4 Ways Marketers Can Drive Revenue—And Prove It

It’s hardly breaking news that marketing leaders have become more empowered–-and their results, more measurable--than ever before. 

In fact, any good marketer these days should be able to answer questions like these in his or her sleep:

“How many page views did your latest white paper garner?”

“How many sign-ups resulted from your latest Twitter contest?”

“How ‘engaging’ was last week’s webinar?”

But I have one last question for you: How much revenue did each of those activities generate?

[Insert record-scratch halt here.] 

Now you’re thinking, “Revenue? Well…I know we delivered 548 leads to sales last quarter, which was a record high…”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but that answer isn’t good enough anymore. Especially for your CEO, who doesn’t think in terms of engagement or leads, but rather, in cold, hard cash. 

Now, imagine being able to answer that last question absolutely down to the penny. Knowing which campaigns are performing, which are not, and being able to base future marketing investments on this information. For any company that wants to grow fast, being able to do so is imperative. And it’s not impossible. Far from it! 

So, what can marketers do today to drive revenue and earn a coveted seat at the revenue table? Here are four things you can do now to make an immediate impact on your company’s revenue trajectory:

1. Embrace–-no, love-–today's new buyer.  Today’s buyer, whether it’s for a 3-D flat-screen TV or a multimillion-dollar defense contract, knows more about what they’re looking for than ever before. That’s because the Internet has turned the way we make buying decisions on its head. We no longer rely on a sales representative to educate us. Instead, we do the research ourselves, turning to a multitude of online resources (review sites, social media, user forums, white papers, news, webinars) to find this information. 

In order to adapt, businesses must embrace this reality and engage us across these channels by publishing content, establishing review/user resources, and making an effort to regularly inform us via social sites. Marketers need to both influence and track our buying decisions as early as possible, in as many ways as possible.

2. Scrap "sales" and scrap "marketing"--instead, think "revenue cycle." The changing buying process above is part of a new reality and key concept you must embrace to succeed. It’s called the "revenue cycle." Essentially, the revenue cycle begins with the first interaction that a potential buyer has with your company, and ideally ends when they become a happy, and even repeat or referring, new customer. 

Many companies are familiar with the concept of a sales cycle, the process that occurs after marketing generates leads and sends them over to sales to "close" through a very metered and measured funnel. While this worked in the world of mass marketing, huge trade shows and big list buying, the world of online marketing and online commerce has changed all of this. From the ability to segment marketing down to some incredible levels, to the rise of content’s importance in search engines, the level of detail and work that goes into marketing can’t just end with hope. 

It’s time to establish an infrastructure in which sales and marketing are fully integrated and equally responsible for revenue generation. Don’t stop your process just because a Twitter contest gave you 100 new web visitors. Follow through: What happens next? And did sales end up converting any of these people to paying customers? If so, how? If not, why? 

There should be a new kind of tenacity about measuring revenue that results from marketing, and viewing all marketing and sales activity as equal parts of a greater revenue cycle. This is a new way of thinking that will transform your company in an incredible way. 

3. Form a revenue team.  A "revenue cycle" means more than just tacking marketing onto the front of an existing sales process with a few new metrics and calling it a day. Rather, it requires sales and marketing to work together and collaborate around important activities from one point to the next. 

For example, start by establishing common definitions for critical terminology, terms that marketing and sales might be using completely differently to the detriment of their own revenue performance. Even terms like "lead," "suspect," and "sales-ready" can mean one thing for a high-energy marketer and another for a stressed-out sales rep just trying to reach quota. 

Reporting together is equally as important. Work with your sales peers to decide on dashboards and metrics that will matter most when you’re in front of the CEO and CFO. While "feel-good" metrics like number of leads collected at trade shows, Twitter followers, or webinar attendees are important for marketers to track, they lack impact at the executive level. You should be thinking "opportunities" rather than "leads" and "investment and return" instead of "cost and spend." Above all, you should frame all activity, even from marketing, in terms of revenue, cash, profit, and growth. Deciding together on performance terms and metrics that clearly show each team’s impact on the top-line numbers is a huge step forward.

Finally, have at least a weekly check-in with your sales peers to see how your own demand generation efforts are going in their world. Are leads being passed to sales actually ready for outreach, or is sales frustrated and instead spending time searching out names to add to their databases? Is there any feedback from prospective buyers? Maybe the white paper you published is lacking content that only the sales team has heard about. Viewing these "little things" as important as the big agenda items will go a long way in creating mutual respect, collaboration, and a sense that everyone is part of "The Revenue Team" in your business. 

4. Streamlining your revenue toolkit.  With so many activity demands for marketing, the number of tools and plug-ins competing for use has exploded. From multi-client Twitter platforms to Google Analytics, email-marketing systems, content hubs, search-engine marketing (SEM) and more, the solutions available for marketers are as fragmented in nature as the audience types themselves. But for marketers today, getting a clean read on how much demand is being generated at a high level, knowing which leads are most ready to purchase, and associating this data with actual sales that have closed are the big-picture metrics that matter most. 

And thankfully, a new set of broader solutions that help support better revenue performance management are becoming available, in addition to innovative developments from CRM leaders on the best way to measure the success of sales and marketing alignment.

While it’s not quite completely "set it and forget it," these systems enable companies to communicate with customers and prospects in new, automated, and trackable ways. They also come with reporting and analytics modules to help marketing prove their contribution to the top line and answer those key revenue-impact questions.

We know this stuff works because we’ve seen it in our own endeavors. In fact, we’ve grown our own company by more than 1,400% in the last three years, and a couple months back, we were named the fastest-growing private company in Silicon Valley. We did this buy aligning sales and marketing, and measuring the revenue impact to make changes that helped us grow.

Intelligent and revenue-minded marketing is more important than ever for any company looking to grow in 2012. Our own numbers show 80% of our business is touched by marketing in some way (that’s compared to a norm of 20%) and that half of our booked business is from so-called "slow leads," the kind that take time and nourishment, which supports the new type of buyer laid out above.

2012 presents a massive opportunity for marketers to reinvent themselves as a core part of a company’s revenue machine. It’s time for marketers to step up to the plate and make their organizations key contributors to top-line growth.

Author Phil Fernandez is President and CEO of marketing software company Marketo. You can follow him on Twitter at @philf1217.

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[Image: Flickr user zen]

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