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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