There’s a disconnect between what we say as B2B executives and marketing leaders, and how we act on the metrics we ask for and celebrate. We love to use inspirational quotes and talk about topics like account-based marketing (ABM), agile marketing, digital marketing, or being customer led. We say we like risk takers and want to be innovative and disruptive. And, in almost all cases, we genuinely mean it. We really do.

Yet, we often rush into action and perpetuate cultures that sacrifice curiosity and continuous improvement for the sake of satisfying near-term wants. We end up getting sidetracked by “bright and shiny” vanity metrics, the proverbial hockey stick stats that go up and to the right, and lose sight of the metrics that matter.

According to a recent TrackMaven study, almost 51% of marketers are focused on metrics that aren’t tied to leads or sales. If our job is to feed the sales funnel, this doesn’t bode well.

Avoiding this all starts with asking the right questions. Are we seeking answers to some core, fundamental questions that connect our brand and products to what our prospects and customers really need? Are we building a culture around metrics that matter?

You can’t rewire your approach to marketing if you don’t know where the wiring is. While sex and sizzle can feed into overall awareness around our brands and products, impressions alone are just part of the sales funnel. That means it’s important to know how and if campaigns are connecting with the right audiences—and whether they’re leading to sales.

It’s time. It’s time to embrace metrics that suck (or just don’t seem quite right), learn from them, and focus on building real business impacts. With that, here are four ways to change the way we look at marketing performance.

1. Change the narrative.

Don’t wait for quarterly reviews. Increase the frequency that your team asks foundational questions and (honestly) looks at metrics and engagement scores. Refuse reports or discussion that hide poor performance or show a campaign that isn’t reaching the right audiences.

Boldly start reporting on the good (and not so good) to your C-level leadership teams. It’s important to coach leadership to become accustomed to seeing you as a marketing leader who shows data-driven insights that are real and authentic.

Change the narrative and the way you, your team, and your agency speak about ROI and metrics so people start to get excited about how you can improve and use your money more efficiently.

2. Ask the right questions.

Most of us have good instincts when it comes to either setting the right “marketing foundation” (people, processes, and technologies), or interjecting new capabilities primed for growth or disruption. But, wow, do we complicate our efforts.

If we take the time to understand our businesses, customers, market landscapes, and competitors, everything falls into place. Here are some questions we ask at Bulldog with each and every client:

  • What problem are we trying to solve (or what opportunity are we trying to create)?
  • How is success measured?
  • Who is this important to? Why?
  • What is the cost of doing nothing?
  • What is our unique point of view or competitive advantage? Why?

As with anything in B2B, how we answer these questions will inevitably evolve. We can always do better—and be better.

3. Seek out the real causes and effects.

Deploy the “power of three” and ask “Why?” three times as your team looks to understand why you aren’t getting the right business decision-maker (BDM) to engage with your content. Executives can ask for more from their teams and agencies by not just requesting vague “performance” analysis, but also demanding clear explanations for how content and campaigns being developed help solve for “x” business problem.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself (or your agency):

  • Are we looking at our content and being honest about what’s not working and then seeking to understand why before we abandon it altogether?
  • Do we spend more time touting media impressions than digging into where our digital journeys are broken or could be improved?
  • Are we feeding the top of the funnel only to have opportunities stall somewhere else?

Always ask for recommendations on how to continuously improve. Every metric or indicator that raises an eyebrow should be followed by an active discussion about how to improve. Constantly monitor and test your campaigns and initiatives. The great thing about being a marketer today is we can test and measure and tinker with everything. Expectations should be set internally and with clients that all content—unless explicitly stated otherwise—can and should be updated and improved based on analytics.

4. Know when to fold ’em.

Be honest with your team, agency, and leadership when something really isn’t working. Your audience may not want to hear about you and your offering. They may not be ready to give you their name. But it’s important to make the call when it’s “just time.”

Too many marketing efforts continue well past their natural shelf life. Be like CSI: [insert city] and always forensically look at what can be learned from a failed or “end-of-life” campaign and activity. Chances are you learned something rich about your target audiences. Maybe you learned that events are good for sales but hard to measure ROI. Or that there’s a big disconnect between the leads marketing is generating and how sales is moving forward with them (that’s a great time to look at sales enablement!).

Final thoughts

Businesses aren’t alone in focusing on the wrong performance metrics. Agencies are notorious for touting reach, eyeballs, and inflated social metrics instead of digging deeper. This odd dynamic exists for a variety of reasons: quarterly earnings and sales cycles, old-school agency thinking, the inability of many organizations and agencies to think about marketing investment like a portfolio with near-term and long-term investments, and the reality that we didn’t always have the tools we have today.

All that being said, it’s a great time to be a marketer. In today’s world, we can merge creative, technology, and optimization in radical new ways. We shouldn’t fear giving up control to listen and improve the way we connect with our customers and target audiences.

The world is moving fast and is saturated with analytics, insights, and tools. It’s time to think about the culture change that needs to mature along with it. While vanity metrics are nice, they’re becoming too expensive. Curious and courageous marketers are pushing to impact key business objectives: pipeline, loyalty, and revenue targets.