Objectives, outcomes, and outputs: getting the ‘O’s right in business marketing

Objectives, outcomes and outputs are a major challenge in B2B marketing. Why are they a major challenge? Because they get mixed up far too often.

This was the topic of conversation when I was invited to appear on the excellent Business Marketing Club Podcast recently, alongside an array of industry experts including Helen Brougham from O2, Aly Richards from Odyssiant, Sam Bentley from Kyndryl, and Izy Herrera from NBS.

You can hear the whole conversation by tapping play on the podcast below, or scroll on to see how I break down the problem and offer a few solutions. 

Okay, let’s start with Objectives

Looking at objectives as an industry, we just need to do the basics well. Long established marketing theory still holds true here – objectives need to be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed

But we all know that, right? 

The ‘R’ problem

The biggest challenge is to ensure objectives are the right objectives. In other words, to create the right objectives in B2B we need to be super clear about what the business is trying to achieve, and what are the right objectives to align to that. I suppose you could say that this is really the ‘R’ in SMART. 

In other words – What Problem Are We Trying To Solve?

In marketing, our job is to ask this question – incessantly! Revenue is the classic answer a business will give. Most businesses typically want to grow revenues. But the question is where can marketing actually provide most value and impact here? 

The usual response here is ‘lead gen’. But, what if there is actually a fundamental brand awareness problem which is resulting in a low level of inbound enquiries? Plus, are sales people having to spend a lot of time explaining the ‘who are we and what do we do’ topic? 

If the above is the case (and let’s face it, that’s a pretty common scenario), then shouldn’t one objective actually be more about achieving measurable uplifts in brand awareness? And the other to ensure our proposition is clear, and that customers and prospects (and sales people) understand it?

Relevance is about working out what the actual problems are, prioritising them – and from that the marketing objectives should naturally fall! 

Quantifying objectives

Putting a number on objectives can be challenging. Annoyingly it’s not as an exact science as it should be. I do think we must get hold of some critical bits of information/data to help on objective setting. 

I think there are five numbers we MUST all know and be able to recite:

  • Target growth rate for the business – 10%, 20%, 40% – what is it? (And, what is this in revenue terms?)
  • Average sale value (i.e. how much is a customer actually ‘worth’?) 
  • Sales closure rate: from qualified lead to closed business – i.e. what’s our win rate? 
  • From website traffic to lead (form fill) – how many unique visitors and how many forms are filled?
  • Of the forms filled – how many are ‘sales accepted’? 

If you’ve got these, then you’ve got the fundamentals of an ROI model. 

Outputs and outcomes

A particular area of confusion is outputs vs outcomes. They are not the same. 

Marketing is too often measured by outputs (“Are we putting a lot of stuff out there?”) vs outcomes (“Is what we’re doing having an actual, measurable impact?”)

Marketing outcomes: time to expand our horizons?

My view is that Marketing urgently needs to broaden its remit on outcomes. Marketing is not just a lead gen function. Why don’t we get our arms round some other outcomes that often move the needle much more than just leads? 

Customer satisfaction

I strongly believe marketing is the voice of the customer, so let’s champion them in the business and spot opportunities to improve their experience and therefore customer sat outcomes. 

Customer advocacy

I would deliberately separate this out from the above, as really we’re talking about a sustained programme that generates customer case studies, testimonials and references. We all know how hard it is, but it’s usually Sales telling us that, and when you talk to a customer yourself you’ll often find it’s not nearly as hard as you were told. Just ask! Marketing should own customer advocacy – and in terms of ‘outcomes’, it will be significant. 


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(Header photo: Yiran Ding on Unsplash)

Marketing can and should have a profitability outcome on its list. We should be involved in Pricing. We should be looking at Product – and how we can bundle, create recurring revenue, design product/service add ons and so on.

The value that marketing can add here is exponential – if a business runs on 20% EBITDA, then adding 20% to EBITDA is equivalent to adding 20% to revenue but without adding net new customers, without adding to marketing budgets necessarily. That’s a big win for the business.

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(Header photo: Yiran Ding on Unsplash)