The difference between a dashboard as an exercise to please management, and a management instrument used daily, can be success or failure for a...
How to make your first B2B SaaS marketing dashboard
You’ve most likely finished listening to Mike and Stijn on episode 8 of B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks and would like to know more about how to build a B2B dashboard.
We talk a lot about KPIs, metrics, and reporting at Kalungi because data-driven decision-making avoids common auto-pilot mistakes and vanity pitfalls (more on that in a bit). Tying your KPIs to revenue ensures your efforts will have impact as well.
Your B2B SaaS dashboard will come in different flavors depending on its purpose, and that’s where we’ll start today. We’ll go over the why, what, and how of dashboards so by the end you can be confident that you’re not missing anything.
Why make a B2B SaaS dashboard?
Implementing a regular reporting cadence for your B2B marketing dashboards can improve your long-term marketing function dramatically. We believe that dashboards are important for the following reasons:
- You can’t improve what you don’t measure.
- A weekly rhythm keeps you focused and avoids measurement problems.
- A manual dashboard allows you to truly understand the numbers and focus on improving them.
- Follow the RACI framework to drive accountability. Multiple team members can be tasked on a project but only one should be accountable (this applies to owning dashboards as well).
- Leading and lagging indicators can only give the full picture when looked at together.
- Raw numbers and absolute numbers make for clearer analytics than formulas and percentages.
- The less numbers you track, the more meaningful they become.
- The same data displayed in different ways can yield different insights.
Combining these principles with some ideas mentioned below yields a more complete understanding of not only dashboards and how to make them but B2B SaaS marketing as a whole.
What should your B2B dashboard look like?
At its core, a dashboard is a visual display of your marketing metrics, which are the measurements of your efforts against your goals. Your dashboard starts with your goals. Setting up goals and go-to-market strategies is out of scope for today but we talk about that often.
Knowing the purpose of a specific B2B dashboard keeps it focused, allowing you to only keep the most relevant information on it to not get distracted.
Examples of effective SaaS KPI dashboards
Using hypothetical numbers, your dashboard could be as simple as a weekly tracker on a spreadsheet:
If you want to go more in-depth, turn your simple spreadsheet into an OKR bowling chart (more on objectives and key results with templates here):
Finally, you could opt for a pretty dashboard full of visual graphs and charts:
Data visualization goes hand-in-hand with B2B dashboards. We won’t get too in the weeds today but every decision should be intentional. After asking what you’d like to measure and track (and why you are tracking these metrics), ask “why represent that information this way and not that way.”
If you don’t like the dashboard format you’ve chosen, there are graphs for every purpose. Just take a look at the following possible options you could choose from:
Thankfully, whether it’s Google Analytics, HubSpot, or your tool of choice, the recommended defaults are always a good place to start. Most of your B2B SaaS marketing metrics will be served just fine by histograms and funnel graphs.
We’re trying to keep things high level so you can follow along regardless of your dashboard specifics since these principles apply in general. That said, at the risk of repeating ourselves, let’s emphasize some important key metrics that you should already be tracking, just in case.
1. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
At the end of the day, everything your marketing function does is to produce an MQL ready for hand-off. If there is one number you should know as a marketing leader, it should be your MQLs.
2. Traffic analytics
These can range from sessions, unique visitors, bounce rates, and page views per session. In today’s digital world, your website is your storefront and those metrics are the equivalent of people passing by, walking in, and shopping around.
3. Conversion rates
The number of leads produced is also important. Keeping track of how many unique visitors turn into contacts into leads into MQLs allows you to pinpoint bottlenecks and friction points, which are usually low-hanging fruit when it comes to actionable insights in marketing.
Some other metrics worth tracking down the line will be your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost), Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), customer Life Time Value (LTV), churn, etc. Once you go from the start stage to the scale then profit stages, these metrics will start driving your T2D3 growth more than the simple raw metrics from before.
Stay focused with dashboard insights
The “why” part was so important because you’re now able to easily determine whether a report or measurement should make it on your dashboard or not. Look at your KPIs. Would you define meeting this KPI’s target as a success? Would you consider it a top priority if it were underperforming? If the answers to these questions are “no”, then that number may not be a Key Performance Indicator after all.
The purpose of your B2B dashboard could be tactical or strategic—it could be for weekly or quarterly meetings. We here at Kalungi love going back to the car analogy. This first dashboard we’re talking about today should be your go-to during meetings and strategizing so it needs to remain clean.
Measuring the data shouldn’t be too painful or expensive. The data should be meaningful. Usually, the number of followers going up is more of a vanity metric than an actionable number because it doesn’t tell you anything about what is working and what isn’t. If you focus on the numbers instead of looking ahead when driving, you’ll crash. So what’s looking ahead? And what’s in the rear-view mirror?
Report on leading and lagging indicators
At the core of your B2B SaaS marketing venture is your SaaS product. And at the core of your SaaS product is your customer. Whether you’ve reached product-market fit or you’re just starting to nail down your ICP and personas, talking to your customers should remain a priority. Looking ahead through your windshield means looking at oncoming traffic.
To reference the car analogy again and use Stijn Hendrikse’s words: “Looking at the road must be your priority. It will allow you to be proactive and to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. The B2B dashboard and mirrors are there for you to instantly calibrate, if whatever you see needs your attention. They’re tools to help you decide what to do and what direction to take.” In this analogy, looking at the road will help you find your leading indicators.
To use another analogy, if your goal is losing weight, checking your weight every day would be a lagging indicator because it reports a result whereas your caloric intake would be a leading indicator because it lets you know if you’re on track and is actionable. The general rule of thumb is lagging indicators are easy to measure but hard to change, and leading indicators are dynamic but tricky to measure.
It’s about the timeline. If your KPI is weekly MQLs, leading indicators could be form submissions, event signups, or new contacts or leads. MQLs could also be a leading indicator if your KPI is revenue. Context matters.
Getting down the concept of current state vs historic performance will not only help with your dashboard endeavors but also streamline your meetings; your meetings should have a clear focus and using a dashboard that includes irrelevant reports could sidetrack the conversation.
Tips to make your KPI dashboard better
That was a lot of theory. Let’s talk about your takeaways and some helpful tips to better your SaaS dashboards:
1. Finalize the B2B dashboard’s purpose and content
No vanity metrics. Only actionable measurements. The kind that would define your quarter as a success when met or become your highest priority when under-performing. If you don’t have a specific dashboard in mind, here are some KPIs worth including in your first one:
- MQLs (per source)
- Lifecycle funnel (contact, subscriber, lead, MQL, SQL, customer, evangelist) (per source)
- Sessions (per source)
- Number of high-ranking high-volume keywords
- Cost per lead or CAC
The last two are case-by-case but a cost and revenue element to your dashboard will help ground your work and ensure it remains impactful. It’s not called Revenue Operations for nothing after all. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between tactical and strategic dashboards. Keep it focused.
2. Manually report on your dashboard every week
As mentioned in the podcast, the number of days in a month can change and quarterly reports can be affected by seasonality. A weekly rhythm avoids those problems and prevents you from going on auto-pilot. Your dashboard should be checked regularly when driving.
Manually inputting the information drives understanding, focus, and accountability. It also avoids potential data corruption if a third-party tool changes the way it tracks information. Having to manually input every cell, column, and row will also make you think twice about whether a metric or measurement is truly worth including.
A manual spreadsheet solves for the operational reporting vs historic reporting problem. Since it’s manual, you might have several hands adding populating it. It’s important to only have one person be accountable for the dashboard so it remains accurate and up-to-date.
All that said, your dashboard needs to be automatable; you should try to make everything you do scalable. There will come a day when you have so much information and so many dashboards that automation won’t be optional, so look ahead.
3. Make your B2B dashboard within a spreadsheet
If HubSpot or Tableau are not options, there is nothing wrong with going back to the basics. Google Sheets and Excel can produce graphic charts so you’re not missing out on the fun part of dashboards.
A spreadsheet drives attention to the numbers, doing away with unnecessary distractions, and can allow you to easily manipulate data. A quick note on data hygiene: try not to touch your raw data spreadsheets and make any manipulations such as filtering, calculations, etc. on a separate one.
4. Pay attention to the dashboard's dates, filters, and criteria
Look at your dashboard. Do all of your weekly reports start on the same day? If you’re taking information from HubSpot, match your dashboard’s format. HubSpot starts its weeks on Sunday. Does your spreadsheet start its week on Tuesday? That opportunity for conflict must be resolved promptly.
Likewise, are you tracking create dates or change dates? Using the same list of contacts could produce wildly different graphs depending on this little change. If a contact was created in June but became an MQL in August, they’d feature in different columns depending on the graph.
Moreover, be specific in your definitions and sources. For example, no one should be in disagreement on what row 8 is measuring or where the information is coming from.
5. Use raw and absolute numbers
Do you want a 36% increase in something? Look at the last period’s benchmark and calculate your target number. A nice square absolute number like 386 is clean and easy to understand. Your dashboard should also use raw numbers whenever possible. Some KPIs are the result of a calculation involving several raw numbers, but your first dashboard should really be dealing with the most primordial insights.
6. Keep it consistent
If the definition of a KPI changes over time, make a new row for it. If the criteria or filters change, it’s not the same KPI. The historic dimension of your data reporting is undone if you allow too many changes. It takes a while before enough information is accumulated for a dashboard to truly show its value. Stay disciplined and don’t leave any gaps. Before you know it you’ll have enough information for all your trend-line and benchmark needs.
This article is the companion reading for episode 8 of the B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks podcast.