One of the most contentious and challenging topics in B2B sales and marketing is campaign source attribution.
First of all, what is it?
Campaign source attribution has a number of definitions, but I find this one to be the most straightforward: When a customer buys from a vendor, most companies want to know what campaign (or combination of campaigns) the buyer engaged with during their journey towards making a purchase.
Traditional Example of Campaign Attribution Modeling
Source: Salesforce Blog 2014
Why is campaign source attribution important?
The general idea is that if we know what campaign activities drive growth, we will keep doing more of those things and less of what hasn’t been proven to drive growth. It’s a fairly simple dynamic in the interest of ROI.
Sounds fairly straightforward, huh? So, what’s the problem? Why is this still a challenge for most companies?
Well, it’s complicated, but let me try to summarize it in a few key points:
The buyer’s journey is not linear and continuous. Most traditional illustrations of a buyer’s journey are depicted as a straight path from the top of the funnel to “Closed-Won” in the CRM tool of record. The reality is that client initiatives get funding pulled, priorities change, acquisitions happen, and turnovers occur at the prospect and/or vendor. All of these scenarios require the vendor’s sales and marketing teams to develop adjustment strategies.
The system interaction of the buyer is captured and tracked by several disparate technologies, such as website, marketing automation, sales acceleration tools, and CRM. Also, companies are at the mercy of errors that may occur with manual data entry, which becomes more prevalent the deeper you get into the buying cycle.
First in, last out attribution. You give credit to the first and/or the last touch from a campaign source, such as a trade show attendee or website visitor, then the top sales leader proclaims, “We should spend all of our marketing budgets on events and SDRs to help put butts in seats!” The problem here is what happened between the first and last touch? What is the real story or journey?
The situation usually escalates into a Game of Thrones dynamic between marketing and sales competing for future budget. This struggle may end in the demise of at least one senior department head. Alternatively, the product is so well designed and timed to the market that the company experiences growth anyway despite this “blind spot.” Eventually, the chickens do come home to roost and a company is forced to address this challenge head-on.
The next evolutionary stage is to data dump the “activity” captured in all the disparate systems (not easy to do) and have (sometimes) multiple operations or analysts “interpret” the data. The next step is to manufacture a narrative supported by an avalanche of slides, which usually puts the audience to sleep during a business review. At the same time, the CEO mandates that sales and marketing leadership play nice in the sandbox and all will be well in the land. Unfortunately, if the narrative is built on a shaky foundation, the people in the trenches on all sides will know, will vocalize their displeasure, and/or will exit the company.
Here’s my perspective on the topic and what I have seen work:
Ask the questions differently
Most companies are still asking, “What campaigns or source types are driving the most growth?” But the problem is that although you have evolved from first in/last out attribution, you are still limiting yourself to one variable. At a prior company, I asked, “What combinations of activities and buyer behavior are driving the most revenue?” Here’s what we found out:
Negotiate a model or process of how to account for attribution
If you have a centralized view of your business via tools like Tableau or Bizible and you don’t have a common-sense agreement amongst sales and marketing leadership, the consolidated data is meaningless. Also, people in the trenches that help to generate/process the data need to be accounted for. For example, at one of my previous companies, my SDR team was responsible for generating leads in large prospect accounts. To build trust and credibility with the sales team, we took the following actions:
This process automatically captured all attribution history and every employee that touched the account, specifically the AE and first-line manager that did a lot of the heavy lifting to bring in the business. In the end, we knew how many leads (on average) it would take to drive revenue in a new account.
Simplify the narrative of what is driving growth
Death by PowerPoint is rampant in the business world. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a room full of executives been put to sleep by a presenter who detonated an avalanche of pretty colors and charts. Even if the presenter’s information is “accurate,” their point can easily get lost in the minutia.
The best presentations (IMHO) start with a simple question, narrative, or theme that shares the main point (i.e., how a cluster of campaigns [a program] are driving growth in a target territory) in ten slides or less. If you can tell the story in ten slides, why do it in fifty?
Getting all of this to work requires effort, patience, trust, and collaboration between stakeholders. To get started, ask yourself the following questions:
Can I track activity from click-to-close?
Are the key stakeholders aligned on source attribution?
What is the current perception of what sources drive growth at my company?
Am I effectively and efficiently communicating my impact on the business?
If you answered “No” or “I Don’t Know” to any of the questions above, you now have a starting point on where to look!