Show don’t tell: Using KPIs to evaluate your marketing strategy

Two attorneys sitting at a desk with laptops performing calculations on a piece of paper

Remember high school English class? You may recall your teacher sharing the cardinal rule of creative writing, “show, don’t tell.” English teachers love this phrase, and for good reason. Your writing is more effective when you use vivid descriptors to prove what you’re talking about. For example, “I was cold” versus “the frigid wind made me shiver violently” – which do you find more compelling?

This rule doesn’t only apply to writing. As a legal professional, “show, don’t tell” is an essential strategy when you’re asked to justify your marketing budget to the key decision-makers in your firm. Except in this case, you’ll use KPIs, rather than flowery adjectives, to prove your story.

What is a KPI?

KPI is short for key performance indicator, a measurement that shows how something is performing relative to a benchmark. In marketing, KPIs are a simple way to demonstrate if a campaign is delivering results. When justifying your marketing budget to a managing partner, the two most important KPIs you’ll want to use to tell your story are CPL and CAC.


Cost-per-lead (CPL) tells you how much you need to spend on your marketing campaign to generate a lead. You find CPL by dividing the total cost of a campaign by the number of leads it produced. Make sure to be careful with what you choose to define as a “lead,” however, as criteria that are too restrictive or broad can manipulate your results.

Customer acquisition cost

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) expresses how much it’s costing your firm to win new clients. To calculate CAC, divide the total amount you spent on marketing during a specific period by the number of clients your firm gained during that period.

This metric on its own, however, isn’t very useful. A massive CAC may be fine for a major firm chasing corporate customers, but unsustainable for a family practice. To tell an effective story, you must put CAC in perspective by determining the average revenue generated by those acquired clients. A good rule of thumb? Aim for a CAC that is 15 percent or less of your average per-client revenue.

Context is key

Now that you’ve calculated your CPL and CAC, it’s time to provide some context to ensure you’re telling an effective story. First, you must determine how to define success for each of your marketing campaigns. If your goal is simply to generate leads, a low CPL would indicate the campaign is performing successfully. However, if your goal is landing lucrative clients, a campaign with a very high CPL but a low CAC-to-revenue ratio would also indicate success. Using both of these KPIs together allows for a richer understanding of a campaign’s performance relative to its goals.

Moreover, don’t forget to evaluate each campaign in the context of geography and practice area. For example, the cost to generate leads is naturally going to be higher in metro areas where there’s heavy competition, and the average revenue made from an acquisition campaign targeting DUI defendants will be lower than one targeting business clients.

More critical than ever

In these uncertain times, your firm can’t afford to be spending money on campaigns that aren’t delivering results. KPIs, when put in context, are the keys that will allow you to quantify the success of your marketing dollars and create a compelling story that justifies your budget to firm decision-makers.

Looking to dive deeper into this topic? Download a copy of our new guide: Research, ROI, and refinement: Optimizing your legal marketing strategy and proving its value.


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