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How to measure inbound marketing success (and the key metrics)

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If you want to prove that your inbound marketing is working, the best way, naturally, is to measure and report on its impact. But what metrics should you measure?

If there is one thing modern marketers are not short of, its metrics - there are enough of them to make a person go crazy. While many of these metrics are very valuable, and can usefully inform decision making, only a few can show you, and your stakeholders, if inbound is having the desired effect or not.

The key to effective reporting is identifying key metrics and establishing the methods of measuring them consistently and correctly. Measuring the right metrics is especially important early on, since the impact of inbound may not be visible in your pipeline and books, and you only have leading indicators with which to defend your strategy.

Inbound success and its leading indicators

The success of your inbound marketing strategy should be measured in terms of revenue. With inbound, revenue is the product of how effective your content and website are at taking buyers on a journey from discovery to decision - from the moment they first find your brand in search results to the time they choose your solution over all other alternatives.

At various points along this journey from discovery to decision, there are metrics that act as leading indicators – predictors of your future results. By establishing benchmarks, identifying areas for improvement, and tracking these metrics, you can predict the future impact, signal success early to your stakeholders, and measure success when it takes shape.

The metrics that matter

The most important metrics for measuring inbound success are:

  • Website visitors/traffic
  • Marketing Qualified Leads
  • Opportunities created
  • Revenue generated

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Why measure website visitors?

Website traffic is the ultimate leading indicator of your inbound success. If you are executing inbound effectively, your website traffic will be growing quarter over quarter thanks to the regular creation of new, indexable content that concurrently improves your website's search engine optimisation (SEO).

In the vast majority of cases, more traffic to your website means more opportunities and customers – although the degree to which this is true is determined by the relevance and quality of that traffic.

It is also important to analyse website visits by channel so that paid traffic from advertising isn't confused with earned traffic generated by your content.

Why track Marketing Qualified Leads?

By far the most important and revealing metric for most B2B inbound marketers is MQLs.

If the number of MQLs generated is going up quarter over quarter then you will almost certainly see growth in the number of opportunities being created later on.

Perhaps the hardest part of measuring MQLs, however, is agreeing what one is. We recommend in most cases that you align your use of MQLs to leads that specifically perform bottom-of-the-funnel actions such as requesting a demo or trial, asking to talk to sales, or filling in certain contact forms. There are other, more complex ways commonly used to spot MQLs earlier than this, but none do so with any real accuracy, particularly when the volumes are small.

Why measure opportunities created?

While not a marketing metric per se, the number of opportunities created, particularly from MQLs, is an excellent indicator of the likely ROI from your inbound program. As with the above metrics, quarter over quarter growth here means that your inbound marketing is having the desired effect.

When it comes to signposting inbound marketing success, it is useful to look at the number of deals being created separately from the pipeline value of those deals. If you only measure deal values, net or forecast, the trend can easily become obscured by fluctuations in deal size.

Why measure revenue generated?

The ultimate measure of inbound success, and the objective that should be shared by all sales and marketing teams, revenue generated is where your inbound impact needs to be seen.

The amount of revenue generated from inbound marketing is enough to tell you what the overall ROI is – expect that to improve year-on-year by the way. In addition, by looking at the conversion rate from opportunity to customer, and the reasons for deals being lost, you can develop further insights into the:

  • Quality of your traffic and leads,
  • Efficacy of your qualification criteria,
  • Possible impact of pricing changes,
  • and more.

So, closing the loop between sales and marketing to allow the measurement of revenue generated from marketing sources has many benefits.

The need for closed-loop reporting

Standard website analytics, like those provided by Google Analytics can easily provide you with detailed numerical information about your website traffic and visitors. And with some more advanced configuration, these tools can also give you some information about the later-stage metrics by tracking the number of visitors that complete certain conversion goals.

Your CRM, if you have one, may also help you to report on the opportunity and revenue metrics based on deals created and closed in your pipeline.

However, to truly, fully understand the impact of your inbound marketing you need to implement a closed-loop reporting environment within which you can cross-reference all the metrics mentioned above with one another, and segment them by channel - also known as first touch attribution. To achieve this you typically need to have website analytics, marketing automation (comprising email, social and ads), CRM, and BI tools integrated, or part of a single platform, so that the relevant data can be analysed in real time without the need for cumbersome and error-prone export/import processes.

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