Let’s kick things off by being honest and open with one another.

Who seriously wakes up in the morning, gets dressed, and actively seeks out mediocrity, lack of direction, and adequacy?

Let’s pop the shoe on the other foot: who devotes themselves to a career shaped by success, ambition, and endless triumphs?

That’s the spirit. 👍

Whatever your current mindset, you should be aiming for one place - the top. And if you’re planning on surviving your hike to the figurative summit, you’ll need to have a few essentials in place, including Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Is the term as alien to you as ET: The Extra-Terrestrial?

Not to worry - we’re gonna drill home the key OKR points, ‘til you wanna go home.

First up: the basics...

What are OKRs?

The latest in a monsoon of PMM acronyms, OKRs stands for objectives and key results and it’s commonplace for orgs to have them in place.

OKRs not only enhance performance management, but they also provide a platform for tracking success via the introduction of measurable goals and targets.

Often in place in a team environment, OKRs are usually set across a defined period to track progress, maintain progression, and introduce contingency plans, when needed.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss”, and all that.

How can OKRs help PMMs?

The topic of OKRs can tend to send shivers down the spine of the most hardened PMM, given their reputation for being difficult to nail.

Given PMMs are very much the business butterflies within an org and flit between several groups and teams, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where a product marketing team has contributed to the wider picture when it comes to the crunch.

Still, having a process in place to measure success is pivotal; you can’t throw mud and hope something sticks; a business without OKRs is heading one way, and it ain’t up.

Add to that, given just 5% of product marketers think their role is fully understood, as highlighted in the State of Product Marketing Report 2020, OKRs can contribute significantly in helping other teams see what you bring to the table, and perhaps encourage stakeholders to allocate more budget to your department in the future.

OKR examples

If we all listened to the same music, watched the same TV shows, and wore the same clothes, the world would be a boring place, right?

The same philosophy applies to OKRs. There’s no blanket approach you can throw across all businesses. Each has their own agenda, therefore, their OKRs will never be the same.

Let’s check out a few examples of OKRs in practice:

Example 1: Barcelona Football Club

Barcelona FC is one of the biggest clubs in world football. Though fans may view the club exclusively as a sports team, they operate as a well-oiled, finely-tuned business, with a series of OKRs in place.

For instance, at the start of each soccer season, the head coach is given targets for the upcoming campaign, i.e. OKRs. This could be broken down as follows:

Objective: Win a European trophy and league title.

Key results may include:

KR1: Average scored goals rate of 3.0 throughout the season.

KR2: Average conceded goals rate of 0.5 throughout the season.

KR3: Average ball possession rate of 70% throughout the season.

These OKRs aren’t set in stone and may change as the season unfolds.

For example, if their MVP (a certain Lionel Messi) picked up a serious injury and couldn’t play in the season’s remaining fixtures, this would significantly weaken the side’s chances of success. Therefore, the OKRs set at the beginning of the season would change, with the revised targets perhaps looking like this:

Objective: Finish runners-up and win a domestic trophy.

Also, key results may include:

KR1: Average scored goals rate of 2.0 throughout the season.

KR2: Average conceded goals rate of 1.0 throughout the season.

KR3: Average ball possession rate of 60% throughout the season.

The new set of OKRs acknowledge that in light of the injury, this could:

  1. Have an impact on the side’s chances of winning trophies,
  2. Reduce the goals scored by the team,
  3. Reduce the team’s possession rate.

Stubbornness and OKRs are like chalk and cheese, and you need to be willing to change your plans accordingly. If you don’t, you’re asking for a red-card.

Let’s take a look at another example, for the non-sporting fans amongst us:

Example 2: Website launch

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the job market - hard.

Not only have millions been made redundant, with the economy taking a significant hit, and jobs have become increasingly hard to come by.

As a solution, people are venturing down the route of freelancing and self-employment. And as we all know, a website is part and parcel of setting up a brand-new company.

Here’s how a freelance consultant could introduce OKRs when launching their brand-spanking-new website for their new clients:

Objective: Launch a new website for freelance consulting.

KR1: Search for, and invest in a suitable domain name by 5th February,

KR2: Choose a content management system by 11th February,

KR3: Populate content and publish the first blog post by 17th February.

Here, a clear cut objective has been defined, while the deadlines for each of the key results can be used further down the line to distinguish whether the goals have been fulfilled.

Example 3: sales confidence

Within sales enablement, there are a ton of OKRs you can put in place, including sales confidence.

As a sales rep, you don’t wanna be a bumbling mess when you’re trying to close a deal; it ain’t a good look. If you’ve got a bit of swagger and the gift of the gab, you’ll make better pitches. Better pitches = more details.

It’s the way the cookie crumbles.

And the good news is it’s super-easy to measure success with quarterly or six-monthly surveys. Just don’t get giddy and go any more than every quarter; you’ll struggle to take any meaningful findings, and you can spend your time better elsewhere.

We’ve popped together some questions you can ask your sales team:

  • How confident do you feel when pitching our product?
  • How equipped do you feel to beat the competition?
  • How would you rate the sale assets you have available to you?
  • How much do those sales assets help you with pitching?
  • Are there any areas where you think support is missing?

When getting your feedback, ask for responses on a scale of one to 10, with the exception of the last question; this lends itself to qualitative data.

This will then enable you to establish a sales confidence barometer to refer to and set a benchmark.

Example 4: active users

Active users are people who use your product regularly, and it’s straightforward to document active users as an OKR.

For example, you can simply use a rolling percentage of how many users you have versus active users you have based on your definition of active, like this:

It’s advisable to match your stats up with your campaigns so you can get an idea of what’s driving uptake, before introducing contingencies, when needed.

OKR no-no’s

We’re not in the business of smoke and mirrors; while we’ll praise OKRs ‘til the cows come home, it’s worth remembering there are two ways to approach the topic: the right way, and the wrong way.

We’ve all posted a LinkedIn post and become wrapped up in how many ‘likes’ or comments it’s received. But at the end of the day, the likes and pretty stats don’t necessarily correlate with what truly matters: how many of those converted into a customer.

Which brings us nicely onto the topic of vanity metrics. When you’re defining your goals for your OKRs, treat vanity metrics, such as likes and page views, like a disgruntled-ex.

Avoid. Like the plague.

Vanity figures don’t hold the same credence as bottom-line metrics tied to the overall success of your product. After all, if your post gets 10,000 likes, and only 10 sales, that’s a 0.1% conversion rate.

If you do decide to put your faith in these metrics, there’ll be one question coming right back atcha when you present them in a meeting: “So what?” And believe us when we say that’ll cut you and the credibility of your product marketing team, right back down to size, so heed our advice and pay attention to the stuff that really matters.

OKRs should also be established with a clear view of what other parts of the business are doing. When establishing OKRs, implement a pyramid structure: employees should form the core foundations, and build up with managerial staff, department heads, etc. Not only will this help you hit your base targets, but it’ll prompt further success with stretch goals.

Finally, if you’re part of a business where rapid growth isn’t top of the agenda, nip back to the drawing board, and look for a plan B; OKRs are best-suited for orgs with large growth goals.

Key takeaway: Think about metrics that matter. And when D-Day arrives when you need to justify your choices, be sure you can weather the storm and answer with confidence and conviction.

OKRs vs KPIs

Brace yourself, ‘cos we're making another addition to the acronym melting pot - KPIs, i.e. key performance indicators.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley of the PMM world, KPIs and OKRs are often mixed up, and while they’re similar, they aren’t the same. So, we’re gonna lay the facts on the table and explain the difference between the two.

What is a KPI?

A key performance indicator is used to assess performance during a sustained period. This can be applied to the org as a whole, a project, an individual within the team, and so forth.

Given KPIs need to be measurable, quantitative data is favorable when adopting this approach; you could use qualitative KPIs, but subjectivity can over-complicate matters when interpreting data.

What’s the difference?

We know what you’re thinking: “get to the point and spill the juice - what’s the difference between OKRs and KPIs?”

A significant difference between OKRs and KPIs is the intention surrounding why the goals have been set in the first place.

When companies set KPI goals, they’re considered obtainable and are the product of an existing process or product. On the other hand, OKR goals differ in that they’re A) more ambitious, and B) more aggressive in their execution.

Remember, although OKRs may be bold, they mustn’t be pie in the sky. The apparent method behind the OKR madness is the aggressive targets are set to drive teams to perform to an even higher standard; set outrageous targets whilst reaching for the stars, and you’ll come crashing back down to earth - with a very hard bump.

How to define your OKRs

Now you know what OKRs are, have seen examples of them in practice, and differentiated between them and KPIs, you’ll need to define OKRs for your company.

Simplicity bears fruit

When you’re defining your OKRs, pay attention to the objectives you can realistically complete in the time at your disposal.

It’s often the case team members form the opinion they need to contribute to every objective and inevitably, they can’t maintain the standards expected.

Instead, keep it simple, and prioritize what matters; what does your business need to focus on the most?

Remember, there’s no definitive number of objectives you need to set - each company is different, and needs will vary depending on the nature of the goals being set, resources you have at your disposal, and potential bumps in the road that may occur down the line.

Liken the process to a trip to the mall; would you take a bus, subway, and then get a cab if you could jump in the car and be there in 15 minutes?

Simplicity is golden.

Be specific and plan

OKRs aren’t like high school exams: you can’t ‘wing it’ and hope for the best.

Instead, adopt a more methodical approach. Pop on a pot of coffee, order some pizza, and go to town on an in-depth plan outlining all the possible ways you can accomplish your results.

Then, put together a more specific action plan, explaining how you’re going to hit each objective. Don’t forget, you’ll need to be uber-clear about how managerial teams will be able to assess whether or not the objective has been achieved - specificity is paramount.

Don’t walk up a blind alley; set clear, distinguished objectives so you have no doubts about A) what your goals are, and B) how you can get things done.

Cascade objectives

Organizational objectives can trigger hyperventilation for some employees.

Ok, we’re exaggerating a little, but you get our drift.

That said, given some employees aren't able to see how their roles are directly contributing to the company’s success, it can be a slight pain in the ass.

This is where cascade objectives come into their own; cascading objectives between varying levels of the org gives employees a clearer sense of how they're contributing to the overall picture.

And by sharing higher-level objectives, all members of the organization can pull together in one direction and adhere to the company’s vision.

Set realistic stretch goals

It’s nice to challenge yourself, right? Some run a marathon, others test their literary limits and read Ulysses from cover to cover, while some climb a mountain.

It’s often the case stretch goals are set by managers to push their team to the limit, and motivate them to hit new performance levels.

However, approach stretch goals with caution: if you’re continually setting unrealistic targets to try and push your team members, they’ll become despondent, and the exercise will have an adverse effect.

Sure, you could put incentives in place, but ultimately, even if you dangle the biggest carrot, they ain’t gonna bite if their teeth have fallen out.

Always make it measurable

There’s no point in setting off on a journey if you can’t track your progress.

Whether it be a deadline, monetary target, or several visitors to your social media channel, always ensure your key results have a unit of measurement.

Use bonafide, quantitative data that’ll provide you with cold-hard facts. Nobody (and we mean nobody) wants to be sitting debating the findings of qualitative findings.

Include sub-groups within your key results

When you’re setting your key results, create a series of mini-goals.

Not only will these keep you on track in pursuit of your overall goal, but they’ll also serve as milestones on your OKR journey and offer a perspective of the wider picture in terms of what’s been achieved, rather than ‘complete’, and ‘incomplete.’

Celebrate good times (come on)

Finally, give yourself and your team members the recognition you all deserve throughout the build-up to achieving a goal.

Be sure to incentivize your team members and acknowledge their hard work; there’s nothing worse than working your ass off for months, achieving your targets, and not getting any positive feedback.

Good vibes make for good foundations moving forward.

Never be scared to shout from the rooftops and let the whole world know about your achievements; post it on social media, your website, wherever you want - success is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Remember, OKRs aren’t exclusive to a team.

If you want to, set OKRs for every member of your team as a means of encouraging them to take responsibility for their workload. This will give you an indication of where their strengths lay, and what measures need to be introduced to help them to improve other areas of their practice.

Let’s get the OKR party started…

We’ve rambled on long enough - now it’s your turn to get your hands dirty and start introducing OKRs of your own.

But we’re not gonna feed you to the wolves without a weapon to protect yourself - we have a repertoire of templates and frameworks, including OKR resources, waiting for you on our website, so go check them out.

Add to that, we’ve even put together a fab freebie for you - your very own OKR ebook.

Plus, if you want to learn even more about OKRs, and get PMM Certified whilst doing so, our Product Marketing: Core [On Demand] course is right up your street.

Or, you can delve into our Product Marketing: Core [Live + Online] option and learn in real-time, with a PMM expert.

Either way, you’ll be on to a winner.