Eight sales and marketing vanity metrics to avoid at all costs

In sales and marketing, there are so many ways to pretend you’re doing well.

All you have to do is find a couple of metrics that are increasing for your business—any metrics at all, really—and tell your boss, “The numbers are up!”

But here’s the reality: In a B2B sales organization, anything you measure that doesn’t directly relate to customer acquisition, customer retention, or revenue is a vanity metric, and vanity metrics are only there to make you look good.

Often, vanity metrics reflect the effort of your team, but they have virtually no connection to the impact of your team, or the overall health of your business. (And by the way, your boss knows this better than anyone, so you’re not fooling anybody.)

To help keep you focused on the right things, here are eight metrics that you should stop wasting your time on, and nine you should start measuring instead, with a little help from your CRM reports.

SALES VANITY METRICS

1. Number of activities

One of the most common mistakes that sales teams make is focusing on the quantity of their interactions rather than the quality. An activity report is helpful for understanding your team’s baseline volume of interactions, but without comparing it to other information like your sales numbers or the timelines of leads that should have been won, it’s just a measure of busyness.

“Activity metrics are only relevant when compared with opportunity creation,” says Colleen Francis, president and owner of Engage Selling Solutions, and the author of Nonstop Sales Boom. “Measuring activities in isolation tends to make the seller with the most activities look the best, hardest working, and most successful, when this might not be the case. The best reps are the ones who do the least amount of activities to produce the highest number of opportunities.”

Measure this instead: Quality of activities. Compare the activities logged by your best and worst-performing sales reps, and look for differences you can use to coach the reps who need help. Are they taking good notes? Are they spending time on the kinds of activities that lead to closed deals? Are they making tons of calls or having lots of meetings but not closing?

If not, you need to know what is actually happening during those calls and meetings. In your CRM, check out the timelines of some of their best won leads to see what they’re doing that’s bringing them real success. (Nutshell‘s activity leaderboard and sales leaderboard can be very helpful with this, by the way.)

2. Conversion rate by activity type

Another thing we frequently see among Nutshell’s own customers is sales teams trying to measure conversion rates from one activity type to another. For example, they’ll track how many phone calls “converted” to in-person meetings. While that metric could be useful when testing changes to your phone script, it’s generally irrelevant for two reasons:

  • The goal of sales is to close deals, not book meetings.
  • Call-to-meeting rate is often more influenced by lead quality than the skill of your sellers (i.e., low-quality leads mean less-qualified prospects, who are more likely to be disqualified during phone calls).

Measure this instead: Conversion rate by stage. By using your CRM’s funnel report, you can identify which stage(s) your team is losing the most deals in, and make targeted improvements. “When a sales rep can’t close deals it’s rarely a case of not being able to ‘close,’” Francis explains. “Usually there is a problem in the qualification or presentation stage of the pipeline. By knowing which stages they are below and above average in, you can zero in on the exact skills they need to improve, thereby increasing their performance.”

“Conversion rates also drive lead generation requirements which in turn drive marketing execution,” Francis adds. “If you don’t know how many leads you need to create the right number of opportunities and closes and by when, your funnel will never be accurate.”

3. Total sales

Whether you’re looking at revenue totals or number of closed deals, growing sales can make sales organizations feel warm and fuzzy, while masking potential inefficiencies. Obviously, sales totals are important to the health of your business, but they don’t tell you how many deals were lost along the way or why those deals were lost.

Measure these instead: To get a full picture of your sales team’s effectiveness, you need to keep your eye on two things…

  • Speed of qualified leads to close. “Conversion speed is critical because once you know how quickly an opportunity moves through the pipeline, you can make time-management decisions about moving opportunities out of the pipeline that are delayed to the point of lost,” Francis says. “Most sellers hang on to lost deals for double the amount of time it takes them to win a deal. If you are measuring the time each deal is in the pipeline you can cut ties with these time-wasting lost deals sooner, freeing up time for each rep to spend with buyers that are actually interested in doing business with you.”
  • Lost lead outcomes. Your CRM’s losses report can uncover the most common reasons for lost deals, and (gulp!) the total value of the deals you’re leaving on the table.

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MARKETING VANITY METRICS

4. Total website visits

The size of your fishing net doesn’t matter if the net is full of holes. Since website traffic doesn’t directly correlate with marketing conversions, revenue, or even an effective strategy, the total number of monthly visitors or pageviews tells you very little by itself.

Plus, website traffic artificially rises and falls with the amount of money you’re spending on online advertising. If your recent spike in traffic was bought and paid for in the form of keyword ads and display ads, it’s not a win worth bragging about.

Measure this instead: Engagement metrics such as visitor frequency (how often a person visits your website) and visitor recency (the number of days since a person’s last visit) can tell you whether or not your website is offering visitors something they’re genuinely interested in—or if it’s disappointing them when they get there.

5. New leads

Like website traffic, lead volume is something that can be artificially spiked with an increase in advertising spending. It’s also another metric that reflects potential more than results.

Marketing efforts should be focused on finding customers, not “leads.” If your team is finding new and creative ways to stuff more garbage-caliber leads into the top of your funnel, they’re focused on the wrong goals.

Measure this instead: Number of qualified leads. This is the number that should be steadily increasing if you hope to grow your business: How effective is your marketing team at attracting prospects that actually have a need for your product and the ability to buy?

If your lead volume is increasing but your sales aren’t, it means you need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of your product within marketing and advertising messages, and then placing those messages in channels where potential customers can find them.

6+7. Social media audience size and impressions

Social media followers are a dime a dozen. (Actually, they’re even cheaper than that if you buy them in bulk.)

True, having a large social media audience can suggest that your brand is regularly posting helpful, entertaining, and inspirational content to its social channels, but the intentions of your followers can be very diverse. Are they existing customers? Do they want to promote their own services? Do they want a job at your company? Are they doing some strategic stalking from a competitor’s office?

Even less impactful than audience size is impressions, or the number of times your content was displayed (regardless of engagement). According to Jacob Shwirtz, Global Head of Social Media Strategy at WeWork, keeping track of impressions isn’t worth your time. “Multiplying anything by the number of followers you have, or by an assumption of your average follower size, just doesn’t mean anything since we know that a tiny percentage of anyone’s following actually sees or cares about any given post,” Shwirtz says.

Measure these instead:

  • Content shares. Social shares tell you that you’ve honed in on what resonates with your target personas, and that you’re consistently serving them content that they get excited about. “A share is a real vote of confidence, where someone took the time—and their personal credibility—to share that piece of content with their friends and followers,” Shwirtz says.
  • Number of conversions generated by social media. The number of clicks generated by social media posts can be a vanity metric, if those clicks aren’t taking visitors to any page where they could realistically convert into customers. Make sure that at least some of your social posts direct to website pages where visitors can complete a form to download a content offer or request more information. By fine-tuning the frequency and messaging of your social content, you can increase the number of people who land on your pages and convert into leads.

8. Newsletter subscribers

Email newsletters are often mis-measured—with subscriber growth being given more attention than growth of the resulting leads or revenue—and like social media accounts, companies often launch them without a coherent strategy, assuming that results will naturally follow.

The big mistake to avoid with newsletters is never asking for the sale. Sure, newsletters are important for customer nurturing and prospect education, but the end goal is to produce revenue through new or repeat business.

Measure this instead: New leads generated each month from your newsletter. If people are subscribing to your email newsletter because they’re interested in your company, you want to make sure that you’re actually using those newsletters to guide subscribers to a buying path. Keep in mind, effective newsletters don’t constantly try to sell—but when they do, they make the ask clearly and directly.

Increasing the number of newsletter readers who go on to engage with a member of your sales staff or otherwise express interest in your products can be done in two ways: 1) Making sure there are purchase CTAs both within the newsletter itself, and on any website page the newsletter links to, and 2) increasing the frequency of the newsletter. As long as you’re consistently offering value to the reader, there’s no reason your monthly newsletter can’t be increased to a weekly or even daily cadence.

Did we leave out your most despised vanity metric in sales and marketing? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @nutshell!

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