A Crash Course in Closed Loop Reporting

by Chad Carpenter

closed-loop-reportingWhat an exciting day! You see the numbers; your sales have been increasing every day for the past few days. The future is set.

But then come the tough questions...

Where did that sale come from? Which one of the inbound marketing strategies worked? What if your business focuses on the wrong initiatives?

There's a loop between marketing and revenue. You can market all you want, but if that marketing doesn't generate any revenue, what good will it do for your business? Producing cat posters with your company logo on them is a cute idea, but how do you know if customers looked at the cat poster and went directly to your website?

To see if your ideas and initiatives are working--and how to continually improve them--here is a crash course in closed loop reporting:

Closed-Loop Reporting

closed-loop-marketingClosed-loop marketing comes from closed-loop reporting, which provides data and insight to the sales and marketing team. In other words, the sales team tells the marketing team, "Hey, here are those leads you gave us. Some became customers, others were terrible leads. Let's work together to see which leads worked and which ones didn't work." This gives both sales and marketing more insight to the marketing initiative, which integrates nicely into the sales strategy.

Here is how closed-loop reporting looks like in a typical sales cycle:

Step 1. Visitor Arrives on Website: Tracking the Referral Source

The first visit to your site is the entry point of the closed-loop cycle. Once the visitor initially clicks on your website, a cookie (without oatmeal or chocolate chips) tracks the visitor and the source of that visitor. This allows you to know which campaign or channel the lead started as they progress through the stages of marketing and sales.  This applies to any campaign, whether it is print collateral that uses a URL to drive them to your site, an email campaign, or organic search--allowing you to track their original source.

So what does this look like?

The example below shows you traffic by channel in the Hubspot portal. This data identifies trends and is color coded based on channels including organic search, email, social media, etc. for easy comparison. Having this comparison means that top traffic sources can be identified, and also quickly shows those that may be underperforming so that actions can be taken.

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By making your website your central hub for all your marketing activities, you will be able to easily close the loop. That means filtering all campaigns to your website: organic search, social media marketing, email marketing, referral links, paid search, and as mentioned before, offline campaigns including print or trade show collateral. Why?  Because you will then be able to put a cookie on them and track their activity once they visit your site.

How do you know where they came from?

You accomplish this by assigning a tracking URL at the end of the landing page's HTML address. Most of the analytics systems in the market will give you the basic information on referring websites and the most common search terms for the source, but you need to be more specific. Without the tracking URL, the visitors may appear as if they are coming from direct search, so you won't really be able to measure a campaign's effectiveness.

While different systems employ varying versions of the token to add to the URL, here is an example of what a token would look like for a Facebook campaign:

/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

By adding this token to the page's URL, this tells the analytics system you use that the visitor came from Facebook. If you are using a URL for a print campaign and want to make it simpler for the person to enter, a little tip is to create a vanity URL that redirects to the tracking URL, or just use bit.ly to shorten it. Some systems, like Hubspot for instance, will create a shortened URL for you.

While Hubspot allows you to quickly generate tracking URLs for your campaigns and integrates with Google Analytics, if you aren't utilizing Hubspot you can create a tracking URL in Google Analytics directly.

Step 2. Visitor Browses Website: Tracking the Visitor Actions

While you track where the vistors are coming from, you want to also track the visitor's actions and behavior on your website. Understanding what they are viewing and their actions on your site helps to establish a path, and as you move forward you can utilize this to optimize how quickly a visitor becomes a lead or customer.

The important part, and really the trickiest, is making sure you connect the visitor's session once they convert by filling out a form for an offer. Otherwise, you'll end up with two autonomous databases: one with the anonymous visitor's actions and one with the lead information. This is a problem because you won't be able to truly track the conversions from your marketing campaign.

To fix this problem, you should utilize software that can quickly bring together the two databases seamlessly and effortlessly, keeping that loop closed. There is already software available that takes care of this for you so you don't have to contend with technical back end work on your analytics platform.

For example, Hubspot's software allows for closed-loop reporting to be implemented with it's Prospect tool by tracking a visitor's activity when they are still anonymous, and provides data for next steps, including details about the company and a list of potential contacts via social media accounts such as LinkedIn. Once the visitor becomes a lead, you will be able to see the historical timeline for the conversion as well--all reported back to the source.

Step 3. Convert Visitor to a Lead: Form Submissions

The only way sales can close a lead is if you are able to know who they are, so you have to convert a visitor to a lead. You can do this by sending the visitor to a landing page and offering them content in exchange for them telling you a bit about themselves via a form submission. You will collect starting information that will always include at a minimum their email, and other information (industry, phone number, business role, etc.) that can help you know them better and continue to nurture them to a sales qualified lead

This is essential in closing the loop because it allows you to tie closed customers back to their original entry source.

Step 4. Convert Lead to a Paying Customer: Crediting the Original Source

Once the sale is completed, you still have to close the loop. Which visits turned into sales and which marketing channels contributed to the sales? You will identify which campaigns and activities that brought the most revenue as well as which brought the least. This information and tracking means you not only know the full loop but you can use this to optimize further or even for other sources.

In order to do this, it just means looking at all your acquired leads that sales was able to close, and connecting them back to the original marketing campaign initiative. If you follow the four steps outlined in this article, it is very straightforward. The best way to close the loop is using a CRM (customer relationship management) system. CRM software, like SAP, Oracle and Salesforce, help you trace the customer back to the original marketing initiative. You can also use the HubSpot platform and CRM for the entire sales cycle to see which marketing initiative worked and which one didn't. 

Benefits of Closed-Loop Reporting

There are some great benefits for reporting closed-loops for your marketing and sales teams.

For example:

  • Both sales and marketing can look at influential marketing campaigns and the landing pages that led to leads/customers. Focus on the good, discard the bad, and have more insight for the next marketing initiative
  • This type of reporting will align your sales and marketing departments. With this type of reporting, you are forced to bring two departments into one, creating unity between the marketing and sales teams. 
  • Your business will calculate your return on investment (ROI) correctly. If you don't know where the sale came from, how will you know if you are wasting money or spending your marketing budget wisely on certain processes?

Keep an eye on the source of your visitors, leads, and customers. When you close the loop, you will create a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.

With this type of reporting, you will also know your customers better with each report.

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