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Think B2B Marketers are “Bad at Data”? Maybe It’s Your CRM

Posted July 6, 2023

For too long, executives have poo-pooed marketing’s ability to understand metrics and speak the alphabet-soup business language adopted by SaaS. Many have even heard our department jokingly referred to as “the arts and crafts” department. I believe this misconception stems from no “gold standard” for marketing key performance indicators, a lack of consistency in what investors ask from their portfolio companies to prove marketing “works,” and a lack of understanding of the challenges marketers face when summarizing their data.

Salesforce was initially built to enable the sales team to track distinct deals, creating an account-centric worldview. It is often touted as “the source of truth” for B2B SaaS organizations.

Unfortunately, how Salesforce organizes data and provides insights on forecasts and bookings attainment directly conflicts with how marketers must engage with target accounts.

How Is Marketing Data Different From Sales Data?

In B2B SaaS, we deal with longer sales cycles, larger buyer committees, and personas resistant to anything that feels “sales-y.” Despite these complexities, sales forecasts are based on opportunities or deals. It’s a simple and effective structure that has been refined into a standardized reporting template that is relatively consistent across organizations.

The sales team engages with an account when they’re ready to buy. Their job is to convince the company to buy. The data we collect and report on as the sale progresses is also simple: 

  • What does the prospect want to buy?
  • When do they want to buy?
  • How likely is it that they will buy?


On the other hand, marketing creates massive amounts of interactions with the brand throughout the buyer journey. Their work doesn’t stop once a lead is submitted and spans the entire buyer committee. Marketing’s job is to build awareness, help educate people about the brand, and keep people engaged throughout the buying process (and beyond). 

Marketing doesn’t walk accounts through each stage of the buying process in a linear motion. Marketing’s job is to meet each person on the buyer committee at their own stage in the buying process. When the champion meets with sales, the economic buyer may be researching what the product does. The CFO is playing catch-up during the contracting process, moving through stages quickly in an effort to uncover potential return on investment timelines.

How Is Marketing Data Different From Sales Data?

Ideally, your potential buyer has engaged committee members crawling all over your website, knowledge base, and video channel throughout the selling process. It’s commonplace for campaign members representing webinar attendees, tradeshow booth interactions, and content downloads to accumulate long after sales have opened an opportunity.

The buyer journey is not linear, and marketing data doesn’t follow a logical trajectory. Marketing systems are structured to manage an individual’s buying behavior. Sales systems are structured to bucket buying behavior in a single opportunity against an account. The account and the individuals on the buying committee are rarely in lockstep throughout the buying process.

Why Is This a Problem In Salesforce?

Many years ago, we introduced the concept of an opportunity “source” in B2B SaaS. Many of us were still selling hardware and were trying to determine whether our pre-sales, partnerships, and marketing investments were paying off. Because very little was automated and integrated with our CRM in those days, it was often up to the sales operations team to review opportunities as they closed and verify that the business had an accurate picture of which department was responsible for sourcing each opportunity at the end of the quarter.

Unfortunately, the reality was messy. It took multiple (if not all) departments to source and close a deal and giving credit to a single department exacerbated infighting.

Despite the contentious history behind single-touch attribution, companies still rely on a last-touch model when planning budgets and assigning KPIs.  While roughly 75% of marketers have multi-touch attribution, many don’t use multi-touch in the boardroom or during budget planning due to a lack of cross-functional adoption.

Why Is This a Problem In Salesforce?

Because businesses still make decisions based on last-touch attribution, marketers often grow frustrated with the sales team’s haphazard “primary contact” selection. Even if the Salesforce administrator knows to gate opportunity creation to force it from a person record, it’s common for sales to select a different primary contact than marketing would select.

For example, Alyson stops by your company’s booth at a tradeshow. We have a badge scan and a list to upload. In the meantime, Alyson tells Darrell on her team to request a demo. The salesperson opens the opportunity on Darrell’s record because he will be the primary point of contact for the salesperson. The field marketer then calls operations frustrated because her tradeshow isn’t showing up as the opportunity source.

What About CRM-Based Multi-Touch Attribution?

It’s not uncommon for marketing teams to successfully argue for a multi-touch attribution view in their CRM. Most business leaders understand that we need many interactions to close a deal. The problem is in-app multi-touch attribution only considers campaign activity. Marketers are the only people who use campaigns. Sales leaders then become disenchanted with a view that entirely favors marketing efforts and doesn’t represent the work their team puts into closing each deal.

In-app multi-touch attribution can then go in one of two directions. The first is accepting that multi-touch attribution is an estimate used to optimize marketing campaigns – and not an exact representation of the portion of pipeline or bookings credited to marketing. The second involves stuffing non-marketing data into campaign tables.

Even as a marketing-only tool, campaign influence reporting is problematic. Campaign interactions are only eligible for attribution if the salesperson manually adds the person associated with the interaction to the opportunity contact roles. Because these interactions may be captured on orphaned lead records or contacts sales hasn’t manually added to opportunity contact roles, marketing is still frustrated with the sales team, and sales is uninspired to take up data entry full time (understandably).

Some teams have automated opportunity contact role creation and found ways to automate data cleanup (or, at the very least, turned on deduplication and merge functionality in Salesforce).

The second path creates duplicate records of data already stored in additional objects in Salesforce. The only chance of this method being adopted to represent departmental efforts or “crediting” pipeline and bookings to teams is if it’s developed cross-functionally.

So, What’s the Fix?

Your company must define what your goals are for marketing analytics. Do you need early indicators to help you understand how many leads are needed for a given pipeline goal? Or do you want to understand return on marketing investment?

The project must be cross-functional when your company leaders begin discussing a need to understand marketing return on investment or how much pipeline marketing should get “credit” for versus other departments. When you’re considering using reports to plan marketing budgets or understanding department efforts, your analytics project can no longer be developed in a silo.

To use return on investment reports in finance planning discussions, you need to work with your finance team to understand how they want to define return on marketing investment. 

  • Are you calculating return based on pipeline generated or bookings? 
  • Do they view opportunity pipeline or bookings as a shared effort with sales? 
  • Do they want to assume a portion of pipeline or bookings is sales-sourced and only a portion of bookings are eligible for consideration for “return on investment”? 
  • Or are they comfortable using customer acquisition or opportunity costs as an estimate?


Understanding how your CEO or board defines marketing attribution is important. Do they see it as a way to understand – directionally speaking – which marketing channels are effectively generating pipeline and bookings? Or do they want to know how much effort each department puts into generating pipeline and bookings?

If you need to build departmental revenue attribution, the workarounds necessary to represent multiple teams using your CRM’s in-app attribution will increase infighting and tension across teams. We strongly recommend purchasing or building a solution that centralizes all of your data onto timelines and allows you to automatically consider all activity across an account instead of relying on data entry and opportunity contact roles.

For more information, check out our DIY Attribution series on YouTube, read the articles on our blog, or contact us for additional information.