How to use OKRs 📊 as a Leadership Framework for Growth Marketing
A simple guide for Marketing leaders to setting up, tracking and adjusting KPIs using the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework
Documenting a growth strategy that aligns Sales and Marketing is fundamental for any growth organization. Yet, what truly makes the difference between companies that would like to grow and the ones that actually do, is execution. There’s a great saying that goes:
“Idea is King, but execution is King Kong!” — 🦍
A simple online search with the keyword “OKR” will show you about 18 million results. This performance measurement framework, invented and adopted by Google in 1999, has become the most popular way of measuring progress in modern growth organizations.
In their simplest form, OKRs are a collaborative tool for teams and individuals to set goals, and track progress towards measurable results. In other words, OKRs serve as a framework to represent and measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Thanks to their flexibility, simplicity and scalability, OKRs work extremely well both for startups and full-scale organizations, as long as the main premise is to pursue fast, actionable growth 🚀
In this article, you’ll learn:
✅ the key benefits of using OKRs in growth organizations
✅ how to connect data inputs to your OKRs, for accurate tracking
✅ how to set up and track OKRs for the Growth Marketing function
✅ how to use OKRs to develop people and lead teams
✅ how to monitor and follow-up on OKRs
Sounds useful? Read on 👇
1 — Why use OKRs
Great leadership is about communicating the vision and then supporting the individuals to let them work towards that vision 👩💻 Providing people with a clear vision, a set of rules and a framework to measure their progress towards that vision, creates a safety net for them to experiment, grow and succeed.
This is what ultimately sets apart coaching leadership from the obsolete hard management. The vision and the boundaries are projected in the OKRs; in the form of concrete and measurable time-bound objectives 📊
There are three main reasons why OKRs are also so popular among growth leaders:
- OKRs are super simple to set up: it just takes a few minutes ⏳
- OKRs are highly scalable: from one person to an entire corporation 📈
- OKRs force you to set measurable objectives that realistically align with business goals 💰
In addition to these, OKRs are incredibly helpful in providing people with actual meaning to their work’s purpose within the organization 🙇♀️ by aligning their performance with the overarching business goals:
Figure 1 shows a typical G-STIC framework for driving strategic decisions at the organizational level. Since OKRs are the underlying tool to monitor and adjust KPIs, it is fundamental that your OKRs are fully linked all the way back to the overarching business goals. This is what ultimately makes full business alignment 🙏🏼 OKRs are therefore a great way to see whether there’s progress towards the business goals or there’s something wrong in the overall strategy or execution.
More on the whole G-STIC strategic framework here 👉 https://claudiocamacho.medium.com/an-actionable-sales-marketing-strategy-template-for-growth-companies-6534fbfa7154
2 — How to set up OKRs
There are two important things you’ll need when using OKRs:
- a list of data inputs where you’ll take your metrics from 🧪
- a document to track and report all your KPIs 📊
Choosing the data inputs 🖥
The data inputs typically consist of different systems or ways to check certain metrics on regular basis. The best practice is to choose data inputs that are as precise as possible. That is, data inputs that are digital and have exact numbers or flags, indicating how far you are in executing your plan.
Some example of data inputs are:
- CRM systems (Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft Dynamics, Pipedrive, etc)
- Google Analytics and Google Console in general
- ERP systems (e.g., SAP)
- Social media: all platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc) provide their own tools with somewhat comprehensive reports
- PR agencies — some of them provide a web portal with reports, some of them just send you email reports
- Standalone marketing tools (e.g., SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, etc)
- Any other data inputs, even if they are rudimentary or require you to make a survey; as long as they provide a metric for the KPI you’re tracking
Most of these different data inputs and systems above ☝️ offer comprehensive reporting tools and dashboards where you can aggregate different metrics, so you can see more of it in just one place. However, it’s almost inevitable that leaders end up using different systems and data inputs that cannot be placed under the same platform (e.g., Salesforce + SAP). Therefore, you’ll always need to find a way to aggregate and unify your metrics. Luckily, all these systems typically provide APIs and their data can be easily aggregated in one single place. Some examples are:
- Google Data Studio
- Power BI
Remember 👉 The ultimate job of a growth leader is to know how to pull the right KPIs and put them together to make informed decisions with their team 🧐
Based on my experience, I would recommend going one step further and putting them together in a homogeneous way in the same document you’ll be using for your OKRs.
This is extremely easy to do, since most of the tools nowadays are SaaS, and therefore run on a website that provides you with direct links to specific dashboards, reports or even metrics. For instance, you can take a direct web link from Hubspot’s view on the number of Sales Qualified Leads (SQL), and paste that link next to the OKR that keeps track of the SQLs generated.
Documenting OKRs and their metrics 📝
OKRs can be documented in many different ways. However, every OKR document should have a list of objectives (things to achieve) and key results (concrete metrics that indicate success). The basic rules for documenting OKRs are 👇
- Each OKR group has its own list of objectives (O1, O2, …), where each group can have one or more Objectives (O) under it
- An Objective is a general goal that needs to be achieved, but doesn’t have a timestamp nor quantification
- Each Objective can have one or more Key Results (kr) under it
- Each Key Result is unique and measures a very quantifiable and specific thing. Key Results can be numeric (0-N), binary (yes or no) or a percentage of achievement (0% — 100%)
- OKRs can be grouped, to represent a business unit, a team or a function (e.g., Content Marketing, Digital Advertisement, User Acquisition, etc)
- Extra tip → add an extra column after the “Result”, so you can insert a direct link to the data input (system) where you are measuring that number/result from
In the example in Figure 2, the company has set goals for Sales, Marketing and Product, to be reached by the end of 2021 Q4. Here’s a couple of ideas depicted from Figure 2:
- Sales’ O1 (first objective) is to increase sales by 125%. This will happen when 1600 leads are acquired (kr.1), and by building a systematic outbound process (kr.2)
- Marketing’s O3 (third objective) is to overtake competitors in SEO. This will be achieved when (kr.1) the website UX score goes from 15 to 90 points; and when (kr.2) the company secures 5 keyword groups ranking higher than both competitors
3 — Using OKRs to measure Marketing performance
Using OKRs for Marketing is especially good for three main reasons:
- objectives can be grouped by sub-functions: content, lead generation, brand & communications, etc
- keeping the Marketing department accurately aligned with overall business goals, just like Sales and Product have traditionally been
- measure ROI to accurately forecast future marketing budgets aligned with business growth targets
The example in Figure 2 shows a functional marketing organization with each individual running a sub-function, in this case Inbound Growth and Content Marketing 👇
There are a few important things to depict from the example in Figure 2:
- This specific format shows first the overall Marketing OKRs (in the table on top, in yellow) and subsequently each sub-function’s OKRs.
- Each sub-function’s OKRs are aligned with the overall Marketing OKRs. For example, the Inbound Growth team/manager must reach 350 MQLs, which contributes to the first general objective for the whole Marketing team: “increase sales”.
The time-scope can be annual, quarterly, monthly, etc. Typically, companies will deliver annual plans and OKRs are divided in four quarters, which makes monitoring and adjustments more agile. However, it is fundamental that the Marketing OKRs are 100% aligned with the overall business goals, and thus with other business-critical functions like Sales and Product. That is the only way for the company to build a successful Marketing organization 🚀
Besides that, just make sure the OKR document is extremely easy to access and update by your team members. That is the key to real cooperation and transparency on what’s going on across your organization ✌🏼
4 — Extending OKRs to Grow People
Despite being perfectly designed for measuring performance, OKRs also work as an amazing tool for leading teams and individuals 🦄 One of the main ingredients of great leadership is to know how to enable individuals to grow professionally 📈
A great leader must provide the team with five things:
- a clear vision 👁
- a set of goals that are fully in line with the business 🎯
- a framework (boundaries) to measure those goals 📊
- freedom 🦋
- accountability 💼
These sound great, however individuals pursue personal and professional growth within organizations. It is the leader’s task to ensure that they are able to grow in a way, that their growth supports the organization’s needs! Ever heard of growth pains? They’re simply a result of poor leadership and misalignment between the company’s and the employees’ growth pace.
One (proven) way to successfully support your people and make sure they grow at the same pace that the business, is to add their professional development goals to the OKR document (see the example in Figure 3) 👇
5— How to monitor and follow up on OKRs
OKRs and metrics per se do not provide any business value, unless they are used to make informed decisions and steer the execution into the right (chosen) direction 📈
For that reason, it is fundamental to have a forum where to review OKRs periodically, and make conclusions and decisions based on what the indicators are telling you.
Here are a couple of ideas on best practices following up on OKRs:
- quarterly OKR alignment with overarching business goals → review overall business goals; check whether their are correctly aligned to OKRs
- monthly board meetings → review OKRs, highlight the bottlenecks, re-validate the strategic decisions, revisit the overall plan
- weekly OKR review by functional teams → each team (product, marketing, sales, etc) reviews OKRs on weekly basis, breaks them down into actionable metrics and steers the execution of tactics
- OKRs are an agile and actionable framework for KPI tracking and growth leadership. There are many other ways of tracking KPIs and setting strategic objectives, this is just one that has provenly worked for very many growth organizations.
- OKRs are flexible enough to let you lead an organization of any size: a team, a business unit or an entire company; as well as people at the very individual level.
- Overarching goal-setting is fundamental for a healthy growth organization. Remember to start from the top, and then always map them to specific KPIs into your OKR framework. That’s the key to success in leading a growth organization.
- Continuous monitoring and improvement is the key to experimental growth. Make sure KPI tracking and strategic adjustment is part of your organization’s continuous development.
Here’s an actionable guide I wrote about documenting a growth strategy that fully aligns Sales & Marketing👇
If you work in strategic management, marketing or leadership, and want to discuss more on this topic, drop me a line. You can also follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.