How do you prioritize your B2B marketing initiatives? First, do a gut check – what's the status of your current marketing function? Then, ask how to...
BSMS 8: What should you put on your first marketing dashboard?
When talking about dashboards, you don’t need a sophisticated tech stack. You can start with a simple manual spreadsheet (like a bowler chart) then create automated dashboards as you scale:
- Start small – pick 10–15 of the most important metrics
- Make sure you’re tracking both leading and lagging indicators – the full ‘story’ is only told when they’re together
- Track metrics on a weekly basis
- Use absolute numbers, try to avoid percentages
- Use raw numbers – limit the number of formulas to calculate things
- Define every metric – be accurate and precise in your language. Explain the source, the time of day that numbers are collected, etc.
The exact metrics you track will depend on your organization’s goals. Generally, when you’re building your dashboard from scratch, you want to include a few leading and lagging indicator metrics that span the buyer’s journey from top to bottom. Here are some examples:
- Top of funnel metrics: number of website visitors or sessions, content or landing page with the most organic entrances, etc.
- Middle of funnel metrics: i.e. number of MQLs & SQLs, number of demo requests, source data for new opportunities
- Bottom of funnel metrics: i.e. influenced revenue by channel, customer acquisition cost (CAC) by channel, revenue by deal type (new business, upsell), etc.
Welcome to episode eight of B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks. It is a beautiful day to be a marketer, or a CEO, or a VP of sales, or whatever your role may be, it's just a beautiful day to be alive. And on this beautiful day, we are going to be talking about dashboards. A question we get asked pretty frequently is: when I'm first getting started with marketing, how do I build a dashboard that is not just checking the box of having a nice, pretty dashboard, but it's actually helping me and my team get aligned on what the right marketing priorities are and driving real outcomes? So that's where we wanted to start with this one.
So I know that no two dashboards are alike and the things that you put on your dashboard really depend on your marketing and growth goals, but there are some common best practices that will help you get to a good jumping off point. So Stijn, I'll put it to you first and then I might have some things I want to add on, but what are some of the common best practices that you should be following when you're setting up your dashboard to make it as effective as possible? What's your formula for success there?
One of the things, Mike, that I always emphasize when you build your first dashboard or you're trying to level up the quality of your dashboard is to do the basics right. So one of those things is to not mess around with months which have different amount of days every month, and even quarters are not always consistent, seasonality will start playing a role. I think your first dashboard should be weekly. I think it's good to track things on a weekly basis. It's the right balance between not spending time on it every day but also having enough granularity to be able to act on what you're measuring and make it actually useful in running your day-to-day marketing team. Monthly or quarterly numbers or dashboards are absolutely helpful to do strategy, to get insights, to see what worked and then plan accordingly. They're not as useful to actually operate and manage the day-to-day business. So that's one thing that I always go to, hey, let's see what we can track weekly and use that to make constant optimization decisions.
But also, what's helpful for me is to use absolute numbers. Most percentages can be turned into absolute numbers. Oh, I want this percentage of growth for my MQLs. Okay, how many did you have last quarter? How many did you have last week? That allows you to calculate how many you want to have this quarter or this week. So use absolute numbers instead of percentages where you can. It makes it so much easier to think of the number as something real that you can relate to. How many leads did we get last week? How many leads did we get the week before? And how do those two numbers help you make decisions going forward? Limit the number of formulas to calculate things. Ideally, you get numbers that are relatively raw. The number of visitors on the website, you don't need a lot of formulas for that, you just get the actual number.
Be extremely accurate and precise in your language. Define every metric, not only define what it is and what it describes, but also what the source is, what the time of day or the time of the week is that you captured the number that you write into your dashboard. I actually prefer a dashboard initially to be done completely manually. I think putting rows in a Google sheet and entering the data in a manual spreadsheet on a weekly basis is a very good starting point for a dashboard. I, of course, want work to be automated over time, and dashboards to be constantly up to date, and live data, all that is fantastic, but it's very powerful to first do it manually so that you actually understand the numbers. You're forced to think about the numbers. You're forced to verify the numbers. And once you've done that, and you feel really good about how you understand the data, and that the source that you get the data from is reliable, and the numbers are consistent every time you pull them, then of course you should try to automate it.
I am also a big fan of a format that came from a Japanese management methodology, lean manufacturing, and it is called a bowler. It's often also referred to as, I think, the Kaizen methodology. But if you basically type in bowler dashboard or bowler tracker in Google, you'll find plenty of examples. What's really nice about a bowler format is it tracks every KPI on a weekly basis and it does it actually against your target. So you have one row that has your target number, and then the other row is the actual ideally all absolute numbers, and it's a very nice, simple visualization of the data that allows you to just get quick insights and make decisions.
So yeah, Mike, those are just a couple of thoughts on building a good dashboard. Of course, you want these numbers that you track to be meaningful. I think you should not track too many because you'll end up just gathering a lot of data that you don't have time to act on or to even interpret. Maybe 10 or 15 really good metrics is a good number just to aim for. You start maybe with five or six, the basics, like how many MQLs did we get this week? Where did those come from? What are the sources? Some kind of an earlier funnel metric around visitors or sessions. And then, of course, you want to connect all that to MQLs that convert to wins, to revenue. The stop line, and then bottom line, of course, you need some kind of cost metric, customer acquisition cost, something like that. I hope that helps.
Yeah, I think that's super helpful. What's really interesting is the idea you're bringing up here about keeping the dashboard extremely focused. And I think that's something we often see not happen. So oftentimes the inkling is to just throw everything on the dashboard because the idea is if you can track it, you can make it better, and ideally if you see the numbers going up, then you're doing well. And I think that's definitely a misconception and it can be really easy to get lost in all the data you have access to, to a point where you start getting critical of metrics that really don't matter too much to whatever your current goals are. Not that they don't matter, but they're leading indicators rather than lagging ones, and so it makes all the difference in the world if you can base your dashboard around metrics that are indicators for direct impact on your company's goals, whatever those are. So whether it's revenue, bigger deal sizes, MQLs from a new vertical, trial memberships for new products, et cetera, whatever that is.
So I think the right way to make sure you're keeping your dashboard lean, to only report on the things you need to and not get distracted by all the other things that are happening, is really to figure out what your goal is and then work your way backwards from there. So what do you need to improve to reach that goal? Because there's only so many things you can do at a time, and keeping too many metrics on the dashboard just ends up randomizing your efforts because you get focused on the dropping leading indicator, which might be, let's say, the number of SQLs in the pipeline, instead of the positive results on the lagging indicator, which is maybe what you're driving, which is actually an increase in the deal size and conversion rates between your MQL and SQL stage. So yes, you have less MQLs, but that's okay because you're also moving towards better quality deals, higher velocity, and bigger deal size. So I guess what I'm saying is that there's a difference between leading and lagging indicators.
I like to use an analogy there that most people can relate to, when you want to lose weight. When you want to lose weight, your real goal, by the way, is to be healthy, it's not just to lose weight, but what's important there that you have to track the right things. If you just track your weight, if you go stand on the scale every day, which would basically be a form of tracking a lagging indicator, tracking the outcome, if you just go stand on a scale, there's not really much going to happen typically. What you do need to do as well is measure how many calories you eat every day, or how often you go to the gym. And when you're at the gym, how many repetitions you do, how many minutes you spent in active mode versus maybe passive. And those are what's called leading indicators. And I think a good dashboard tracks both.
You need to have the lagging indicators that help you understand if your marketing work is having impact. Are you getting those MQLs? Are those converting? But you also need to track things that you can look at on a daily basis that make you feel that you're doing the right things and you're doing those at the right volume, publishing content, running A/B tests, reaching people through outbound marketing campaigns, all those things need to be tracked as well, so that you know that you're on the right track. Yeah, so that's important, I think, to find that balance between leading and lagging indicators.
And then also make sure that you're not just throwing things onto the dashboard just to have them on there. Yeah, absolutely. Super well put. I love that analogy. That's a good one. Anything else that people should be looking for when they're building their first dashboard? Any other nuggets?
The final real challenge, Mike, that I sometimes encounter when teams build their first dashboard is that it can get very confusing when people mix two types of numbers. One is what I would call a number that gives you the state of something, as in looking at leads, for example, or contacts in your marketing and sales funnel, and understanding in what state those contacts are today. If I take a snapshot of a funnel, I could see if there are 500 contacts that are in the funnel right now, some of those will be MQL, some of those will be sales qualified leads, some of those will be opportunities. So that would be called state. So at any moment in time, I can paint a picture of the funnel by showing how many leads or contacts are aware in the funnel. That's a state metric.
The other metric would be how many leads did we get in a given time period? How many MQLs? How many new contacts became an MQL on Tuesday, and how many became an MQL on Monday, and on Sunday? And how many became MQLs the week before? Those are historic, let's call it, tracking metrics that give you a sense of trends and how things have evolved. And it's really important. A good dashboard tells you not only what's happening today, but in what direction are things moving, what's the trend. The challenge is that those two things are different, and sometimes they are being mixed, and it can be very confusing on your dashboard. So you have to be very careful to be specific in which metrics are trackers that tell you how many leads, for example, you've got every day or every week. And that's a great KPI to put in that bowler format that I shared earlier, where you can see the trends over time.
And then there is this other type of metric that shows you the state today. What does my funnel look like today? And it gives you nice insights on, for example, the shape of the funnel. Do you have enough leads so that they can convert to enough MQLs? And do we have enough MQLs to take over to enough opportunities? That's great data, but it doesn't allow you to do any trend analysis, it just tells you what's happening today. You need both, but I think that's really important to differentiate between those two. Just a few thoughts on getting a great dashboard.