HomeBlog What’s the Story on B-to-B Attribution Technology?

What’s the Story on B-to-B Attribution Technology?

August 23, 2016 | By Ross Graber

  • Marketing attribution technologies are best used to drive a deeper understanding of performance
  • Look for attribution model flexibility to ensure that the right questions can be answered
  • Demand Waterfall reporting is a fundamental component of some marketing attribution technologies

Marketing attribution continues to be one of the hottest topics of conversation among b-to-b marketers. Interest is being expressed by marketers of all stripes, from field marketing through marketing operations and up through the CMO. This interest is driven by the ever-present need for marketing to demonstrate that it’s an effective steward of its resources and delivering value against its investments.

Marketing measurement has long been supported with in-application reporting (think sales force automation [SFA] and marketing automation platform [MAP] reports) as well as typical business intelligence tools. While the right fit for some, these solutions are increasingly being considered either too lightweight or not specialized enough. Recently, a class of technology vendors has emerged to promise more specialized b-to-b-marketing-specific insights. In this blog post, I break down what marketing attribution technologies are all about and what you should consider if you choose to evaluate them.

The Fundamentals

As the name suggests, marketing attribution technologies are designed around the idea that revenue values can be assigned to tactics executed by marketing. Attribution technologies systematically associate tactic acceptance by individuals with opportunity values. Then they apply calculations to divide revenue credit among accepted tactics. All solutions allow marketers to set or choose a formula for calculating revenue credit to tactics and all provide dashboards to visualize and compare results.  

Data supporting attribution calculation is typically housed in an SFA system and may be supplemented with data that originated in MAPs or via Web analytics.

Two Deployment Options

Attribution technologies are deployed using two basic approaches, each of which has its advantages.

  • Embedded. Some attribution technologies exist entirely within another system (e.g. SFA, MAP). This means that calculations and reporting are performed entirely within the business system currently in use. Embedded attribution technologies work with the data presently available in the business system. They don’t rely on connectors to other data sources and don’t require users to add additional business systems to their workflows.
  • External. Other marketing attribution technologies exist as platforms on their own – external to core business systems. This means that data gets pulled into the marketing attribution technology, usually via pre-built connectors. External approaches can utilize more varied sources of data and typically offer greater graphical flexibility. So external solutions are providing more varied types of analysis than seen in embedded solutions.

What Else to Consider

Referring to these solutions as tactic attribution may be misleading. Most are built around providing deeper analysis of marketing performance. Consider these other typical capabilities:

  • Demand reporting. Some solutions also have the capability to generate a Demand Waterfall to understand larger trends around demand performance. I always recommend that an organization stand up a Demand Waterfall prior to experimenting with tactic attribution. Tactic performance always needs to be viewed through the larger lens of demand performance as seen through the Demand Waterfall. Attribution technologies represent a way to save time and development cycles when standing up a Demand Waterfall for the first time.
  • Analysis and reporting capabilities. The ability to interrogate data can take different forms. Some take account-specific views and other offer touch analysis. Evaluate the methods of analysis supported and look for opportunities to automate some of the work currently done manually by the team.
  • Attribution model flexibility. Some solutions are built with several pre-defined formulas that you can choose from to allocate credit. Others allow you to run multiple models simultaneously – a powerful way to evaluate which models best address specific business questions. The market has evolved in recent years away from assuming there is a single correct model and toward the idea that some models are better suited to answering different questions. Be sure you’re looking at solutions that offer flexibility in analysis.

Ultimately, if you’re thinking about choosing a marketing attribution technology, keep in mind that attribution is not so much the objective as is creating an understanding of marketing performance. When we understand what’s driving marketing performance, we’re in a position to drive continuous improvement.

Ross Graber

Ross Graber is a Senior Research Director of Marketing Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. He brings over 15 years of b-to-b marketing experience with focus spanning marketing measurement, demonstrating ROI, data management, process development, marketing technology, customer marketing and sales enablement. Follow Ross on Twitter @rossgraber.