The challenge of marketing attribution: what drove the sale?

I love a challenge and marketing attribution is always one that presents a challenge.  I’m still looking for the perfect marketing performance solution that tells me revenue and conversions by first touch, last touch, conversion point, conversion type and campaign – without having to do a massive manual deep dive.  So, when the CMO or Sales Director needs to report on where the opportunities have come from and what channel delivers the best conversion to opportunity – where do you look?

The tools, systems or platforms out there only seem to do half the job – and don’t stitch together particularly well.  If you look in various repositories of marketing data, you get some of the picture, but bringing it together in one seamless picture is a troublesome thing.

The key marketing attribution tools:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics can show you a wealth of information – performance of various channels (paid and unpaid), conversion rates, website performance and campaign performance.  All useful stuff, but this is all at an aggregated level and doesn’t go far enough into the marketing or sales funnel.  Half the picture – and only the top half.

Marketing Automation Platforms 

I have my beef with marketing automation platforms.  I love them and I hate them – for different reasons. They give you partial information – there’s either reams of data or hardly any, depending on which platform you use.

They’re excellent at reporting on email and website conversions – in aggregate and at a contact level, but they’re not so good at the channel part and connecting that up to conversions – and opportunities.

There’s a serious amount of jiggery pokery (that’s a technical term) to get that working and often you have to pull the data out and manipulate it in another platform – assuming that there are UTM parameters or clear campaign IDs were set up, and there are reportable fields in the data.

Salesforce or equivalent

Salesforce provides sales data, not marketing data.  With the right fields though, you can report on whatever you like – including how you’re attributing contacts – as long as you’re capturing that information.  But Salesforce shouldn’t be the tool for determining marketing performance, it should be focused on sales performance and funnel analysis.

So why the challenge with marketing attribution?

If you want to know what areas of marketing are performing, you’ve got to look at different repositories.  This causes an issue as you can’t look at it holistically.  It’s very difficult to look at sales revenue or opportunities by channel (email, search, direct, social, paid, referral) – if that’s the case, how do you know how much effort to put into each area?  (It is possible, but it usually means significant changes to how the business reports – and to established metrics which is an undertaking very few want to take onboard).

Likewise, if you’re driven by campaigns, which campaigns worked better?  Which channel contributed most to the campaign and how did that lead to conversions and sales?  To establish that information, you need to look at all three platforms mentioned above…  So the manual dig around is tedious and time consuming.

Multiple touchpoints and multiple attribution

You know as well as I, that one email wasn’t the trigger to conversion or a sale.  Marketing is more complex than that and with long buying cycles, there are multiple triggers to conversion.  You only have to look at Google AdWords data to see the volume of ‘view through conversions’ to see the impact that an ad can have, even though it never received a click or delivered a conversion.

Likewise, campaigns these days are multi-touch and multi-channel, which complicates the reporting.  Unfortunately, the MAPs which measure contact level conversion don’t offer attribution in this way.  So, according to many reports, email is the main conversion channel and that wonderful white paper or demo request was the conversion point.  That maybe the case, but the picture is not that simple as the customer’s journey is far more complex.

So, if that’s the case, how do you pull that out in a data analytics platform and analysis it? How important is it?  Personally, I think it would be hugely valuable, but the cost far outweighs the benefits…

Imagine if we knew the touchpoints that lead to a conversion, modelled that to determine the best converting customer journey over the duration of your sales cycle?  And be able to know what (format, message, type) aided in that? We could then create customer journeys that we know work for each segment or persona and look to continually AB test those journeys to improve them – all done through factual data and a simple reporting tool – that shows all interactions, attributions and revenue data tied to segment, contact and campaign.

Maybe marketing attribution in 2050… I’ll be retiring…

That said, if any marketing technology providers want to consider developing their roadmap, I’d happily input my thoughts…

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