How the Best B2B Marketers Untangle the Mystery of Attribution and ROI

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Abdallah Al-Hakim

The mere mention of attribution is enough to give even the most seasoned B2B marketers the heebie-jeebies—and rightfully so. Marketing teams big and small alike are under loads of pressure to maximize their budget and make sure every penny goes the extra mile.

This isn’t a new challenge, but smooth-talking marketers have sidestepped these tough conversations for years by pointing to the complexities of attribution models; “attribution is hard” has been every marketer’s go-to scapegoat.

But for better or worse, that won’t cut it anymore. While untangling the mystery of attribution and ROI may seem like the stuff of nightmares, we’re here to tell you it doesn’t have to keep you up anymore.

The challenges marketers face with attribution and reporting

The definition of attribution is painfully simple: It’s the practice of measuring your marketing tactics along the buyer’s journey to determine which ones contributed the most to a conversion or sale. Attribution is one part art and one part science, and the opinions on how to do it are varied, thanks mainly to the many attribution models available:

  • First touch or click: All credit goes to the first touchpoint (the one that acquired the prospect).
  • Last touch or click: All credit goes to the last touchpoint (the one that converted the prospect).
  • Linear: You split the credit evenly across all touchpoints.
  • Position-based or U-shaped: 40% of the credit goes to the first touchpoint and 40% to the one before the conversion. The remaining credit goes to the other touchpoints.
  • W-shaped: The first touchpoint, the lead-creation touchpoint, and the opportunity-creation touchpoint each get 30% of the credit. You distribute the remaining credit to the other touchpoints.
  • Time decay: The touchpoint closest to the conversion or sale receives the most credit.
  • Multi-touch: All of the touchpoints receive fractional credit.

Variety is typically the spice of life, but not in this case. Despite this long list of models, we’ve yet to prove that one attribution model is more accurate than another (pun intended). This lack of standardization and the inherent complexities of B2B sales cycles put you and every other B2B marketer in a tough spot.

In fact, according to Salesforce’s 2023 State of Marketing report, “measuring marketing ROI/attribution” is the #2 challenge for marketers, trailing only “ineffective use of tools and technologies.” The challenges with attribution and ROI don’t end there.

The native reporting capabilities inside Facebook, LinkedIn, and other channels only let you see vanity metrics like clicks, impressions, and leads. Said another way, you’re forced to chase the wrong metrics, which limits the resources you can pour into what really matters: pipeline and revenue.

Luckily, there’s a path into El Dorado where attribution and ROI are possible. To walk through those gates, however, you need your sales team’s help.

Why marketing and sales *must* come together to get attribution right

Untangling the mystery of attribution and ROI isn’t solely your responsibility. It’s on your sales team’s plate, too. To really nail attribution and ROI, you need to walk hand-in-hand with your sales reps (or at least the good ones).

Why? Your best reps have conversations with prospects and first-hand insights that you can use to define your ideal customer profile (ICP) and get a true view of what your customers are up to—both of which you need to prove your budget is going to good use.

Instead of throwing in the towel or pointing fingers, ask your sales team questions like:

  • What are the most common challenges our prospects face?
  • How do our competitors position themselves against us?
  • Which channels do our prospects use in their personal and professional lives?
  • What are the most common objections you hear?
  • How long is the average sales cycle?
  • Does our message resonate with our audience?
  • Which ad formats catch their attention?

Getting closer to your sales team also gives you the chance to agree on how you’ll measure success. For too long, marketing and sales teams, especially those at big companies, have set their goals in siloes. Marketers often zero in on vanity metrics—think marketing qualified leads (MQLs)—while their counterparts in sales set their sights on revenue.

Although this division may have been standard, or even accepted in the past, maintaining it today will eliminate any chance of truly measuring ROI, especially in a down economy when both teams are under more pressure.

Think about it: How can you demonstrate ROI if you’re staring at a goalpost different from the team ultimately closing the deals? You can’t, which is why you need to get on the same page with your sales team and align on what really matters: dollar signs.

Shared problems = shared goals

In a session from DEMAND 2022, Olivier L’Abbé, President at Metadata.io, said it well: “Marketing may be measured by clicks, impressions, and leads, whereas sales may have slightly different [metrics]. But at the end of the day, both sales and marketing are trying to grow revenue. So that should be the overall focus to ensure that all metrics measured have that top goal in mind.”

With shared goals, you can walk in lockstep with your sales team, like Sydney Sloan, CMO at Salesloft, said during the DEMAND: “When you have shared goals, you have two people solving one problem versus two problems in two teams.”

These conversations should ultimately influence every aspect of your demand generation strategy—from the messaging, audience, creative, channels, and KPIs.

Pro Tip: This isn’t a one- or two-off conversation with sales. You should be involved in weekly sales meetings, forecast calls, and quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to get (and stay) aligned. But don’t just sit on these calls; take an active role, ask questions, and make observations that can help everyone be more successful.

How modern marketers think about attribution

The unavoidable baggage that comes with proving ROI paints a picture that’s hard to interpret. Our advice? Build on your relationship with sales and reframe how you think about attribution and ROI.

To do that, you might have to ignore what some of your peers are saying and doing. Here are two against-the-flow-of-traffic things we recommend for modern marketers:

1. Default to simple proof you can show

As of publishing this article, there are seven(ish) attribution models you can use to figure out how your ads influence conversion. We can’t promise those options will be the same when you read this. Sorry.

But we can tell you this: Don’t overcomplicate ROI and attribution.

While any multi-source attribution model (where credit for the conversion or sale goes to more than one touchpoint) aligns better with the cross-channel nature of today’s B2B sales cycle, these models are hard to prove. Try as you might, multi-source attribution models are black boxes you can’t begin to explain, and when you can’t explain them, people (read: your boss) start to ask questions.

Single-source attribution models—like first and last touch—might look elementary at the outset, but they’re also the only two touch points you can prove without a shadow of a doubt.

For that reason, use these attribution models to frame your narrative around ROI. As of today, the other ones are too hard to explain, which is why some marketers are ditching them completely for a more human approach to attribution that leans on common sense. Modern marketers need to go back to the basics and look at:

  • How people are interacting with their brand,
  • Where they’re spending their time online, and
  • Why they’re making certain decisions.

We’re not saying you should abandon attribution models, but we are saying that you shouldn’t obsess over them.

2. Trade MQLs for opportunities won

MQLs and other “vanity metrics” like impressions, reach, and clicks aren’t what they used to be. While it may be easy to fall back on these familiar friends, they’re too far removed from pipeline and revenue to hold any weight with the C-suite anymore.

Instead, look at metrics that actually mean something, like cost per triggered won opportunities and influenced opportunities. If you can show how your campaigns influence these metrics, no one will question your impact.

At the same time, look at leading indicators of success like demo requests, meetings booked, and meetings held, which can also tell a compelling story that no one will refute.

Narrow your focus on these metrics, and optimizing your campaigns will feel like way less of a shot in the dark. Instead of striving for MQLs, clicks, and impressions, which are miles away from a sale, you can use your remaining budget on the campaigns driving real business impact.

Or you can have Metadata do it for you.

Metadata: The ROI and attribution easy button

It doesn’t matter if the economy continues to struggle or unexpectedly rebounds in the new year, it’s your job as a B2B marketer to prove that you’re spending your budget in a way that’s helping the company grow. The only way you can do that is to untangle the mystery surrounding attribution and ROI.

Don’t try to do that manually, though. Instead, let Metadata do the heavy lifting for you.

Not only will Metadata automatically optimize your remaining budget toward the campaigns driving the most dollars, but you can also customize reports to see exactly how your campaigns are impacting the metrics that matter most to you. Better yet, you get this visibility across channels, giving you the insights you need to tell an even more compelling story and make decisions in the best interest of your bottom line.

It doesn’t matter if you’re tapping into Facebook, LinkedIn, search, display or some combination of them, ROI and attribution are never in question if you’re using Metadata.

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