Marketing and sales don’t historically get along, we know this, it’s nothing new. Marketing to executive alignment issues however receive less press, and yet this is perhaps the bigger issue when it comes to proving marketing performance. Why?

Measuring performance is tricky because there is no simplicity to the B2B buying cycle. Buyers take a meandering and often broken road to buying your solution. Referrals, online research, attending that webinar, having a conversation at an event, it’s all attributive and each of these little touches plays into the influence that leads ultimately to a purchasing decision.

Revenue attribution is the latest buzz now that marketers have, by hook or by crook, claimed a seat at the ‘revenue table.’ In fact, I can rarely have a conversation with a marketer without the subject coming up… incessantly so. U-shaped, W-shaped, first, last touch… I’m tired just thinking about it. And I get it, understanding what efforts lead to success is very important and often complex. Hell, it’s a big part of what we do at LeadMD because proper attribution goes a long way in helping us (and our clients) prove value and increase revenue predictably.

Attribution, the secret?

But I have to tell you something about attribution that you probably don’t want to hear: The reality is that, as cool as it sounds to say in a conference room while you’re going through your detailed reporting… your CEO doesn’t really give a sh*t about campaign attribution. Truth.

Here’s the issue. Your CEO wants to be able to make great decisions about where to invest in the business – it’s his/her butt on the line. But they want to do so based on fundamentally accurate data. And the vast majority of the marketers eagerly waxing poetically about campaign attribution have faulty data. I would normally say that it’s hard to accept that fact, but not only is it true but almost everyone freely admits it. Dirty data is a monster problem in B2B. So, when marketing leaders pull out really complex reports in front of an executive (like those around revenue attribution) and they contain glaring gaps in relation to simple things, like missing lead sources, all he or she will see is that gap.

It’s not fair, but it’s 100% true.

When it comes to good marketing, your entire system has to be built on a solid data foundation. If there is one seemingly minor error in the “basics,” the ground gives way to a degree where trust is also eroded. Once trust is gone, nothing else matters. Certainly not a nuanced report with multi-touch attribution models. And yet this scenario is rampant in the marketing tech world, right along with the spends on complex tools that expose these gaps but do nothing to fix it.

Don’t worry. There’s hope.

If you’ve found yourself in this predicament, you ultimately need to take a step and make sure you’re able to do two things: 1) Prove where your leads come from, categorized by channel and propensity to close business, and 2) Determine which ones are not converting, and try to pin down whether it’s because of a poor nurturing job or simply due to an ineffective channel. If you can get that sorted out, you’re leagues ahead of many of your peers.

Here are a few more steps I recommend for getting away from the dog and pony show for your CEO (which is benefitting no one), and getting back to the basics that should be at the crux of your marketing and sales decisions:

  • Build a really strong foundation. Consider what types of reports you regularly run, and see if you’re missing any of the fundamental ones. Here’s a big hint: Lead source is almost always one of the most incomplete areas of data for even the biggest companies, and it’s also one of the most important. If you’re missing something like that, you need to fix that ASAP. Right now.
  • Be upfront with your CEO. If you’re in a large organization, your CEO might not even have noticed errors in the data because it’s easy for numbers to be manipulated or overlooked the more processes and spreadsheets they’re put through. If you’ve been skimping on an adequate data foundation, get it cleaned up. And then show the results of the improvements to your CEO and explain why it matters that you’ve fixed the problems. If you have a savvy CEO, they’ll appreciate the honesty and give you kudos for building the data blocks in the right way so you can all make smarter decisions.
  • Remember that some points are hard to measure. As I mentioned above, lead sources are usually one of the most forgotten/mishandled data points in marketing – and yet of crucial importance. The lead sources that are equally (if not more) overlooked are referrals and word of mouth recommendations. These offline or ‘hidden’ drivers are almost always the number one lead source for any company, and yet very difficult to properly attribute. If you don’t find a way to make these attributions, you could mistakenly presume a different lead source is responsible for the bulk of your leads (like PPC or one that’s easy to measure). Then you might allocate the lion’s share of your ad budget to PPC – and in doing so, miss the largest lead source for your company. So make sure you don’t have this kind of chink in your armor, or everything else can quickly get thrown askew.
  • Recognize the solution is operations. I know…operations isn’t a sexy topic. Who wants to talk about workflows or managing internal systems when you can instead get fancy and create decks about (wait for it) campaign attribution? But you can’t afford to miss this step. The best thing you can do for operations (and, in turn, for your marketing and sales) is to understand how your leads get into your system. This is where marketing automation delivers it’s least advertised and yet strongest value by far as you’ll need to design dozens, even hundreds of operational campaigns to fill in the gaps normally overlooked by manual entry or hard to enforce process. For instance, if your company gets a referral through a partner over the phone, you need to be able to attach that lead to the partner – and a corresponding campaign – through automation. Your pre-sales and sales teams should not be burdened with this task – the system just has to work. If your operations are sloppy, your data will be too.

As a marketer, this is probably one of your least favorite blog posts to read. However, if you want to claim that seat at the revenue table and keep it, you need to get a grip on your data – at the most fundamental level. Once you handle the basics well, you can move on to the more advanced nuances like attribution. And at that point, your CEO will actually care because she’ll be confident in the information you’ve been given her. Get your data right, and you’ll reap what you’ve sown.