiveness.