Crash Course in Marketing Goal Setting
Hint: If you're just setting revenue or MQL goals, you're doing it wrong
I honed my marketing leadership skills at Asana, so it should come as no surprise that I’m goal obsessed. Creating goals, communicating about them broadly, and checking in on them weekly is critical to how Kathleen and I lead effective marketing teams and drive growth for startups.
So, we’re shocked by how many marketing leaders don’t have clearly defined goals, only have lead and revenue target goals, or set goals that aren’t focused on impact—like “make 10 landing pages.” Here are the common mistakes we see:
This newsletter covers:
Our marketing strategy diagram and where goal setting fits in
The 4 types of marketing goals
How to set metrics goals
Goal/OKR template with examples
Jobs from the MKT1 job board
But before you set goals…
Before we dive in, an important note: Some companies use OKRs, some use other goal setting frameworks. We aren't here to weigh in on that debate, but we do recommend that you set measurable goals or KRs—or whatever your company calls them.
In order to set effective goals and prioritize marketing work, we strongly recommend you get the foundation of your marketing strategy in order (blue column in above diagram). If you haven’t done this yet, you can set goals around putting this foundation in place. Here are the exercises to do:
Marketing perceptions are what you want to be known for as a company and what you want your audience to repeat back to you. They help you tell a repeatable story that is uniquely your own.
Perceptions then trickle down and shape marketers’ goals, messaging, and content roadmap.
It’s also important to nail down competitive analysis and positioning as part of this exercise.
Understand what audiences and verticals you are targeting
Make sure you’ve done thorough audience analysis and identified ICPs.
If targeting multiple audiences, your goals will be different for proven audiences and verticals vs. test audiences and verticals, so make sure you are clear on where each vertical stands.
Map your funnel stages and set KPIs for each stage
Your funnel should include more than MQLs, Opportunities, and Closed Won.
Make sure to include top of funnel metrics like web traffic by source.
Include conversion rate between each stage of the funnel too.
Analysis of growth levers and channels
You should have a sense of what channels you know work and what you want to test before setting goals, and/or have goals to figure this out.
You should categorize growth levers and channels by status: not tested, tested not effective, testing top priority scaling, not relevant, etc.
It’s also helpful to identify channels and tactics that you think could be “step change drivers” for your business.
The goal of marketing goals
While months-long annual planning exercises aren’t necessary in the early stages, time spent setting goals each quarter will help you focus on impact and avoid wasted work that doesn’t move the needle. Here’s why this is time well spent:
Prioritizing: Goal setting is high-level prioritization. There’s always more to do than time to do it, so goals provide a useful framework for saying yes or no to work.
Marketing team alignment & scoping: Make sure everyone knows who is doing what, understands where collaboration is needed, and has a good sense if they are under or overcommitted.
Cross-company comms and alignment: Meet with other teams before setting goals, especially sales & product. Then, if/when you get a one-off request it’s easier to explain why you can’t get to it.
Hiring planning: It’s much easier to see if you have no clear owner for an initiative or someone is overcommitted when you set goals and match up owners. Marketing hiring is complicated, it’s easier to figure out what specific roles you need when you know the work that needs to get done. More on organizing your team and roles in this MKT1 newsletter.
Growth: Last, but not least. This one should be obvious, but you should know the why behind your growth. You should also attempt to drive step-change growth or dramatically change the slope of growth, not just drive linear or choppy growth.
Types of marketing goals
So you’ve set the foundation, you’re committed to setting goals that drive your team's work, now make sure you set the right type of goals and avoid the mistakes mentioned at the top of this newsletter.
4 types of goals to set
When setting goals, make sure you balance these 4 types of goals. You will probably have more metrics goals than anything else, but make sure you have a healthy mix of the other 3 types too. Keep in mind, you’re trying to balance proven tactics that will cause linear growth with experimental tactics and projects that could cause step-change growth.
Hit a certain metric by x date. We’ll dive into how to set these in the next section.
Note: We often see goals that measure the wrong things. As an example, “Write 10 blog posts” is measurable, but isn’t a KPI. It’s not focused on impact; driving blog traffic or blog conversions is more important than the number of posts.
e.g. Increase web traffic rate m/m, with conversion rate to form complete of x% or higher
Complete a project, sometimes with a metrics goal related to this project.
Why? Some work has a longer-term horizon and is important to get done even if you don’t see an immediate short-term gain and/or some initiatives you want to check in on progress and milestones regularly. These are things like launches, new content series, etc.
e.g . Launch x new feature to existing users across multiple channels, measured by x% of active users trying new features
Goals put in place to encourage testing and trying new things.
Why? If you don’t set these, new initiatives will rarely make the cut. It takes time to get peak performance on something new, set goals that reflect that and reflect the need to learn and continue to expand your tactics.
Experiment goals are the only type of goals where it make sense to set a quantity of work goal, like “run x experiments and report back on learnings.”
E.g. Run web tests that increase conversion by 10% q/q
Put in place infrastructure, process, tools, measurement and research projects that will help you scale or move faster.
I Include hiring in this bucket—some could argue its a project goal. Doesn’t matter, it’s worth calling out as a goal so you can prioritize it.
Why? Sometimes you need to build the foundation before you can move forward. And you want to make time for these improvements that will drive efficiency in the future.
e.g. Upgrade Marketing Automation system and build out lead scoring
How to set metrics goals
Start tracking something even if it isn't the most sophisticated metric/not for the long term. Some examples:
Start tracking blog traffic, later move to tracking traffic + engagement + conversion per post
Starting tracking form completes, move to tracking MQLs as a secondary metric later when you have lead scoring in place
All metrics goals for marketing should have a secondary goal to ensure efficiency and scalability.
If you just have a metric like grow leads from 1,000 to 1,500, you aren’t incentivized to increase the quality of the leads or the efficiency of acquiring them.
Typically, I recommend setting a numerical goal, with a % conversion rate for the next funnel stage.
e.g. Get x top of funnel leads, while keeping conversion rate from lead to MQL the same
e.g. Increase web traffic, but do not spend over $X on paid (or keep conversion rate to form complete at x% or higher)
MQL goals might be a moving target.
You might need to change lead scoring criteria and/or the definition of qualified frequently based on learnings from sales and/or to open up the floodgates for sales.
I prefer a goal based on opportunities from inbound goal, form completes, or something similar, or make it clear that you will modify the goal if scoring criteria is modified.
Set high-level metrics goals based on 2 methods:
Method 1 - Top Down: Based on overall financial plan by working backwards from revenue targets to get to lead goals, web goals, etc.. You’ll work with finance and sales on this typically.
Method 2 - Bottom Up: Based on funnel performance to date. Use historical growth and conversion rates to go forward from web traffic and leads to see what’s feasible.
For all goals, ask yourself “why” when you write it. The answer to that is often a better goal.
“Write 10 blog posts” (my favorite goal to pick on) does not encourage writing high quality content that drives growth.
Ask, “Why write 10 blog posts?” To drive awareness as measured by web traffic and/or to drive leads measured by form fills. Now you have a better goal.
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