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Marketers, Avoid These 4 Fatal Data Mistakes

min read

Clare Kirlin
Director of Marketing
Marketers, Avoid These 4 Fatal Mistakes

As marketers, we know we should be paying attention to data. It provides us with a 360-degree view of the customer journey. It promises to improve forecasting accuracy, boost conversion rates, and uncover new opportunities.

But if data is so magical, why hasn’t every marketing department in the world astronomically improved its numbers? 

Because we let “big” get in the way of “data.” 

While the idea of big data holds big promise, very few organizations — even large enterprise corporations — have the capacity to track, measure, and make decisions based on a holistic data set across every line of business. 

I’m not saying we should ignore big data, but when it comes to our roles as marketers, we need to start small and ladder up to larger insights and transformations.

If you’re under pressure to leverage data but haven’t seen the results you want, consider whether you’re making one of these four fatal mistakes.

(1) Failure to launch

What should I measure? Who will be collect and analyze data? What is my single source of truth? 

Many of us just don’t know where to begin. 

Lack of objectives, blurred lines of responsibility, and multiple software systems are common culprits here. Answer these questions to help seek to become a more data-driven marketer.

  • What is my business goal? You might be trying to increase net-new leads, conversion rates, customer retention, customer satisfaction, or some other outcome. By identifying the area you hope to improve, you can filter out unnecessary data points and focus on the numbers most relevant to your current business challenge.
  • What information am I missing? Now that you’ve identified the business outcome you want to achieve, figure out what information is missing to get a clear picture of where the problem lies. If, for example, you’re trying to improve conversion rates, you’ll need to know where the greatest gaps exist at each stage of the buyer’s journey, and how they vary by lead source, channel, geography, and other relevant factors.
  • What are the most reliable sources of information? Your CMS, CRM, website analytics tool, and dozens of other systems contain valuable buyer data. Hopefully, you have the staff and resources on hand to collect the data points you need and build reports. More likely, you don’t. This is where a lot of marketers give up. Don’t! Approach your leader with a list of the key data points you need and how the information will help identify roadblocks to your team’s success. Ask for her help identifying the individuals in your organization who are responsible for tracking this information. If those individuals don’t exist, get to work on a game plan to assign responsibility to existing staff. 

This process can take weeks, or even months. Be patient; if your organization holds marketing accountable to specific outcomes, then you’re going to fail without access to the data required to measure those outcomes. Find allies to help you access the data you need, and go as high as necessary to get it. (If your enterprise simply cannot even provide a timeline to indicate when you’ll be able to get this data, the writing’s on the wall. Start your search for a new job.) 

And remember that most of us don’t get it right on the first try. Just start and evolve; measurement is about learning. Too often, marketers try to put in too much at the beginning and never get anywhere. Don’t let that be you. 

(2) Failure to learn

I’ll say it again: measurement is about learning. 

Gathering a data set is not the point here. Marketers are responsible for making decisions and putting plans in place based on what the data says. 

Keep an iterative mindset, purposefully seeking and incorporating new data points to test your hypotheses and draw conclusions.

To continue with the example of improving conversion rates, suppose that you’ve identified a gap in the suspect-to-prospect stage of the buyer’s journey. To answer the question Why are our prospect conversion rates so low? you need to understand where people are disengaging. Suppose you’ve chosen to focus on email marketing campaigns, which are a key conversion tactic. You’ve identified the CRM as your single source of truth, and your email campaign manager has started providing weekly reports on open rates, click-through rates, and opt-out rates. 

Consider looking at the metric that’s furthest below industry standard, and work from there. Isolate the variables that could be causing this poor performance and test different tactics to see where improvements can be made. If you’ve chosen to examine opt-out rates, you might hypothesize that you’re saturating the database with too-frequent emails and isolate a segment to receive emails at a lower frequency. You can then see if the opt-out rates improve; if not, you can continue to iterate until you identify the most successful tactic. 

You may also find that the data points you originally identified are not the right ones. Perhaps your leaky funnel has nothing to do with email frequency, and everything to do with the fact that global buyers are receiving emails at non-optimal times of day in their regions. It can take several attempts and different data points to identify the core issue, so stick with it.

Pro tip: Don’t forget the qualitative piece of the puzzle. Numbers are only part of the story. Combine quantitative data with qualitative customer input in the form of buyer interviews, surveys, and other feedback mechanisms to get a full picture of what’s going on.

It’s a slog, to be sure. But it’s the only way to simplify the complexity of data. As data points add up, you can begin to paint a bigger picture of your buyer and customer journeys. It’s about getting the little pieces right to add up to big wins.

(3) Failure to tell a story

The real value of data lies in the insights you can extract from it. 

KPIs are great, but they’re just a start. If you told your CEO that you drove suspect-to-prospect conversion rates by 17% across key market segments, you’d likely get a blank stare. 

But contributing to quarterly revenue targets? Uncovering new market segments? Growing LCV? Those are organizational wins that every level of employee can get behind.

Marketers need to craft stories for internal audiences as well as external ones; growing investment in your department and reporting on your progress is often seen as an afterthought, but internal communications should be given at least as much attention as external.

Try to remember a single statistic from the last five meetings you attended. Pretty tough, right? Now try to remember the overall takeaways. Probably a lot easier. We’re so inundated with data that we become immune to it without an emotional component to go along with it. 

As you collect data, be sure to share it in the context of a story. How do the numbers fit into your company’s overall goals? Where are they moving the needle downstream, through purchase and beyond? (Tip: Story-based reporting tools can help here.) 

When presenting your findings, don’t start with the statistics. Start with the question you answered above: What is my business goal? Working backwards from there, you can share data points to indicate where your marketing tactics and strategies are helping or hindering that goal.

(4) Failure to see the big picture

As a variation of the famous saying goes, the data will tell you anything — if you torture it long enough. 

Too often, we over-extrapolate from a single data point without looking at the larger picture. And single data points can be misleading. 

I recently attended a conversion optimization conference where a speaker shared this anecdote: 

A demand generation marketing team was told that they need to “embrace big data.” Starting immediately, their bonuses would depend raising the average conversion rate of their Google Ads from 2.5% to 3%. They panicked, and called in an outside expert for help. His advice? Eliminate the lowest-converting ad, and your average will automatically increase. 

On the surface, this might seem like a viable solution. But by eliminating their lowest-converting ad — which was still converting at a respectable rate, and at a lower cost per lead — they automatically shed hundreds of leads per month from their pipeline. 

Did they hit the target? Yes. Did they hurt their business in the process? Yes. Did they get their bonuses anyway? Yes. 

While it is important to start small with data, you want to work your way to more complex business analysis. Whether you’re beginning with a specific sales stage or specific channel, don’t stop there. Constantly ask yourself what additional information would be useful in analyzing your business, and seek it out until you are confident enough in your conclusions to make business decisions based on the information at hand.

Go Make Mistakes

Huh? I thought this article was about avoiding mistakes! 

True. There are some big pitfalls when it comes to marketing data, and you’re wise to take the time to read about them today. 

That said, it’s all about answering key questions to achieve desired business outcomes. Be prepared to make small adjustments and learn along the way, and you’ll set yourself up for some big wins.