Revenue Attribution Maturity Assessment: The Journey to Reporting Nirvana

MarketingDashboardChallenge: Accurately Reporting Marketing Contribution Without Over-Investing Time and Budget

For many years marketing teams have aimed to identify their contributions to their companies’ success. Over the last five years, there have been significant advances in the tools available as well as the business processes by which data can be managed to support greater insights and gain competitive advantage. In fact, marketing groups today are frequently responsible for driving a specific percentage of company revenue so identifying revenue sourced by Sales or Marketing is critically important to measuring business performance.

But measuring marketing contribution is time, resource, and budget hungry. So how much should you invest? What tools will contribute to success given the maturity of your organization? In working with many different organizations, I have noticed common themes on the road to attribution maturity. Knowing where you are on this maturity timeline will help you plan for what may come next for your organization. While every company is unique, I believe there are common attribution lifecycle stages – and companies move through them as they need greater detail and insight.

So check out where you in attribution maturity so you can balance investment against the value of increasing visibility.

Stage 1 – Early Startup

  • Definition: Sales and Marketing have agreed upon revenue contribution percentages
  • Typical Revenue: $0-$500K ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Handshake agreement on total new account revenue sourced by Marketing vs. Sales
  • CRM Deployment: Early deployment often still optimizing data and reporting process/structure
  • CRM Usage: Consistent campaign association is not yet defined for Leads, Contacts and Opportunities; Marketing automation may not be integrated with CRM
  • Attribution Process: Manual monthly or quarterly update of opportunities as Marketing vs. Sales sourced
  • Primary Challenges: Manual update of opportunities becomes overly time consuming

Stage 2 – Maturing Startup

  • Definition: CRM deployed with basic campaign attribution reporting
  • Revenue: $500K ARR – $5M ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Attribution to Marketing or Sales identified and defined by first or last touch for new business; starting discussion on up-sell and cross-sell attribution
  • CRM Deployment: CRM standard utilization enforced, Sales forecast process optimization ongoing, Marketing automation integrated
  • CRM Usage: Both Sales and Marketing have created a data dictionary and have established standard processes for updates that have moderately successful usage
  • Attribution Process: CRM reporting using first or last touch for Marketing vs. Sales attribution
  • Primary Challenges: Both first and last touch neither accurately describe opportunity drivers nor comprehensively reflect Marketing and Sales program impacts

Stage 3 – Growth Startup

  • Definition: Specialized attribution software deployed in first version
  • Revenue: $5M ARR – $50M ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Comprehensively defined Sales vs. Marketing source new business, upsell/cross-sell business and optimization of handoff processes
  • CRM Deployment: Utilize industry best practices for data integrity and reporting, generally solid compliance from Sales and Marketing teams, and relatively accurate sales forecasting; Initial deployment of third-party attribution tools
  • CRM Usage: Sales operations focusing on tight rep compliance with CRM, Marketing Operations focused on data quality and completeness
  • Attribution Process: Sales vs. Marketing sourced opportunities identified by campaign touches driving the MQL; utilizing both Sourced and Influenced models to optimize marketing performance
  • Primary Challenges: When sourced and influenced models do not accurately capture full account-based attribution impact or when weighted touch models are required to adjust campaign influence over customer journey

Stage 4 – IPO Readiness and Public Company

  • Definition: Specialized attribution software deployed in second iteration
  • Revenue: $50M ARR – $500M ARR+
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Business operations teams fully integrated across Sales and Marketing with BI dashboards/reporting; Monthly/Quarterly attribution reviews for program and process optimization; Early deployment of predictive revenue models
  • CRM Deployment: Sophisticated CRM deployment managed by business operations team with sophisticated reporting (BI tools) and data accuracy for regulatory compliance
  • CRM Usage: Well established guidelines and training; key processes are reinforced with end user compliance
  • Attribution Process: Multiple attribution models including weighted touch attribution and account-based models supported by analytics team to assist in utilization and interpretation of the data
  • Primary Challenges: Managing time, cost and complexity of attribution reporting as well as the ability of most marketing team members to absorb the complexity of these models

What has been your experience? Do these levels ring true? Was this helpful to your planning?

Lesson: As organizations grow, so do their needs for better attribution. It is important to make the right investments at the right time to keep attribution management time and costs in line with overall revenue goals.




Marketing Attribution – Worth the Effort?


Challenge: Considering the Challenges of Marketing Attribution, How Deep Should You Go?

Marketing attribution is a hot topic. You need to know which programs are worth the effort and expense and marketing must demonstrate its contribution to revenue. In fact, both marketing and sales must both carefully plan and measure their unique contributions to more accurately predict revenue.

However, Sergio Maldonado’s recent guest post on Scott Brinker’s Chief Martec blog raised some very important questions about the veracity of marketing attribution. The article challenging various aspects of marketing attribution is timely and worth a careful read. It also caused me to re-evaluate my ongoing efforts to focus on attribution.

The journey starts with developing a standardized way to tag Leads, Contacts and Opportunities to marketing campaigns, followed by a methodology to differentiate sales from marketing contribution (as well as sourced versus influenced). Adding various program costs and labor investment to the formula provides a more complete picture. However, this tells just part of the story as it analyzes attribution from first ‘form conversion’ to closed deal, without consideration for pre-conversion activities.

Tracking and attributing the activity of all stakeholders before form conversion is more difficult. Furthermore, attribution-to-revenue calculations only provide results for Contacts associated with a closed-won Opportunity, whereas other Leads and Contacts not associated often influence the deal. Therefore, this methodology ignores Leads and Contacts that influence but are not associated with the opportunity as well as all awareness phase marketing touchpoints that positively affected the opportunity.

By focusing only on campaigns with direct attribution, marketing may erroneously optimize for those programs only – at the expense of awareness and early stage funnel activities where attribution is much more difficult. The resulting focus on ‘directly attributable campaigns’ that occur at or after the first form conversion can easily result in a decreased ‘share of voice’ and ignore important early stage touch points. Often, sales prospects are unaware they have a problem or they’re unfamiliar with solutions better suited to their challenge. Awareness programs focusing on the earliest stages of the sales cycle are key to growing sales in the long run.

So if strict adherence to attribution metrics will lead to sub-optimal marketing resource allocation, should marketing invest time and resources in it? Unequivocally yes. At the highest level, Lord Kelvin was right when he said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” The attribution process is not at fault here (though it can and will certainly improve), rather the issue is how this data is used to make marketing investment decisions. Even though early stage program investments are not measurable in the same way that later stage programs are, they remain an important part of the marketing mix. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the marketing team to explain and defend these ‘awareness’ investments for the long-term health of the organization. The marketing team should also look for important correlations to justify these programs (correlations of direct/organic traffic with various programs, for instance).

In my opinion, marketing must continue to pursue attribution while keeping in mind the limitations of the current systems. Marketing investments should be made recognizing that the team cannot measure all aspects of the marketing mix, and more importantly, additional attribution effort investments should be made with an eye on overall effectiveness. While imperfect, I am reminded of the saying, ‘Even one candle sheds a lot of light in a dark room.’ Without attribution, marketing has no guidance about future investments.  But at the same time, marketing programs with impacts that are difficult to measure must not be ignored.

[Important note: Management should also look at the costs and benefits of the attribution process itself to ensure it is worth the effort. Tracking every last ounce of attribution adds significantly in terms of labor and cost, and at some point, these programs reach diminishing marginal returns. How a marketing team should optimize its spend on marketing attribution is a discussion for another time.]

Lesson: Spending time and resources on marketing attribution is critical, but it is just as crucial to realize program and system limitations to make truly optimized investment decisions.


If You Don’t Know Where you’re Going, Any Road Will Take You There

Challenge: How do you build and maintain long term motivation from your team?

Start with the end in mind. That’s a really simple statement but it can be challenging to put into practice. How often do you leave the office and say ‘What did I do today?’ or ‘Did I really accomplish what was most important?’ In today’s multitasking work environment, we’re pulled in so many directions and by so many means: Phone calls, emails, meetings, travel – and all in an environment of change. Yesterday’s plans are put aside for new action plans.

Fortunately, a few simple steps can bring clarity, sanity and most importantly, increased motivation for your team members. This starts with a process of developing organizational objectives from the executive staff and then translating them for everyone in the organization. Organizations just need to translate CEO objectives into those that fall onto the VP Marketing and so on to all in marketing. Simple, right? What if your organization does not have this in place? Good news – you can still put this into action, all on your own.

In outbound marketing and lead generation, you are responsible for sales targets. You can take the quarterly sales objectives and drive these into executable programs. These might impact new opportunities, increase awareness, target verticals or geographies, support sales enablement and more.

So you can ask – do these new requests I just received via email or on a call support my target objectives? Are these tasks somehow more important than the ones already on your plate? Our time is a zero sum game. We only get one chance to complete the day ahead of us and spend our time most effectively. If we get new incoming requests, we need to compare these to the current tasks in plan. Put your plans into place and take these to your manager, Director or VP. This will start a conversation regarding which programs will best support the target objectives. You may even develop a set of quarterly objectives for the team (positive steps!). Once agreed, as plans change, you can raise these up to ensure that the new plans better support your objectives.

The result? Not only will you have better alignment and coordination in your team, but also better motivation by feeling more connected with the organization. You will feel more engaged knowing that your activities directly contribute to the advancement of the organization. Being a part of a successful organization and knowing the role you play is a great source of ongoing motivation.

Lesson: Aligning objectives throughout the organization drives increased motivation