Insight/ General Management

3 Ways To Rally Your Marketing Team Around Big Data

by Elana Varon
Contributing Writer

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Article Highlights:

  • The CMO has to ensure marketers know which metrics executives will use to assess business success.
  • Marketing managers need to know how to formulate questions for analysts, interpret data, and understand how it supports their marketing programs.
  • It pays for marketers to have close relationships with operations, customer support, and other corporate functions.

As the ski season winds down in New England, Michael Colbourn, vice president of marketing, sales, and communications at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, is developing campaigns to entice regular guests to return for another run. The resort is currently meeting its 2013 revenue goals, "but we are a four-season resort," he said.

Aligning marketing activities with business objectives isn't new: In the past six years, Stowe has transformed itself into a luxury destination. To get there, an estimated 90 percent of guests have to drive past other mountain resorts in the Northeast. "Everyone has to pass by a resort closer to their home that is less expensive," he told

That's why Colbourn and his team are more focused than ever on their marketing efforts. To maintain its revenue, profit, and yield per customer, Stowe pursues repeat visits and positive word of mouth, which are influenced, in turn, by the quality of resort operations. Colbourn surveys guests continuously, and extensively, about their experiences, feeding the results to operations managers who use them to manage performance at gates, lifts, and restaurants.

Meanwhile, an electronic ticketing system provides a payment card that offers discounts off of window prices and lets skiers or snowboarders skip lines as well as charge their food, rentals, and other purchases. Guest profiles in the system help the marketing team track visitors' spending patterns. For example, "we can see who the guests are from Massachusetts who have visited during the current season and send them an exclusive offer to visit later," Colbourn said.

Data from finance, operations, and customer interactions gives CMOs more power to affect corporate performance and measure the value of their contributions--but only if their marketing teams know the strategy and the metrics they need to influence. "The sales strategy, the product strategy for this year--the marketing strategy has to be aligned with that, and you have to have marketing KPIs aligned with that," said David Rogers, author of "The Network Is Your Customer," who teaches digital marketing at Columbia University, in an interview with

While key metrics may vary by company and industry, CMOs and marketing experts identified three principles for creating a marketing team that puts business results front and center.

1. Make Business Metrics Everyone's Business
Super Bowl watchers and marketing pundits buzzed about the blackout-inspired Oreo tweet for days afterward. But retweets and and similar metrics that track customer engagement don't reveal anything about the end result: whether a company has sold more products and gained customers.

"I think impressions are great, and I love the Super Bowl," Stowe's Colbourn said. Yet marketers have to think further. Facebook fans and Twitter followers act as third-party ambassadors, Colbourn added, but impressions or retweets aren't as valuable, ultimately, as being able to measure real conversions. The CMO has to ensure marketers know which metrics executives will use to assess business success.

Sharing corporate-level metrics "is one of the most effective ways to align behavior," said Mariann McDonagh, CMO with inContact, a vendor of cloud-based call center software. Top-line revenue growth is "numero uno," she told, and everyone on her team knows it. Together with sales, the marketing team agreed on five metrics for their teams to use that that keep campaigns focused on that top line: pipeline value, reach, conversion, velocity, and return, or the overall economic value of marketing efforts.

Studying conversion rates and velocity--the amount of time it takes an opportunity to move through the sales cycle--recently led inContact to scale back the number of webinars its produces. Although webinars generate many leads, McDonagh said, they're expensive to create. When her team analyzed the return on the investment, they were surprised to learn that only a small percentage of those leads resulted in closed deals, and the ones that did took a long time to convert. McDonagh shifted much of the marketing budget devoted to webinars into a more productive pay-per-lead program.

"I think the real key was it's more than just what's in the net--more than the number of fish," she said. "It's how much each fish weighs, and how long is it good for."

2. Train Marketers To Use Business Data--And Hold Them Accountable
If CMOs expect marketers to make decisions based on business metrics, then they have to create the culture, and the conditions, for their teams to use business data to support their plans.

"There are still a lot of people out there who think of marketing as art and not science," said Don Peppers," founding partner of the Peppers & Rogers Group. "There's a good deal of art involved, but it's primarily not an art function anymore. It's a data and analytics function."

Marketing managers don't have to become quant jocks. But they need to know how to formulate questions for analysts, interpret data, and understand how it supports their marketing programs. InContact's McDonagh is educating her team about what to think about when they look at a number: what the data means, and what they can do with it. "The next stage is to try to get more predictive," she said, by asking questions about the marketing mix and using data to choose campaigns most likely to achieve sales goals.

It's up to the CMO to insist that subordinates back up their decisions with relevant numbers, said Brent Dykes, evangelist for customer analytics at Adobe (Adobe is's corporate parent). "One of the simplest things for CMOs to do is to inject data into every conversation. What are the numbers on this campaign? What data supported that decision?"


Ed Gaudet is CMO with Imprivata, which sells software to healthcare providers that helps them manage secure access and communication of patient data. He takes accountability a step further, linking compensation for marketing leaders to business objectives. "Marketing performance has to be aligned with things like revenue growth, customer acquisition, customer retention, and profitability," he told  "If you're comped on the pipeline, I want the sales VP to tell me we've met the goals."

Marketing vendors should also be judged by how they perform against business metrics, Rogers said.

3.  Involve Other Business Functions And External Partners
Marketing may already be aligned with, and supporting, sales or product development. But it pays for marketers to also have close relationships with operations, customer support, and other corporate functions. For example, analysis of customer retention patterns by marketers can help inform sales forecasts and the work of call center representatives, observed Tony Cosentino, vice president and research director with Ventana Research, in an interview with

At Stowe Mountain Resort, Colbourn attends daily operations meetings, where resort department managers review customer satisfaction scores. Such "live time" trend reports help managers determine how customer opinions about operations are affecting business results, and vice versa. Feedback from some recent surveys alerted top managers that during a recent holiday weekend, guests couldn't always find a seat after buying food or drinks at some locations.

Marketers who can find correlations between data from operations, or feedback about products, and customer satisfaction can also use that information to take pre-emptive action when signs of a problem emerge, according to Peppers. "The same operational information could help the company get in front of a customer's needs or attitudes and manage customer satisfaction levels," he said.

Writing for Fast Company last summer, Peppers recounted a call with Comcast to claim a refund for a day when his cable service was out. Comcast didn't question his right to the refund, Peppers wrote. But it didn't offer it automatically to all customers.

Doing so would cost money, Peppers told, but it would help it retain customers who give the company credit for behaving better than expected. Of course, "as soon as they get a benefit, then it becomes standard practice--just a cost," he acknowledged. "Those are issues that bedevil CMOs around the world."

Colbourn has department managers review marketing and communications campaigns before they go live, and he tailors communications based on customer feedback. For example, the resort's "Insider Tips" for the middle of February--popular for vacations because of President's Day--encouraged guests to eat at certain times, as well as to reserve lessons and buy lift tickets before they arrived.

At Imprivata, Gaudet and his team also use customer data and analytics to identify opportunities to sell products through multiple channels, including direct sales, resellers, and partners. And the company shares its insights about mutual customers with these partners.

Leading electronic medical records vendors resell Imprivata's products. If, for instance, multiple executives from a single healthcare organization visit Imprivata's Web site, they might be in the process of developing a request for information from vendors--an early step in the B2B purchasing process. Sales and marketing managers at Imprivata can then strategize about how to pursue the opportunity, which might involve working with an electronic medical records partner to include information about Imprivata products in its pitch.

Sales representatives may work directly with a partner to manage a joint sales opportunity. The company also markets its products jointly with partners in other ways, such as exhibiting together at trade shows, attending each others' user meetings, and running regular webinars with a mutual customer.

The benefits of using data to inform marketing decisions, and elevate the discipline, continue to emerge. Adobe's Dykes recalls one marketer who "was tired of getting beaten up" because, unlike finance or manufacturing executives, he didn't have data to defend his decisions. "He showed a willingness to become more data-driven, so marketing is not left behind."

It's your job as the CMO to lead that charge.