Beyond the profit and loss statement, sales metrics are arguably the most critical numbers for a corporation to track. With the growing adoption of customer-relationship management software tools, it's become much easier to analyze everything from sales pipelines to close rates-even at smaller private equity firms.

Meanwhile, marketing metrics are starting to gain importance as well, with a wave of startups and established technology companies, such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) and SAS Institute Inc., creating new tools to leverage predictive analytics to monitor the success of marketing activities and, ultimately, to improve return on investment (ROI). Some of the better-known players in the marketing analytics space are Marketshare, backed by New York private equity firm Elevation Partners, and Entiera Inc., which was acquired by credit score giant FICO (NYSE: FICO) in May.

In a recent IBM survey of 1,700 chief marketing officers (CMOs), "data explosion" ranked as the most common area in which CMOs feel underprepared. While they appreciate the need for metrics, most CMOs are overwhelmed about how to harness them to drive results.

Another challenge is that the metrics du jour are constantly evolving and, in some cases, can turn on a dime. After completing the bulk of a nine-month thought-leadership campaign for a large telecom company that drove multiple interactions with customers via white papers, custom video and research, the client requested that we retool the program quickly in order to meet new internal requirements for reaching specific lead numbers. This begs the question: What marketing metrics are really important? Here are a few, along with some caveats.

1. Sales leads

Leads are vital to any sales organization, especially when you're targeting financial services companies, whose undivided attention is tough to secure at a time when they're contending with economic, regulatory and technological change. By engaging the customer through content that's relevant to their business, you become a valuable resource as opposed to another vendor. Caveat: A lead only matters if it results in a commitment from the customer. In a worst-case scenario, marketers will tell us their sales team didn't follow up with the leads. In other cases, sales and marketing don't communicate, and the ROI may be less than expected. My advice is to involve your sales team before the campaign starts. And if you don't have a sales team, SourceMedia has people who can follow up on those leads for you.

2. Online engagement

This refers to how much time potential customers spend on your site, how much content they view or download, and whether they are recurring visitors or "one and done." But don't expect any customer to keep visiting your site because it has modern fonts or it is optimized for search engines. You won't create any sustainable engagement without relevant, recurring content. Caveat: When assessing engagement, don't look at any number in isolation. Hundreds of social media shares, for example, aren't worth much, unless they bring people back to your content. But their value increases if they're part of a program that touches customers multiple times.

3. Video views

If given the opportunity, most of us would jump at the chance to sit down in front of a potential customer for a couple of minutes. While a video isn't as personal as a face-to-face meeting, it's arguably the next best thing online. As I've noted in this column, video consumption from C-suite executives continues to increase, so it's quickly becoming a must-have component of any integrated marketing campaign. Caveat: Not all videos are created equal, and some financial videos are downright awful-sometimes because of the "actors," but, more often, because of the content. The worst I've seen include three people from the same company having a 10-minute chat about how wonderful their products are. Conversely, videos that address a business problem or discuss a market trend in a short time frame tend to perform much better.

If you're interested in creating a marketing program that gives you several ways to measure success, let us know. We know metrics matter.

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