Marketing organizations have long been seen as cost centers by the C-suite. Although marketers have made many strides to overcome this challenging internal position, many CEOs, investors and other key stakeholders who view the world in terms of return on investment (ROI) just can’t see marketing as an investment with positive returns, sometimes rendering marketing an afterthought or an underfunded function.

Simply put, marketing is about finance – it is about making strategic investments that achieve a positive rate of return so that the business can grow. We marketers all too often fail to gain credibility and authority within our organizations because we get attached to arbitrary engagement or lead acquisition metrics that have no tangible bearing on the bottom line – social shares, landing page conversions, click-through rates, etc.

In my experience, attribution has bridged the gap between intangible performance metrics and the flow of capital that CEOs care about in two ways: enabling marketers to agilely track not only the total return on marketing investment, but the return on micro-investments (in the form of individual campaigns or initiatives) and an unprecedented understanding of customers’ paths to revenue. Each of these benefits serves a different purpose; not only can we better justify our existence to the C-suite, but we can hone in on and increase investments in the channels that most engage with our target buyers.

Marketing attribution represents the ability to holistically understand how every single touch point affects your potential buyers’ journeys, the causality to tie those touch points to ROI and the agility to adjust marketing investments in near real-time. If you are finding your organization ripe for this evolution and you are thinking about attribution tech for your stack, here are some key factors to consider in order to successfully shift into this new paradigm.

1. Spot Check: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Attribution software is very dependent on its surrounding tech stack, which in turn is dependent on how well-defined the human processes are in your organization. As with any business intelligence platform, the output is contingent upon turning otherwise intangible business processes into concrete data inputs.

SLAs between marketing, sales, and sales operations are a very effective way to establish these processes and their corresponding data points – for example; what defines a sales-qualified lead, how is it assigned to the sales team in the CRM, at which point do you enact a return-to-marketing rule if the lead goes cold and how are database records being tagged to reflect such transitions? Furthermore, is the data clean enough to segment by vertical, buyer persona, company size or buying stage? Consider using additional solutions, such as third-party data enrichment or predictive lead scoring to support and optimize as necessary.

These two factors, internal processes and good prospect data, are the foundation of getting high-quality output from attribution. Failing to ensure that these areas are relatively operational will result in unusable attribution data, as you won’t be able to slice it in a meaningful, actionable way.

2. Field-Mapping: How To Make The CRM A Marketing Tool

Field-mapping is really the transfer of business processes from one platform to the other and is a crucial part of building attribution into your stack. In order for both the SLAs and prospect information to extend to all platforms, the tech needs to be mapped accordingly across the board. Much of this is as simple (yet time-consuming) as creating new fields, setting up time-stamps and creating the automated administrative rules that will govern the environment.

It is worth noting here that most marketing attribution solutions consolidate data exclusively from CRMs, which on their own are not enough to give marketers meaningful insights. CRMs are powerful marketing tools when they are integrated with marketing automation platforms to merge buyer engagement with pipeline and revenue figures – when they chronicle the buyer’s journey from start to finish. Therefore, simply replicating a set of fields into the CRM is not enough. Operationally, the attribution magic happens in a prospect’s membership status in the CRM’s campaign object.

The most important part in this mapping process – which will make or break your experience with attribution – is how you define a prospect’s campaign membership, record the prospect’s campaign success (i.e. attended a webinar or filled out a form), push these data points to the CRM’s campaign object and how you tag that campaign object. Here’s a typical example of how this sequence works in action:

  1. Prospect clicks a social ad and fills out a form to download a Best Practices eBook
  2. Marketing automation system records form fill, changes program status to “Form Completed”
  3. Marketing automation system pushes record to CRM, adding it to a matching CRM campaign object for Best Practices eBook (also with “Form Completed” status)
  4. CRM campaign is already tagged with both social advertising and eBook content type fields, and the marketing touch point is officially recorded in the CRM

At this point, you are capturing all necessary data points for attribution to work. Assuming your SLAs are in check, your marketing platform is adequately recording your key data points, and your CRM is ready to receive those mapped data points (fields have been created on all relevant objects). You can scale this model so that all prospects in your CRM are tied to their respective marketing campaigns with corresponding statuses and campaign details. You are now ready to push data to the attribution platform.

3. Integration & Optimization: How To Make It All Work

Your attribution vendor will begin by mapping their own fields to yours and identifying your CRM’s campaign successes. This is a relatively painless process provided that you have an experienced vendor. However, regardless of a vendor’s experience, no one knows your database better than you and your team – it is essential to conduct the right amount of cross-referencing and verification before beginning to trust the results.

When you are prompted to apply single or multi-touch models (revenue attributed to one touch point versus many), try them all. This will not only help you validate your data, but it will help you identify which attribution model makes most sense for your organization. Many organizations use evenly weighted multi-touch models, as they pick up the most touchpoints, but more sophisticated ones use customized multi-touch models which incorporate the success rate of each channel in their model (i.e. the predictive weight of each touch point). For most small and medium organizations, however, the difference between an evenly weighted and customized model is most likely immaterial and a pre-built evenly weighted model is sufficient.

Once the verification is complete and you feel comfortable with the attribution data, you can start getting creative. Think about how enriching CRM objects can enhance the filtering in your attribution tool, or how lead-to-account mapping can improve measurement of account engagement. The ultimate goal with attribution is to slice the data in as many ways as you can to identify opportunities and diagnose failures. For example, channel X has positive returns with buyer Y at stage Z in the retail industry, or target-upsell-account A has lower engagement levels (and therefore attributed revenue) than the previous month despite costly ABM initiatives. Of course, it is easy to get carried away in these types of analyses, so again, business processes and objectives must remain the ultimate authority to avoid futile and irrelevant efforts. Finally, you and your organization are fully equipped to capture and measure all meaningful touchpoints and understand their contributions to ROI.

Final Thoughts On Attribution

What might have taken a sophisticated team of data scientists several days to achieve, can now be accomplished by any marketing user almost instantly. Herein lies the power of marketing attribution – data of this caliber used to be reserved for analytical teams and senior management, who often failed to communicate to the rest of the organization its importance for marketing execution. However, empowered by attribution tools, each marketer can be his or her own data analyst , perpetually gathering rich insights and making ROI-based decisions for even the smallest marketing initiatives, while maintaining the customer journey at the forefront of these decisions. Enabling even the most tactical marketing roles across the organization to act with such calculation is what propels marketing teams into the data-driven realm; the sum of individual parts makes the whole.

For the organization which is ready for a cultural evolution, marketing attribution can be the stepping stone that launches it into a ubiquitously data-driven methodology. For the marketing team which is dedicated to becoming a respected center of revenue, marketing attribution can be the foundation of turning arbitrary marketing metrics into C-level business performance measurements. However, prudently speaking, as with any new tech solution, marketing attribution will not prompt an underlying cultural change; it will only amplify what is already in motion.