by: Joseph Mann 

With marketing accountability paramount, business dashboards are everywhere these days. It makes sense to have the necessary dials to tell us how fast we're going (to make sure we're putting enough distance between ourselves and the competition) and to have the marketing equivalent of an in-dash GPS system to keep from turning down the wrong alley in a bad neighborhood, so to speak.

The problem is, just as all the fancy-schmansy gadgets appearing in our cars today are enough to confound drivers who should be paying attention to the road, the glitz of marketing dashboards can be dangerous in the hands of otherwise intelligent executives, driving them and the business toward a head-on collision.

I once received an email from a former client bubbling with excitement at the latest canned monthly report from their web analytics provider. "We're doing great - page views and hits are up for the third month in a row!" gushed the client. In fact, a deeper look at the underlying data showed that while overall page views and hits were up, visits from their target demographic declined precipitously. I'm also reminded of protracted wrangling with another client over their decision to rely solely on stock Nettracker reports versus an integrated analytics methodology to truly get a pulse on their business growth (I ultimately lost this battle).

It's not the clients' fault nor can we really blame well-intentioned web analytics providers. Those pretty charts and graphs just put too much unfiltered data in front of people whose job is not to interpret it in a meaningful way. So much of what we get from stock solutions is what information design guru Edward Tufte calls "chartjunk" - visual overstimulation that only obscures the true meaning of the data (sometimes with very real and deadly results). While they tell us a lot about the technical aspects of running a web site, these standardized packages do not go far enough towards determining how well we are impacting the opportunity pipeline by driving demand within a business’ target audiences. They keep a site up and running, but don’t provide true marketing and business development insight.

And I don't believe it is possible for even the best software package to do so. Web sites and other components of the marketing mix must be backed by a solid methodology for tracking and analyzing prospect traffic and behavior and then presenting it in a way for business stakeholders to take away actionable information. That's the job of the professionals in today's marketing department...when clients and bosses let us do it.

Unfortunately no single solution provides a complete picture or tracks the Key Performance Indicators relevant and unique to every business. The challenge is to link anonymous traffic to real people, determine if those people are qualified targets, track those targets through their many visits to an Opportunity Pipeline Web Site, and analyze behavior to determine the depth of interest and readiness to buy. Find a way to accomplish that, and not only will the business grow, but there will be a whole lot less blood on that marketing dashboard.

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