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How does your sales & marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.
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Marketing agencies are quick to talk about the metrics that are leading indicators of incoming revenue.


Keyword ranking!


After all, this is the promise of inbound marketing: traffic turns into leads, leads turn into sales.

And yeah, this happens sometimes. But often, these so-called leading indicators are vanity metrics that don’t show you anything beyond clicks. Somehow, the revenue never seems to come out the other end like you’d hoped. 

The false appeal of ‘vanity metrics’

It’s easy to get inflated when you see certain number go up — especially if a number really starts to explode. 

The exact definition of a vanity metric varies depending on who you’re asking, the idea is always the same: if data doesn’t actually connect to your revenue, it can be a number that doesn’t do anything except boost your ego. 

But that definition never felt complete to me. So I’m going to change it. 

Here’s my new definition: 

Any number without context can be a vanity metric. 

Context is what ties a number back to reality. Without context, numbers lack meaning. Even big ones like revenue and profitability can seem more impressive than they are if they’re not considered in context of other things. 

(For example, when I work with a business that boasts big revenue numbers, I’m looking at everything else that contextualizes that figure: debt, turnover, R&D costs, overhead, and a dozen other things.) 

Numbers without context have little meaning.

Putting numbers in context

It’s not that any of the so-called vanity metrics are meaningless. It’s just that you can’t draw assumptions based on just one thing. 

Will some of your traffic turn into leads? Sure. 

But at the same time, fluffy content could draw in thousands of visitors who will never, ever buy from you.  

You'd have loads of traffic but no revenue.

And vanity metrics aren't just about marketing. Even as you get close to a sale, you need to be careful about your assumptions. A ripple in the economy could dilute your close rate and draw out your sales cycle, causing a great looking pipeline to suddenly dry up. 

When I work with companies looking to better track and predict the results of their marketing, I help them to determine the metrics that matter — and then find the adjacent data that can provide context. 

Determine the metrics that matter for your business

Finding the metrics that matter for your business will depend heavily on who you are and what you’re trying to do. 

If you’re a startup that just launched your website, you’re going to care about different things than a company that’s been around for twenty years. If you’re a B2B SaaS company, your focus will be different than a specialized ecommerce business. 

Still, there are things that should apply to every business that has a sales process. 

Below, I’ll outline some of the numbers I tell my clients to track — as well as the vanity checks that can help you make sure you understand what the numbers really mean. 

Remember, always look for context to help any number have more meaning. 

That said, let’s start off with the big one for anyone with a website. 

Organic traffic:

This is seen as the broadest and most bragged-about metric in inbound marketing. While it’s important, it’s also very limited in what it tells you. 

What it shows you

Organic traffic shows you that users are finding your content in search engine results. This means you’ve done well with SEO and that your content is discoverable.

Because people are finding you with search, it means they didn’t necessarily know you even existed before they found you in a search result. This is a big deal.

Why you need to put this number in context

Organic traffic doesn’t show you whether those searchers are qualified (or, frankly, human). It also doesn’t tell you what these site visitors were searching for when they found you. (You’ll need to use another tool like Semrush for that.) You also don’t know if they’re staying on your site. 

Other data points like session length (how long they stayed), page views per session, and bounce rate (what percentage left after reading just that page) can give you a more complete picture of your traffic health.

But traffic only tells part of the story — even when put in context with other numbers. You can have high traffic with zero buying intent and you won’t bring in any revenue. 

Session to contact rate

Session to contact rate is "the number of form submissions divided by the number of unique visitors," according to the official HubSpot definition.

In other words, this number shows what percentage of visitors convert and enter your database. This could mean they fill out a form, sign up for your newsletter, or download a guidebook, among other things. 

What it shows you

Session to contact rate shows how many visitors have gone from reading or viewing a piece of content to taking an action. They've given you their contact information in exchange for an offer or learning more.

Why you need to put this number in context

Session to contact rate is a better indicator of how qualified visitors are, but it still won’t correlate directly to sales. For example, if you’re a B2B business, you don’t know if the person who fills out the form is actually a decision-maker. 

What's more, buyers might not want to convert on an offer before they make a purchase — and most visitors who do convert will not become customers.

Or, you might have a dynamite CTA that gets people to click and submit, but the offer isn’t close enough to what you sell to produce good-fit leads. 

New contacts

New contacts are those visitors that enter your database in any given period of time. They’ve taken an action to engage with your business. That’s great. 

What it shows you

Having a robust database means you’ll have a good list to prospect, send newsletters to, invite to events, etc. And a growing database is a sign that your conversion offers are good ones.  

Why you need to put this number in context

Just today, IMPACT has added 45 new contacts. In a given week, we’re adding hundreds. This feels good and shows us that people are converting on our website, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will buy from us. In fact, it’s likely that zero of the 45 will become customers. 

(And honestly, if you look closely at your contacts, you’ll always find a few In other words, they’re not all valid. Some are just filling out the form to get what they want — and they’ll never turn into customers.)

Sure, these 45 new contacts receive our newsletter and help us feel good about reaching a bigger audience, but if that audience isn’t buying, it’s not doing us much good. 

Sales appointments booked

Now we’re getting into the good stuff. A sales appointment booked is just what it sounds like: There is a meeting set between someone on your sales team and a prospective customer. 

What it shows you

Sales appointments booked are a good indicator of potential revenue. Once you know your close rate, you can extrapolate and get a good idea of how many will turn into sales.

Why you need to put this number in context

In a perfect world, your sales team only meets with qualified, high-intent, good-fit prospects. But that’s not always the case.

Businesses try to qualify their prospects — or do research with tools like ZoomInfo to be sure they’re not wasting their time talking to someone who won’t become a customer. But the reality is that a good number of your sales appointments will not turn into revenue.

Despite your best efforts, you’ll still end up talking to people who 

  • Can’t afford you
  • Aren’t ready to buy now
  • Wouldn’t be a good fit for what you sell

So not all of those sales meetings you’ve booked will be fruitful.

Close rates

Close rates are pretty simple: the percentage of opportunities at a certain stage that turn into closed sales.

If you have a multi-stage sales process, you might determine your close rate only on opps that make it to the second step. So for example, you might have a close rate of 40% for second-step opps.

What it shows you

Close rates tell you how efficiently your team is capitalizing on its opportunities. And once you’ve got your close rate figured out, it becomes easier to evaluate your pipeline and predict what type of revenue you can expect from the deals that are in progress. 

Why you need to put this number in context

The context we need to fully understand this number is remembering how you calculate the number in the first place. Let’s take the same number from above: a 40% close rate on second-step opps.

That sounds great, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Maybe a high number of prospects never make it to the second step of your sales process. 

Maybe out of every 100 sales appointments booked, only 30 make it to the second meeting. Once they’re there, you’ve got a decent close rate, but now you’ll need to dig into how you’re qualifying leads and why so many people are dropping out after the first cal. That’s how you can truly contextualize the number.

Always seek more context

As a business coach, I’m often in the position of popping people’s ego bubbles. 

We all enjoy the dopamine hit that comes from seeing a big number on a spreadsheet. My job is to put those numbers in context so my clients don’t take their eyes off the ball.

Your blog post got 10,000 page views? Cool. How many became contacts?

Your new YouTube Short has been viewed 1,200 times? Cool. How many viewers converted?

You’ve booked 15 new sales meetings this month? Cool. How qualified are those prospects?

Any time you’re looking at a single number and drawing conclusions, stop. Find all the adjacent data so you can establish context and determine the real meaning.

And if you want to learn more about how I teach clients to use data to make better decisions, join me for one of our free monthly consulting sessions to talk about what you’re seeing on the front lines.

See you then. 

Free Assessment:

How does your sales & marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.

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