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Marketing qualified leads, website return visitors, SEO rankings, social media influence, ‘click to open’ ratios … these are just a few of the dizzy array of metrics digital marketers use. The task of measuring and interpreting these numbers to sell more stuff is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as many digital marketing service providers would have you believe.

The biggest problem facing digital marketers today is information overload: the strain of processing and correlating unconnected data signals emanating from multiple sources, signals like website visits, social media clicks, Google search results, YouTube views and many others.

The severity of the information overload problem explains the large number of digital marketing services offering access to marketing insights. With so many moving parts, marketers are struggling to keep up. And with so much on the line, companies are forking over a lot of money to stay ahead of the pack. If you are considering using these services, you need to understand the root cause of the problem so you can focus on achieving your business goals.

Marketers Are Bogged Down by Information Overload

The process starts innocently enough. A prospect fills out a form on your website or signs up for an educational webinar. You store the prospect’s details in your CRM system and start them on a nurture track to promote engagement. So far, so good.

Over time, you collect additional signals, like records of website visits, clicks on emails, and perhaps downloads of content. In parallel, you might assign these prospects a demographic score in your marketing system, a score that uses your buyer persona models to consider values like the person’s job title, company, geography and other markers. You might even track their behavior on your website, by looking at which pages they access and for how long.

In B2B sales, you rarely deal with just one person at any given prospect company. So, you will usually have multiple leads from any given company in your CRM system. Each of these people generate additional signals.

It is easy to see how you can generate reams of raw data very quickly.

On an unrelated track, marketers on your team are also working diligently to improve your website SEO rankings, increase social media activity, grow the number of followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, and elicit additional comments and responses to articles and updates posted.

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Putting the Myriad Marketing Pieces Together

All of the marketing activities described above make it easier for people to find your company, learn about your product, and engage with your salespeople to start a buying process. The million-dollar question is how much time and money should you invest in each activity to maximize sales volume?

This is where the digital marketer’s information overload problem hits the fan. Because correlating all the marketing data collected into a single, coherent picture is impossible. The problem is particularly complex in B2B marketing, where interactions with prospects often take place offline as well, out of view of marketing and CRM software.

The problem is usually impossible to solve because there are too many moving parts. For example, if you improved your SEO rank and ran several social ads, which one had more impact on an increase in product trial requests (if the requests did not come directly from the ad)? Or, if you see an increase in website activity from people in the same company, how sure can you be it is related to the same sales opportunity?

What is a digital marketer to do? Well, as it happens, trying to see the big picture in systems with many moving parts is not a new problem. It was discovered over 400 years ago in a completely different discipline .…

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The Multi-Body Problem of B2B Marketing

In the 1600s, Isaac Newton was struggling to predict the position of the planets by accounting for the gravitational interaction between each of them. What looked like a straightforward problem turned into one of the thorniest class of physics problems. Known as the “many-body problem,” it explores the properties of systems made up of many interacting particles. This is not just an old problem. In fact, there are multiple many-body problems in modern physics as well.

Unfortunately, no analytical solution has been found for the many body problem. And yet we calculate the position of planets with a high degree of accuracy. In practice, we deal with these problems using approximations and generalizations — and that is the solution for digital marketers as well. Of course, the two problems aren’t mathematically equivalent, but they do a share common issue that too much information makes it impossible to solve either of them analytically. Let’s see how this works.

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Solving the Marketing Many-Body Problem

The many-body problem faced by digital marketers is how to optimize investments in time and money across multiple programs to maximize sales. The key to solving the problem starts with selecting a small number of critical marketing metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) that truly move your business forward. Examples include the number of qualified product trials initiated, the number of (qualified) form completions on your website, or the number of people who attended a webinar and asked to be contacted by sales.

The key to success is to select only those values that help you create a quantifiable sales funnel, by accurately calculating conversion rates from KPI to dollars of closed business. These are the numbers you share with other members of the management team to track the health of the marketing/sales pipeline.

The next step is the tough one: figuring out what caused prospects to take the steps that increased your KPI values. This is rarely straightforward. Marketing analytics folks will say you can assign "influence scores" to marketing programs and adding up the scores tells you how much each one influenced a KPI. This is very difficult in practice. For example, which had more influence on getting someone to sign up for a webinar — a LinkedIn ad or a nurture email? If someone did not click-through to a registration page directly from these programs, it's impossible to know. So here is where we turn to Newton for advice.

The model starts with the market axiom that multiple touch points are needed to prod a prospect to engage. These touch points are created through marketing programs like email nurtures, ads, exposure to content in online magazines and blogs, social ads, offers to download content, keyword search, and even through live events (remember those?).

Here is how to proceed. Focus on one marketing program and keep all the others constant. Tweak the program until you see an improvement. For example, if you increased the number of webinars and kept the other marketing programs the same, if the number of product trial requests increases, you'll know to invest more in webinars. When that tops out, move on to email content programs. Repeat for other marketing channels as well. 

This is not a perfect solution, but if it was good enough for Isaac Newton, it might just be good enough for you as well.