Within the last few years, marketing attribution reporting vendors have seemingly popped up everywhere. The barriers to entry in this market have become significantly lowered thanks to increased database capacity, processing power, and consolidation in the CRM market. And marketers have been eagerly awaiting this moment, having struggled for decades to achieve attribution reporting — especially multi-touch attribution.
But, as with all technical solutions, having a tool doesn’t guarantee success on its own. The clients with whom I’ve worked that are getting the most return from their attribution tools completed the checklist items in the three areas outlined below prior to making their selection.
Skipping many of these checklist items usually results in a much longer timeline to value; I’ve heard as long as a whole year. Many leaders are unwilling to wait that long to see a return on investment, and as a result, I have also worked with many clients that are in the process of switching attribution tool vendors because they did not prepare sufficiently in their organizational readiness, data readiness, and platform evaluation.
For most organizations, deriving value from attribution reporting is a journey, and it’s one for which you need to prepare. So, if you’re about to embark on your own journey, or even if you need to course correct, complete the checklist below to help ensure you successfully arrive at your destination.
Part art and part science, multi-touch attribution can be difficult for the organization to understand and therefore trust. Operationalizing attribution requires putting the right team and right objectives in place.
Know your objectives for attribution and align across the business
- Why do you need attribution and what do you hope to get from it?
- Articulate the questions the business is asking you that attribution can answer.
- Designate executive and cross-functional champions and document their accountabilities. Plan for representation from the marketing and sales teams (and, ideally, IT and finance teams).
- With the business, determine which KPIs and metrics are most insightful and actionable and get buy-in on how these are defined. Ensure that there is one source of the truth for each metric.
- Set goals for your attribution implementation roadmap that are aligned to the business objectives.
Define the customer journey
- Agree on which critical milestones throughout the customer journey will be the target outcomes (e.g., lead qualification, pipeline creation, bookings won, etc.) of your attribution model. These milestone stages essentially serve as the backbone of your attribution strategy (not to mention other initiatives, such as your lead management and nurturing frameworks).
- Align on which activities and owners you wish to attribute credit in achieving those milestones.
Determine your attribution model
- Choose or define the attribution model that best fits your objectives and will populate your priority metrics.
Make an investment in training and execution above and beyond the tool
- Learn the tool and understand how results are formulated.
- Enable your organization to tell a story with data — this requires a mix of analytics skills, broader business awareness, and softer skills.
- Be prepared to change processes such as campaign execution to send the right data.
Promote a data-driven culture
- Test reporting results internally before going out to the business. Understand that this may take several reporting cycles to become fully confident — you will not get a second chance if things go awry.
- Develop a process and cadence for reviewing results.
- Be open to making changes based on results.
Based on the outcomes of your business decisions from the previous section, you will be able to lay out data requirements to support your attribution reporting needs. The bottom line for data is that it must be well-populated, well-formed, meaningful, and sufficient in volume for you to obtain reports on which you can confidently take action. Without a complete dataset, you may accidentally include the wrong data or exclude key data from your model — or, potentially worse, produce reports with a large segment of empty or “Unknown” values.
Document agreed-upon Campaign and/or Activity data models in which to store activities
- Campaign attributes (e.g., Type, Region, Product, Persona, Cost)
- Campaign Member attributes (e.g., Campaign Status, UTM codes, Responded Date)
- Member Response types (e.g., Sent, Registered, Downloaded, Attended)
- Sales Activity attributes (e.g., Type)
Track dependent data for the attributable activities within the customer journey
- Implement, audit, and ensure URLs contain well-populated, well-formed UTM values for tracking across all non-integrated channels such as direct mailers, conferences, trade shows, industry events, or field marketing.
- Integrate and audit platforms such as Google AdWords for tracking paid digital channels such as search, social, display, retargeting, etc.
- Integrate and audit tracking organic or earned channels, such as search and social.
- If your ultimate goal is calculating ROI or cost per acquisition, define which components are included in “cost” of activities. Alignment with your finance team on this definition is highly recommended.
Setup your systems to accurately manage and track buyers or buying groups through the entire journey
- Whether you are using Leads, Contacts, or Opportunities, ensure there are unequivocal system definitions using fields such as “Status” and “Stage” with respective Datestamp fields for each of the major milestones in your model.
Make certain that the data required to accurately apply any filters for the dataset that will feed the attribution model is complete
- Which Campaigns? Which Campaign Members? Which Activities?
- Which Contacts or Contact Roles?
- Which Accounts? Which Opportunities?
Ensure that data is unified in one platform to feed the attribution model
- Sync from your Marketing Automation platform to pass all Campaign Member data to your CRM.
- Ensure data chains are present in your CRM to correctly connect the attributable activities to the buyers and, ultimately, to what they bought (i.e. pipeline and/or revenue).
- If revenue is stored in a separate billing entity, ensure you are mapping data sets accurately if the billing system utilizes a different data model for Accounts or Opportunities.
Execute a Data Audit to assess whether:
- Data sufficiency exists in key fields on objects in the data chain required for attribution (e.g., 60% of Campaign records have a value for “Type” and the last modified record date is within 180 days, dependent on your own thresholds for sufficiency).
- Relationship sufficiency exists between objects in the data chain required for attribution (e.g., on average, ensure there are multiple Campaign Members per Contact, and at least one Contact Role per Opportunity).
PRO TIP: Understand that there may be potential blind spots around offline interactions, anonymous browsing, lack of data about new customers, and more. Marketing attribution is a continuous process as you learn more about your customers’ buying behaviors and optimize your campaigns. What is most critical are the trends you see in your reports, and not necessarily the exact values.
While there are certainly differences in different attribution vendors’ approaches to modeling, in all cases, if you have made great strides in readiness in the above two sections, you will be much more successful with any tool. Beware the vendor who tries to convince you that their tool will simply fill in any gaps in this checklist.
Be knowledgeable of how your MarTech, AdTech, SalesTech, and CRM systems work together
- Document how and what data is passed between them and on what cadence.
- Create a consistent data taxonomy and make sure you can track all conversion data you anticipate the attribution tool will read.
Select a tool that:
- Integrates with your key data management platforms.
- Is secure and allows the right stakeholders to access the right results.
- Is reliable.
- Can ingest the data from your platforms into the attribution model without significant transformation.
- Offers attribution models natively that closely match your business requirements.
- Is flexible and allows you to experiment with different models or adjust existing ones.
- Enables incorporation of non-marketing touchpoints, if desired.
- Can connect spend to revenue all the way through the entire customer journey.
- Is easy to use, meeting the skillsets of your admins, end users, and stakeholders.
- Produces calculated datasets that you can backup within your own environment, so you do not lose it should you choose to switch vendors.
- Allows you to use the calculated data with your reporting tool of choice, not just theirs.
- Fits your budget.
Select a vendor that:
- Offers a strong support model for every step in your attribution roadmap.
- Is a viable company.
PRO TIP: Be especially critical of vendors who claim they can fill data gaps or forge missing data chains — their datasets might not be in your target market or their business rules for matching may not align to yours.
Success with multi-touch attribution requires planning and commitment
A successful attribution reporting function produces trustworthy, actionable results that enable your marketing and sales organizations to measure performance, prove the value of your marketing spend (and justify next year’s budget), and execute data-driven planning with confidence.
It’s important to realize, however, that all attribution models have bias and that there is no perfect model. You must commit to continuously experimenting and validating assumptions. As with many aspects of modern marketing, there is no “set it and forget it.” Leadership changes, data changes, and your market changes — so it stands to reason your attribution model will change periodically and require fine-tuning over time.
If you’d like some help developing or adjusting your attribution model while you focus on marketing strategy and lead-generation campaigns, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Gaea Connary, Consultant at DemandGen, focuses on helping organizations strengthen their lead management processes, lead scoring, nurturing strategy, and reporting and analysis to get the best return on their technology investment and meet their marketing objectives.