We’ve been taking our godson to hockey games for years now. As part of our pre-game warm-up, I always ask him who he thinks will win. When he was very small he’d give me this look that said “that-is-such-a-silly-question” and answer, very matter of factly, “I don’t know.”

As he got a little older, the answer changed. Now it was “the Capitals,” our home team. He’d crossed over to being a fan with a stake. He was rooting for an outcome, not just watching as a spectator.

As he got bigger still, he moved into a more analytical mode. Now, he projects the game’s outcome based on information at hand: the teams’ records, their strengths and weaknesses, player match-ups, past contests between the two competitors, anything he can get his hands on which may factor into who will be victorious. He’s not always right, but he can always support his projection.

Just as my godson projects the winner of hockey games, I spend time with my clients projecting the outcomes of email marketing campaigns. For some, this is a new practice. They’ve been in “I don’t know” or “I’m sure I’ll get some response, I just don’t know how much” mode. Projections were never a part of their email marketing efforts.

Many people doing marketing campaigns are hesitant to create projections.

  • Some feel if the projections aren’t met it reflects poorly on their abilities as a marketer.

  • Others even fear they’ll lose their job if they put an estimate of response on paper, then don’t meet it.
  • Some have trouble with the assumptive aspect of projections; they aren’t comfortable “guestimating” figures they don’t have.
  • Many cite lack of time as a reason for not projecting, as in “I don’t have time to do projections, I just have to get these emails out.” The problem is activity doesn’t always translate in productivity; a comparable or higher response rate may be achievable with fewer emails or fewer hours.
  • Then there are folks who have a more creative, qualitative focus; they shy away from anything having to do with spreadsheets and numbers.
  • Another big reason for not doing projections is there’s no tracking or reporting of actual results by email campaign, so you won’t ever really be able to tie projections back to reality with 100 percent certainty.

Those are all the excuses for not doing projections; here are the reasons you should do them:

  • Projections are an educated guess. So long as the rationale behind them is sound, you’ve done your job, whether or not the actual response aligns with them.

  • The only way to get better at projections is to practice. The more you do them, the better you’ll get and the closer you’ll come to actual results.
  • Projections provide a way to prioritize efforts. If you have two email campaigns competing for time or resources, projections can determine which gets priority.
  • If you don’t get reports on the outcome of your email campaigns, you should be. How do you know what’s working and what’s not? Doing projections beforehand is a great way to drive this message home to your organization and to demonstrate the value in this type of quantitative measurement.

The most difficult part of doing projections is often assumptions. Where do you get the numbers from? How can you be confident they’re correct? I like to create a spreadsheet of benchmarks to start the process; I can use these as needed to calculation results.

The first place to look for benchmarks is within your organization. Web analytics information can be very useful, especially click-stream reports which show how visitors move through your Web site. If you have an online order process, you’ll want to see what percentage of people who start the process complete the sale. If people coming from email hit a landing page before the order process, look at how many people from there get to the first page of the order process. Percentages, not raw numbers, are what you need. It’s not about 85 orders, it’s about the 42.6 percent of those who start the order process who also complete it.

If you have information relating to the specific product you’re marketing, that’s best. But if you don’t have it, you can substitute data from a similar product, or data from a different product that appeals to the same audience you’re targeting. The further you get from what you’re actually doing, the more of a leap of faith you’re taking. But it’s better than nothing.

Don’t be afraid to sanity check the numbers. If a figure seems high, I’ll adjust down by 10, 25, or 50 percent until it’s something I’m comfortable with. It’s this mix of actual figures and gut instincts that create the best assumptions.

Once you’ve mined internal company data as much as possible, it’s time to look outside. Industry benchmarks should be your next option. Doing an Internet search on the metrics you’re looking for is a good start; ClickZ Stats is another good resource for online metrics. You’ll be surprised how many figures are out there once you start looking. Gather them all, then hone the list to the ones you feel are most relevant — and the ones you have the most confidence in.

Projections don’t have to be big, hairy monsters — I actually find a lot of comfort in tehm. They let you know what results you should expect for your efforts and they give you something to shoot for. If you don’t make it, adjust the projections next time out. And if you beat your projections — it’s cause to celebrate! And, a reason to up projections for your next send.

Until next time,


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