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Red Flags That You Need Better Attribution

Posted May 9, 2023
Red Flags That You Need Better Attribution

Welcome to the second article in CaliberMind’s DIY Attribution series! We commonly get asked, “When will I know it’s time to change my attribution model?” I’d like to illustrate an example taken from past experience.

Your marketing team’s content is brilliant. Your sales team is closing deals, and revenue is up. But something is wrong. There are internal questions directed at the marketing team – and you’re struggling to wrangle reporting that doesn’t have the data to answer them. 

This is just one of many signs that it’s time to take a hard look at your marketing attribution model to see how well it’s serving your B2B needs. Go ahead, groan. We hear you. That’s why CaliberMind’s Camela Thompson wrote the article: 6 Reasons Everyone Loves to Hate Attribution

Your organization is probably trying to get by with in-CRM attribution models like first-touch, last-touch, or campaign influence. If you’re the one at the helm of your organization’s CRM, it’s likely you’re either banging your head up against system limitations or the last one to hear about problems with attribution. 

Perfect data is just a dream, which is why it’s vital you’re doing your best to estimate your marketing ROI in the way the rest of the business understands.

As CaliberMind’s VP of Customer Success and Revenue Operations, I’m here to help you spot the red flags early on, troubleshoot, and know when it’s time to bring in the A-Team – like a DIY data warehouse or specialty vendor.

Red Flags In Internal Questions

Skill or technology gaps are often at the heart of attribution issues. Maybe the IT team doesn’t understand marketing as a discipline and doesn’t know what to look for in the data. Or maybe you don’t have the necessary integrations between your data warehouse and business intelligence to assess your spending on social media campaigns. 

Whatever issues you may have in your attribution model, knowing which questions to listen out for will help you tune in and address issues early.

Lateral Inquiries

One of the more common red flags that your company is struggling with its attribution model is a conflict between the CMO and CFO when it’s time to secure next year’s budget. The CFO often applies “internal pressure to justify” the budget, but marketing struggles to produce evidence of ROI on previous campaigns. 

An example of a scenario I’ve seen in the past is when the marketing team wants to extend a campaign on Twitter or a series of customer round-tables that they feel have been successful. The sticking point is that the team doesn’t have the data to connect these efforts to actual opportunities to prove their effectiveness. 

Top-Down Inquiries

Another red flag is when the executives ask about reallocating the budget from one campaign to another and the marketing team is unable to assess how the proposal would impact revenue because it doesn’t have the means to quantify how a particular campaign performed. For example, the CEO wants to drop a big tradeshow in favor of a webinar. The marketing team needs historical measurements for both tactics to be able to accurately predict the net impact of a proposed reallocation.

Especially in this belt-tightening economy, marketing teams need to ask – and answer – the question, “How do I optimize the budget I’ve got?”

Bottom-Up Inquiries

Often you can find a gap in attribution when a campaign manager needs to show accountability and defend their efforts. If a campaign manager can’t tie their marketing efforts to revenue and pipeline, they’re going to have trouble getting the trust of the rest of the business.

When a manager proposes a new strategy, the campaign specialist needs to answer questions like, “Why?”,  “Have we ever done any content (like that) before?”, and “Can we measure similar content?” Without data from past campaigns, it’ll be difficult to persuade higher-ups to sign off on future campaigns.

Common In-CRM Model Limitations

B2B sales are complex, and CRMs can’t associate all the touches (marketing and otherwise) with opportunities. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider your existing in-CRM attribution models and recognize their limitations. 

Single-Touch Model Limitations

In a typical B2C transactional campaign, there may be a total of two touchpoints with the customer before a sale: the customer clicks on a shoe ad, drops the item in a cart, and if they abandon the cart, an email is sent to draw them back to complete the purchase. 

B2B sales cycles can be extremely complex, and span multiple buyers in a single organization. A single-touch model is severely insufficient to account for all the touchpoints needed in a six- or seven-figure B2B deal. As noted in “The SiriusDecisions Buying Decision Process Framework” report (2015), standard buying groups for B2B solutions usually involve six to ten decision-makers, each of whom has a variety of interactions with the brand throughout the purchasing process. 

Even if you use contact roles in a CRM to link, say, all nine decision-makers, a single-touch model can only track one touch – or just a fraction- of the total interactions over the breadth of the sales process. 

Opportunity Influence Model Limitations

The opportunity influence model has a recency bias baked into the CRM. It’s only going to capture the campaign when you push that convert into opportunity button. For example, when you enter a new lead target in your database, the salesperson calls them and records the conversion, and the CRM attributes the sale to whichever campaign the customer interacted with last. 

Why?

A CRM is a pure relational database. Every activity must be linked to the relevant object to be considered. The CRM is incapable of making connections between loosely associated interactions like a customer roundtable or an email survey that’s hanging out on a lead that isn’t associated with the opportunity through opportunity contact roles. 

Because the CRM cannot make connections between loosely associated interactions, it disregards all previous brand engagements like newsletter subscriptions, live events, or interactions with your website content. 

Using campaign members in your CRM along with opportunity contact roles can help you scale the attribution method because it’s like building a mini-timeline for each person. Unfortunately, CRMs still struggle with time-bound reports such as identifying all touches within the 30 days leading up to an opportunity. 

Interim Solutions

So now that you can identify and diagnose limitations and gaps in your attribution model, what are some in-house steps for managing the issues? 

Automatically Add Contact Roles

Because CRMs are relational databases, they will not recognize associations between opportunities and campaign members unless people are appended and linked within an opportunity. No salesperson enjoys data entry, so I’d recommend automating the opportunity contact role additions when possible.

Remove the Option to Create Opportunities From the Contact Records Or Opportunity List Views

Enforcing primary contact association at the point of opportunity creation in your CRM is another stopgap to enhancing attribution modeling. Contact roles identify decision-makers, influencers, or users who are involved in a company’s purchasing decision. For accuracy and consistency in the data, it’s important for these individuals to be identified and assigned specific opportunity contact roles on every opportunity in the CRM. 

To ensure there is at least one contact role assigned to each opportunity, I recommend removing the option for salespeople to create opportunities in the CRM without first selecting a specific contact. 

Conduct Source Audits

It’s not scalable to use lead sources as a catchall for every campaign. Some people try to use a single-touch lead method to create a brand new lead source out of every possible campaign permutation, but this is unrealistic. I recommend limiting yourself to 10 to 20 lead source options. I also suggest that you categorize how you treat each person into buckets based on each kind of inbound or outbound lead and then build a timeline of their interactions with your campaigns in your CRM or attribution tool. 

To bridge the gap between the reporting tool and the marketing infrastructure, your team needs to set up UTMs, or parameters embedded in URLs, to track marketing campaigns. This ensures they can capture each unique point of entry from an ad to your website. 

Robust Models and Root Issues

Maybe you managed to build a model that avoids the traps above but to maintain reliable data, you still need to do some housecleaning. 

Teasing Out False Positives

It’s common to inadvertently attribute an opportunity to the wrong campaign. For example, let’s say you’re premiering a webinar series. If you attribute campaign responses to every invitee to the webinar and don’t restrict responses to just the people who attended, then you end up with a lot of false attribution allocated to that campaign. You need to tease out who the webinar actually influenced by assigning premium statuses to those who registered and attended (or later watched the recording) rather than attributing the webinar campaign responses to passive invitees who did not engage with the actual content. 

To organize data in these scenarios, we prescribe a pyramid-like structure. In this example, the webinar is the entire campaign or pyramid with different statuses making up the tiers of engagement within that campaign. That way every person isn’t viewed equally – the people who engage more with your brand are labeled differently and easy to isolate.

Deduplication

Another key data hygiene routine includes workflows that merge duplicate data like leads, contacts, and accounts. For example, if a new lead comes in from IBM and they’re a key decision maker, but somehow they are not linked to the existing account or opportunity, the data from that lead will not be integrated with the rest of the IBM account. The root issue may simply be that the new lead is listed as “International Business Management” and the account label is “IBM.” In this case, you need to identify the orphan lead and link it to the parent account.

When You Need to Call in the A-Team

If you’re a startup of ten people, you’re too early for a tool like CaliberMind. But you still need to do some basic attribution. When you go DIY, it won’t be long before you realize how many resources and integrations you need to reach the necessary level of sophistication to start answering tough questions from the executive team. 

When you reach this inflection point, ask yourself if you can keep pushing uphill with your homegrown model or if you need to hire another headcount. You can alternatively opt to spend half of an additional salary on an external attribution solution with a team that maintains your attribution model, builds integrations, does the data science and fixing, and guides you in best practices. 

To Get a Three-Dimensional View of Your Sales Funnel

Attribution solutions like CaliberMind customize data models to fit your unique organizational needs. They create a master timeline of all the touches across all the people, including touches from systems outside of your CRM’s relational models. We view the whole timeline as an atomic unit and then break it down into subatomic particles that represent each touch over the course of the sales cycle.

By getting to that granular level and capturing those micro-interactions, you’re able to assemble a much more robust model over the entirety of the sales life cycle. Once you have all the touches ordered sequentially, you know the order of the touches, the order in which buyers got engaged at which time. With this data backbone in place, you can see which touches helped source the opportunity at the top of the funnel and which touches helped educate through the consideration phase, on through down to the sale. 

You don’t have to love attribution to love what it delivers – evidence that helps your marketing team optimize its resources with the data to prove it. You can choose an attribution solution like CaliberMind or stay tuned as we drill down deeper on how to build your homegrown model into a more robust attribution machine.