Hey Business Owners, Track Your Sh*t or Die

Posted on: September 22, 2012

If you’re a business owner and you’re not accurately tracking your advertising and marketing, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette. The long term odds of business success are NOT in your favor. Ten years ago, I could understand it. Back then, ad tracking was difficult, expensive, and not all that accurate. Today, there are no excuses (especially as every business shifts their marketing to the ever-so-easy to track web).

Without accurate tracking, you’re going to make incredibly stupid marketing decisions – and you’re going to make them often.What’s worse, without tracking, most of the time, you won’t even realize you’re doing it. Let’s face it – even with accurate tracking in place, you’ll still make some idiotic decisions! But, with the data derived from tracking, at least you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes. Lessons can’t be learned when you don’t have the numbers. As we say at Blue Corona, “better data = better results.”

Every week, I have at least one conversation with a prospect that goes something like this:

Business Owner: So, if I give you $2,500 per month for online marketing, how many leads and sales am I going to get?

Me: In order for me to intelligently answer that question, there’s some information I need from you first. Let’s start with the basics – How many visits does your site get each month from the non-branded organic search traffic segment?

Business Owner: Uhhhh, what? Where would I find that?

Me: In your Google Analytics account or whatever website analytics program you’re using.

Business Owner: I don’t think I have that.

Me: Then… I guess you also don’t know what your website’s visit-to-lead conversion rate is?

Business Owner: My what-to-what ratio?

Me: Listen, in order for me to tell you what a monthly investment of $2,500 in online marketing is going to get you in terms of leads, I’m going to FIRST have to help you get some key numbers. Initially, we’re going to have to devote some of your budget to getting accurate tracking in place, identifying your key metrics, and getting some baseline figures.

Business Owner: Tracking? I don’t want tracking, I want leads! I want to hire someone to get me more leads… not track and analyze stuff. Business has really dropped off and I need to get my phone ringing – like yesterday!

Me: (thinking… Your doctor must loathe you) Listen, there’s a right way to do this and there’s every other way. I’m telling you what you need to do – what I would do if it were my money on the table (what I do when my money IS on the table).

Since you seem to have it all figured out, riddle me this – which option is going to be a better use of YOUR money – investing in traffic OR optimizing your site’s visit-to-lead conversion rate AND then paying for traffic? By the way, this isn’t a touchy-feely question… it can be answered somewhat definitively… if we have the right data.

Business Owner: I’m not following you.

Me: I know.

Business Owner: Come on… can’t you give me some idea?? You expect me to throw money at you with no promise of the number of leads or sales I might expect to get.

Me: I expect you to look at the case studies detailing my past results – see the variations, but also take note of the overall successes. I expect you to attempt to understand the logic behind what I’m saying. At some point in this process, I expect you to trust that I know exactly what I’m doing and this is the way it works. I have a process – you can’t circumvent it and expect success.

To answer your question and get you pointed in the right direction, I need data you do not have today. It would be like if you hired an accountant to help you with your books, he asks you for your income statements and balance sheets, and you hand him a shoe box full of invoices! What do you think he’d do next? He’d probably charge you to get your stuff set up correctly, collect some data, and then sit down with you to come up with a plan.

What we’re doing is not much different. Once I have the data I need, I can start to set your expectations and paint you a picture. The more data I have, the more accurate and detailed the picture will be.

If you had the right data, we wouldn’t have to have this conversation. I could look at your marketing numbers, in a manner similar to the way your accountant reviews your financials, and tell you how many leads you might expect to get given $X,XXX investment per month. But, you don’t have the numbers we need.

Okay, so… I don’t talk to prospects quite this abrasively (but sometimes I’d like to). Do you see the problem? I’d say a good 98% of the people that call me for help with online marketing do not have the numbers they need to determine what they might get if they invest $XX,XXX in XYZ marketing strategy.

Sure, when asked what $X,XXX investment in online marekting is going to yield I can speculate and shoot from the hip, but why? Why would I do this when, with a small investment in the right analytics tools and some analysis, I can answer much more accurately?

Here’s another frustrating prospect conversation I have FAR too frequently:

Business Owner: I want you to help me get more leads from my website and help me determine whether my other advertising strategies are worth it.

Me: Awesome. I’ve done a quick review of your website, and I think the first thing we’re going to have to do is get accurate tracking set up on your website and get your ads set up to be tracked.

Business Owner: Okay, what do we have to do?

Me: See this phone number on your website? I noticed that this is also the phone number you have printed on your service trucks, in your yellow page ads, etc.

Business Owner: Yeah, that’s our phone number.

Me: Yeah, I get that but because you’re using the same phone number everywhere,  you have no idea how many calls, leads, and sales you’re getting from each marketing source.

Business Owner: Sure I do, my girls ask every caller how they heard about us.

Me: That’s better than not doing anything, but it’s a) insufficent and b) incredibly inaccurate. For example, tell me how many leads Google Organic searches generated for you last month?

Business Owner: I don’t have that number memorized, but I’m sure I have it or can get it.

Me: Listen, this isn’t my first rodeo. I can tell that you don’t have it. Trust me, we need to set up call tracking, call recording, and call tagging in order to help you determine the most effective and efficient way to get more leads from your website AND to accurately identify which other advertising strategies are working vs. those that should be terminated.

In order to help you, I need to see exactly how many calls, leads, and sales came from each advertising strategy and website traffic source. With a call tracking system, we can record your calls. My team will listen to each call and categorize it by type – ex. new lead-appointment, new lead-no appointment, repeat customer-appointment, repeat customer-no appointment, solicitation, etc. By doing this, we’ll be able to run reports and show you which ads and marketing strategies deliver the best return.

Business Owner: You want to what? I don’t want anyone listening to my calls! Can’t we just use my current setup?

Me: If we don’t have someone listening to the calls, how will we ever know how many leads and sales came from say Google Organic search? How will we know whether the issue is that you’re not getting enough leads vs. you’re getting a lot of leads, but they’re not qualified vs. you’re getting good leads, but your people don’t do the best job at converting them?

Business Owner: I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s a way.

Me: Yeah… there is a way… what I’ve proposed to you.

If you own a business and you’re struggling in the current economy, I’m begging you – hire someone or a company to help you track and analyze all of your advertising and marketing. In my experience, marketing waste is one of the biggest opportunities for businesses to increase top line revenue and bottom line profit.

Let me give you a few real examples.

Local Bottled Water Company

DrinkMore Water, a bottled water delivery company serving the greater Baltimore-Washington area, used to invest $120,000+ in yellow page print advertising. They also spent more than $15,000 in online advertisng with the yellow pages. By accurately tracking every single YP print ad as well as the results of the online program with the yellow pages, they were able to confidently eliminate all of it.

At the same time, DrinkMore used the data derived from testing pay per click (PPC) advertising with Google, Bing, and Yahoo and a content marketing campaign (aka SEO), to go “all in” with both strategies (at a time when most of their competitors didn’t even know what PPC advertising was). I spoke with a handful of DrinkMore’s competitors who that DrinkMore was crazy to be spending upwards of $2.00 per click on Google AdWords. The thing is, these competitors only thought that $2.00 per click was expensive because they were not tracking their own website’s visit-to-lead conversion rate.

DrinkMore had an accurate perspective on their visit-to-lead conversion rates (as well as many other important marketing data points) and saw that at $2.00 per click, they were getting new accounts (not leads – sales) at less than half what they were willing to pay! Hence the reason DrinkMore went “all in.”

Plumbers and HVAC Companies

Over the years, I’ve written a number of yellow page case studies. Most of these focused on the bottled water industry; however, I’ve tracked yellow page ads for a number of other companies from a variety of industries. While yellow page advertising might be a complete flipping waste for bottled water delivery companies, it can still produce a positive return for plumbers and HVAC contractors.

The key is to accurately track your ads and and do so using a company other than the yellow pages! In other words, the yellow pages will be happy to provide you with a tracking phone number for your ad. The problem is, their report sucks. They will try to tell you that every call over 30 seconds is a lead. If you paid a company to listen to, and tag or categorize the calls, you’d find that this is hardly the case.

Another problem with using tracked phone numbers provided by the yellow pages is that when you cancel the ad becuase it’s not worth it, they cancel the phone line. While the ad may NOT produce enough results to warrant renewing it, it may produce enough leads that you wouldn’t necessarily want to turn off the phone number. By tracking ads for a number of years, we’ve seen ads that are in books 3-4 years old continue to generate calls, leads, and sales.

I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts…

1. Marketing is never a waste of money if you accurately track your ads.

If an ad works, you’ll see it. You can confidently invest more money in the strategy and test others like it (you should always be tracking and always be testing). But even if an ad doesn’t work, you can take the data and put it in your Marketing Tests binder – filed behind the tab titled: “Shit I’ll Never Do Again” (I actually have a binder with this tab in my office). Over time, these failures become important marketing lessons. Companies that know what they’re doing with respect to marketing, track everything, test constantly, and LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES.

2. It’s not enough to throw analytics on your site and call it a day – You have to track the right things, and analyze them the right way.

As a business owner, you probably like baseball. Go read the book Moneyball (or cheat and watch the movie). Although the book was published forever ago, and there are a million blogs that attempt to distill the business implications from it, business owners still aren’t getting the message. It’s not just about tracking and statistics. You’ve got to start mesuring the RIGHT things. Far too many small business owners still talk about the “hits” their website receives, but in the online marketing world, we refer to hits as “how idiots track stuff.” Too many online marketing companies focus rankings as a measure of SEO success. Rank tracking is valuable, and it is one metric worth measuring, click-thru-rate and conversion rate are far better measures of success.

If you’re a numbers guy, you probably don’t need to hire someone to help you track the right things and analyze them the right way. If you’re not a “data guy”, hire someone that is. A good marketing analytics partner is as valuable (or more) as a savvy accountant.

3. Better data will get you asking better questions. Better questions will transform your business and your life.

Let’s say you track your advertising by asking each person that calls you, how they heard about your business. When you do this, you’re likely to get generic responses – things like: “I found you on the internet” or “I Googled you” or “I saw your website.” The takeaways from generic responses tend to be equally generic. As a business owner, you review your caller surveys and think, “man, I’ve got to invest more in my website.”

Maybe you determine you need a new website because your website doesn’t look at slick as a competitors? I can’t tell you how many times business owners mistakenly re-build their website with a focus on making it “look more professional” only to kill the site’s performance. Equally common is the takeaway, “I’ve got to invest more in the Internet.” This thought is followed by browsing the web and jumping from online marketing trend to online marketing trend. “I’ve got to invest more in the Internet and there’s a movie out about Facebook… I should probably spend some money on social media.” Thinking this way, and plenty of people do, is the absolute worst way to operate.

It’s treating your marketing strategy like this:

Versus coming up with a strategy and planning things out like this:

You’ll get far better results if you accurately track things and create a marketing strategy to stick with for an extended period of time (while tracking and tweaking along the way).

Maybe the title of this post was a bit provocative, but I genuinely believe that we’re entering an age of track it and be data drive or be eliminated. If you run a business and you’re not accurately tracking your advertising and marketing, you’re gambling with your financial future and the future of every single person you employ.

Marketing analytics technology has never been more affordable or more accessible, so stop making excuses and get started today!

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