Why “the benchmark is dead” (and what marketers should use instead) with Kristi Melani

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Today on 3-Minute Marketing, I’m chatting with Kristi Melani. She’s currently CMO at Telesign, an industry-leading Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) that’s relied on by the world’s most trusted brands. Prior to Telesign, Kristi headed up growth marketing efforts for technology brands like Anaplan, Poly & Plantronics.

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Kristi has a contrarian perspective on evaluating marketing performance that piqued my curiosity. So I asked Kristi to tell us, “Why is the benchmark dead in marketing… and what should marketers use instead?”

Show notes:

  1. Then pandemic shook up the tradition of reporting YoY benchmarks dramatically, because everything changed (including the traditional channels marketing and sales teams relied on).
  2. Marketing is often measured on SQLs, but not all SQLs are measured the same. For example, some SQLs may have a higher deal value or close at a higher rate.
  3. Come up with what and how you want to be measured. Then come up with the equation, such as, “I want to be measured on MQLs, SQLs, average deal size, Closed Won opportunities and net retention.” Together, these tell a more holistic story of marketing’s contribution than one KPI.
  4. The fact is that some results in marketing are hard to measure. So by evaluating marketing off of a blend of important metrics, you can deliver a more realistic view of marketing’s impact.


– You’re listening to three minute marketing where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable bite size insights. Now here’s your host, Chris Mechanic.

– Hello again, and welcome back everybody to another episode of three minute marketing. Let’s get right into it. My guest today is Kristi Melani. She she’s currently CMO at TeleSign, which is an industry leading communication platform as a service a CPaas. I’m not sure if I said that exactly right but they’re relied on by the world’s most trusted brands including many, many household names. Prior to that, Kristi headed up growth marketing protect brands like Anaplan, Poly and Proximus. So welcome to the show Kristi, we’re excited to have you.

– I’m excited to be here, thank you so much.

– So let’s jump right in. I’ve heard you say before that benchmarks are dead.

– Yes.

– Why is that? And what should marketers use instead of benchmarks?

– So when I think about the benchmark as dead I think about it in the very traditional sense of when people ask marketers in particular, when you’re ready to present to the board, you’re ready to present to the rest of the executive team, you’re always asked to give year over year benchmarks. I mean look at them individually. Here’s the five things we are measured on and tell me what it was last year at this time, and what it is at this year this time. I think the pandemic shook benchmarks up dramatically because everything in the world changed. We had to do things differently. We couldn’t rely on in person. We couldn’t rely on everybody feeling safe to spend money to do business. And so that is one of those where it feels, not to sound like a toddler, but a little unfair to be using a year over year when you look at it that way. It’s also in this sense of we have to look at it differently to where an SQL for an example, is what marketing is often measured on. Not all SQLs are treated the same. So if I brought in a hundred last year, and I brought in a 50 this year,

– Right.

– Well the average deal size of the SQLs I brought in may have been three times, so we end up contributing more to closed win business.

– Right.

– So what I am recommending to my marketing peers is come up with what and how you want to be measured, and come up with what that equation is, so it’s not just one thing. I want to be measured on MQLs, SQLs, average deal size, closed win opportunities, and then net retention potentially. So that if you look at all of those together it tells a much more holistic story. And then you get to then of course, dig into each of them. People want to know why, why was it less than it was last year? But it’s all about how you define it and bring the context. Benchmark to me is sort of a buzzword that we’ve been using for years. It doesn’t mean that it’s right. So looking at it differently and starting to almost blend them together, gives us a better sense then on what’s marketing’s contribution. And not to mention and not to forget that some of the things, I know people don’t like to hear this, but some things that marketing does is hard to measure. And so being forced to find a benchmark is tough. We can, we look at influence, we look at everything but don’t give up on using more of a blended approach rather than just being measured one thing year over year ’cause this story is bigger than that for all of us.

– Boom, there you have it very nicely done. Kristi that was excellent.

– With a couple seconds to spare.

– Yeah. And you know it is a really good point. And to me, myself, like I’m an executive, so I look at the business sort of holistically. Like there’s not one number that I look at.

– Yeah.

– Except of maybe like revenue or profit that it’s like a benchmark like that in my mind. But I think a lot of marketers resonate with this because I know, and many of our clients are measured just on one or two metrics. But that’s an incredibly good point. And I think that a lot of marketers today are just looking at the number, the number of ticks in the box, so to speak,

– Yep.

– And not necessarily the quality.

– Yeah.

– I’ve got some follow up questions for you but I like the concept of almost making it an equation instead of just a single metric or a few metrics.

– Yeah.

– Let’s end here, but we’ll continue talking you and I. If you want to to hear the Kristi and I talk, you can either stick around up here on the website, or you’ll find a link in the short notes in the description to the additional footage. But let’s sign off to keep the main episode short here. Kristi,

– Perfect.

– Let everybody know where they can learn more about yourself as well as TeleSign. It sounds like you guys

– Yeah. are doing some cool stuff.

– Yeah very cool stuff. It’s a very exciting time for us TeleSign.com, really shows where the journey we are from our messaging and positioning, and then you can always find me on LinkedIn at Kristi Milani. I’m pretty active on all of my mobile devices. So I tend to respond to as many as I can. But,

– Nice, please feel free to reach out.

– Kristi Milani, ladies and gentlemen. Well, thank you very much Kristi, we’ll see you on the other side.

– All right, my pleasure.

– To round out the benchmark topic before we move on to some other stuff, I did have a couple questions for you. So is it literally like a formula in your mind? Meaning like you’ll report on your 10 metrics and then treat each of those numbers in such a way into some algorithm that’s spits out a single number of how well you’re doing? Like is-

– So yeah, ultimately that’s where I want to get but I do think that again not everything is weighted appropriately, so it’s pretty hard to look at it and say add all these five things together. They all kind of look at different things. But what I’m trying to commit to is, we might have as a company 10 metrics that we report out on as a village, I like to call it. So that’s the go to market teams. Sales, marketing, customer, success, product. Then I know which ones of those marketing has influence, impact, or is directly responsible for. So those are the ones I pull out and make sure that those trickle down to my team so that everybody within the organization is measuring towards that. But then it’s all in the commentary. It’s all in going back to the way our business works. If I send you an SQL, it’s not going to close tomorrow. So if you’re asking me on how many of those SQLs were closed in March, I can’t, because it’s a timing perspective. So it’s a little hard to get to one blended metric but making sure that each of them in order of priority is what you’re constantly measuring yourselves on. And I really look at it as marketing’s responsibility to educate the organization on what we should be.

– Yeah.

– There’s plenty of times I’ve been told, “I have a goal for you.” “We want a million visits to the website.” Like I’ll give you million websites tomorrow if I just put after dark, after the title of it. But those aren’t our buyers. Those are not prospects. So,

– Right.

– And it’s hard sometimes to try to push back when you might be asked these questions by an executive, by the board, but it is our job to shape how marketing needs to be viewed, or else it’s always going to go back to what people know which is your year over year benchmarks. And then it’s either that well you succeeded, or you failed.

– Yeah.

– There’s gray in there, unfortunately.

– Totally gray.

– And we got to leave some room for that.

– Yeah, well I checked you out on LinkedIn and it looks like you’ve been at TeleSign for almost a year now. So you’re like getting settled in. Have you been able to do that successfully? Like have you been able to inject or adjust the narrative in such a way that like your model is now being used essentially?

– Yeah. And I’m so fortunate, you know when I think about in my 27 years of doing marketing, I have to say this is the first time I’ve really, really enjoyed every day of my job. And my husband works for Disney and I get so jealous ’cause every day he enjoys his job.

– Yeah.

– I enjoy the job because my peers are so welcoming to understanding what marketing can do. But it also actually helps the rest of them understand how they should be measured. And it was one of the very first project that I worked on with my peers, with the operations teams, to kind of flip the script a little bit and make sure we all knew what was going to need to be the contribution from each of us, to ladder up to the ultimate company goal. So at the end of the day, who cares where it comes from? But we do in the sense that marketing spends money, so I need to be able to show you that my return on marketing investment is a good one.

– Right.

– Sales gets incentive to sale, it’s to sell, but having that really big clear picture on SQLs stage one opportunities pipeline all of that, it’s freeing for people. And so when we first looked at it that way, it was new for many but I don’t know any other way to look at it. And it was so awesome to quickly get to the point where Head of Sales, customer success, our CEO, finance, loves it, right?

– Yeah.

– To say this is great. And now that’s the slide we start with in every conversation we have and the board can now say, “I get it.” “I understand who needs to be responsible for what.”

– You just said, something really brilliant. You said, “That’s the conversation that we start every or that’s the piece that we start every conversation with.”

– Yeah everyone of them.

– You just like every single time you come and remind them, just banging ’em

– Yeap. on the head over and over again. Here’s how we view the world. Here’s how we view the world.

– Yeap Oh, by the way today’s agenda is, I like that.

– Exactly, exactly. And then you start to get to every level in the organization should have that level of transparency too. Why not?

– Yeah.

– You understand, because then you know everybody. I love when my team knows that my work is impacting something.

– Yeah.

– And it’s not just checking a box, It is we’re meeting a pretty big goal for us.

– Yeah, that’s awesome. So you got to sound like you’re killing it over there.

– It’s an exciting time for sure. It’s exciting time for growth.

– So you’re giving me ideas as you talk, there’s like synapses firing off in my brain. Can I show you something

– Sure. that it like you might find irrelevant, but you might like?

– Of course.

– So let me share my screen here. So in terms of getting it into or like a list of metrics versus like an algorithm that spits out a number or a score, we do that when we design conversion tests like if we want to test one homepage or one landing page, versus the other, ’cause there’s always a million ideas, right?

– Right.

– So each idea goes on to a row in this document, but then these are the criteria. How difficult is it technically? How difficult is it from a creative perspective known data gaps is like, how confident are we basically? The confidence score. Hours needed is just level of effort and then potential win asks essentially if this works, how big of a deal will it be?

– Yeap.

– Between one and 50. So then we just score each of these items. And this is just a simple algorithm that says, or just a simple formula that says, the potential win minus the sum of like all of the cost basically.

– Yeap, love it.

– So I don’t know that you would want to view your entire world like this but you could view potentially like an individual’s contribution or a department’s contribution in this way. Or you could view like a program, like an individual program, like if you’re doing LinkedIn for instance, you could maybe view it in this way.

– Well, and I also think that this is an interesting model when you are talking about priorities, right? Because everything is a priority. And one of my team members years back said, “You know the word priority wasn’t pluralized until much later in our world because you’re supposed to have one priority.” And so if you look at it with a priority score, then as a management team, as the leadership can look, and say, “Is the resource constraints, the timing, the investment, is it going to pay off?” Because a lot of times you can have some quick wins. They still take time though. And they’re pretty low on the priority list. And all of a sudden you realize, mm-mh, even though it only took you an hour, you could have been spending that hour on the top priority. So I like that from a corporate priority view as well there’s always big ideas. Some of them should sit within incubation, and some of them should make it on the actual roadmap. So I like looking at it that way because that also shows a cross-functional view.

– Yeah.

– Because it’s always that, “Well, it’s easy marketing, you can do that.” Yes, but we’re the end of the tail. Look at all the other things that have to happen, and then I think that is an interesting way to measure a lot of different programs initiatives as well. Especially when they are cross-functional. Right?

– Yeah, totally. And do you want to know a cool metric I think, that nobody really looks at.

– Mm-mh, what is it?

– Brand search volume. Just like how many people are typing.

– Yes.

– Searching you by name tellers are.

– Yeah, branding terms are definitely interesting to me.

– Like all the little things that you do that you were saying that marketing doesn’t get credit for it, doesn’t really show up there, I think one of the best reflections of it is in brand search volume.

– Yeah, I remember this was years ago, it was, organic versus paid, right? And the question came to me that said, “Well, I don’t know if people would just come anyway, so I don’t know that paid is doing much.” And I said, okay, let’s turn it off. We turned it off for two weeks, and we saw the branded term organically going down, we saw traffic obviously, all the things we know as marketers do work, sometimes you have to do a little bit of a shock value to say it does work. And it is sort of the, what is that all tides lift? I never get it.

– Right, I never too

– Rising tides lift all steps,

– Right,

– something like that.

– That’s a tough one.

– But I do think that, that is where sometimes you have to play with that for people to understand why a branded search term that somebody actually types in, that direct traffic that we see in our HubSpot metrics. You don’t think they just came there because they’re like, “You know what, I’m going to look at some word, and I think it’s TeleSign.” They had to have heard it from somewhere something. And many times it is a marketing influence which is also why I love, some in here, multi-touch attribution. Could be a controversial topic but you have to show all of the influence points along the way. ‘Cause sometimes it’s eight or nine before we’re even remotely ready to talk to a prospect.

– Yeah. But yes, brand, brand, brand, brand.

– You guys are a HubSpot shop? I love HubSpot.

– Yes we are. It’s actually the first time. Most of my previous has been strictly Google analytics for metrics or Marketo for email. So I walked into HubSpot and thankfully have a wonderful Head of Marketing Operations that is starting to really dig in to realize actually the power of it.

– Yeah.

– My first reaction was oh oh, but now it’s Ooh, wait.

– Yeah

– That’s a cool dashboard. I just looked at actually right before you and I got on the phone.

– Nice, I would love to see your dashboard. What are your current initiatives, your priorities? I know we’ve only got a few minutes left here.

– It really is brand. Because the brand story, is what we need to tell about TeleSign. And we are in the business of building trust and delivering trustworthy and safe engagements in the digital space. And plenty of times in my career I used to tell my teams, “Ah, don’t worry about it too much, we just make widgets.” You’ll never hear me say that at TeleSign, because I know that what we’re doing is making the world a safer place for everybody that’s going to be on the internet. And there’s so many people coming on daily but you got to know who we are. And so that’s about telling the story, the value proposition, and then helping people understand what a world would look like with TeleSign in the background with that continuous trust that we can deliver. And you know it’s hard ’cause brand is always like, “Yeah, but can you get an immediate sale on it?” And I typically equate it to, well you wouldn’t marry me unless we’ve gone out on a couple of few dates first, right? You have to get to know me, and that is where brand is the courtship partner of the dating, learn who I am, what I do, and then maybe eight, nine dates later, I might be ready to at least get engaged.

– That’s a good analogy.

– Thus a big focus for us is making sure that the world knows the amazing benefits that TeleSign can bring to many of the marketplaces, online apps, FinTech, healthcare, you name it.

– So give us an example, use case, like help me understand a little bit better what it is you guys are doing.

– So think about it, a very simple one is sort of the authentication, right? So when you are signing up for something and then you get the check your phone for a code, that message that was sent was sent through TeleSign, Right?

– Okay.

– Then you can also think about it where when companies are onboarding, you might have a, I don’t want to use any of the specific brand names We’re not a approved to use, but you’re booking a trip and now you have to sign up for an account, so that whole onboarding process, and that a lot of them are filled with friction. If I look at those, how many sidewalks are in this picture? And I’m like, “Aah sidewalk.” clearly I didn’t pick all the right sidewalks. So now it’s like, show me all the streetlights. We are trying to avoid that to where there’s all of this logic in the background that can tell that it is me because it’s a recognizable whether it’s my IP address, this is where I normally I’m, these are the behaviors that I normally will do that we can kind of score that engagement that onboarding and can report that back to our customer who is the app, or the use case, and then say, “Kristi is who she is, Kristi is who she says she is.” And do it in a frictionless way to where it’s in milliseconds that then brings me into the fold. And now I’m trusting that the vendor and the vendor can trust that I am who I am as well.

– Interesting.

– So, there’s lots of examples like that. And we work with an Omni channel as well, viber, WhatsApp, to where we’re kind of in those conversational pieces as well.

– Wow, that’s really interesting.

– Yeah exciting.

– So no more captures and no more which of these following addresses have you been associated with?

– Right, which is always the, I’ve never lived in Utah.

– Yeah.

– You know where is it, okay. I don’t, maybe that’s a trick question, but yep, nope, that’s not me. So lots more to come for sure. But definitely very globally focused to bring that safety to the world too.

– Nice, all right thank you so much. Let’s wrap here guys. Go check out Kristi Melani and what she’s doing at TelaSign.com. Sounds really cool. Thanks so much for your time here today Kristi.

– All right. Thank you so much.

Kristi Melani

Kristi MelaniCMO

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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