(This post was written by Emily Salus, marketing extraordinaire with experience driving successful programs, developing campaign strategies, and aligning with sales to drive measurable growth.)

A friend recently told me that the company he works for has frozen marketing hires because the finance department wants marketing to prove its value before adding more headcount. Not long after, another friend let me know that the North American branch of his marketing department had recently been reorganized.

These things simply don’t happen when marketing produces pipeline — and can prove it.

It’s been almost a decade since I started working for marketing departments that assessed their team according to pipeline created instead of number of leads. And yet surprisingly, a majority of businesses tend to lag on this. The result is that marketing — often considered one of the most important departments in data-driven organizations — still gets cut, cut back, or questioned in too many cases because ROI isn’t being (or can’t be) measured.

If a marketing department has the ability to analyze and derive insights from their metrics, the tough questions—what’s marketing doing to support company goals, where and why they’re spending money, and why they should continue to receive budget—simply don’t get asked. If that marketing department is aligned with sales, delivering the qualified leads that sales needs, and supporting sales in account-based marketing efforts, the sales team is absolutely going to support marketing initiatives. But beyond that, they’ll also press the argument that they cannot do their jobs and reach their goals without marketing – and that marketing budget should therefore be increased instead of cut. With sales and marketing working together as the revenue-generating powerhouse of a company, the finance department, executive team, and board have no reason to reorganize marketing, freeze hires, or cut budget.

How do you get here? It of course starts with metrics, but then you have to know what to do with the numbers. You can have any variety of results, say, “Our average email open rate was 20%!” But if you don’t know if that’s trending up or down, or if opens are indicative of moving leads towards opportunities instead of just informing people who will never buy, then they are irrelevant and you might as well not even bother.

Your metrics only matter if they help you make data-driven decisions about investments that maintain, increase, or accelerate pipeline.

Your first step is to determine which questions you need to answer in order to make good decisions. For example: Which channels add more people to your database? Which channels add more leads that become opportunities to your database? Which topics and programs are informing prospects and helping them to become customers? Is your definition of MQL accurate, or are too many not being converted by sales even if they are marketing qualified? Where is your pipeline coming from? If your sales cycle averages nine months, how many leads do you need to add today in order to meet your sales goals in three quarters?

With a fully optimized and measured funnel and metrics for your more tactical efforts, you can answer these questions. But without them, you can expect your department and budget to be constantly questioned.