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“Record keeping” sounds incredibly dull. And it can be. But, it is a part of every smart marketer’s daily activities.

Done right, keeping records can be interesting and enlightening. There are thousands of tools and software options that track analytics and measure marketing activities. Most enhance the visual aspect of measurement, in part providing new perspective on our data, and in part by simply making it feel “friendlier” to view.

My recommendation?

Use a simple spreadsheet: either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

Step One: List Your Marketing Programs

In the first column, track the “Marketing Activity”. This simply refers to any initiative you begin. Keep the record in this file as a simple name that is clear to you. List all existing and upcoming initiatives before moving forward.

If any depth is needed here or in other columns, right-click on the cell and click “Insert Comment”.

Step Two: Identify Key Metrics To Track

The second column will be your primary metric to track progress for this activity. In selecting the primary metric, I recommend you consider the criteria of:

  1. What can you reliably track?
  2. How close to the point of sale can you get? And…
  3. Will this metric receive enough volume to draw conclusions from?

It is ideal to track sales made from the activity, provided that you can track this accurately and that you receive enough sales to draw conclusions from this metric with confidence. This is particularly true for direct-response marketing activities.

Secondarily, leads generated or cost per lead generated may provide more volume and reliability and can be considered your key sales-oriented metric. This is often a better fit when marketing for service providers, who may have a historical figure to calculate lead-to-close ratio, shedding light on true economic value derived from the activity.

A Warning About Vanity Metrics

Stay away from “vanity metrics”, like Followers, Likes, Reach and Impressions. You can watch them, and sometimes it is helpful. However, you don’t want to measure success in marketing by non-revenue correlated figures.

Once you identify the primary metric, you can move forward. If there are two metrics that would be most helpful to you, create a following column for the “Secondary Metric”; but limit metrics to those in this spreadsheet.

Step Three: Know Your Financials

Your information to follow the metric(s) is “Financial Investment”.  The initial column can be titled “Cash Outlay” or “Investment”, referring to the initial investment in the project for development. Incorporate any costs incurred in setup, new technology installs, research conducted, and collateral created.

The next financial record column is “Ongoing Costs”. This is another area that varies by marketing activity, but you may incorporate platform costs, technology costs, personnel costs, and advertising placement costs.

The final column can be titled “Revenue Generated”.  *This may be something you have to manually track and update. You may also use a formula, depending on the metrics you are tracking, such as “Leads Generated x Conversion Rate x Average Sale Price”.

Bring It All Together

In short, you are looking at the following for each marketing activity in your organization on a single spreadsheet:

  • Primary Metric: Sales Made
  • Secondary Metric: Leads Generated
  • Financial Investment
    • Cash Outlay / Investment: $
    • Ongoing Costs: $
  • Revenue Generated: $

This tells you what sales activity occurred, the costs to generate those sales, and the Return-On-Investment. Why I like to track it in this simple manner is simply because it tends to remove the noise that comes with tools like Google Analytics, the distraction of vanity metrics, and the segregation of marketing activities.

Title this document “Measures of Success” and keep it updated on a regular basis: weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. [Note: You will want to align metrics so Sales Made reflects the Ongoing Costs in the same time period, for example.]

Even if you have software to automate this for you, try to use this more manual approach for a while. Forcing yourself to slow down and think can often be pivotal in your progress, particularly when dealing with data, and the monotony of good record keeping.

It’s boring. It’s monotonous. It’s productive. It’s helpful. It works.

Get a copy of the “Measures of Success” template here. (no opt-in required)

This article is an adapted excerpt from “Getting Digital Marketing Right” (David J. Bradley, 2015).

David J. Bradley, MBA is the managing director of Bbg, Inc. and a published author. He regularly contributes to several publications and has been featured on Business Insider, Investopedia, PR Daily, Capital One’s Spark Business and more. Connect with David on Twitter: @DavidBradleyMBA.