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Last week we discussed how KPIs empower employees and drive results. Today we're going to look at setting up KPIs.

Here’s the 3-step process I’ve used to fix the original problem of my team not taking ownership of their tasks. This framework can be used by any entrepreneurial marketer and applied to almost any marketing strategy.

 

Step 1: Set up the right KPIs that connect to core business metrics

Of course, KPI-driven management is worthless if you’re not focused on the right metrics. Every KPI should be:

1. Specific & measurable

There’s no point having a KPI that can’t be measured. Here are just two examples:

Example #1

“How much impact did backlinks have on organic traffic?”

NOT measurable. “Impact” is vague and ambiguous. On the other hand…

Number of backlinks acquired and amount of organic traffic

...these are measurable, and valid KPIs. This is something you can put a specific number on.

Example #2

Number of successful integration partnerships

NOT measurable. “Successful” can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. You have to define your KPIs, like this:

Amount of traffic from integration partner sites and paid customers resulting from it

This is a specific, measurable KPI. Success isn’t open to interpretation; it’s a black and white number.

NOTE: Keep in mind that “every KPI is a metric, but not every metric is a KPI.” For more on the difference between measures, metrics, and KPIs, check out this excellent post over at Grow, or this one from Klipfolio.

2. 100% relevant to the individual’s task

A KPI should be something that your team member can directly correlate to their work. “I did X and it resulted in Y.”

For example, if you’re a content marketer responsible for influencer outreach:

Incorrect KPI: amount of traffic from promoted blog posts

This isn’t a valid KPI, because you’re just responsible for influencer outreach, not all tactics. Your KPIs should be laser-focused on your specific task:

Correct KPI: number of influencers contacted, traffic and conversion rates from those specific campaigns

Here the result of your individual effort is crystal clear. This is a valid KPI.

3. Ties back to the main business goal

While KPIs should be relevant to individual tasks, their connection to the overall goal should also be clear.

Say, for example, a virtual assistant collects email addresses of influencers, which are in turn passed along to a content marketer, who then contacts the influencers, which ultimately results in traffic to our blog posts.

In this example, the number of influencers contacted may be a valid KPI for the virtual assistant, but the real impact on the business is demonstrated in the number of paid customers that result from traffic driven to our blog posts by the influencers.

In this way, we can connect a team member’s specific KPI to revenue for the business.

 

 

This part is critical because it gives each team member a sense of purpose and ownership, and allows them to see their own individual contribution to the company’s success.

So, every KPI should meet these three criteria. But with so many metrics to choose from, how do you determine which ones are really worth focusing on? Here’s how I set up KPIs within each marketing strategy:

First, I look at each marketing strategy and determine the main outcome desired. For content promotion, it’s the amount of traffic to blog posts each month. For SEO, it’s the amount of organic traffic.

Second, I break down the main outcome into smaller wins that lead to that outcome.

For traffic to blog posts, for instance, these could be potential KPIs:

  • No. of influencers emailed and conversion rate (how many shared your article via their email list, social media, etc.)

  • Traffic from social media channels

  • Average no. of places where an article is shared out by a team member

  • Overall traffic to promoted blog posts

And for amount of organic traffic, these could be potential KPIs:

  • No. of backlinks acquired

  • No. of keywords (>200 search volume) we are ranking for on page 1

  • No. of featured snippets

Third, I find which of these KPIs fit into each team member’s role and assign it to them

NOTE: I want to be clear, I don’t claim to be an expert on KPIs. I’m simply sharing my experience and documenting what works for me. If you want to really dig deep into this stuff, there are a ton of excellent blogs for doing just that, like Geckoboard, Chargify, ChartMogul, etc.

 

Step 2: Set up a periodic mutual goal and a deadline (do NOT do as much as you can)

I hate the as-much-as-you-can philosophy. There are two major problems with this expectation:

  1. It really stresses people out because they’re working all the time

  2. There’s less output because there’s no end in sight

Before I adopted this model for managing based on KPIs, my team members and I lived this kind of hell. One month we’d get 5 influencer mentions and the next month we’d get 0. Then the next month, we’d get 2 mentions. All the while we were scrambling for everything we could get. It was disorganized and demoralizing. With no real target, there was nothing to aim for. And imagine this from my team member’s perspective: if you’re not working toward a specific goal, it’s hard to stay motivated, and productivity declines.

Fortunately, I realized this early on and we started setting periodic goals for every team member. It keeps us focused and our priorities aligned.

Goals should be mutual

Keep in mind that these goals should not be dictated by YOU alone as the manager. Goals should be set mutually with your team member so that it’s something both parties want to achieve. If there’s no agreement that goals are relevant (or even remotely realistic), why on earth would you expect someone to stay motivated or productive?

Here are the questions I ask my team member before setting a goal:

(We’ll use link-building as an example — also note that it’s helpful to review previous KPI performance and have a rough goal in mind before having this conversation)

1. How many links do you think you can collect in the coming quarter?

They give a number. Let’s say 30.2

2. I add 30% on top of that, and ask them, “How about we try and hit this goal?”

In this case, “How about we try to collect 40 links this quarter?”

If they agree, there’s your goal. If they don’t agree, listen to their concerns and try to objectively look at the goal again.

Curious why I add 30% to the goal suggested by them? Check out this video by Google Ventures, and keep in mind that if a goal can be easily achieved, it’s not a good goal. Good goals are really, really hard to achieve, but are achievable with hard work. This is the only way truly going to push yourself.

 

Step 3: Check in bi-weekly on goal progress and make sure weekly / monthly goals are met

Da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa in one sitting. If you’re going to hit your final goal, you’ve got to break it down into monthly, bi-weekly, and weekly goals; and you’ve got to hit each goal to stay on track.

This is where your expertise as a manager comes into play. Don’t expect your team members to hit their goals in one go (even I don’t!)

Instead, I’ve found it most helpful to set up bi-weekly calls with my team members to check in on progress and discuss any challenges. If they’re off goal, I help them solve problems. If they’re on target or even ahead of goal, this is a time to thank them for their hard work so they stay motivated.

Pro Tip: Record the points you discuss in your calls! In a lot of my bi-weekly calls, we talk about pain points and land on 2-3 solutions to those challenges. If you don’t document those solutions, however, there’s no start / end date and thus no accountability. The solutions are forgotten and guess what? You’re right back where you were by the time the next call rolls around. Trust me, it’s frustrating and a complete waste of time! There’s a reason why meeting minutes were invented; it’s time to put them to good use.

Here’s the to-do list template we fill out after every bi-weekly call if any tasks need to be completed. It’s designed such that we can discuss the impact of each task at the end of every bi-weekly cycle.

 

What it means

Managing my team within this KPI-based framework has dramatically transformed our channels’ performance and impact on business revenue. At Hubstaff, we calculate the percentage of customers driven by each marketing channel, and I’m happy to report that my team’s channels account for a significant percentage of our overall monthly new paid customers.

Snapshot of one of my team member’s campaigns (see the conversion rates improvement as well). Red represents pre-KPI era, green represents post-KPI

Beyond its impact on the bottom line, however, this framework has also greatly reduced stress on me as a manager. More than anything, I love how my team members take ownership of their KPIs. This isn’t just evident in their hard work; it’s also on display in the frequent messages I receive that demonstrate that kind of ownership.

Here are just a few examples:

Team members owning up to a not-so-spectacular month

Team members scolding me for not doing my own tasks correctly (it’s a two-way street, after all, and this keeps me accountable to the team)

Team members suggesting further improvements to their KPIs (this message is from one of my virtual assistants)

This stuff works, and while it might not happen overnight, I’m confident that by following this 3 step process, you can successfully implement KPIs to more effectively manage any marketing strategy.

But enough about what’s working for me and Hubstaff… I want to hear about YOUR experience with KPIs. Are you using KPIs to manage your marketing strategies? What have you found most (or least) helpful? I’d love to get your insights — please share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Madhav Bhandari is a marketing manager at Hubstaff, a time tracking software that integrates with Salesforce. He helps acquire customers with high ROI marketing experiments, action focused analytics and product iterations. You can find more of his work on his personal blog.