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The metrics that publishing companies use most often to track performance include financial measures such as changes in sales and revenue. But viewed in isolation, these may have little connection to your long-term commercial success.

The question most publishers periodically ask themselves is, “Did I achieve the goals that I set?” The numbers are easy to measure and compare — you either reached your sales objectives or you did not.

Due to this perceived simplicity, some publishers stop there and recalculate their objectives for the next period. The problem with this process is it measures something you cannot control — sales and revenue. If you could control them, then reaching goals would be a given. But you can only influence the attainment of those metrics by the actions you take.

Publishers can significantly improve upon this process by seeking several questions, such as, “Could sales have been higher? How? Did sales maximize my revenue and profit?” And if objectives were not achieved, “Why not?”

A simple two-step process can help make your publishing business everything you want it to be, and everything it could be. Step One is to measure the results of your efforts, such as the change in sales, revenue and profits. In Step Two, evaluate the actions that caused the results. Then eliminate or change what did not work, and continue doing more of what did work.

Measure the effect, evaluate the cause

Book marketing is a matter of cause and effect. When you create a quality, market-driven product, price it accurately, distribute it properly and promote it consistently your sales, revenue and profit should increase. The cause is the marketing and the effect is the demonstrable change in your target metrics.

Begin by measuring the relative attainment of your goals, but use that result only as an indication that you are doing something effectively and efficiently – or not. Measuring outcome is like reading a thermometer: it gives you information on current conditions. If you want to change the conditions you have to raise or lower the temperature setting on the thermostat.

As a metaphor, to change the reading on your marketing thermometer, reset the cause of the change – your marketing efforts. For example, when entering a new market such as corporate sales, the initial goal is to find new prospects to whom you can sell. You may set a goal of locating ten potential buyers in the next month.

What factors will help you find new prospects? Several include defining, segmenting and qualifying your target companies, networking, searching the Internet and scouring directories.

If you do not have ten prospective buyers at the end of the 30-day period, the tendency is to assume the goal is too high. Instead, look at the actions taken to reach the goal. Are your target definitions correct? Did you spend too much time networking on Facebook instead of networking in-person at association meetings? Could you search different places on the Internet or find new directories? Evaluate the actions that caused the result and then make necessary corrections.

Your actions should have two qualities. First, they should be reproducible, meaning the implementation at one time is similar to that at a different time. Examples are telephone scripts and PowerPoint presentations that are honed through practice. They evolve to the point where execution can be replicated.

Second, actions should be predictive, demonstrating a causal relationship between the action and the outcome being measured. In other words, the effect of an action at one time will be similar to the result of the same action at a later time. Presenting a proposal and then negotiating the sale of your books reveals the predictive nature of marketing actions. Measuring unit sales, gross revenue or net profits represent neither reproducible nor predictive metrics.

How to measure and evaluate

Measuring the attainment of goals (or lack thereof) is an objective process that determines what happened. For example, you may have a specific number (ten) of prospects to find in a month. You compare the actual result with the proposed outcome and find yourself at, above or below your goal. That is the first step.

Helpful Resource: I created a spreadsheet to demonstrate the measurement process. Go to http://www.premiumbookcompany.com/Evaluationform.xls Insert your sales forecast in column E. Then insert your actual sales for the period in the blue areas. The actual unit sales and revenue are automatically compared to your forecast (this spreadsheet assumes a list price of $14.95 and retail sales discounted at 65%). Do the same for future periods to objectively measure your progress and keep you on track to achieve your annual objective. Remember, this is only an indication of what happened, not why.

Next, subjectively evaluate the cause to determine why the result happened. If your actual sales are below forecast, look at the quantity and quality of your actions. What can you do to increase your revenue? Could you publish your content as an ebook or booklet? Find new distribution partners? Enter different non-bookstore segments? Change your price or discount schedule? Do different, more or better promotion? Here is a checklist to help you subjectively evaluate the causes of poor, good and excellent results.

Poor Results Good Results Excellent Results
Product driven Market driven Market driving
Mass-market orientation Segment oriented Customer oriented
Product focus Augmented product Focus on solutions
Average product quality Better than average Excellent products
Average service quality Better than average Excellent service
Function oriented Process oriented Outcome oriented
Reacting to competition Matching competition Leading competition
Supplier exploitation Supplier preference Supplier partnership
Distribution exploitation Distributor support Distributor partnership
Price driven Quality driven Value driven
No plan Written plan Implemented plan

This two-step process may be applied to any cause-and-effect situation. For instance, if your authors are not appearing on as many media events as planned, maybe they need to change the way they approach producers. If they are getting on many shows but not selling books, perhaps they need to improve their performances by taking media training.

If you want to know the scale of a situation, gather and compare the numbers. If you are satisfied with your results, keep doing more of what you are already doing. If you are not satisfied, evaluate your actions and try something different. Remember that you cause the results, so look to where you have the most influence on them.

This is the fourth in a four part series on book marketing. The first post appeared on October 14, 2014 and outlined Six Rules for Creating a Solid Book Marketing Strategy. The second post on October 28, 2014, talked about Book Marketing Choreography.  The third, The Hidden Power of Marketing, was posted on November 11, 2014.


Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (formerly SPAN) and host of the APSS Book Selling University. He is also the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books.