We have reached a point in time at which everything is measurable. Everything. I can tell you who is on my website, what they’re looking at and how they’re moving through the sales funnel. I can tell you which keywords cause our site visits to spike.  I can tell you what headlines attract visitors, and what types of stories make them stay on site.

The potential is for sales and marketing departments to work much more closely together than ever before. And that’s a good thing, right?

Yes, to a point.

The purpose of marketing is to warm leads for sales. That’s indisputable. However, marketing traditionally has relied more upon art than science. As department store patriarch John Wanamaker once famously said “I know half of my advertising works, I just don’t know which half.” Forget for a moment that he was wildly optimistic about how effective his ad budget was, and fast forward to today. In 2013, you can be far surer of which marketing efforts work and which ones don’t. By agreeing at the outset of a campaign on key performance indicators and tracking progress against those KPIs, marketers can gauge how effective they are in actually impacting sales and revenue.

Bingo!

However.

Abandoning all art to pursue the science of marketing is very likely a mistake.

As Joe Chernov of Kinvey said last week at Content Marketing World, “If everything you do is try to attach ROI to content marketing, you’re going to lose creativity.” Chernov said you need to use your gut as well, and have faith in the professionals in the marketing department.

The reason is trust. In 2013, trust always comes before sale. This is the era of preference marketing, in which the customer has limitless options; she can buy from you, from your competitor down the street, or from a company halfway around the world that you never heard of.

In order to build trust with that prospective customer, you cannot treat that prospect like a math equation. You must treat him or her as a human being. That means creating human interactions, whether on social media, on the phone with customer service or in-person at an event. You must provide assistance to that prospect, and you must do it way before you even know if he or she is a prospect; for B2B companies, 70 percent of the buying process is complete before the sales department even knows the person is shopping. That means your business needs to be active on social media and other communications channels; you need to be helpful, without ever knowing if you’ll be able to draw a direct line to ROI. You need to provide useful information to people without ever knowing if they’ll buy from you.

Because if you are helpful, they might choose your product or service. And if you aren’t helpful, they won’t buy from you. Ever.

This reality of the way consumers behave in 2013 is that you must build trust with a much wider segment of the population. So while you can track all those numbers and measure KPIs (and you should), you have to understand that a significant effort must be made beyond the spreadsheet you create. Extra effort that doesn’t lead directly to sales eventually will be rewarded.

You just have to go with your gut.