Do you ever get the feeling you’re managing your business from the rearview mirror? You look at the numbers, but they’re all behind you:
- Customer Satisfaction
- Market Share
These are lag measures. They tell you where your business is, where it was, or even where you want it to go. Lag measures give you the score, but they don’t tell you how to win.
It’s a little like setting a weight loss goal, but only using the scale to track performance. You can weigh yourself every day, and get a clear indication of how you’re doing. And with a plan, you may even start to see progress.
The guidelines are simple. Eat less and exercise more to create a caloric deficit, and if you’re disciplined you’ll see the number on the scale go down. But ask anyone who’s tried to lose weight if “staying disciplined” was enough to achieve their goal.
The data proves that “discipline” is not enough to sustainably change behaviors. You may start on a new goal with gusto, but quickly lose momentum.
To achieve your goals — whether personal or business — requires two measures: a lead and a lag. Sean Covey et al. write in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, “A lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal.”
What’s Your Big Goal?
The first step in defining your lead measures is to get crystal clear on your goal. What do you want?
As you define what you want to accomplish, apply a number. I like how Sean Covey approaches it. He recommends setting a goal with 3 parameters, “from X to Y by when.” For example, “Increase percent of annual revenue from new products from 15% to 21% by December 31st.”
From X to Y by When defines the game. This is where we are. This is our destination. This is the deadline. With a clear goal you can now focus on developing your lead measures.
What Metric Predicts the Result?
Looking at your goal, what are the leading indicators or measures that guarantee your success?
For dieters, the lead measure is calories consumed. MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular smartphone apps, because it helps users capture this metric. On a daily basis, people can log what they’ve eaten and clearly quantify if they are on track. Consistently achieving their lead measure increases the odds they’ll see movement in their lag measure (the number on the scale goes down).
In my business, one of my lead measures is “New Client Calls” or NCCs. These are phone or face-to-face meetings with people that fit into my company’s target market. The difference between these calls and a cold call is the level of intent. To qualify as a NCC both parties have to be interested in having a conversation.
I track NCCs as a lead measure in Salesforce. We added a custom field on a Call Log, and created a report that shows a rolling 6 week trend of NCCs.
Reviewing the report weekly gives me a good indication of future sales performance.
What Behaviors Drive the Lead Measure?
You can get creative on execution with lead measures. You can explore new strategies, tactics, and behaviors to drive your lead measures.
Using NCCs, I quantify the effectiveness of my various marketing assets: landing pages, calls to action, content marketing, and campaigns. I run experiments and optimize these assets. We’re constantly asking, “How do we generate more productive conversations?”
I have found the exercise incredibly valuable for 2 reasons:
- Set Priorities: It helps me separate what we “should do” from what we “must do.”
- Quantify Results: It helps me quantify which marketing channels have the most impact on the lead measure.
Beyond that, lead measures are a tool to relentlessly focus on moving forward. They cut through the noise and provide clarity:
- If you do this, you will achieve that.
- If you aren’t able to hit your lead measure, what do you have to change?
- If the lag measure isn’t moving, do you have the right lead measure?
The simple logic puts marketing into perspective. You don’t have to be brilliant at all aspects of marketing, just the areas that drive your lead measures.