How to Set Marketing Goals for 2019

By: Matt Buckley  |  October 19, 2018

As you enter the 2019 planning and budgeting cycle, now is the perfect time to look back at the effectiveness of your marketing plan this year. Looking back will allow you to identify areas for improvement, confirm the assumptions you made at the start of the year, and assess how trends in performance and conversion rates will impact the business next year.

Here, we explore the key questions and considerations marketers should address throughout the process. We also unpack how you can learn from past performance and apply those learnings to future goals and strategy. This will increase the accuracy of your marketing model and address common mistakes that can result in the business missing its plan.

Start with the business goals and context:

Before you dive into the funnel metrics, channels, tactics and specific campaigns, ensure your marketing is aligned with the broader goals of the business. Here are a few important questions you should be able to answer:

  • Do you understand the high-level business objectives for the year?
  • What is your desired position in the market? How does that differ from where you are today?
  • What segments of the market are you focused on in 2019?
  • What percentage of pipeline will marketing be responsible for?
  • What are the major product launches for the year? Have you resourced these properly?
  • Are there additional resources you need to add to be successful this year?

Now that you’ve established clear goals for the business in the upcoming year, you can develop a marketing plan and goals that align with these objectives, and we can shift our focus to goal-setting.

Use a Bottom-Up Model to Calculate Marketing Goals

It’s critical for the marketing team to have clear goals and KPIs. Increasingly, among the B2B software companies we speak and work with, we’ve seen these metrics shift from leads and MQLs to more concrete metrics such as pipeline-generated and marketing-sourced bookings. To align on targets for these metrics, we recommend building a bottoms-up planning model based on your bookings targets for the upcoming year, with milestones set at each stage of the funnel.

Here’s an example of what the output of this exercise might look like:

Avoid Common Planning Pitfalls

As you refine your goals and consider the feasibility of your targets, here are three ways to avoid common pitfalls:

  1. Budget with the marketing and sales cycle in mind

If your sales team struggles to achieve its quota, even if marketing hits their top-of-funnel goals, a potential culprit is an underestimation of the marketing cycle. Just as sales measures the sales cycle as the time from opportunity creation to close, marketing should include a similar metric. In this case, the marketing cycle is defined as the time it takes a lead to become an MQL plus the time it takes an MQL to convert to an opportunity. Both of these metrics should be built into the planning process.

Here’s an example of a marketing plan with a three-month sales and marketing cycle, whose targets start in January:


Note the yellow and blue highlighted areas. At the start of the period, leads generated in October 2017 won’t close until January 2018. At the end of the period, leads generated later than October 2018 won’t contribute to FY18 bookings.

As you can see, excluding the marketing and sales cycles can result in a huge gap in your plan. To account for this lag, you can reallocate your marketing budget to earlier in the year so the tip of the funnel is full in advance of when the pipeline needs to be created. You can also invest more in sales acceleration and training to decrease the sales cycle and increase velocity at the bottom of the funnel.

2. Include conversion rate by channel and campaign

  1. When one or two channels generate all of your leads and opportunities, a blended conversion rate is incredibly sensitive to the performance of each of those channels. If your company is like most growth stage companies, only a handful of channels drive most of your pipeline, making it critical to understand channel-level performance.If you’re behind on your goals this year, here are two ways to plan for next year:
  • Start by assessing channel-level conversion rates farther down the funnel to see if channels with a high lead-to-MQL conversion rate are underperforming farther down the funnel, thus inflating your MQL number. If that’s the case, reconsider investment in this channel or reassess your lead scoring and increase the time these leads spend with marketing before being passed to sales.
  • If there’s no clear culprit at the channel level, instead look at the campaign mix at the top of the funnel. For example, white paper leads will convert at lower rates than demo requests. Look to see if there have been any changes in the composition of your top-of-funnel lead capture mechanisms, and how those mechanisms are impacting your overall conversion rates.
  1. Capturing these nuances can mean the difference between an accurate bottom-up model and one that isn’t aligned with your business goals.

3. Understand the composition of your customer acquisition cost (CAC)

As the scale and predictability of the marketing department evolves, tightly managing unit economics becomes increasingly important. If your CAC is above budget, it’s important to understand why. Inversely if it is below budget, spotlight this efficiency so you can capitalize on it with increased investment going forward.

Start by breaking down your budgeted CAC into actionable segments. To do so, you’ll need the rates of Lead-to-Close and MQL-to-Close from your monthly model and your marketing expense as a percent of total marketing and sales spend. The arithmetic follows:

 (Target CAC * Marketing Expense as % of S&M) * Lead to Close Rate = Target Cost per Lead

Next, break out the marketing overhead expense to show your target costs as Fully Loaded and Ad Spend. This will help you refine your performance marketing efforts by singling out the incremental cost per lead.

The result should look like this:

Of course, your channel mix will always be a combination of channels that fall above or below the calculated target. To account for this, when you test and scale your investment in each channel, build a hypothesis on the conversion rate and measure it over time. By applying this back into the CPL formula, you can measure target costs at a channel level. For example, you can spend more for leads from Adwords that convert at 10%, but shouldn’t spend that much on leads from LinkedIn that convert at 1%.

Put your Model to Work

In growth-stage bootstrapped companies, to be successful in the next phase of growth, it’s critical to plan and resource effectively. For your marketing team, this means refining the simple bottom-up model that may already be in place. In fact, the highest performing marketing teams assess and refine these metrics on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.

A finely tuned growth model is one of the most important tools your company can have to successfully plan, budget and manage your marketing spend efficiently while you scale. By accounting for your marketing cycle, deconstructing your CAC, and constantly revisiting these assumptions, you will be able to identify new areas of opportunity, cut wasted spend and set your team up for success.

Matt is a Vice President at Mainsail Partners. He works with Mainsail’s portfolio companies to implement marketing and sales strategies to fuel growth.
More by Matt Buckley
The statements contained herein that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, beliefs, assumptions, estimates, and projections about the industry and markets. Forward-looking statements contained herein are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks, uncertainties, and or forecasted in such forward-looking statements. Further, the data examples presented herein are for illustrative purposes only and based on analysis conducted by Mainsail Partners. Such examples have not been verified by any third parties. Mainsail Partners is under no obligation, and does not intend, to update any forward-looking statements to reflect changes in the underlying assumptions or factors, new information, future events, or other changes.