Imagine for a second that you run a sales division. Now imagine that your team’s goals are to show up for work, respond to emails, write compelling messages to their prospects and complete projects that their chain of command likes. The metrics they own are superficial, like how many emails answered, how many calls made and so on.

Do you think revenue would suffer with this approach?

You never hear about data-driven sales as a concept, because the “data-driven" part is implied. Sales people live by measuring revenue, tracking the pipeline and having very specific goals that are often times cold, hard, indisputable numbers that everyone -- including Wall Street -- cares about.

Every team has a number to chase, every rep has a number to chase and every rep has predictability in forecasting and influencing this number. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they talk to 30 clients or 300, or if they sell just one big deal or 20 small deals. These are all part of a master equation that drives careers and ultimately adds up to the revenue number.

As the industry starts to get real about big data and we go beyond the flashy buzz words, perhaps a quota-bearing world will become the endgame for marketing as well. This could make every single marketer a revenue-driving growth hacker, using customer experience as their method of choice.

It may not sound as romantic as we would like, but at its essence, big data is the tool that can help us focus marketing teams on cold, hard numbers based on cold, hard data.

Being Accountable for Revenue

Here is why this might seem scary to us marketers: I can agree to have generic goals like “supporting the sales team” and “driving brand awareness.” And in general, meeting these goals is a fairly straightforward process. If I convince the stakeholders I did a good job and I’m marginally better at driving volume of registrations/clicks/whatever, then I’m in good shape.

But tell me that I need to make sure that revenue grows by 50 percent next year and I’ll get worried. Why? Because I don’t know how to influence this. There are too many variables that are not in my control.

The same is true for someone in sales -- the lead pipeline is not in their control, neither is lead quality, but they still need to do the best they can with what they’ve got. If their pipeline is low, they get creative, or get aggressive and knock on marketing’s door. If they don’t, they go home without commission. It’s a model that works and it’s a model that works well. The number motivates them, it’s their north star and they have adjusted their tactics even if the equation is not exactly in their favor.

This needs to become the case for marketing. And yes, it will change everything -- from organizational structures and team structures to compensation schemes. What drives businesses forward is healthy competition and specific goals.

As someone who has been a part of both a sales team and a marketing team, I don’t think collaboration will suffer if projects are measured properly -- in fact, the opposite. Collaboration is part of human nature. Again, look at sales teams: with clear separation of responsibilities and territories they collaborate and learn from each other.

Where Big Data Come In?

Now you might be thinking, “Wait, is she implying that sales is more data driven than marketing?” That’s not exactly the case. Marketers are diligent about data. But it is much easier for sales to track revenue and that’s why it became the standard. They know exactly who is responsible for which client and exactly who the client is. Getting to the number of deals won and deals lost at the end is a simple matter of data entry.

Not so for marketing. Marketing does a lot of powerful things, but the key here is “A LOT.” We also do them to a very wide, mostly anonymous audience. How someone’s impressions on something I worked on today can impact their decision to buy six months from now is a connection that is very hard to make.

Learning Opportunities

But we do have the technology to make it more precise and this is exactly where big data comes into play. Millions of customer journeys can be described to an artificial intellect and this intellect can reduce them to a simple number -- how much impact each step has on goals, most specifically, revenue. This is generally done through the process of marketing attribution which measures precisely how much every single marketing effort tips the scale in favor of success.

So far we’ve been good at measuring volume: clicks, visits, impressions, registrations, etc. We have also been really good at measuring velocity: time on page, click-through rate and so on. What Big Data can add to the picture is really very simple -- it adds a measure of value. So that next time a goal for a webinar would be not to get 1,000 registrations, but to attribute to say $1 million in revenue.

It’s not an exact science. Customer journeys are complex, non-linear, influenced by group dynamics and scattered in time. It will be extremely difficult to precisely calculate ROI down to every penny. The trick is to think in relative terms and not in absolute terms -- judge things based on how they compare with other things, or with the average.

If you come up with the right model and if you have the right tooling then yes, we can make marketing into a number-chasing sport. With the incredible reach that digital marketers have globally this can impact growth as every single person can be diligently thinking of new and innovative tactics to impact the bottom line.

Now you might think this is a bad thing. Marketing is about creativity and collaboration and not chasing numbers. But I think it’s a great thing. If I am accountable for a number and my take-home pay depends on it, I will make sure that there is zero waste in what I do. I will chase down every glitch in the system, every broken conversion rate, every lost sales deal in order to fine tune the process. Creativity, collaboration and the most fine-tuned, personal customer experiences are just going to be a by-product of that because that’s the only way to get there.

Ever wonder why a sales report is a lot more Excel and a marketing report is a lot more PowerPoint?

Marketers don’t know exactly HOW what we do influences the results, but we can convince people that it does. Sales is a much more precise science, because it has the benefit of relying on simpler math and therefore has more precise predictability into the results and ways to set goals. Big data is starting to give marketing that power and it could carry massive implications to how companies work.

Now it’s just a matter of who decides to step on the innovation curve.