One key to achieving success in business or in life is to set realistic goals and work toward them consistently. As a digital agency, Raka helps clients get more website traffic, more leads, and more sales. When we start working with a new client, those three goals always come up.
But “more” is not enough to start planning online marketing campaigns and inbound marketing strategy. The first step in setting goals is to document specific, realistic numbers and deadlines for hitting them. Raka uses SMART goals to do this. SMART goals provide leaders with specific mileposts to work toward when planning business objectives, especially as they relate to inbound marketing strategy and marketing ROI.
“In the working world, the influence of SMART goals continues to grow. The reason why successful marketing teams always hit their numbers is because they also set SMART goals.” – HubSpot
What are SMART goals?
SMART goals set realistic objectives for your inbound marketing team to work toward. How? Well, rather than setting a rather ambiguous goal like “Let’s increase sales this year,” SMART goals define a realistic goal using specific metrics. The acronym SMART simply stands for “Smart,” “Measurable,” “Attainable,” “Relevant,” and “Time-bound.”
What does that look like when applied to a marketing? It’s simple—your goal must be specific and measurable (so you can report on progress towards achieving it), attainable (don’t set a goal you can’t reach!), relevant to your business objectives at large, and bound by a particular timeline.
Let’s put it in action. At Raka, here’s how we set the following SMART goal:
“The inbound marketing team will be responsible for increasing marketing-qualified leads by 10% over the second quarter of 2020. This will be done by creating and promoting—through email, social, and blog content—new valuable content offers that will entice viewers to download the information. The overall objective to increase MQL’s is part of a greater effort to earn more potential clients and revenue for the company.”
This goal was specific because it identifies the target of marketing-qualified leads and how they would be attained. The measurable part of this goal was the 10% increase, which we could clearly determine by examining the number of MQLs we collected over the quarter.
We made sure our goal was attainable, too. We knew that through targeted inbound marketing campaigns, we could drive more leads to our website via email, social media, and blog content. Based on past performance, we felt that a 10% increase was a reasonable and completely attainable goal for that quarter.
Finally, our goal was clearly relevant to our business—we are a growing inbound marketing agency, after all—and time-bound to the second quarter of 2020. By the end of the quarter, we could look back at our progress and determine fairly easily whether or not we reached our goal.
Let’s put the SMART acronym in action for your own inbound marketing goals.
When trying to apply specificity to your own marketing goals, you need to be explicit about what you’re trying to achieve. To start, it helps to answer some common questions that relate to your goal, such as:
- Who is responsible for this objective? This won’t always be needed, but if specific team members are solely responsible for achieving the goal, they should be mentioned by name.
- What exactly needs to be accomplished? The more details you can provide here the better!
- Are there multiple steps involved? Outline each step in detail.
- Where does this goal need to be realized? Again, this won’t always be relevant, but it’s great to add detail to your goal that explains how it relates to a specific area of your business, website, or event.
Answering prompts like this will help you set a highly-specific goal that gives the necessary context for anyone involved in achieving it. The goal here is to leave nothing up for interpretation.
Example of a specific goal: “Ben and Jane will increase traffic to blog posts. This will be accomplished by enhancing email marketing and social media efforts that direct back to specific posts.”
With every pursuit, there has to be a metric set for achievement. How else are you going to realize when you’ve met your goal? The example above is a solid start for a specific goal but we’re missing something crucial: numbers.
Applying numbers and metrics to goals makes them trackable and allows you to quantify progress, or lack of. The ability to assess your progress will help you stay focused on deadlines and fosters the excitement of seeing that you’re getting closer to success.
Let’s revisit the goal from the previous section—sure, Ben and Jane need to increase traffic to blog posts, but by how much? Let’s apply a percentage to the goal. Now our measurable SMART goal could read:
“Ben and Jane will increase traffic to blog posts by 15%. This will be accomplished by enhancing email marketing and social media efforts that direct back to specific posts.”
Now you know how much traffic needs to be increased by and can measure against this metric to determine progress.
Goals should be challenging but they need to be rooted in reality. Setting an unachievable target will only cause your team distress. An attainable SMART goal considers your team’s ability to accomplish it, as well as other environmental factors that could hinder progress. Questions you must answer include:
- Does my team have the bandwidth to take on this new initiative?
- Do we have enough time to get this done?
- Will our budget or resources hold us back?
For example, if your blog traffic only increased by 10% over the last year, then setting a goal of increasing it by 50% next quarter is widely unrealistic. Base your goals on your company’s historical data and analytics, not industry benchmarks or your own personal desires.
To make a smart goal relevant, it has to coincide with your overall goals as an organization. Taking a look at the bigger picture will allow you to set goals that will benefit your company and not just your specific department. When setting a relevant goal, you should be able to answer “yes” to these questions:
- Is this worthwhile?
- Is it an appropriate time to accomplish this?
- Does this align with our other efforts and needs?
- Have we assigned the right people to tackle this?
- Is it applicable in our current socio-economic climate?
Applying relevancy will allow you to prioritize why the goal is actually meaningful for your organization. Once you identify the overall benefit, incorporate it into your actual goal so everyone has a grasp on the scope.
Let’s return to the example we created earlier. Why do we want to enhance blog traffic? Let’s say we already know our blog posts have performed well in converting high-quality leads through strategically placed calls to action. We then know that increasing blog traffic could also be a great way to enhance overall lead generation for the company—this is the key detail we want to add to our SMART goal statement.
Revising for relevancy, our new goal would read:
“Ben and Jane will increase traffic to blog posts by 15%. This will be accomplished by enhancing email marketing and social media efforts that direct back to specific posts. Because blog posts tend to have high conversion rates, the aim of growing our blog traffic is to ultimately increase overall lead generation.”
If a goal is set with no designated due date, does it ever actually need to be accomplished? Goals can’t be perpetual, they need deadlines! Making your SMART goal time-bound is crucial to keeping your team on the same page about when certain criteria need to be reached. This puts a healthy amount of pressure on your team to make consistent and notable progress within a designated time frame.
So, how do we bind our SMART goal example from earlier to a timeline? It’s simple—we just need to assign a specific time-period to achieve this goal. Our SMART goal example would look like,
“Ben and Jane will increase traffic to blog posts by 15% by the end of Q2, 2020. This will be accomplished by enhancing email marketing and social media efforts that direct back to specific posts. Because blog posts tend to have high conversion rates, the aim of growing our blog traffic is to ultimately increase overall lead generation.”
So, there you have it! Our goal is now specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound!
Common SMART goal mistakes to avoid
Now that you know how to set SMART goals for inbound marketing, it will take a little practice to get the hang of them. As you get started, here are some common pitfalls we see when applying this methodology.
Leaving room for interpretation
This loops back to the specific part of our SMART goal. Leaving room for interpretation can easily confuse your team. If your smart goal statement leaves room for questions to be asked, chances are you’re being too vague. Don’t keep your goals open-ended; the clearer you lay out the terms, the easier it will be to apply resources and realize the accomplishment.
Forgetting key performance indicators (KPIs)
This is a mistake we see often. While some SMART goals may lean more on the qualitative, you should still find a quantifiable KPI to measure your progress. A KPI is a calculable measurement or data point that is used to gauge your business’s performance relative to a specific goal. An example of a KPI could be sales, conversion rates, leads, website traffic, or any other important metric. Just make sure you choose a KPI that aligns with your organization’s universal aspirations.
Being overly optimistic
We already alluded to this while overviewing how to create an attainable goal but it needs to be mentioned again. This is perhaps the most common and debilitating mistake we’ve seen with companies creating SMART goals. Far too often, higher-ups and leadership burden their teams with implausible expectations—which ultimately sets them up to fail.
The best way to make meaningful progress is to tackle things step-by-step. You can still be optimistic about your goal-setting in a reasonable way. Challenge your team, don’t dishearten them!
Losing sight of the bigger picture
When setting SMART goals, it can be easy to get distracted by the little things. Commonly, companies focus on specific metrics without considering their overall impact on the organization. For example, if your marketing team sets a goal to “increase leads by 20%”, but your sales team is already understaffed and overwhelmed, this goal will provide no benefit to the organization as a whole. Instead, stop and consider the impact your goals will have on each area of your company and if they align with your mission. The key here is to have all departments communicating with each other during the goal-setting process!
Setting soft timeframes
If you don’t want to follow through on a commitment, the best thing to do is give a soft time frame of when you expect to finish it. While this may be a good tactic for pushing off chores in your personal life, you shouldn’t expand it to your SMART goal process. When you set a time frame, make sure it is definitive.
“Sometime in the next five years” isn’t going to cut it. The best way to time bound your goals is to apply a specific due date. This could be any variation of an actual date or the end of a specific time period, such as “by the conclusion of Q4”. Hold yourself accountable by tying your goal to a hard deadline.
Not reporting results
Remember earlier when we highlighted the importance of setting a measurable goal? Well, the other half of that equation is actually quantifying your progress or completion through reporting. Once a SMART goal has been set, it’s always a best practice to set up a custom report—using HubSpot, Google Analytics, or any other software you may use for data collection—to directly measure progress against your objective.
Setting up accurate reporting against your goals will allow you to look back to see if your goal has been met and if not, why. Additionally, if you find that you’re 80% through your timeline but have only reached 40% of your goal, you can revise your original SMART statement to make it more attainable. Goal-setting is a dynamic process, the needs and desires of businesses can change at a moment’s notice. Providing proper analytics and reporting of your goals will allow your company to see what’s working versus what isn’t, and then optimize your new SMART goal setting efforts through data-informed decision making.
In the day-to-day chaos of running a business, it’s easy to get sidetracked from pursuing your goals. Setting SMART goals is a fantastic way to keep your business on track. The methodology is designed to provide clarity into what your objectives are, direction on how you will achieve them, and accountability for the people responsible. Goal-setting for any business is essential for success, that’s why it’s crucial to be SMART about it.