Musing on Metrics, Marketing and Innovation

How come there often seems to be no direct connection between the things we choose to measure and the goals we are hoping to achieve? Here are a few examples:

  • If a company management’s goal is a sustainable long-term growth, why do they measure their decisions based on IRR (Internal Rate of Return)? The metric is useful for measuring a transaction, but it can likely lead to an ultimate distraction of an enterprise vitality if applied to strategic decision making.
  • If a Customer Service organization’s goal is Customer Satisfaction, why do we measure performance of the employees based on how quickly they complete a call with a customer? Driving down the cost of customer interaction is a meaningful operational metric, but there is no profitability if customers abandon your operation.
  • If an ultimate goal for Product Marketing is demand generation, wouldn’t it be critical to measure why customers buy your product? “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him,” as Peter Drucker said.

According to Clayton Christensen, a professor in Harvard Business School and brilliant scholar of Innovation, the root of this problem is the quality of education offered in our business schools. He makes a great point illustrating how wrong choice of key metrics leads to deconstruction of enterprises and entire industries. Clayton is famous for his efforts to re-focus marketing “a job customers hire products to do” as opposed to product’s specs.

As consumers, we all know that our experience with “products” depends on many factors that are not connected to or even correlated with its specifications, functions and features. Quite often customers are more influenced by how easy it is to deal with the supplier or how reliably a product performs, or how simply and consistently it delivers the outcome we require. Yet when we try to measure customer satisfaction, we ask them to score their opinions about characteristics of the product itself. I do appreciate the elegant simplicity of NPS (Net Promoter Score) methodology and its well-documented correlation with profitability, but what specific action can it suggest to a product manager whose product earns a low score?

Steve Blank, Silicon Valley entrepreneurial marketing genius and the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany book, seconds Christensen’s opinion about the quality of our business schools and is working on the development of an alternative curriculum that is focused on customer development as opposed to financial engineering. Blank is preaching the importance of customer involvement into a product development that appears to be a no-brainer to me, but apparently is a relatively challenging concept to most marketing professionals according to Kristin Zhivago.

The choice of measurements we make has a dramatic influence on the probability of a startup success, according to Eric Ries—a creator of the Lean Startup movement—who has very interesting thoughts on creativity and innovation. Eric thinks that we prefer to use “vanity” metrics that make us feel good instead of helping us to make quality decisions.

So it appears that according to the experts, institutional indoctrination and lack of intellectual honesty are two major reasons for the gap between organizational goals and performance measurements that negatively affect our probability to succeed in business.

I would like to suggest that our compensation system methodology is the third leg of this proverbial stool. Since a majority of the workforce is not compensated for producing results aligned with a long term goals of organizations they work for, we instead end up measuring what is easy to measure and makes us look good.

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