Marketing Goal Setting: Six Time Tested Triathlon Tactics

As 2013 comes to a close, many of us are in the midst of marketing goal setting for 2014.   At this time of year, I also set my athletic goals for the upcoming year.  I’ve found many parallels between the two endeavors, so would like to share six time-tested tactics from triathlon goal setting that apply equally well to marketing goal setting.

1. Wear a Number on your Shirt

It will focus your actions and get your team on board.

The great thing about racing goals is that they can be captured so crisply.  Much has been written about setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and time-based).  Break five hours in a half Ironman.  With racing, it doesn’t get any more specific and measurable.

Marketers can take a similar SMART approach to marketing goal setting.   Marketing’s purpose is to drive closed business, so set a goal based on revenue contribution.   Signing up for a number gives you two benefits.  First, it directly ties marketing activities to the company’s goals.  Second, it helps marketing communicate with the rest of the company.   Let’s be honest – there’s plenty of skepticism from our colleagues in sales, finance, and development about marketing’s purpose.  Obscure terms like “marketing qualified leads” or “amplification”  don’t help our colleagues understand our activities.  But everyone understands revenue.

2. Break it Down into Sections

Consider your targets and past performance.

I know my targets for a five hour half Ironman.  I need to swim 1.2 miles in under 30 minutes, bike 56 miles faster than 20 mph, and run 13.2 miles at under 8 minute per mile pace.   A life long swimmer, I know that my race will be made or lost on the bike and run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy results at the Patriot Half show that I still am in search of the perfect plan.  In the 2010 race, I finished in 5:06, slightly off pace on the run.  My results from 2011 were better.  I finished in 5:02, with a run that was four minutes faster.  My results from 2012 show that I was right on track after the swim and the bike, but I crashed and burned on the run.  I finished in 5:21, my worst time ever.  Back to the drawing board for this year’s plan!

Like my targets for the swim, bike, and run,  marketers set objectives for demand generation, awareness, loyalty, and sales enablement.  Look at last year, analyze results, and plan accordingly.

For demand generation, consider your average sales price, sales cycle, and pipeline conversation ratios to determine how many qualified leads you need in the pipe, by quarter.  For awareness, identify the sources of traffic to your website, track the mentions of your company, and determine this year’s targets.  Get together with your sales colleagues and determine which elements of your sales kit need to be refreshed or thrown out all together.

3.  Build Your Plan

 Hold yourself accountable to a set of actions.

My weekly training plan has specific targets for the number and length of workouts for each discipline.   Each swim is two miles.  During the winter, the run and bike workouts are 1.5-2 hours.  As spring arrives, I build up to 50-60 miles per ride.   I’ll add a weekly “brick” workout, in which I run immediately after finishing a bike ride, and a weekly track workout to build speed. The plan has actions and metrics for each week, to which I can hold myself accountable.

For marketing goal setting, the approach is the same.  Specify the actions, deliverables, and metrics for each marketing objective.  Identify inbound and outbound marketing activities to drive demand and build awareness.   Determine tactics based on what worked (and what didn’t) last year.   Identify the costs, content, timing, and the expected number of attendees.  Use your whole team!  Remember that content creation is a team sport.

4. Track your Metrics

It’s all about the numbers!

file301266529142Whether it’s triathlon or marketing, the only way to determine whether you are on track is to monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Compare actual vs expected performance of tactics throughout the customer buying cycle.  Communicate progress within the marketing team, externally to other functional groups and to the execs.  For more on B2B marketing metrics see HubSpot, Inc, and StoryMETRIX, among others.

5. Adjust, Based on Real Time Conditions

Flexibility and speed are key to adjusting based on actual conditions.

It’s reality.  Despite our best planning, we don’t control everything.  The conditions, on race day or in the actual market, will vary from what we expect.  A heat wave, flat tire, or a bout of stomach flu can throw a wrench into our plans.   Competitors launch new products or get acquired.   An irate Twitter user buys a promoted tweet to launch a complaint.  Whether it is racing or marketing, by monitoring KPIs and remaining agile, we can adjust to real time conditions and take advantage of the opportunities.

6. Tie Achievement to the Performance Management System

Make bonuses dependent on the metrics.

For racing, this is trivial.  Individual performance and goal achievement are the same thing.  In marketing, it can be different.  Just like with sales, bonuses for marketing staff should depend on hitting the numbers.  Marketing leaders should directly tie achievement of metrics to their team members’ individual goals in the performance management system.   There is no better way to ensure the team is focused.

Each of these steps becomes more granular, from the overall big goal to the real time adjustment based on actual daily or weekly metrics.  A systematic approach to marketing goal setting will set you up right for a winning season.   I’m interested in your comments on this approach.  Please let me know what you think.

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Mount Tamalpais, from Berkeley

Running Mt. Tam, 110 Years of Cloud-Enabled B2C Communities

Building communities is a key part of B2C marketing, especially in the cloud market, as no single vendor can thrive alone. In a cloud-enabled B2C community, cloud service providers band together with providers of content, applications, and services to form a healthy cloud ecosystem, such as the one we built in my last organization.

I was reminded of cloud-enabled B2C communities last week, while running Mt. Tamalpais, with my good friend Kevin, who, as  I mentioned in my first post, inspired me to write this blog.  Mt. Tam is the highest peak in the Marin Hills, with awe inspiring views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the East Bay.   With over 100 miles of trails, Mt. Tam is a destination for runners, mountain bikers, and hikers.   It is the site of several of my favorite runs, including the Quad Dipsea, the Miwok 100K, and the Headlands 50 and 100.

How the Cloud Helps Runners Expand Their Community

Tied together by long hours, incredible scenery, and let’s be honest, shared misery, ultra runners have long built a tight-knit community that spans age and ability.  When I lived in Northern California, I was a member of a group which met at 7AM on Saturdays at various parks.   We’d gather in the parking lot, chat while stretching, then head off for a 4 or 5 hour run.   Different ages and speeds, we re-connected at various points during our run, and again at the end, for a bite to eat before heading off to resume our day.  The ultra running community was small,  so I made additional friends at races, both on the trail and at the finish line, where the fast and the slow would mingle together, sharing war stories.

Strava Capture Mt Tam 19 Miler
Strava Capture Mt Tam 19 Miler

Today, the cloud enables runners to build an expanded, virtual community.   Companies like Strava and RunKeeper allow runners to use a GPS enabled device to track their runs and upload the workout information to a site, where it can be viewed and shared.   (Check out the data from our 19 miler!) Users track their progress toward goals, analyze data,  and compare their performance to others.   Like other social media sites, Strava allows users to follow one another, post supportive comments, and build groups.  This cloud-enabled B2C community provides the same aspects of our Saturday AM running group, just expanded across geography and time, and with a lot more features.

Mount Tam Has Long Inspired B2C Communities to Come Together

Fostering shared experiences among runners, bikers, and hikers is not a recent phenomenon on Mt. Tam.  During last week’s run, I came across an example of a B2C community from last century.  We reached the West Point Inn, on the southern slope of Mt. Tam, after eight miles of ascent.

West Point Inn, 1904 example of B2C community
West Point Inn, circa 1900s

The West Point Inn was built in 1904 at the western terminus of the Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway, known as “The Crookedest Railroad in the World.  It served as a restaurant and stopover point for passengers connecting to the stage coach to Stinson Beach and Bolinas.  The inn was also a popular destination for those seeking the views and the experience of riding the gravity train.

Gravity car on Mt. Tam
Gravity car on Mt. Tam

Although the railway ceased operation in 1930, the inn was run as a public tavern until World War II, when it was closed as unprofitable.   In 1943, he Marin Municipal Water District planned to raze the abandoned buildings, considered a fire hazard.  A group of hiking club members and local citizens formed the West Point Inn Club to take over the operation and maintenance of the facilities.   Today, the West Point Inn Association, 500 members strong, continues to support the inn as a historic landmark and operating lodge.   Every month,the association puts on a pancake breakfast as a fund-raiser.  It’s hard to beat the views from the patio.  With fog rolling in on San Francisco Bay, the West Point Inn continues to serve as a shining example of a B2C community coming together in the clouds to support sharing the beauty of Mt. Tam.

Have you run or hiked Mt. Tam?  Do you have any examples of a similar B2C community based on history?


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Wear your SWOT Analysis Backwards, It’s COLD Outside!

snowy trail-69822_640It’s that time of year.  Some are lucky enough to avoid it, but for most, it happens as we roll in to December.  Sure, it’s cold, but I’m referring to the annual strategy planning cycle.  We’ve all been there.  With a new year on its way, execs want to take a fresh look at the strategic plan to identify new opportunities, solidify revenue targets, and align investment.  A variety of strategic plan templates exist, and most begin with similar content:  executive summary, company mission, market analysis, competition.  A SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – is a time-tested component of the plan.   I’ve recently realized the advantage of doing SWOT analysis backwards.

The SWOT layout takes you down a chilly path


The SWOT matrix organizes helpful and harmful factors into internal and external categories.   Strengths and weaknesses, internal factors, are addressed in the top row.  Strengths give your organization a competitive advantage:  brand reputation, strong customer base, patents, or exclusive access to distribution channels.  Weaknesses hold you back:  lack of nimbleness, high cost structure, or lack of market presence in various geographic regions.  External factors are covered in the bottom row.  Opportunities may include unmet customer needs, loosening of regulations, or wide adoption of new technologies.   Put simply, threats are the opposite of opportunities.

Go outside BEFORE you look in the mirror

My mom always told us kids to look in the mirror before went out in the snow to make sure we were properly bundled up.   But when building a strategic plan, it makes more sense to consider what’s happening outside your company before you look too hard at your skills and risks inside.   Doing a SWOT analysis backwards is smarter.

This is not my idea.  I came across it while reading Michael Watkins‘ book, “The First 90 Days:  Critical Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.”  tf90d-book-coverWatkins, a consultant and co-founder of Genesis Advisors, found it challenging to implement an effective SWOT analysis with his clients.  As he describes in this HBR post (free registration is required), clients would get stuck in the top row of the matrix, rambling on and on about what they were good and bad at.   As an experiment, he tried running the exercise “backwards,” forcing the first discussion on the external factors in the lower row.   He found that, after doing so, his clients were more effective in discussing their specific strengths and weaknesses in the context of the opportunities and threats.  This lead to a much crisper identification of potential strategic initiatives and tactics.  Which is the whole point of the exercise.  His conclusion:  ditch SWOT.  Cover the same topics, but in reverse order.  Use TOWS as the handy acronym.   It may give you the image of frost-bitten feet, but it will lead to a better result.

After reading this, I realized that I’ve had similar experiences  using the SWOT matrix.  Watkins’ suggestion makes a lot of sense.  What about you?  Have you run a SWOT analysis backwards?  How did it work?

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Six sigma, inbound marketing

Six Sigma and Inbound Marketing – Only When Pigs Fly?

Oh yeah, I know what you’re thinking.   Six Sigma and inbound marketing? Is that a joke?  Six Sigma is for manufacturing.   Old school.  Narrow-minded.  That rigid process analysis run by geeks with thick, black glasses and pocket protectors.  The very antithesis of the creative, fast-moving, collaborative effort required by marketers to drive awareness and demand.

But I’ll bet you’ll think otherwise by the end of this post.  As evidence for my position,  I’ll cite Hubspot, synonymous with inbound marketing.   I have yet to see pigs in the sky, but those thick black glasses, they’ve gotten pretty trendy lately.  Thank you, LeBron!

Inbound Marketing aside, what does Six Sigma have to do with Endurance Sports?

Now, that’s a lay-up!  Six Sigma focuses on defining success, measuring the critical inputs, and finding opportunities for continuous improvement in order to achieve goals.  It’s the same type of mentality with which endurance athletes train.  We’re always looking for ways to get a little more streamlined, a little more power, a bit more energy.  Incremental improvement in inputs, extended over the course of a triathlon or ultra-marathon, can produce massive gains in finishing time.   There is almost no detail too small for an endurance athlete to analyze and optimize.  Take it from a guy who trimmed his watch band to save weight while running the Western States® 100 Mile Endurance Run.

A New Way to Think about Defects

six sigma, defects
Not the way marketers should think about defects

Six Sigma is all about reducing defects.   Don’t think of a defect as that big pile of scrap that sits at the end of an assembly line.   Think more broadly of a defect as a failure to achieve what is acceptable by the customer.   Isn’t inbound marketing all about attracting the right buyer personas, providing them with useful, compelling content in order to move them along the buying cycle?  Think of a defect as a failure to accomplish this goal.

Once you accept this definition of a defect, the association of Six Sigma and inbound marketing begins to flow.  You have to admit that the following examples are defects:

  1. Your target buyer comes to your website, but doesn’t find what she needs.
  2. You write a compelling blog, but don’t have an obvious call to action (CTA).
  3. A reader of your blog follows your CTA, but finds your registration form too onerous, and abandons.
  4. Your inside sales rep gets a lead on the phone but lacks the training to easily qualify the prospect’s need.

5 Steps that Relate Six Sigma and Inbound Marketing

To identify and correct defects, Six Sigma uses a five step DMAIC process – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.  Here are just a few ways this process relates to inbound marketing.

1. Define:  Six Sigma says the “voice of the customer” defines what is acceptable to the customer in order to meet their needs.   For us inbound marketers, this translates to understanding the buyer persona.   This Hubspot example of a non-profit buyer persona goes way beyond just the buyer’s voice to cover her demographics, values, goals, pain points, etc.   The key point common to both Six Sigma and inbound marketing:  focus on the customer, not on your product or service.

Six Sigma practitioners often use a process map in the Define stage to understand the precise steps necessary to deliver a product or a service.   Similarly, inbound marketers must map the customer’s buying process to ensure that they provide useful content to convert an opportunity to a lead and then to a customer.

2. Measure:  The next step is to measure the current state of the process in order to identify opportunities for improvement.   For inbound marketing, this step involves reviewing the website to ensure that it provides compelling content to the buyer personas all along the buying process.   As StoryMETRIX says, it also involves gathering detailed metrics on website traffic by source, conversion ratios, and the effectiveness of sales enablement material.   Creative folks, engage your inner geek, because this step requires a variety of data gathering and basic operational definitions.   For example, marketing and sales must agree on terms like Marketing Qualified Lead and the SLAs for lead follow-up.

3. Analyze:  Here’s where you identify the potential corrective actions to problems.

World famous practitioner of  "The Five Whys"
World famous practitioner of “The Five Whys”

Take a lesson from your three-year old at bed time, and use “The Five Whys.” The idea behind this technique is that you cannot stop the first time you ask “why” a given problem exists.  You have to take the answer you get, and again ask “why.”  If you ask “why” long enough (usually five times suffices), you’ll ultimately uncover the root cause.   See this great example.   Try this with your team the next time your webinar doesn’t get the expected number of attendees.

Oh, and don’t accept “because I said so” as an answer.

4. Improve:  In this phase you implement your changes and measure the results.  A/B testing to determine different subject lines for blog posts or email campaigns.   Different CTAs and registration forms.   Different subject lines for blog posts.   Using video instead of written content to see what works best.   The list goes on.

5. Control:   Here’s where you lock in the gains by documenting best practices and training your team.  No gain is permanent, especially in a changing market, but you have to put in the effort to ensure you propagate your improvement tactics across your team.

A Proof Point from Hubspot

As you read this KISSMetrics article on Hubspot, you’ll clearly identify actions that Hubspot takes that align to each of DMAIC stages.   Creative types, even Hubspot takes an impressively analytical approach to building a scalable sales team.

Convinced yet?  Let me know.   As a marketer, endurance athlete, and Six Sigma Black Belt, I think there’s great opportunity for applying some of these techniques to our jobs.  Just don’t get hung up on outdated impressions of what Six Sigma is all about.


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