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Kiera Abbamonte on February 13, 2020 (last modified on February 24, 2020) • 16 minute read
If you’ve ever been involved in getting a startup off the ground, you know that everything from marketing to product development to customer support functions a little differently than they would at a bigger, more mature company.
The things that work for a startup might put a more mature business in serious trouble, and vice-versa.
So, why would you measure startup success with the same metrics and KPIs that more established businesses are using?
In short, you wouldn’t.
To that end, we talked to 58 marketers about which startup marketing KPIs they consider most important. Our pros weighed in on their go-to metrics and told us why each KPI is particularly well-suited to measuring startup marketing.
Here are the 21 startup marketing KPIs they said were most important:
Want to know the most important marketing KPIs to track across all functions (i.e. content, SEO, email, social, etc.)? Check out the definitive list of marketing KPIs all marketers should be tracking according to 400+ marketing professionals.
As Jarie Bolander of The Daily MBA sees it, there’s only one thing that really matters for startups: have you found product-market fit or not? If the answer is no, then none of the other KPIs really matter much.
Now, it’s hard to put a number on whether or not you’ve found product-market fit—so Bolander recommends asking your current customers this question: “How would you feel if you could no longer use the product or service?”
If a large percentage of people answer “Very disappointed,” then that’s a good indicator that you’ve found the right audience for your product. As Bolander explained, “This is an indicator of how sticky your product is for existing customers and how likely those customers will tell other friends.”
“In our hyper-connected business environment today,” Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness said, “startups need to create dynamic, interactive and engaging content to gain the interest of prospective clients and ultimately make sales.”
According to Parikh, measuring your startup’s social media engagement rate is the best way to measure that interest.
“The engagement metric allows startups to understand how their content is fairing with the general public and what steps could be taken to further expand their brand’s reach.”
As Nick Hollinger of Visitor Queue put it, if you aren’t sitting on a pile of venture capital cash, ROI has to be your most important KPI for marketing.
“You need to know that every dollar you spend produces X amount of revenue. Further, you should be looking at your ROI for different channels, so, you can ensure you’re spending your money first in the highest return channels.”
Solution Loans’ David Silverman agreed, saying, “Funds will be tight and you want to make sure that every single dollar you’re spending is accounted for and giving you a return. If it isn’t, then it would be better to spend it elsewhere.”
Along those same lines, Jeff Green of Green Thoughts Consulting specifically highlighted return on ad spend (ROAS), noting that “the most important objective for a startup is to make more money than you have.”
Tony Mastri of MARION Integrated Marketing expanded on Green’s recommendation, throwing return on marketing investment (ROMI) into the mix.
“For a startup,” Mastri explained, “it’s easy to point to a graph that moves up and to the right and tell stakeholders that your marketing is working. However, what investors and the C Suite really want to know is whether your marketing is growing the company in a profitable way.”
“There’s one marketing KPI that is so important that I believe every startup should track and focus on it: users,” said Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers.
“As a startup, you want to grow your number of users, especially the number of active users. By increasing your number of DAU (Daily Active Users) and MAU (Monthly Active Users), you will gain traction.”
Simone Timen of Jotform put it simply, saying, “For any startup, the most important marketing KPIs should be active users and churn rate. If those are healthy, revenue will follow.”
eSparkBiz’s Harikrishna Kundariya echoed Timen, adding, “As a startup, you want to build an audience base. So, [active users] could be the most valuable player for you as far as marketing KPIs are concerned.”
“Without page views, you’re not getting anywhere because no one sees you. If you can get page views, you can tweak what you need to in order to land customers.” – Melanie Musson, 360quote LLC
“Once you have a steady flow of users to your website or social account,” said Alex Hamilton of Beer is OK, “you can begin to analyze how they interact with your brand and create funnels or optimize your website to boost conversions. With limited traffic and engagement, it’s much harder to truly analyze how people interact with your brand.”
That’s why Hamilton recommends startup marketers track website visitors and traffic to start.
Tracy Staniland of Chisel AI agreed, saying, “As a startup, your marketing should be focused on building brand awareness with your target audience, therefore, the most important marketing KPI you should be tracking is inbound website visitors”
“Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the most crucial metric in the early stages of growing business,” Rameez Ghayas Usmani of PureVPN told us. “Customers are everything in business in order to make money, but you will need to invest resources into marketing to acquire them. [CAC] will give you an idea of how expensive a single customer is to acquire.”
“This is the underlying metric that determines how quickly and efficiently you can grow. How affordably you are acquiring new users affects all other aspects of the business, from overall ROI/profitability to growth rate,” Peter Czepiga of Bespoke Post told us.
“Cost per conversion gives you a solid, baseline metric to evaluate all of your marketing efforts,” added Sergei Belous of UpFlip.
“While you’ll certainly need to reference it in relation to other data, at the end of the day, it tells you if your marketing is working, and gives insight into what needs tweaking. We need more leads. We need better-qualified leads. We need to reach a more niche audience. These are all important factors that can be uncovered by analyzing conversions.”
“When you’re trying to gauge in real-time whether a paid media campaign is performing to expectations,” said Connie Ngo of CertiK, “CAC is a better metric [than ROI] because it shows you how efficient your marketing strategy and spend is in generating new business.”
Jamie Kehoe of Venturi put it succinctly, saying, “It’s about scalability with startups. Spend as little as possible and gain as much as possible. For that reason, CAC metrics are incredibly important.”
“Cost to acquire a customer is THE key metric to track for startups,” said Jacob Landis-Eigsti of Jacob LE. “Startups that can acquire customers at a lower cost than their competitors will be able to grow and scale much faster.”
To look at things from another angle, Ian Kelly of NuLeaf Naturals explained, “If we aren’t driving down CAC, we’re creating a startup business that may not have a long-term future.”
Several marketers emphasized customer lifetime value (CLTV) as an essential add-on KPI to CAC and CPA. “It’s important because it allows you to see how much you can potentially spend on acquiring a customer—even if it’ll initially mean you lose money on the front end,” said Khabeer Rockley of The 5% Institute.
Ryan Pitylak of ZenBusiness.com agreed, recommending startup marketers track the ratio of CAC-to-CLTV.
“This metric effectively tells you whether you’re going to receive payback from the customers you’ve acquired within the first year. This is a commonly used metric for determining whether a startup is acquiring customers at a sustainable price,” Pitylak explained.
“From where I sit, the most important marketing specific KPI for a startup is brand demand,” said Megan Upperman of Augurian.
As for how to measure a KPI like brand demand, Upperman had this to say: “You can use tools like Google Search Console to track your brand searches over time. If you utilize a tool like Supermetrics to pull that data into a spreadsheet format, you can create a dashboard that measures that for you over time and look for particular moments of lift and trace that back to tactics.”
Along those same lines, we heard from several startup marketers that measuring impressions is key, too.
As Alexandra Kaschuta of Fundsquire put it, “It’s the best leading SEO indicator. It encapsulates the direction our website is heading and if our efforts are paying off.”
Emmanuel Lao of Square 1 Group emphasized the limited growth potential of optimizing for something like conversions, saying, “If ten people visit your site with a 3% conversion rate, that’s essentially 0 conversions. However, 1,000 visitors at a 3% conversion is potentially 30 conversions or opportunities. It’s a numbers game.”
“Plus,” Lao added, “the bigger the sample size of an audience, the more data you have to make adjustments to your marketing strategy for increased chase per conversion.”
Lindsay Moura of SilverTech recommended looking at your impressions in relation to the total impressions available in the market—your impression share. “Impression share helps a startup understand the market competition, where they stand in the market, and track the growth of their brand.”
Editor’s note: Looking for a way to measure social media impressions, engagement, and more across all of your company’s accounts? Download this free Social Networks Overview template to bring together data from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
“Initial customers are necessary to prove market acceptance and validate product-market fit,” Ushma Kapadia of ThinkBumblebee Analytics said. “They also provide a young team, the much-needed confidence to work harder and produce results. Hence, customer acquisition is critical to measure and monitor, in initial stages.”
According to Sam Olmsted of Pelicoin, their most important KPI is similar—transaction volume. “Regardless of whether the transaction value was $20 or $2,000, each individual transaction points to a potential long-term user of our machines. Once we get that first ATM transaction, customers are much more likely to return.”
“To me,” Caroline Scholten of Chocolate Films said, “the number of leads is the most important marketing KPI for startups—because it can tell you, in part, whether your marketing investments are actually generating potential sales.”
Stand Mead of Summit Home Buyers LLC agreed, emphasizing, “The most important marketing KPI is whether or not your campaign is producing qualified leads. You want quality over quantity when it comes to lead generation.”
“Startups need to streamline marketing campaigns to look at website leads as the most important KPI in order to drive sales and online engagement. This is to ensure that an adequate number of relevant people are being reached through the online presence of the business,” said Damien Martin of Shufti Pro.
The key here? Measuring qualified leads. “This metric can help the marketing department assess if their content is targeted enough and if their funnel filters effectively,” said Kean Graham of MonetizeMore.
For Megan Wenzl of Clique Studios, that means tracking the number of sales-qualified leads (SQLs). For Kelly Sarabyn of Pandium, it means tracking the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) that ultimately turn into those SQLs.
“It’s one thing to get a customer to your website,” Mae Woods of Kinzoo said. “It’s another to have them interested enough to stay for extended periods of time. This will be a key indicator to validate if your marketing endeavors are being well received or not.”
“If your time on page is low,” Woods added, “you may need to reevaluate your current marketing strategy.”
“There’s no one most important KPI,” Yoav Bernstein of YB Marketing Excellence said, “but from my own professional point of view as an SEO specialist, raising your brand’s authority through better organic search reach is one of them.”
Explaining, Bernstein added, “Your website has to be shown wherever any potential client is searching for an industry-related term on Google. This helps you to build trust and feasibility, which will lead to sales and conversions in the short and long term.”
Will Brown of GPO mentioned another organic search KPI: keyword rankings. “A startup should always make sure their services are being seen by their target audience. Strategizing for specific keywords will help jumpstart a startup’s marketing and compete in a potentially crowded market.”
As a startup, Hardeep Johar of Stone & Tile Shoppe told us, “mistakes and imperfections are inevitable. Conversions help to define the weak points in your new marketing strategy.”
“Think conversions in a broad sense,” Johar clarified. “It’s essential to not only measure the conversion from initial engagement to making a purchase. For a startup, you need to track the conversions between each step of the funnel.”
Daniela Andreevska of Mashvisor specifically highlighted ecommerce conversion rate, too. “While driving traffic to your website is crucially important, your business model is not viable in the long term unless you are able to convert this traffic into paying customers.”
When we talked with Sid Bharath of Sid Bharath Consulting Ltd, one startup KPI stood out immediately: revenue. “Revenue is really the only thing that matters in a startup. It’s the lifeblood of the startup.”
To that end, Bharath said, “The most important metric to track is monthly revenue—like MRR. If it’s an enterprise model with a long sales cycle, you could use a proxy like deal value for demos booked. Even so, it’s still important to look at revenue at the end of the quarter.”
Editor’s note: Need a better way to track important KPIs like MRR and churn? Download this free Stripe (MRR & Churn) dashboard to pull data from Stripe and get a concise view of customer acquisition and retention.
“Repeat customers and referrals are key. They’re the most cost-efficient way to build a business and scale your brand.” – Paige Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & Moguls
Djordje Milicevic of StableWP agreed with Arnof-Fenn, noting, “It’s essential to retain users for a long period of time. It gets really expensive to advertise and win new users without the social proof, PR, and word of mouth that comes with a strong user base.”
In other words, “existing users are what’s going to spark exponential business growth,” Milicevic added. “If you can retain users and increase the usage over time, then you’re in a really powerful position.
Victor Antiu of Custify acknowledged that new signups are the go-to KPI for startups in the SaaS space. But, according to Antiu, “monthly churn is a metric, more valuable and more important, that many seem to ignore.”
“New signups can be bought,” Antiu explained, “but churn gives you a clue about how many problems exist within your product or support.”
“You see many startups that have large investment rounds and invest a lot in advertising and marketing, but they never really look at churn until they run out of funding and can’t keep their revenue in the black. Considering this metric early on could save a startup millions.”
Adam von Reyn of Parlor.io recommended measuring demos, meetings booked, or the closest equivalent available. “There are other important metrics to monitor, but the real measure of marketing impact is revenue,” von Reyn explained. “If you start closely aligned with sales from the beginning, you’ll be more successful as you grow.”
“Growing your subscriber base and tracking the lead growth rate, month on month, is the best marketing KPI to ensure that your startup is keeping your sales team busy.” – Vaibhav Gupta, iSchoolConnect Inc.
“In the beginning,” Laurel Mintz of Elevate My Brand posited, “startups are really competing with themselves. The best thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other and celebrate the small successes as you go.”
That’s why Mintz contends that “regardless of channel, the most important marketing KPI in the startup world is month-over-month (MoM) growth.”
Kean Graham of MonetizeMore suggested measuring the growth in revenue and sales from current customers, too.
“Many marketing teams measure the total growth in sales or growth in sales from new accounts, but very few actually measure the growth in sales from expanded business from current customers. Once someone becomes a customer, many marketers forget to continue the communication with them,” Graham said.
According to Aqsa Tabassam of UpFlip, the number one startup marketing KPI to monitor is the ratio of website traffic that turns into leads. “If traffic isn’t converting into leads, then it’s an indication the business is doing something wrong in marketing.”
“Nothing is a better KPI than profit—everything else is an indicator.” – John Paul, Knowledge Capital Consulting
Elizabeth Keshishyan of ExciteM agreed, saying, “Whatever you do in a startup, the most important KPI should be the bottom line: profit. This should be the same across all the team members regardless of the role they perform.”
“Whatever the marketing does,” Keshishyan added, “it should concentrate on the projects that will have a quick payback, that will give instant bottom-line results and be part of the longer-term strategy.”
Emily Perkins of OggaDoon told us the most important marketing KPI for startups is brand trust.
“As a startup,” Perkins said, “you’re either breaking into an industry that already exists or creating a new one. Either way, you need your customers’ trust to achieve your goals, and so emotional scoring of interactions—positive, neutral, or negative—is key.”
At the end of the day, what gets measured gets improved. The key to getting your startup marketing KPIs right is to find what makes sense for your business, where you are now. With all of the options listed above, you’ll be well on your way to finding the right KPIs to help your marketing team grow.
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