When we talk about marketing attribution, what do we actually mean?

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Host George B. Thomas and Full Circle Insights CEO Bonnie Crater tackle that question, and many others, in the most recent episode of Marketing Smarts.

"When I talk about marketing attribution, for me, I'm speaking very specifically of impact on pipeline and revenue, doing budget optimization through these various attribution models," Bonnie explains. "But when some people use attribution, they may also mean funnel metrics as well....MQL, SAL, SQL, and so on."

That's not to say funnel metrics are useless.

"The purpose of attribution is for budget prioritization, to know what's impacting and what's not impacting," she clarifies. "The purpose of funnel metrics is to understand and optimize your process."

The attribution method depends on what you're measuring: Single-touch attribution tells you where a customer started, and multitouch attribution models break down actual pipeline into every part of the customer journey. Which is especially helpful now, when many marketers are working with tight budgets.

"In the world of a tight budget, marketing measurement has never been more important," Bonnie says.

Listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.

Full Transcript: A B2B Marketer's Guide to Marketing Attribution

George B. Thomas: Do you pay attention to attribution? That's what we're going to be talking about today with Bonnie Crater. You hopefully saw the title of a B2B Marketer's Guide to Marketing Attribution: What You Need to Know. There is probably a lot that we need to know. We are going to talk about what keeps Bonnie up at night around the topic of marketing attribution, we're going to talk about how to get started, hurdles along the way, what success looks like, we're even going to talk about attribution models and all sorts of good stuff in this episode.

Bonnie Crater is a co-founder, president, and CEO. Prior to joining Full Circle Insights, Bonnie Crater was a five-time vice-president of marketing and executive at many software companies in Silicon Valley. Bonnie held vice-president and senior vice-president roles at Genesys, Netscape, Network Computer Inc., Salesforce.com, Stratify, Realization, and VoiceObjects, now Voxeo. A 10-year veteran of Oracle Corporation and its various subsidiaries, Bonnie was vice-president of Compaq product division and Workgroup products division. Bonnie holds a BA in biology from Princeton University. She also holds some dope information about attribution or marketing attribution.

It is time for the B2B Marketer's Guide to Marketing Attribution: What You Need to Know with Bonnie Crater. Let's get into the good stuff. I'm very enthusiastic. I know you were waiting for the word excited because that's what I always say, so let's just say it. I'm excited because today we're going to talk about a B2B Marketer's Guide to Marketing Attribution: What You Need to Know, and I'm double excited because we have Bonnie Crater, expert extraordinaire to help us go down this journey.

Bonnie, how are you doing today?

Bonnie Crater: Awesome. Thank you, George.

George: You bet. My pleasure. I like to start these podcast episodes with what sounds like kind of a strange question, but it has given us some great answers. That is, what keeps you up at night? It could be a dream, it could be a nightmare, but what keeps you up at night when we're having this conversation around marketing attribution and B2B marketers?

Bonnie: I think the thing that troubles me most is that a lot of marketers tell me that they're confused about what marketing attribution is and how they should go about doing it. Once you get the gist of this, it's really not that hard.

George: I like that you actually went into that they're confused, because one of the things that I like to do on the podcast episodes is level-set, take it right back to the beginning. When you say marketing attribution, so that the audience can be with us the rest of the time, what the heck do we even mean? In other words, how do you define marketing attribution for the folks today?

Bonnie: For me, marketing attribution is purely the impact of all of the marketing campaigns that you're running on pipeline and revenue. The reason that you do marketing attribution is to really understand how to prioritize your budget, what programs are most important, what programs are least important, and where to place your budget bets.

George: I'm going to go off the beaten path for a second. When we think about attribution, especially in a world where we live in this digital tech space, some might be listening to this thinking my CRM or my marketing software gives me things like original source, it gives me things like organic, social, referral, and email. When we're talking about attribution, is that what we're talking about, or is there a deeper level or different segments to this thing that is marketing attribution that we're going to talk about today?

Bonnie: The first thing is that there are a lot of metrics that you can use in marketing. Most marketers are following top-of-the-funnel metrics like clicks, responses, or leads. In the world of marketing attribution, you really want to tie that to what the sales team is doing. You're trying to understand, are you teeing up good stuff, are you teeing good leads for the sales team, are they able to create pipeline, are they able to close those leads, and how well do they do that.

Attribution is different than a lot of the marketing metrics that folks typically use in marketing because it really ties the team together. On the P&L, it says Sales and Marketing. Sales is not on one line and Marketing on another. It says Sales and Marketing, and there's a reason, because Marketing and Sales are really supposed to work together.

George: You're preaching my language right there. I love when marketing and sales teams can work together. I also love that in that last little bit you talked about tying it to sales or the bottom of the funnel, aka revenue generation. That is so good. Let's keep digging a little bit deeper on that.

What are some key elements of marketing attribution? Of course, because we're on Marketing Smarts, I have to say B2B marketers, but I feel like this answer might be for all marketers on the planet. What are some key elements of marketing attribution that B2B marketers should be paying attention to along the way?

Bonnie: I think here is where you get into the whole idea of the models. Once you say the word models, often their eyes glaze over. This is not really that hard, either.

There are two ways of setting up your marketing attribution. One is with single-touch attribution. One is with multitouch attribution. The idea in either one is that you are trying to take the response to your campaign and tie it to the sale that actually happens or the pipeline that actually happens. I'll just give a quick example, if that's okay.

George: Absolutely. I love examples on the podcast.

Bonnie: Say you have closed a $10,000 deal and you have five marketing touches that were part of that deal. You want to give every touch, no matter if it's a webinar, a download, or whatever it is, you want to give those touches the same type of credit. We might call that an even spread. You would take your $10,000 and divide it by those five touches, so each of those touches would get a $2,000 credit. You can put a dollar sign in front of it or you can think of it as a point system. It could be 10,000 points and you're dividing it by five, so each gets 2,000 points.

You're just trying to give credit in a logical way to every touch. I'm going to pause there. Is that pretty clear?

George: Yes. It makes sense. I totally get it. I think this is where we get into that first touch, last touch, and then the multitouch. I think there are different names to different ways that you can roll with that. Is that something you can maybe dive a little bit into, multitouch attribution, and maybe even is there one that is better than the other? Where does your mind go with that?

Bonnie: I'm going to go with the end of your question, which is how do you choose one of these models. You want to choose a model that really emphasizes what your marketing strategy is. If your marketing strategy is all about, I need to generate a whole bunch of stuff at the top of the funnel, then a first-touch model actually is great because it tells you which campaigns are driving those initial touches.

Say you want to really understand your entire customer journey or the impact of your entire marketing mix. Then you might want a multitouch model that gives credit to all of the touches that happen prior to the deal creation. But you can also do it after the deal is created as well.

There are a lot of different options here. That's the part that gets a little bit confusing. This is the rule: If your marketing strategy is to focus 97% on generating leads and doing top-of-the-funnel activity, you really want to understand your marketing attribution model should really focus on those early touches or that first touch. That's a very useful model. But if you're trying to understand the total impact, then you want to use some sort of multitouch.

There are a lot of different ways to organize this. It's probably a little bit too detailed to get into on this particular podcast, but there are cheat sheets around the internet that you can go find. Go find a cheat sheet, read it, and you'll get the gist of what those particular things are.

The key is, don't forget it's about your marketing strategy. You want to pick models that represent your marketing strategy. It's also important to run multiple models at the same time because you may learn something from comparing the results of one model versus what's happening with another model.

George: I love the fact that you're tying this back to strategy. That's where everything really should begin for B2B marketers, especially marketers and sales teams that are working together to generate more revenue.

Also, I'm a big fan of cheat sheets somewhere on the internet that can help us. Definitely Google if you're wanting to dive deeper into that multitouch attribution and the different models that will allow you to test like Bonnie is saying, having two different models running. Insights is the word that popped into my mind when you said that. I want to be able to glean insights.

One of the things that I'm a big fan of is the show MythBusters. Do you remember that show?

Bonnie: Oh yes. I love it.

George: I love that show. I could sit and watch that for hours. I'm curious, when we talk about such a large topic like marketing attribution, is there a common myth or myths that you would take time on the Marketing Smarts Podcast to debunk right now? What's the marketing attribution myth that should go away forever?

Bonnie: For me, it's about how people use the word "marketing attribution" and what they really mean by it. It seems like a lot of people use the word marketing attribution to mean all marketing measurement of everything.

In particular, those folks that use marketing attribution oftentimes will include a very important metric called funnel metrics. When I talk about marketing attribution, for me, I'm speaking very specifically of impact on pipeline and revenue, doing budget optimization through these various attribution models. Very specific. But when some people use attribution, they may also mean funnel metrics as well. Funnel metrics were made really popular by Sirius Decisions, almost 20 years ago when they created the Sirius Decisions Waterfall and we all used those terms: inquiry, MQL, SAL, SQL, and so on. That's the marketing funnel.

I want to just be really clear what the purpose of these things are. The purpose of attribution is for budget prioritization, to know what's impacting and what's not impacting. The purpose of funnel metrics is to understand and optimize your process. Whether you're a small company or a big company, you have processes. You have to get the leads over to Sales, and they have to follow up on them. You have to get some sort of feedback loop going. If you don't have good funnel metrics, you won't be able to do that.

It's my opinion, after doing this marketing thing a little bit myself, that funnel metrics are really half the problem. Process is half the problem. The other half is really budget optimization. If you can solve both of those problems, you're in really good shape.

George: I have to go off the beaten path again, because I think it's the second or maybe third time that you've mentioned budget optimization. When you say budget optimization based on the insights that we're getting from marketing attribution, where does your brain go, or what dominoes or chess pieces, what moves with budget optimization based on this attribution insight?

Bonnie: One of the things that you can get with marketing attribution is a pretty straightforward list of which campaigns or groups of campaigns are impacting pipeline and revenue the most and which are impacting pipeline and revenue the least. You might have this stack ranked list of 30 campaigns or 30 groups of campaigns, or 50, or it might be 100 for some big organizations. You can see very clearly what's at the top, what's impacting it the most, and what is impacting it the least.

That in itself is super useful because you can make some judgments then based on data. You can do lookbacks of marketing attribution from this month, or this quarter, or this year. You can also compare what the trending is based on the impact on pipeline and revenue. Just having that is huge.

George: Massive. Let's keep digging in deeper. Time flies when we're having fun on these podcasts, and I always have so many questions that I want to ask.

One of the things that I like to do is I feel like execution is king, so I love to give people tips, tricks, things that they can take around this. When you think about marketing attribution, are there any tips, tricks, templates that B2B marketers can use when implementing or measuring this marketing attribution for their success?

Bonnie: Absolutely. I would say the first thing is really pay attention to the data. When I say the data, if you see some things that are unusual, it might mean some of your systems are feeding incorrect information and you're not getting the right answers. Paying attention to your data is really important and really understanding how your systems are all working together.

If you're lucky enough, you'll have somebody who is assigned this job in your organization. If you're lucky enough, you'll have somebody that is every day waking up just making sure that all of the data looks like it's flowing correctly, and that person will understand and know the systems. If you're not so lucky, do the best that you can. That would be my first tip is really pay attention to your data.

The second tip I'd say is it's really important to look at the results. What is the point of measuring if you don't actually get together with a group, show the results in a dashboard or a report, or some other presentation, and really discuss what's going on, what you think is working, what you think is not working? Take action items.

The meetings should be regular. Most companies that I know that are really doing this well, there's a weekly meeting that you look at this data, you take action items, and you figure out what's going on. Those are great opportunities to discover even that the way you're collecting the data isn't quite right and you can make adjustments.

George: I like those words, make adjustments. I think that's a piece that it's not just about reporting on it, it's not just about getting the insights, but it is that execution and making adjustments based on what you've gotten. Which makes me lean into the next two pieces that I like to diagnose and give people two sides of one coin, you might say, and that is hurdles and success. What are some hurdles that you've seen B2B marketers face when trying to leverage marketing attribution for their organizations?

Bonnie: The first thing is education, really learning about what are the different types of marketing metrics, and really understanding the meaning and how to use them. I think that's a really important part of it. If you have an expert in your organization, have them do a brown bag lunch or something and teach everybody in the organization so that when you see the results and how you're actually doing the metrics, everybody knows what those metrics mean and what actions to take, so it's very clear.

The second thing is really setting baseline metrics. When you first get started with attribution, you're going to want to have some sort of baseline and then you're going to want to improve against the baseline. In the beginning, it's hard to know what your goals are. You just need to start measuring and really understand what's going on, and then you can set real goals. But make sure you set some baseline metrics.

George: Love that advice. Let's say we've been doing this a while, we have goals set, we have that baseline, we have the buy-in, we're working as a sales and marketing team, we're aligned. What the heck does success look like, how do we know that we've reached marketing attribution nirvana?

Bonnie: I think there's a cadence that you can recognize if you're doing it right. One is at the very beginning, maybe it's at the beginning of your fiscal year or maybe it's the beginning of the quarter, you and the sales team really understand what the sales goals are and what your objective is. Then you need to make sure you have some sort of system in place to actually do all of this. Get a system that is actually measuring attribution and funnel metrics because, as I said, I think that's half the battle.

Then the third thing is these regular meetings to discuss the data, discuss the results, really understand what's working and what's not working, and make recommendations for changes that might be made. You might not make any changes, you might say everything is working great for the moment, but oftentimes you're going to want to make some changes. Identify areas where you can either add investment, because there might be some things that are really working well, so you want to double down on that, or places where you might want to take away investment, or you might want to change the program and try something different and measure the results from that change.

Once you get those four things right, you'll see there is a cadence that really works well and gives you a lot of power to control what your priorities are.

George: I like the idea of marketers being able to be in control and actually have priorities, know what is important and what they're going after. I did have one side idea that I want to ask, so for a third time in this episode I'm going to go off the beaten path.

This marketing attribution, paying attention to the bottom of the funnel kind of standpoint of revenue generating, budget optimization, it flew into my brain about the word accountability between the two teams. Then I got curious, I wonder if an SLA (service-level agreement) has any part to play in this marketing attribution, Sales, and Marketing alignment that we're dancing around. What say you to SLA and accountability along with this as a good wine to a nice meal?

Bonnie: The agreement that Sales and Marketing have is that the purpose of marketing is to make your products easier to buy and easier to sell. The promise that Marketing is making is to tee up the best leads they can find for the sales team. The promise that the sales team is making is to follow up quickly, as quickly as humanly possible on every qualified lead and see what they can do with it.

An SLA is really important about that agreement. What is Marketing promising in terms of the quality and the quantity of the leads? What is Sales promising to do to follow up on the leads and close them? So, yes, SLA very important. Usually, it takes the form of how quickly the sales team is going to follow up and the marketing team promises that they're going to deliver a certain number of leads.

George: Nice. Love it. Time just slips away. If you get that music reference, then you're probably older like I am. One of the things that we old folks actually do as we journey this Earth is we start to build wisdom. Bonnie, what are some words of wisdom that you want to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners about marketing attribution, maybe marketing in general, or life itself?

Bonnie: I would say right now a lot of B2B marketers have tight budgets. In the world of a tight budget, marketing measurement has never been more important. Actually making investments and spending time and effort on marketing measurement right now, or in any time when budgets are tight, is really important because this is the time where you really want to optimize the marketing spend. I wish everyone good luck and good measuring.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Amrita Mathur about a playbook for marketing-led growth from 0 to 30,000,000 in less than three years, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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