KPIs generally fall into one of 4 categories.
- Customer KPIs
- Team KPIs
- Business system KPIs
- Financial KPIs
Develop an effective KPI approach
To unlock the power of KPIs, it’s essential to drill down into data about your business and see how it relates to daily operations. KPIs are only effective when you have a clear understanding of how to interpret and use your data.
With this knowledge, you should take a thoughtful approach when deciding which KPIs to assess (rather than blindly guess or follow common industry-recognized KPIs).
As you determine which KPIs to measure, think about your overall objective—and if you have a team, be sure to involve them. Get feedback from staff, management, and potentially even your customers or clients about what success means for your business.
Define and refine KPI selection
When you get to the KPI-selecting stage, you’ll need to focus each on specific business outcomes and keep big-picture questions in mind.
- What’s your ideal result, and why is it a key business goal?
- Is progress toward your goal measurable, or do you need to narrow or reframe it?
- What resources do you have to help you measure progress?
- Who is in charge of tracking and reporting KPIs?
- How will you review progress toward your goal?
- How will you know when you’ve reached your goal?
An example of a goal you could measure with a KPI is increasing e-commerce sales by 40% within 12 months. In this case, the KPI is e-commerce sales.
To make this goal more attainable and to better understand the use of your KPI, you’ll benefit from articulating the why, how, who, what, and when of your selection.
Here’s an example of that breakdown for a goal of increasing e-commerce sales by 40% within 12 months.
- Why? Achieving this benchmark will bring in more revenue.
- How? We will periodically measure the KPI of e-commerce sales.
- Who? Marketing and e-commerce managers will work together to evaluate progress.
- What? Based on prior data, we’ll invest more in e-commerce tactics that have been successful in the past and reduce investment in less successful tactics.
- When? We will be successful if our e-commerce sales have increased by 40% by the end of August 2021.
Set SMARTER goals; measure them with KPIs
Meaningful goals share the same qualities, making it easy to understand the KPIs you target. As you track progress towards your goals, make sure they qualify as each of the following:
- Relative (now and as your company grows)
Some companies interpret the last 2 letters of the acronym as “evaluate” and “reevaluate,” which can be wise for tracking KPIs that evolve alongside your progress. Either way, if your goals reflect all these characteristics, they are likely to be more effective at driving your success.
How to identify and implement effective KPIs
To be effective, KPIs need to relate to specific business goals or outcomes. They should be relevant to your particular business needs and geared toward actionable steps.
Follow these best practices to identify KPIs that inform your business strategies.
Communicate your KPIs with key players
Your KPIs won’t be particularly helpful if you don’t share them with the people they affect. Your staff can’t help you achieve your goals if they aren’t aware of them. Make sure your team understands why and how you’re planning to reference these metrics as you work toward company goals.
You’ll achieve more buy-in and, ultimately, more success if you include your team in the process from the planning stage onward. The same goes for other stakeholders, like investors and board members, if you have them. Depending on your objectives, you might also want to loop in your clients or customers.
How to communicate KPIs
As all smart marketers know, an omnichannel approach works best for getting your message to all the right people. This means communicating across a variety of integrated channels. For example, you could:
- Send an internal email outlining the KPIs you’re targeting and why.
- Post an announcement in your staff Slack channel.
- Share the plan in a team meeting.
- Include details in your monthly newsletter.
Make sure to share the same fundamental message across all your channels, and use each channel to support the others. This approach will underscore the importance of your undertaking. It will also reinforce the idea by making sure it gets in front of everyone more than once.
Make the announcement engaging and motivating. You could include some related FAQs, invite employees to share ideas, and add more context for your goals and the KPIs you’ll track as you work toward them. Make it clear that you value your team’s input and that everyone will benefit if they help you reach your target KPI.
Set achievable targets
Be realistic when you set goals that target specific KPIs. A plan that seems simple on paper may not include enough nuance to address limitations that will get in the way of achieving your goals.
As you run your target KPIs by people on your team, they can help you assess whether it’s attainable and offer invaluable insight into what it will take to reach your goals. Aiming high is a good thing, but you don’t want to set your team up to fail.
On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to set a target that’s too low. If your staff can hit a target in a few weeks that you estimated would take 3 months, you might want to reevaluate your timeline.
Establish a review schedule
Make sure to create a schedule for reviews. A vague intention to “keep an eye on progress” is not as effective as recurring review sessions.
Routine reviews with key stakeholders will help you stay on track in a few ways.
- Catch issues early so you can adjust targets right away.
- Keep the momentum going—your team might otherwise lose interest over time.
- Recognize achievements as your team hits their targets to boost morale.
- Verify that everyone is still on the same page.
Write actionable, KPI-driven goals
Targeting KPIs that get your business team focused and motivated is critical. You established your KPI goals with the knowledge that they would take hard work to achieve. Make sure your team has a roadmap to follow.
Making sure your goals are actionable establishes how you’ll work towards them. An actionable goal:
- Has defined steps
- Includes achievable targets
- Uses clear language
- Is realistic
- Assigns roles to key players
You want to both inspire and enable action—give your team what they need to get started and keep going.
Incorporate data and information
As you determine the KPIs your goals will target, draw on resources that can help you establish more context.
- Historical data: Review data from previous years. This will help you assess what’s normal and what’s aspirational and avoid making mistakes. For example, what drove your success during profitable stretches, and what happened in the quarters in which you lost revenue?
- Audience data: Pull audience data from your Marketing CRM and review it to spot trends and determine what your audience responds to best. This can be used to sharpen your messaging and more efficiently reach your target KPI.
- Industry data: Look for industry data that can give you insight into relevant financial forecasts to predict where challenges may lie in the coming quarters. Look for press releases and other information published by your competitors about their financial successes, acquisitions, and other growth factors.
- Employee data: Check out data related to employee turnover and read over any feedback you’ve received from your team members over the past year or so. Do you notice any trends that might help paint a picture of where to focus or refine your goals and KPIs?
Take a collaborative approach
Avoid communicating target KPIs in a way that makes your employees feel like you’re delivering an edict from above. Pull in other stakeholders and include their voices as you craft your messages.
When you establish a collaborative approach to defining and communicating your KPIs, the entire process will be better for it. Employees and managers who feel like they are on the same team are the most powerful tools you have for reaching your target KPIs.
KPIs and performance management frameworks
Many people think of annual reviews when they hear the term “performance management.” While annual reviews are a component of a performance management framework, they’re not the central focus.
Performance management frameworks, or cycles, help keep teams on the same page. They’re a continuous process focused on improving performance by setting individual and team goals. In a performance management framework, these goals align with the target KPIs you established. They include planning, reviewing, and assessing progress, and empowering people to develop their skills and abilities.
Create a performance management framework in 4 steps
Aligning individual goals to KPIs helps create a collaborative atmosphere in which everyone is working toward the same business objective. This can be done in 4 key steps.
During the planning stage, managers work with employees to develop goals linked to the company’s target KPIs. The manager and employee might create a personal development plan and identify specific actions employees should take to achieve their own goals and contribute to reaching KPIs.
The planning phase is also an ideal time to review an employee’s job requirements and update their role if necessary.
Many businesses conduct annual employee reviews. But in a performance management framework, managers set near-term goals that employees work toward over a few months. Touching base more frequently gives managers more insight into how their employees adapt their work to align with strategic organizational goals and KPIs. Each assigned objective should contribute to these goals.
The planning stage also includes a personal development element. Managers discuss the behaviors, skills, and knowledge the employee should develop to achieve their goals and, in turn, the company’s goals.
During the review stage, managers take a look at the KPIs for each employee’s goals to see how they’re progressing toward meeting company objectives. This can also involve reviewing work products, discussing projects with employees, and evaluating the effectiveness of team strategies.
Tracking is a vital element of the review process. Managers track performance status regularly to maintain a record of progress. This data gives insight into trends that may be emerging and helps managers identify potential issues before they become more significant problems.
At this stage, employees and managers carry out the plans put forth in the planning stage, while taking into account information gleaned from the review process. For example, if a manager advised a staff member to work on a specific element of personal development, that employee might start taking a related course. Then, when planning and review comes around again, this action will inform the next steps for the employee.
It’s important to note that these 4 steps might not be linear. Rather than flowing in order, these phases can occur at any point. Tracking and acting involve tasks that happen continuously, while planning and reviewing can happen on an as-needed basis or more frequently.
Criteria for key performance measures
For individual performance goals that match your KPIs, make sure they are:
- Pertinent to business goals
- Objective—especially around personal development
- Strategic and focused on improvement
- Clearly defined and straightforward
- Relevant and explicit
Maintain consistency from review to review. If an area for improvement was significant at the last review, it should maintain the same level of priority in the next. And as your teammates set goals, make sure it’s clear how their progress will be measured.
What every staff member needs might change. Your KPIs could change too. No matter what, encourage and accept feedback at all stages—that way you can adapt as needed.
Critical components of a performance management framework
Your performance management framework may not look exactly like the framework laid out here. But to ensure that your performance management structure aligns with your KPIs, be sure to include these elements.
Set goals at the start of the process, and make sure they’re meaningful and understood by everyone involved. When employees understand the context behind the goals you’re setting, they’ll feel more engaged and recognize that their individual contributions matter.
Aim for a collaborative goal-setting process. Modern approaches include a reversal of the traditional top-down approach to goal setting. Some companies actually align goals upward. This means empowering employees to create goals based on their understanding of the company’s target KPIs. This kind of ownership contributes to improved employee performance.
Transparent communication and collaboration
Today’s employees expect and respond best to managers and leaders who are open and authentic. For the same reasons you need to communicate KPIs effectively, don’t keep your employees in the dark. This includes times when the business is experiencing a rough patch.
Honest discussion, regular feedback, and real-time communication are all critical for maintaining strong employee engagement.
Effective performance management frameworks prioritize employee recognition and rewards. Employees who understand their value and feel appreciated for their work are usually more satisfied and less likely to quit their jobs.
Frequent feedback and review
Individual employees perform best when they receive frequent, precise feedback. They need regular insight into their work product to develop confidence and autonomy. Quick feedback sessions are another opportunity for managers to demonstrate open and honest communication.
Don’t skip over the employee development aspect of the planning stage of the performance management cycle. When you invest in an employee’s personal development, it not only helps your team push toward KPI goals, but it’s also a way to add value to their job.
Examples of target KPIs across industries
This is far from an exhaustive list, but these examples may help you get into the right mindset to target the right KPIs for your business.
Basket size: Grocers can set target KPIs based on increasing the number of items customers are buying across categories. For example, “Increase average basket size by 10% over the next 6 months.”
Customer acquisition cost (CAC): This metric is essential for every industry, but the narrow margins in the grocery sector make it especially crucial to examine. A target KPI aimed at decreasing CAC might read “Decrease average CAC among (a specific demographic of) shoppers by 20% within 3 months.”
Cart abandonment rate: When customers add items to their digital cart but don’t complete the transaction at high rates, e-commerce vendors need to figure out why. A relevant target KPI could be, “Reduce abandonment rate among return shoppers by 10% within 3 months.”
Average order value (AOV): A metric that affects brick and mortar stores as well, AOV is a popular focus of KPIs in the retail industry. An example target KPI related to AOV might read, “Increase AOV by $15 within 2 quarters.”
Engagement: As with any sector that relies on consumer spending, engagement is critical. For e-commerce, KPIs tend to focus on topics like omnichannel effectiveness. A sample target KPI could read, “Increase email open rate by 15% within 4 months.”
Goals in sectors like energy are a bit different from common retail goals. Still, the same general process for creating target KPIs works here.
Sustainability: Energy companies continually seek out ways to improve sustainability, as it’s a common customer concern. Sustainability also helps to ensure the company is in compliance with industry regulations. A KPI could be, “Become carbon neutral by 2022.”
Virtually any industry and sector can benefit from developing actionable KPIs.
Developing a robust monitoring plan to track your KPIs is crucial. You need quick access to understandable reports that tell the whole story at any moment.
You can monitor many KPIs using Mailchimp’s all-in-one Marketing Platform. Mailchimp empowers you with tools you can use to analyze your performance, become more educated about your audience, and hone your marketing efforts based on data compiled in your reports.
- Email campaign reports show how your campaign is faring against industry standards, how many clicks and opens you’re getting, the level of engagement from your contacts on social platforms, and more.
- Automation reports provide a view into how an automated series of emails is doing on the whole. You can also drill down deeper into individual email stats.
- Landing page reports empower you to make informed decisions based on metrics like views, clicks, list signups, and revenue.
- Ad reports let you evaluate how your ads are doing in terms of factors like acquired customers, views, clicks, and return on investment (ROI).
Mailchimp’s reports are thorough and insightful, but they’re also easy to understand. You can quickly monitor trends and track progress toward your target KPIs.
With Mailchimp, you can:
- Better understand your audience
- Compare your progress against competitors in your field
- Dig deep into detailed revenue reports
- Follow the customer journey from click to purchase
Plus, you can take the power of Mailchimp with you everywhere you go using the Mailchimp mobile app. Get access to real-time campaign data anywhere, any time. This streamlined experience will showcase your most important metrics in a single view.
You can even receive alerts when your campaign needs attention. You’ll be knocking your KPIs out of the park in no time with Mailchimp’s all-in-one Marketing Platform.
What’s the difference between a KPI and a performance metric?
KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. This is why the word “key” is so important. KPIs measure how effective you are at achieving business objectives, while other metrics merely track a specific data point. KPIs specifically help you understand your progress towards big-picture goals.
How should I decide which KPIs to use?
- Each industry and business will target different KPIs. Applying the SMARTER framework can give you answers to critical questions that will help shape your KPIs.
- Is your business objective specific?
- How do you plan to measure your success?
- Is your aim realistic and attainable?
- How relevant is your goal to your organization as a whole?
- What’s the time frame for completing this objective?
- Is the purpose explainable in a way that your business team fully understands?
- Does your objective include a relative value that will remain useful as your business changes and grows?
How do I monitor KPIs?
There are many useful tools—like Mailchimp’s all-in-one Marketing Platform—that can help you monitor KPIs. Mailchimp provides deep insights into your marketing data, telling the story of where your brand has been and where it’s heading.
How many KPIs should I track?
You’ll benefit most from the KPI process if you concentrate on just one or 2 KPIs at a time. If you assess too many KPIs at once or select KPIs that aren’t relevant to the current state of your company, they won’t be effective.
Why are KPIs important?
KPIs allow you to focus on the highest priority issues facing your company. They can also inspire your team to work together to achieve a common goal. KPIs can serve as a roadmap for your near and long-term future.
When should I review KPIs?
Review your KPIs regularly. You can tailor your review schedule to your overall time frame. If you’ve set a KPI that you want to achieve in 12 months, for example, quarterly reviews might be a good fit. Shorter time frames call for more frequent reviews to make sure you’ll hit your targets on time.
A performance management framework will allow you to review KPIs in the context of individual employees, as well.
How can I use KPIs to motivate my staff?
The best way to motivate your staff to work toward your target KPI is to encourage engagement and buy-in. Include your team in discussions as you identify and define metrics and KPIs, especially in relation to how individual employee efforts will make a difference in the outcome.
Engaged employees feel like they’re part of the process and integral to the company—and they are. When employees feel valued, they perform better and stick around longer, helping you reach your target KPIs sooner.
What are some common examples of KPIs?
KPIs can vary between industries and businesses—you should select them based on your overarching goals. However, these KPIs are useful for companies of many kinds: