How to Better Track the Ability of Your Marketing Efforts to Drive Sales

by Mack Collier

Hundred Dollar Bills Folded in a Money Clip

Yesterday’s post from Kerry on a Ford Blogger Outreach program she’s involved with led to a fascinating discussion in the comments on tracking the effectiveness of marketing channels in driving sales.  Thanks to Jerome, Hugh and Kevin for chiming in with their thoughts.  The point was made that it would be difficult to track actual sales that resulted from the blogger outreach, then again it would likely be even moreso with offline marketing channels such as television or billboard advertising.

So then the question becomes how does a brand do two things:

1 – Better track actual sales generated from marketing efforts.  In other words, how can brands better understand which marketing touch point ultimately converted into a sale.

2 – Give its customers the tools they need to help convert those sales.  And which customers should have these tools?

First, let’s talk tracking.  If your marketing efforts have an online element, there’s really no excuse not to at least attempt to track online conversations generated, if not actual sales.  Typically this is done with coding, like a coupon or sales code for tracking purchases or now hashtags are being used more frequently to track online conversations.  The great thing about hashtags is they can be used in print and television advertising as well.  It’s a bit more difficult on radio, other than ‘Like us on Facebook!’ or ‘Tell ’em Jim sent you!’.

It’s imperative to think backwards and ask yourself ‘If this marketing campaign generates sales, how would we be able to track that?’  Other than measuring metrics and looking for clues, think about how you can give customers ways to signal to you that they are either driving sales via word of mouth, or that they interacted with your marketing and decided to purchase.  This approach still isn’t perfect or foolproof (for example if a customer had 4 different encounters with you marketing via different channels, it’s difficult to determine which channel by itself truly generated the purchase, if any).  But it gives you a headstart.

Now as for giving customers the tools they need to help convert sales.  This is important because it’s critical to distinguish between giving referral tools to everyone (such as ‘Refer 5 friends and win a $50 gift card!) versus giving tools to only certain customers.

For example, yesterday Kerry talked about the blogger outreach she’s doing with Ford.  And let’s say when she picked up the C-Max, Ford gave her some advice/training on how she could tell others about the car, if she wanted to.  Maybe use this particular hashtag on Twitter, maybe give them this code for an extended test drive, etc.

But what if Kerry got the C-Max and then hated it?  And here’s Ford, that had given her the tools and ability to tell other customers about her experience with the C-Max, without considering that Kerry might hate it!  

On the other hand, what if Ford gives Kerry the C-Max, then a few days later they follow up with her to see how her experience is going.  Kerry communicates to Ford that she’s in love with the car and has already been telling others about it.  At that point, Ford gives Kerry the tools they want her to have to attempt to refer sales to them, etc.  Ford waits until Kerry has identified to the brand that she is pleased with the C-Max.  It’s a bit more work, but from Ford’s end it pays to sort of qualify Kerry as being excited about the C-Max, then giving her the tools and ability to share her excitement with other customers!  For example in Kerry’s example she’s already proactively created her own hashtag to help Ford track conversations she is generating about her experience, she’s also reached out to Ford to see if they could transfer the car to other friends locally and let them drive it for a period.

So with the tracking it pays to first think about what actions you want your marketing efforts to result in.  It could be sales, or perhaps another action that your brand has tracked in the past as being an indicator of a future sale.  For example Ford might want to track test drives that bloggers in its outreach program generate because it has found that in X% of the test drives, a purchase is made.  So Ford may want to track test drives (it also gives them a way to track the conversion rate from test drive referrals from bloggers vs the larger customer base to see if there’s a noticeable difference).

Figuring out what action to track also needs to consider the audience for your message.  For example, if the marketing effort is aimed at a wide audience, like a television spot, something like a hashtag makes more sense because it can help you track activities toward the bottom of the sales funnel, where you’re in the awareness stage versus action.  But with a more precise effort like a blogger outreach, it makes sense to track actions closer to an end sale since the people involved would be able to have more individual contact with potential customers, plus they would likely have a closer relationship with them.

As always, the more planning you invest, the better results you’ll see.

The question I’d like to pose is, should your strategy for what to track vary according to the marketing channel used?  For example, if you run a television spot should you focus on trying to track increased conversation (hashtags) or should a sale be the goal (call now!).  Do certain channels lend themselves to different outcomes and different tracking strategies?  What do you think?

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