OKRs How to increase transparency, generate focus, and drive accountability with your marketing team (1)

OKRs: how to drive transparency, accountability, and results in your B2B SaaS marketing team

Brian Graf
Sep 22, 2020

How do you ensure your marketing team drives results in the areas that matter? 

Business leaders often have difficulty ensuring that marketing’s efforts align with company goals, resulting in wasted budget, missed objectives, and frustration between executives and the marketing team. Misalignment, inefficiencies, and distractions can be the difference between successfully executing a go-to-market strategy, and woefully missing your quarterly targets. 

This is why companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and General Electric use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). With this goal system, you can align your goals with corporate strategy, focus the team on what matters, and provide transparency and accountability across the board. In fact, at Kalungi, we utilize OKRs for ourselves, the agencies we work with, and all of our clients. See how we use OKRS to hold ourselves accountable.

Why you need OKRs for your marketing team

Whether you are a CEO, a CMO, or a marketing leader, chances are that you’ve seen marketing face too many competing priorities from too many differing stakeholders. This places unnecessary stress on your marketing staff as they try to meet multiple internal support deadlines while also attempting to push marketing forward. It also makes marketing less effective at performing against company objectives, often causing leaders to become frustrated with marketing’s inefficiency.

This phenomenon applies to nearly every discipline and industry. From finance, to operations, to customer success, it’s rare for people to have enough time to accomplish their goals comfortably. But this is especially pervasive in marketing (and is even more relevant for B2B marketing). I’ve seen these symptoms stem from two basic issues:

  1. Marketing is a broad discipline. Really broad. Marketing supports almost every area of a business, from sales to events, to executive presentations, to demand gen, to content production, etc. The list goes on and on. In fact at many companies, marketing is too broad. Marketers are trying to do too much for too many stakeholders, resulting in an unfocused department that is unable to make real progress on what matters.
  2. Marketing can be difficult to measure. Whether they are trying to determine where a lead came from, what problem they’re trying to solve, or why they’re interested in your company, many leaders struggle to answer the questions: What does success look like? How do you define a lead? Or even how many leads did you get last month? Ambiguity can make it very hard for leaders to understand marketing, its priorities (or what they should be), and how the department is performing against those priorities. A lack of transparency can make managing marketing frustrating and can strain relationships between marketing and the rest of the organization. 

These two factors can make a messy combination for a marketing team. If a proper incentive structure is not implemented the team can quickly become unfocused and stretched too thin as it tries to please everyone in the company. Too many times at the end of the period, the marketing team has been so focused on supporting so many stakeholders that it often has difficulty showing meaningful progress in important areas (site traffic, lead generation, content produced, or how it impacted the bottom line.) 

So how do you combat these issues? How do you give your marketing team the focus it needs, the permission to say no to unimportant projects, and the transparency that executives require for strategic planning? 

Allow me to introduce your new best friend: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

B2B SaaS OKRs - Tracker Template

Get our free OKR tracking template

Download your guide to effectively managing OKRs and use it as reference when creating and measuring your next set of quarterly objectives.

 

What are OKRs?

A great CEO that I used to work once said, “In order to make something move, all you need to do is focus on it and apply pressure.” This is exactly what OKRs do. 

Objectives and Key Results are a leadership framework created by Andy Grove, a father of management science, while he worked at Intel. This quarterly system promotes collaboration and transparency, and focuses employees’ efforts on the initiatives that matter, allowing them to be more impactful, and better aligned with larger departmental goals. 

This management framework consists of three simple steps and combines leading and lagging indicators to facilitate setting and achieving goals:

Objectives

The objectives of OKRs are what I like to think of as the long term goals that you are working toward. These are often big picture targets. Many of them are impossible to achieve in one quarter or are vague enough that they can stay the same from quarter to quarter, while the key results and actions change beneath them.

Think of objectives as the lamp posts that you or your team need to constantly work toward, to ensure that your department, division, or company is successful. These should be short, qualitative descriptions of where you want to go. 

To ensure that OKRs are effective you should choose from three to five objectives to focus on each quarter. Doing so gives yourself and your team enough bandwidth to commit to fulfilling your objectives. Beyond five objectives, it becomes difficult to spend adequate time on each, resulting in a lack of focus, distraction from smaller/less important goals, and ultimately underwhelming results on important initiatives.

Questions to ask when Making Objectives:

  • What are the ultimate goals of my department?
  • How can I impact high-level company/department strategy?
  • How can I impact revenue or profitability?
  • What are the top 3-5 areas that I need to focus on this quarter?
  • If I were to impact nothing else, what would signify a successful quarter?

Examples of GOOD objectives:

  • Build a new demand generation channel
  • Implement a marketing technology infrastructure
  • Lead the marketing department through COVID
  • Increase website traffic
  • Improve funnel conversion rates
  • Improve the sales pipeline

Examples of BAD objectives: 

  • Generate 53 MQLs (This is too specific and not long-term enough to be considered an objective)
  • Market research (This doesn't describe what you are trying to do: are you trying to conduct? improve? increase? decrease? the market research?)

Key Results

Once you’ve chosen your objectives, it’s time to plan out how to work toward achieving those goals. Choose three to five key results for each objective you’ve created. Unlike objectives, which can be vague and aspirational, key results need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). These strict criteria make key results the most difficult piece of OKRs to develop. When creating key results, your main goal will be to answer the question “what results will show significant progress toward achieving my objective?”

By making SMART key results, you (and your employees) are announcing a measuring stick for the quarter to your department and the rest of the company. In doing so, you are planting a stake in the ground around what marketing’s top priorities are. This increases transparency on marketing’s activities, makes a public declaration on how you will measure success, and gives you the permission to say no (or “not right now”) to projects that will detract from these goals.

Questions to ask when creating key results: 

  • What 3 to 5 goals can I accomplish that will show significant progress toward each objective this quarter?
  • Can I accurately measure this result?
  • Can I measure this with a real number (not a percentage)?
  • Does this result specifically contribute to its objective?
  • Is there a clear consensus among your team/division/company of what success looks like? (e.g. what constitutes an MQL)

Examples of GOOD  key results:

  • Receive executive approval on 3 OKRS
  • Effectively measure 5 lifecycle stages
  • Send 3 email newsletters
  • Train 5 team members to use the marketing CRM
  • Increase MQLs that are attributable to inbound marketing from 20 to 30 

Examples of BAD key results:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Boost SEO performance by 50%
  • Interact with customers that become MQLs
  • Launch a new website
  • Respond to 90% of prospect inquiries within a day

Actions

Finally, once you have built your objectives and key results, you need to document how you plan to achieve them. These steps are called “actions” (or “initiatives”) and will be the most granular piece of your OKRs. However, even though actions are very tactical, they don’t have to be as specific as your key results. There aren’t guidelines around the minimum or maximum actions you can have, or that they use specific numbers (or even numbers at all). These are just the steps you think you need to take to achieve your goals.

Questions to ask when creating actions: 

  • How do I plan on achieving this key result?
  • What big milestones do I need to hit throughout the quarter to hit my key results?
  • Will I be able to achieve my key result without this action?

Examples of actions:

  • Draft OKR proposal by XX/XX/XX
  • Receive approval on XXXX campaign plan
  • Clean CRM Data
  • Create funnel dashboard
  • Develop SEO research

Additional resources

OKRs are a simple and extremely effective tool that you can use to focus your team on what matters, say no to requests that take away from your main goals, and achieve big tasks that directly affect revenue. In short, this framework will make your team more effective and allow you to have a bigger impact on your business (while giving you the credit you deserve for your hard work). 

While OKRs are simple at the conceptual level, it can be daunting to boil everything you’re working on down to this framework. So we’ve detailed 4 marketing OKRs for a B2B SaaS company to get you going. We’ve also developed a free OKR tracker (complete with example OKRs) that you can use to set up your OKRs and track them throughout the quarter (see below). 

Feel free to steal this framework - or this tracker - and make it your own, level up your marketing team, and crush your marketing goals. 

Enjoy!

Subscribe by Email