What is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)? Detailed guide with examples

Your ability to measure the success of your team starts with stats. You need a strategic approach backed by quantifiable metrics. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the building blocks of this strategy, creating the scaffolding that allows you and your team to reach your goals.

A KPI isn't simply a figure on a spreadsheet; below, we’ll explain more about what a KPI is and how you can use it to ensure the success of your strategic initiatives.

Table of contents:

What is a KPI?

A KPI stands for a Key Performance Indicator that measures how effectively an organization achieves key business objectives. Businesses across every industry and sector leverage KPIs to evaluate the success or failure of particular activities, initiatives, or processes. They serve as quantifiable metrics that provide insights into the performance and progress of an organization toward its goals.

You can leverage various KPIs related to finance, operations, and sales, to know how each process impacts your bottom line. The selection of KPIs is crucial as they reflect the critical areas that need to be monitored to ensure the overall success of the organization.

Why are KPIs important?

1. Focus and alignment: By defining and measuring specific metrics, you can align the efforts of individuals and teams with overall goals and objectives. This clarity ensures everyone understands what matters most and prioritizes their activities accordingly.

2. Performance monitoring: Regularly tracking progress towards strategic objectives gives you real-time insights into your performance. This monitoring enables you to understand how well you are performing and whether you are on track to achieve your goals.

3. Decision-making: KPIs serve as valuable decision-making tools by providing data-driven insights. You can not only identify areas of improvement but also track progress effectively through KPI reporting. This reporting enables timely adjustments, allocation of resources, and informed decision-making to drive performance.

4. Accountability: Assigning responsibility for specific metrics fosters accountability within your team. When individuals and teams are accountable for their performance, they are more likely to take ownership and strive to achieve or exceed targets.

5. Continuous improvement: Regularly reviewing KPIs helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. This promotes a culture of continuous learning and improvement, driving overall success.

6. Communication and transparency: KPIs facilitate communication and transparency by providing a common language for discussing performance. When everyone understands the metrics being measured and the progress being made, it promotes collaboration and alignment with common goals.

Types of KPIs

KPIs come in various forms, each offering unique insights into different aspects of performance and aiding in informed decision-making. A few types of KPIs are:

Quantitative indicators

Quantitative indicators are the backbone of performance evaluation, providing solid, numerical insights into various aspects of business success. They offer clear, objective data that can be easily analyzed and compared. Examples include revenue, profit margin, production output, customer acquisition cost, and website traffic.

In the pursuit of optimizing performance and driving growth, businesses often rely on quantitative indicators to measure tangible aspects of their operations. A prime example of this can be seen in the approach taken by Modern Restaurant Concepts, where leveraging real-time sales data has become integral to their decision-making process. Former Finance Director Lisa Sauer streamlined reporting by adopting ThoughtSpot's Liveboards. This enabled real-time monitoring of sales data for General Managers across multiple restaurants nationwide. These Liveboards facilitated quick analysis of sales versus forecasts, simplifying budgeting and setting transparent goals.

“As we continue to move more and more data into one reporting platform, we have already been able to focus on deeper data-driven decisions being made at every level.”

Qualitative indicators

Qualitative KPIs measure intangible aspects of performance that are not easily quantifiable. These indicators provide insights into subjective factors such as customer satisfaction, brand perception, employee morale, and overall organizational culture. Qualitative KPIs are often assessed through surveys, interviews, or observational methods.

Let's consider CarTrawler, a Dublin-based company in the travel industry that relies on qualitative indicators to ensure efficient decision-making. By adopting ThoughtSpot Cloud, CarTrawler enhanced data accessibility, enabling business users to focus on extracting insights rather than navigating complex tools. 

Leading indicators

Leading indicators act as early warning signs for businesses, signaling potential shifts in performance before they fully emerge. They help organizations anticipate trends and take proactive measures to achieve desired outcomes. Examples include customer inquiries, employee training hours, market research data, and new product development activities.

Lagging indicators

Lagging indicators are retrospective measures that assess past performance and outcomes. They indicate the results of actions taken and are typically used to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies or initiatives after they have been implemented. Examples include revenue growth, customer churn rate, employee turnover rate, and product defects.

Odido, like many telecom companies, faced significant challenges in customer retention. They recognized that even a small improvement in customer retention could have a substantial impact on its financial performance. By leveraging data-driven insights provided by ThoughtSpot, Odido aimed to address the underlying issues contributing to churn. As a result, Odido could implement targeted strategies to enhance customer satisfaction, improve service quality, and ultimately reduce churn rates over time.

What makes a good KPI?

Several characteristics contribute to making a good KPI. They are:

1. Relevance: Ensures alignment with the organization's objectives and strategic priorities, reflecting critical aspects of performance

2. Measurability: Quantifiability and reliability in measurement, providing clear and objective insights into performance

3. Actionability: Drives tangible actions or interventions to improve performance, identifying areas for optimization

4. Specificity: Focuses on a single aspect of performance, providing clarity and ease of interpretation

5. Timeliness: Offers prompt feedback on performance, enabling real-time or near-real-time monitoring

6. Achievability: Sets realistic and attainable targets, motivating employees by helping them understand how they contribute to the company's goals

7. Reactivity: Detects shifts in performance trends promptly for proactive responses

How to set a KPI strategy

Creating a KPI strategy involves several steps to ensure alignment with organizational objectives and the effective measurement of performance. Here's a step-by-step guide to setting a KPI strategy:

Step 1: Define organizational objectives

You can’t choose KPIs unless you know what you’re trying to measure. Start by clearly defining the overarching goals and objectives of your organization. These could include financial targets, customer satisfaction goals, operational efficiency improvements, or strategic initiatives. Ensure that these objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Step 2: Identify key focus areas

Determine the key focus areas that are critical to achieving your organizational objectives. These could be related to revenue growth, customer experience, product quality, employee engagement, or any other aspect relevant to your business. Prioritize the areas that will have the most significant impact on achieving your goals.

Step 3: Select relevant KPIs

Once you've identified your key focus areas, select KPIs that directly align with each area. Ensure that each KPI is specific, measurable, and relevant to the corresponding objective. Consider both quantitative and qualitative indicators to provide a comprehensive view of performance. Avoid selecting too many KPIs to prevent data overload and focus on the most critical metrics.

Step 4: Set targets and benchmarks

Establish targets or benchmarks for each selected KPI to define what success looks like. These targets should be realistic, yet ambitious, and based on historical data, industry standards, or desired performance levels. Clearly communicate these targets to relevant stakeholders to ensure alignment and accountability.

Step 5: Define data collection and reporting methods

Determine how you will collect and analyze data for each KPI. Identify the sources of data, frequency of data collection, responsible parties, and any tools or systems needed for data aggregation and analysis, such as KPI software. Establish a standardized reporting format and schedule to ensure consistent monitoring and review of KPI performance. Utilizing a KPI dashboard can streamline this process, providing a centralized platform for data visualization, and allowing stakeholders to access real-time insights. Always remember the value of context, as it can significantly impact the interpretation and application of KPI data in driving business decisions. 

💡 Learn how to partner with your data team—download the “Context is Gold” whitepaper.

Step 6: Create action plans

Develop action plans or initiatives aimed at improving performance for each KPI. Identify specific strategies, tactics, or interventions that will help you achieve your targets. Assign responsibilities, allocate resources, and set timelines for implementing these action plans. Regularly review and adjust your plans as needed based on performance data and changing circumstances.

Step 7: Monitor, evaluate, and iterate

Continuously monitor and evaluate KPI performance against targets. Use performance data to identify trends, insights, and areas for improvement. Celebrate successes and address any performance gaps through corrective actions or process improvements. Iterate on your KPI strategy based on lessons learned and evolving organizational priorities. With ThoughtSpot’s Monitor function, you can receive notifications when your KPI satisfies a certain threshold condition, or you can schedule notifications for your KPIs on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis.




Step 8: Communicate and engage

Communicate KPIs, targets, and performance updates regularly with relevant stakeholders across the organization. Foster a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement by engaging employees in the KPI process. Encourage feedback, collaboration, and shared responsibility for achieving organizational goals. Additionally, leverage KPI dashboards to create engaging data stories, empowering business users to communicate effectively. By visualizing key metrics and trends, complex data becomes more accessible and understandable. 

KPI Examples

Marketing KPIs

Marketing KPIs evaluate the impact and effectiveness of marketing strategies and campaigns. They help organizations assess and optimize their marketing efforts. These metrics are often presented on a marketing KPI dashboard:

Marketing KPI dashboard
  • Conversion rate: Percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter, indicating marketing effectiveness.

  • Cost per lead (CPL): Average cost incurred to acquire a new lead or prospect, helping to evaluate the efficiency of marketing campaigns.

  • Website traffic: Number of visitors to a website over a specific period, indicating brand visibility and online presence.

  • Social media engagement: Number of likes, shares, and comments on social media platforms, indicating audience engagement and brand awareness.

  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): Ratio of revenue generated to the cost of advertising, indicating the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.

BI tools are a foundation for evaluating KPIs across departments, enabling you to assess and optimize your strategies. Here’s how ThoughtSpot is revolutionizing the operations of various departments within Austin Capital Bank

Traditional BI tools made it difficult to track KPIs and uncover meaningful insights. They often required proficiency in SQL and Python. However, with ThoughtSpot’s intuitive self-service analytics platform, individuals of all technical backgrounds can effortlessly create and distribute Liveboards, exploring their data without any hindrance.

For example, their affiliate manager relies on ThoughtSpot daily to monitor vital marketing KPIs such as lead generation and conversions. By leveraging these actionable insights, the team successfully slashed paid search expenditure by 50% and enhanced the bank's revenue margin by approximately 30%. 

Austin Capital Bank testimony

🔍15 marketing KPIs and metrics to track in your dashboard

Sales KPIs

Sales KPIs gauge the effectiveness of a company's sales efforts. They are often tracked and monitored on a sales KPI dashboard, allowing sales teams and stakeholders to visualize and analyze key performance indicators in real time.

Sales KPI dashboard
  • Sales revenue: Total income generated from sales of products or services, indicating the overall effectiveness of the sales function in generating revenue.

  • Sales growth rate: Percentage increase or decrease in sales revenue over a specific period, reflecting the organization's sales performance and trajectory.

  • Sales conversion rate: Percentage of leads or prospects that convert into paying customers, indicating the effectiveness of the sales process in converting opportunities into sales.

  • Average deal size: Average value of a sales transaction, providing insights into the typical value of a sale and sales team performance.

  • Sales win rate: Percentage of sales opportunities that result in a closed deal, indicating the effectiveness of the sales team in winning deals.

🔍Top 16 KPIs and metrics every sales team should be tracking

Financial KPIs

Financial KPIs are used to evaluate the financial health and performance of an organization, often presented on a financial KPI dashboard. They focus on aspects such as revenue, profitability, cash flow, and overall financial stability.


  • Revenue: Total income generated by the organization from its operations, indicating the overall financial health and performance.

  • Profit margin: Percentage of revenue that translates into profit after accounting for expenses, showing the organization's profitability.

  • Return on Investment (ROI): Ratio of net profit to the cost of investment, indicating the efficiency of investments.

  • Cash flow: Movement of cash in and out of the organization over a specific period, crucial for ensuring liquidity and financial stability.

  • Gross margin: Percentage of revenue remaining after deducting the cost of goods sold, showing the profitability of products or services.

🔍21 financial KPIs and metrics you should track in 2024

Customer KPIs

Customer KPIs measure various aspects of customer interactions and relationships. Tracking these KPIs allows businesses to better understand their customers, identify areas for improvement in products or services, and tailor marketing strategies to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): Measure of how satisfied customers are with products or services, crucial for retaining customers and building loyalty.

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): Measure of customer loyalty and willingness to recommend the organization to others, indicating brand advocacy.

  • Customer retention rate: Percentage of customers retained over a specific period, indicating customer loyalty and satisfaction.

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC): Average cost incurred to acquire a new customer, helping to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts.

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): Predicted net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer, guiding customer acquisition and retention strategies.

Wellthy, a company that streamlines caregiving, relied on its data team to compile a monthly PDF report for the Care Team to distribute to each employer partner. This report featured essential statistics, including employee usage and other key metrics showcasing Wellthy's value. However, the report lacked interactivity, hindering Care Team members from conducting in-depth analysis to proactively identify insights that could mitigate customer churn. 

After evaluating their shortlist of analytics tools, ThoughtSpot emerged as the top choice for Wellthy. The data and analytics team found ThoughtSpot's user-friendly search interface impressive, enabling users to visualize real-time data, filter, drill into specific searches, and pin charts to custom Liveboards. Recognizing the potential of this functionality, the team decided to leverage it for their first use case by replacing their Care Team’s inflexible PDF reports. The Care Team is now empowered to identify opportunities, create targeted awareness campaigns around their services, and provide more value for their employer partners.

There's so much work that goes into data from the back end—modeling, transforming, building out dashboards, producing insights, and so on. But, if data isn’t being used to make a decision, then you're missing the most important part right? The last mile is key.

Kelly Burdine, Head of Data Science and Analytics Wellthy

Operational KPIs

Operational KPIs assess the efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness of an organization's day-to-day operations. By tracking these KPIs, organizations can identify bottlenecks, streamline processes, optimize resource allocation, and improve overall operational performance, leading to cost savings and enhanced competitiveness in the market.

  • Production efficiency: Measure of how well resources are utilized in the production process, indicating operational effectiveness.

  • Cycle time: Time taken to complete a specific process or task, helping to identify bottlenecks and improve efficiency.

  • Inventory turnover: Number of times inventory is sold or used in a given period, indicating inventory management efficiency.

  • On-time delivery: Percentage of orders delivered on time to customers, indicating reliability and customer satisfaction.

  • Quality index: Measure of product or service quality based on defects or errors, crucial for maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Let's explore a real-world scenario at Fabuwood. The conventional BI tool paired with the Azure SQL database struggled to keep pace with the growing need for actionable business insights. Swift access to sales data became imperative for informed decision-making on product line profitability, supply chain management, and manufacturing efficiency. Seeking a self-service analytics solution, David Samet, Fabuwood's Director of Technology, discovered ThoughtSpot. Presently, 50 Fabuwood employees actively leverage ThoughtSpot to seamlessly integrate data-driven decision-making into their day-to-day activities.

Fabuwood testimony

Achieving business objectives with KPIs

In the fast-paced world of business, KPIs play a pivotal role in driving success. By adopting a strategic mindset and utilizing the power of data analytics, you can streamline operations, enhance performance, and achieve your objectives efficiently. 

With ThoughtSpot's innovative analytics solutions, you can stay ahead of the curve and make informed decisions that propel you toward growth and prosperity. Unlock the power to drive real results for your organization—schedule a demo today.