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(c) Dianna Huff 2016

Riding my bike over New England’s backroads is always an adventure because I get lost at least once every ride.

I get lost because I haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of GPS. These fancy gadgets let you download a map of your ride — and like your car GPS, tell you when to make turns. They also integrate with your smartphone so that you can read text messages on the screen, keep track of your heart rate, and do all sorts of other things that quite frankly, I ride my bike to escape.

Instead of the GPS, I use printed cue sheets. I print them out online from various bike clubs that post them. Often, you can do a search, such as “40 mile ride, Cape Ann” and find a few rides already mapped out for you. The cue sheet folds nicely and fits in the handlebar bag I have — which has a clear vinyl window on top specifically for this purpose.

The problem with cue sheets, however, is that sometimes the directions are wrong. The sheet may say to continue straight on such and such road, but you’re at a T-intersection and you can only go left or right.

Or, you can be riding along, enjoying the really fine day and all of a sudden, you realize you have no idea where you are and that somewhere, you missed a turn. When this happens, I have to backtrack — and often discover I missed the turn because the street sign was missing.

Other times, I have to stop and ask someone, “Where am I? Where is such and such street?”

So why don’t I make it easy for myself and simply get a GPS? Because one, I like adventure, and two, having a GPS removes the learning experience. When I follow my car’s GPS, I don’t really pay attention to how I get to a destination because the GPS is doing all the work for me.

When I rely on the old-fashioned cue sheet, I pay attention to where I’m going.

It works the same way with regard to marketing and your business.

These days, we’re awash in applications and tools that spit out tons of data about our marketing, websites, emails, social media, forms, deals, etc. etc. etc. All of these things are good, but what I’ve found is that I get much more insight — and learn a great deal more — as to what’s working (and what’s not) through tried and true methods that may seem pretty basic.

Excel Spreadsheets

I still use Excel to track my inquiries even though I have Nimble, a CRM, and its built-in “deal” function. I like Nimble because it allows me to keep all my contacts in one central location, along with all communication associated with customers and prospects.

It also has a fairly decent dashboard for pending deals and sales, but it’s missing two crucial pieces of information: how people found me and how long it takes to close a sale. To track this information, I use Excel.

Using my Excel inquiries spreadsheet, I can easily calculate that I get 6.4 inquiries a month, that people find me through online search or because they’ve been referred to me, and that it can take anywhere from 8 days to 6 months to close a deal. Some people call me months ahead of time because they’re not yet ready to move forward but they want to be sure to touch base with me.

Knowing this information helps me better understand my own sales process and the people who hire me — insight I simply can’t get looking at my “deal” dashboard.

Google Analytics / Search Console

Most of my clients use MailChimp for sending out e-newsletters. This tool comes with basic reporting: you can determine how many people opened your email and how many clicked a link, etc.

But what I want to know is how many people actually visited the website — and how does this activity compare to other marketing channels, such as social media?

If you use Google’s URL builder to create links, you can easily track your various campaigns, including your e-newsletter, and this information shows up in your Analytics Channels report.

What I’m learning, based on the data I’m seeing with my manufacturing clients, is that e-newsletters pull in more traffic than social media. Amazing.

My other go-to tool is Google’s Search Console, specifically the Search Analytics report, which tells you the search queries people use to get to your website. Quite frankly, without this data I feel like I’m driving blind.

With this data you can see which search queries drive the best conversions, and which queries have high impressions but low conversions — which gives you something to work on in terms of SEO.

Direct feedback

For those clients on my Annual Marketing Consulting Program, I provide a comprehensive Marketing Metrics report every other month. This report details the client’s specific program tactics and how they’re working.

When viewing the web form data from my client’s website, I was dismayed to see that only a few people had filled out the form during the reporting period. Ugh. My stomach always plummets when I see something that isn’t working. I want my clients to get inquiries! That’s why they’ve hired me.

When I mentioned it to my client, he responded, “Oh, we’re getting inquiries. We get about two a day. They all come in from email!” Oh! Wow! Yay!

What this said to me is that one, you should always have more than one way to contact your company on your website. And two, you should know which method YOUR customers prefer.

For me, my prospects call or email me. Few if ever filled out a form, so I finally removed the “Contact” form from my website.

But for another client I work with, prospects never call. “OMG,” he said, “people email us or fill out our form.”

In conclusion . . .

For small, family-owned manufacturers, marketing is relatively simple, and how you collect data should be, too. Because you’re not a publisher, you don’t have to worry about crazy things like page views, frequency, return visits, reach, hover rates (how long someone “hovers” over an ad), etc.

Your goal is inquiries — so the tools you need to track where these come from and how many you get each week needn’t be fancy or complicated. As with my print cue sheets, you can get to where you want to go by tracking and analyzing your own data using simple tools — and learn a great deal in the process.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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