7 Steps towards a Marketing KPI Dashboard

Peter Desmyttere
May 3, 2019
⏱ 17 min. read

More than ever, marketing has the opportunity to prove its impact on business success. This article explains how marketers – thanks to a marketing KPI dashboard – will get the respect they deserve and take their place as an integral part of the machine that delivers leads, revenue, profit and growth. In 7 steps we will go through the logic and technique behind the KPI dashboard which will become a primary tool for monitoring and decision-making within the marketing team.

As of today, marketing is an important strategic component of corporate policy. However, marketers and marketing teams are still too often unfairly pushed into the corner of 'sales support' or 'creative department'. Marketers will only strengthen their strategic position within companies if they leave ad hoc planning and the single focus on operational marketing behind. 

That is only possible with a strategic marketing plan and a KPI dashboard. Such a dashboard provides insight into the results on so-called Key Performance Indicators and maps out the ROI of their operational marketing in detail. Only then will the marketers have a say and play a role at the strategic level within the company.

There's only one way to see if your marketing works: in a dashboard.

Marketing figures are everywhere: in Google Analytics, in CRM tools, in e-mail marketing software, in Marketing Automation technology, in dashboards or Excel sheets provided by the marketing agency, ... Monitoring all data independently is a difficult task. If the KPIs are so fragmented, getting a good overview of the figures and ROI is even harder. The primary function of a KPI dashboard is therefore to centralise marketing measurement points. 

However, an excellent KPI dashboard goes further: it visualises the measurement points in such a way that the marketer can immediately translate into ROI. Only then does the KPI Dashboard become a strategic marketing tool that helps you make decisions or make strategic adjustments. Centralising, visualising and analysing are three golden rules for those who work with a KPI dashboard. 

Concrete benefits for marketing teams and marketing agencies

Before we start the roadmap, I will outline the most important advantages of a KPI dashboard for marketers who are active in companies and agencies:

  • It forces you to keep the focus on objectives, measuring points and results.
  • It centralises all measurement points available in different data sources.
  • It visualises the progress of the results so that you can keep your finger on the pulse and take proactive steps. By the way, did you know that research by Social Science Research Network shows that 65% of us need a visual basis to process data?
  • It translates the investments in time and money into results and ROI.
  • Within the marketing team, it motivates yourself, your colleagues and your external partners. Within the marketing agency, it is an absolute incentive for the customer.
  • You speak the language of the management, which relies mainly on numbers for decisions, not on emotions or gut feeling. They require or demand dashboards.

Convinced? Great! Let's go through the methodology in 7 steps to set up a marketing KPI dashboard. I have translated every step into a particular question. You have to answer that question to complete the process towards a professional and workable KPI dashboard.

Step one. What do you want to measure?

Without goals, objectives, critical success factors, measurement points or success indicators, a dashboard is pointless. In this article, I will use a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) as a collective term for these terms. In practice, people use them interchangeably, but in theory, they mean the same thing: they are an answer to the question "What do you want to measure?".

The distinction between 'basic metrics' and 'in-depth metrics'

If you are new to data visualisation in a KPI dashboard, don't fall into the trap called 'overconfidence'. It is tempting to draw up a list of KPIs, without taking into account the workload to pick them up somewhere, to map them out and to analyse them. 

Start by keeping your dashboard 1.0 strategic and precise, so you don't get demotivated by data overload. In this phase, define your primary measurement points in advance: KPIs that are necessary to monitor your marketing policy. Later on, you can add KPIs to your dashboard step-by-step and evolve into sub-dashboards (see further in step 4) that map out specific measurement points and enable in-depth analyses.

Common marketing KPIs are:

  • cost per click on online advertisements
  • social media connections
  • total number of visitors to the website
  • visitors to the website via organic traffic (SEO)
  • visitors to the website via ads (SEA, Social Ads, ...)
  • visitors to the website via e-mail marketing
  • the total number of conversions on the website (downloads, clicks, completed forms, chats, registrations,...)
  • incoming leads via phone, mail, chat or apps
  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
  • cost per lead
  • conversion on leads 
  • number of orders or deals
  • Cost per deal (Customer Acquisition Cost)
  • average deal value
  • customer lifetime value (LTV)

You'll find an extensive overview of marketing KPIs in this previous article. To put structure and methodology in this process, you can already use the basis below.

Put your KPIs in categories

You may have noticed that the above list of standard KPIs is in a particular order; it matches the logic of a sales and marketing funnel. It starts with KPIs that are at the top of the marketing funnel, which are mainly used to increase your brand awareness and to increase the number of visitors to the website. 

The advantage of working on such a division early on is that you immediately lay the foundation for the structure of your KPI dashboard. Also, in the dashboard, particular KPIs that belong together will be visualised closely together. The content marketer or digital marketer will see his/her KPIs correctly bundled, while the sales director - mainly interested in leads - can analyse his/her KPIs at a glance.

Create your KPI list immediately in categories. They can, for example, follow the internal organisation or the logic of the sales and marketing process. The latter has my personal preference. Within our company, the KPI dashboard has four categories: Reach, Act, Convert and Engage. Or, for those of you who like acronyms, the RACE model of Smart Insights. 

Step two. Where do you get the data?

You read it in my introduction: marketing figures are everywhere. Counter this with your KPI dashboard, which brings all KPIs together in one central place. Before answering the question "In which tool are we going to build the dashboard?" (see further in step 3) it is advisable first to define where you get the data. 

Once you have the list of data sources, it is easier to check whether there is a link between your data source and the tool for your KPI dashboard when choosing your weapon. After all, this automatic data retrieval is the big difference between an Excel dashboard and a software tool for KPI dashboards. 

The most important data source in marketing is undoubtedly Google Analytics. However, it would be a shame to build your KPI dashboard only on data that is in Google Analytics. In the diagram below, I show the data sources that are of crucial importance within our company for about ten KPIs.

Step three. In which tool will you build the dashboard?

Entrepreneurial marketers too often start with this step. I hope the above two steps have convinced you not to. It is much more convenient to use your list of KPIs and data sources to make the step to a shortlist of dashboard tools. I distinguish three categories:

  • Do-It-Yourself dashboards
  • Marketing Technology tools with an integrated KPI dashboard
  • Specific tools for Business Intelligence and dashboarding

DIY Dashboards: the perfect tool for geeks

Some of us don't like to be pushed into a framework when designing a KPI dashboard. These so-called geeks (digital technology experts or enthusiasts) prefer to start from a blank sheet that they assemble and arrange step-by-step. Advantages of these dashboards: the total freedom to customize it and the limited cost (these tools often are already present in the company). Disadvantages are the additional time investment needed to set up a professional dashboard and the necessary IT knowledge required to create links to data sources.

Examples of DIY dashboards:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Google Sheets
  • Microsoft Access (see picture)
  • SharePoint

Integrated KPI Dashboards are the best way forward

Do you use marketing planning software like Husky to manage your operational marketing plan? Do you have a limited number of KPIs that you want to measure? Don't you want or have time to set up dashboard software? Then there is a 'Results' module ready to be set up with your marketing KPIs. 

The advantage of these KPI dashboards is the simplicity with which they are set up and the integration within your operational marketing plan (the KPs are, as it were, attached to your planning). The disadvantage of simple dashboards is, of course, the limitation for those who want to go far (e.g. we only offer the possibility to set up monthly KPI's). Also, you may need an API (Application Programming Interface - a piece of software that connects the results module in Husky with your specific data source) or a third party connector (such as Zapier) to run data automatically. 

Specific KPI dashboard tools: for those who want to go the extra mile

In recent years, dozens of KPI dashboard tools have emerged; from generic BI tools (Business Intelligence) such as Google Data Studio or Klipfolio, which can be used adequately for marketing KPI dashboards, to KPI dashboard tools that are specifically designed for marketers (such as SuperMetrics or Databox). I don't make a value judgement because the choice of a specific tool depends on the needs of your company, the IT knowledge you or your colleagues have and the budget you want to spend on KPI dashboarding. Other dashboarding tools are Geckoboard, Cyfe, Dashthis and Tableau.

Tip: check with your marketing agency which KPI dashboard they use. It is often easier to choose based on a concrete recommendation by people you trust. Moreover, you immediately have a coach when setting up your dashboard and you will undoubtedly start to share data quickly and clearly.

By the way, did you know that at Husky we enable the integration of one or more KPI-dashboards, in addition to setting up your dashboard with monthly KPIs? You can kill two birds with one stone: you have a fully equipped professional dashboard, and you can attach the dashboard (or sub-dashboards) on the right planning or campaign in Husky. 

An important question that needs an answer after the choice and implementation of the KPI dashboard tool: "Can the technology do the work itself?". After all, you will only be able to work sustainably if the data automatically and continuously runs into your dashboard. The less manual work, the better!

Step four. How many dashboards do I need?

You're probably eager to get started. Wait a minute: one more step to go! First, determine, based on the number of KPIs, how many types of dashboards you need. 

Suppose you chose Google Data Studio as your tool. Are you going to visualize all KPIs on one dashboard? Alternatively, are you going to make separate dashboards for it?

  • Top level KPIs: critical and strategic KPIs for management
  • RACE KPIs: all KPIs divided into four categories (Reach, Act, Convert and Engage)
  • Team motivation KPIs: a selection of KPIs that have to be very transparent for the team (e.g. there is a screen in the office, showing the KPIs) and that have a motivating effect.
  • Website / SEO KPIs: a detailed dashboard that should give the digital team all insights
  • Content KPIs: all data about content on the various own and external content platforms
  • Event KPIs: provides the event team with an instant overview of, e.g., event registrations, visitors to stands and so on.

Step 5. How do I set up the dashboard?

"A fool with a tool is still a fool". In other words: the best dashboard tool with a poor design will remain worthless and unused. So there is a big responsibility for those who have to work with the instrument! 

The most common mistake when setting up a marketing KPI dashboard is the single focus on data. They want to show data and preferably as much as possible. Don't. A complicated table with figures or a graph with intertwined lines is not a dashboard. A dashboard is not made to fill with data, but to make data understandable. The focus when setting up a KPI-dashboard should, therefore, be entirely on visualising data with a good-poor appearance so that the data stimulates to make analyses and adjustments. This article on the website of Geckoboard provides some examples of bad dashboards.

The best way to show the progress of results is by using alerts or colour indicators. Our brain immediately associates red with 'this is wrong', orange with 'attention' and green with 'we are doing well'. 

That does not mean that a useful KPI dashboard should contain many colours. Don't get me wrong. Use colours especially to make analyses easy. Quite a few dashboards have become a colouring book where the designer has had a graphical adventure, but where a colour guide is needed — what a shame.

There are many possibilities to visualize data: bars, lines, circles or spheres  — the toolbox is almost infinite. None are bad or wrong; if the reader understands, every graph is perfect. Great dashboards do provide variety in the use of figures. A dashboard full of bar charts gets annoying quickly. The design below is quite attractive, in my opinion.

Good web builders always put primary information at the top. Dashboard designers should do the same. You should start at the top with the critical components from your KPI dashboard and be sure to add colour indicators. At a single glance, the reader will see the core message. Below you'll find an example of a KPI dashboard in Google Data Studio where the key figures are at the top, accompanied by colour indicators. The construction is smooth, clear and readable. Besides, the designer alternates the graphs to motivate the reader to look further. Finally, the choice of colours is stylish and limited. Class!

I found this KPI dashboard on Jeff Sauer's website.

Take another look at the dashboard above. Take a moment to think about the reading direction; the road your eye follows when reading the dashboard. Perhaps the order is the data at the top of the horizontal bar, the graphs on the left side of the screen and the graphs on the right side of the screen. Professional dashboard designers strongly recommend this F-shape to design dashboards

A final recommendation for the design is the choice of the title for the data. The dashboard above also scores well on this rule: the graph answers a question.

Summarised, the criteria for a well-designed marketing KPI dashboard are as follows:

  • a definite number of KPI's (no overload)
  • one doesn't get lost in details
  • the data is readable by those for whom it is intended
  • the designer wants to get a message across
  • the focus is on data visualisation, not on data
  • the dashboard contains colour indicators that indicate good-moderate - badly 
  • the graphs and colours used are recognisable and limited
  • there is variety in the design (many different types of charts)
  • The design follows the F-shape in terms of reading direction.
  • each graph is an answer to a question

A professional marketing KPI dashboard is like a picture book. You don't feel like you're looking at marketing data, but you do feel like you see how marketing works. 

Step six. How do I use the dashboard?

You have a marketing KPI dashboard! Awesome. However, the work doesn't stop here. It's just beginning. From now on, you will integrate the dashboard into your daily operations, into the management of your team or you will use it to enforce management decisions. 

Great marketers not only have a KPI dashboard, but they also use it regularly and see it as a success factor in their marketing policy. You're not alone. So ask for feedback from colleagues, management and relevant stakeholders (e.g. your marketing agency). The best way to achieve this is to actively use the KPI Dashboard in marketing or management meetings or presentations. Why not hang a big screen on the wall that displays live data on important motivating KPIs?

Dashboards contain a ton of digital data. You can set alerts if a particular KPI remains above or below expectations. Only then does the dashboard become a real working tool with which you can proactively adjust and make decisions on time. Are the website visits plummeting too fast at any given moment? Adjust the online campaigns. Are you dropping a lot on a specific keyword in Google? Start writing extra content about that keyword. Is the number of leads going down? Put a few quick wins active with which you know from experience that they deliver leads quickly. 

Don't let data blind you (bis)

As mentioned above, focus not on data, but on data visualisation. Measure results, efficiency and ROI. You will soon find that the use and analysis of a marketing KPI dashboard is the most challenging step in the process. Don't measure for the sake of measuring. Don't just look at what works, but also look for ways to optimise what works. "Focus on improving marketing ROI, not just proving." No matter how technologically efficient your dashboard tool and your possible link software may be: contextual analysis within a marketing department is still a people's job as of today.

Bring marketers together around the dashboard

The marketing KPI dashboard will undoubtedly be a strategic tool for yourself as a marketer. Are you a marketing team leader, marketing director or CMO? In that case, the dashboard can also be of particular added value as a glue between your marketing staff, teams or silos. Is the number of leads decreasing? Then you can sit down with different people around the table, and the KPI dashboard provides the necessary insights for everyone. 

In any case, it is precious to introduce and implement metrics thinking in your team based on your marketing KPI dashboard. Afterwards, you can develop scenarios in which specific actions are ready to be taken that provide an answer to particular analyses that result from the KPI dashboard. In any case, my experience as a strategic planner teaches me that marketing planning should be based on a professional KPI dashboard rather than on emotions and gut feeling.

Share your dashboard with the management

Sharing an Excel, Word or PowerPoint document full of data is not very attractive to the management. They trust that you have analysed the data and come up with solutions. Dashboards focus - if they are correctly constructed - on analyses and solutions. That's why they're so popular in the rooms of management. 

Smart marketers use their KPI dashboard to ask for more marketing budget, to push projects through, to substantiate salary increases or extra bonuses and to improve their strategic position within the company. So always create a KPI dashboard that speaks the language of the management.

At the management level, a KPI dashboard is also perfectly suitable for aligning sales and marketing. Does sales or product management impose their will on actions, projects or campaigns? Then the KPI dashboard shows what the ROI of these campaigns is. Does your KPI dashboard also contain data about measuring points that are further down the sales and marketing funnel? You can set up well-founded discussions with sales colleagues to set up better marketing actions and campaigns on the way to more leads, more turnover and a higher loyalty or LTV (Lifetime Value) per customer.

Is your marketing KPI dashboard made up in a so-called SAAS tool (Software As A Service), where you pay a subscription for the use? Then it suffices to send colleagues or management a link to the dashboard — no hassle with documents that need to be opened, changed and saved. 

Step 7. How do I adjust the dashboard?

The last step. You're almost there! You've gone through all the steps towards a professional marketing KPI dashboard. You will soon become a master in monitoring marketing data, and you will make strategic or operational decisions based on hard figures. Sounds good, right?

Nothing in life, however, is everlasting. Business models are changing faster and faster, the marketing profession is exploding in terms of digital techniques and tools, and marketing or management teams often have an annual evolution in composition. That means that your KPI dashboard has to grow with the times. It needs to be adjusted to withstand the ravages of time. Think of the following adjustments:

  • the dashboard is simplified: e.g. more focus on primary data, secondary data is deleted 
  • the dashboard will have a different face: specific metrics or KPIs will be adjusted, removed, sharpened or added.
  • the dashboard excels: e.g. the integration in weekly meetings takes shape, the way of reporting to the management is more optimal. 
  • the dashboard has been made more accessible to colleagues, management and stakeholders: e.g. through a better rights structure (who can see what?)
  • the dashboard is in line with other dashboards: you could be the instigator of a 'metrics thinking process' within your company in which you are followed in other departments, which ultimately leads to a uniform way of dashboarding (don't forget to ask for your salary increase, bonus or higher position!)

I hope this article helps you in translating your fragmented data into a centralised KPI dashboard that will ensure faster analyses and better decisions within your marketing department. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to fill in the form below, we answer every question!

"A marketing KPI dashboard process is not a destination. It's a journey."

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