Why Lead Quotas (and Other Vanity Metrics) are Hindering Your Long Term Growth

Marketing is all about the long game, especially when it comes to tactics such as content marketing, SEO, and nurture. If the initial strategy is rushed & if the tactics are executed sloppily, it will fall on its face no matter how many so-called quality leads you’re getting off the bat. So, the mad dash for leads can ultimately hurt more than it helps, especially if it leads to a half-baked strategy.

How does this make lead quotas a vanity metric? First of all, take note that I’m using the word ‘quota’, which indicates a necessary number of leads that are used to define success. Secondly, consider this definition of a vanity metric from Forbes contributor Sujan Patel:

“Vanity metrics are things like page views, number of followers, or the number of downloads of your free report. They make you feel good, but they don’t actually add anything to your bottom line.”

Why You Should Ignore Vanity Metrics and Focus on Engagement

What it comes down to is that having a ton of leads feels good and hitting lead quotas falsely indicates success. If you’re wondering, yes –this is different from what you typically hear. Most of the time, leads are considered the most solid measurement for marketing, a concrete number that cuts through the fluff.

Why Lead Quotas Can Be Damaging

One of the biggest issues with lead quotas is the fundamental misunderstanding of what a lead represents. It can be all too easy to think that a lead is someone who is genuinely interested in your services or products immediately after converting. If you’re performing content marketing as you should be, though, there’s a good chance that when someone downloads your resource, subscribes to your blog, or what not else, they’re likely just interested in your great content.

This is okay.

Focusing too much on lead counts & quotas creates a one-track mindedness that’s unhealthy in marketing. Leads become a sort of ‘end all be all’ for marketing efforts. The ultimate reward. Then, sales or the C-suite asks, if that whitepaper got 100 leads (or 1,000 leads, or 10 leads, whatever they were shooting for), why are sales still flat lining?

The answer is because a lead is typically still very much at the top (or top-middle) of the sales funnel. If they do become a client or customer, it likely still won’t happen for a while. A much healthier way to think about leads is to classify them as part of a developing audience that you can engage and nurture.

What Other Vanity Metrics Should I Know About?Vanity Metrics

Lead quotas are hardly the only—or the most offensive—vanity metric that could be misguiding you. Here are some other ones to watch out for in your reporting:

  • Page views
  • Social followers
  • Report downloads
  • Email open rates
  • Click through rate
  • Audience size

It’s important to note that if the agency you’re working with is emphasizing the metrics above as marketing wins, you should be having serious second thoughts. They either don’t know what they’re doing or they are purposefully not giving you the full picture of their performance.

Additionally, sometimes you’ll run into higher-ups with misguided notions of what it means to be successful in marketing. If you can’t get them to let go of their attachment to vanity metrics, at the very least you should start including more impactful metrics in with the vanity metrics and explain the importance of the more substantial reporting.

And What Metrics Should You be Paying Attention To?

Enough with all of this negativity – if you’re looking to focus on results that matter, engagement metrics are a great place to start. They give a better picture of attraction and behavior that can both show you what is working now and be tied to conversions, sales, and retention later on.

Engagement Metrics

Here are some example web engagement & social engagement metrics you can use to identify how users are consuming your content:

  • Repeat visitors and page views
  • Pages per visit and time on page
  • Bounce rate
  • Comments on blogs/related content
  • Shares of blogs/related content
  • Conversion rate
  • Retweets, especially those with comments added
  • Social mentions (that are genuinely trying to engage in conversation)
  • Engagement rate per social follower

Business Impact Metrics

Business impact metrics are the metrics that ultimately most influence your bottom line. Though this can vary based on business goals, they typically include:

  • Increased sales
  • Increased revenue
  • Business growth

For a real big-picture, full-funnel look at your marketing performance, look at both engagement metrics & business impact metrics. Decide on the metrics that matter most to your business goals. Then, look back and see what user actions and behaviors have been correlated with these later down the line. If possible, try to find data that can be correlated throughout the entire sales cycle for the most robust reporting. You’ll likely find that leads fall somewhere in the middle, which is why they will simply never give you a full scope of marketing performance.

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize

Ultimately, you need to be thinking about the long-term successes of your marketing. No one is saying that you can never look at leads or other vanity metrics.  It can be valuable to know how many followers you have on your social channels or how many downloads your new report got. This doesn’t indicate ultimate marketing success, though, and relying on these types of metrics can take the focus away from what really matters.

The point is not to be overtaken by these vanity metrics. By simply reframing the way you look metrics and the stage at which each type of metric is most important, you can give new life to your marketing and achieve a more accurate, nuanced sense of your performance.

Understand the value of the big picture, understand the value of the long game.


Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Are You a Marketing Artist? to get our take on the balance of creativity and analytics in marketing.

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