We all know the course of a good love story. The meeting, the falling, and the something that inevitably goes wrong. If it’s a great love story we get to see that obstacle be overcome and the evolution and deepening of a relationship. Attribution tracking in B2B marketing is becoming that love story.
But let’s go back to the beginning. B2B marketers have long been enamored with the idea of attribution.
The roots of marketing attribution extend back into the early days of marketing, and it has grown by leaps and bounds both in complexity and popularity.
The rise of the digital age has led to innovation in software like Google Analytics, HubSpot, Salesforce, and more. As the technology improved in tracking accuracy and accessibility, marketers began tracking attribution across their marketing efforts.
B2B Marketers fell in love with the idea that if you can track all the movements of prospects, then strategy and decision-making becomes straightforward. This leads to investing in what converts and throwing away what doesn’t.
Once it became possible to track just about everything, everyone from the Fortune 100 to mom-and-pop shops jumped on board.
This was a good thing. Unfortunately, some have taken this good thing too far.
The reality of buying decisions in the B2B marketing context can be very complicated.
In fact, much of the best B2B buying behavior can’t be tracked accurately at all.
How does this phenomenon play out?
The root of the problem becomes clear once you consider how real people act. Let’s take a look at the traditional view of attribution views buying behavior, then contrast that with reality.
Perspective one: the typical view of attribution.
A prospect will..,
Google a keyword or phrase, look at the results, click on your business’s website, see the awesome XYZ eBook offered, fill out the form, receive a follow-up email, open that email, click on that email’s CTA, and schedule a demo or assessment.
That demo then turns into a new customer.
Bing. Bang. Boom.
That’s all straightforward and linear behavior that’s trackable. This type of behavior enables marketers to run reports, look at each touch, and discover key information like:
- where attribution falls for this lead,
- how effective is each touch point—organic, paid, or email perform,
- and how to improve each part in turn.
In a theoretical world, this is a perfect way to track attribution. Reality is rarely ever so neat.
The way people buy, especially in B2B, is much messier.
Here’s an example that reflects the real-world buyer’s journey, or perspective two.
Say this prospect is the Director of Operations at a tech company that needs a new project management software. He goes to Google (the source of all truth and lies).
He looks up solutions for “top project management software” He may add some qualifiers depending on what their current processes are and how they’re looking to improve.
He takes in the options.
He asks his assistant, working remotely, to look up the options (from a different IP address) and to narrow down the possibilities based on their needs.
Later, our Director of Operations sees a LinkedIn ad for a podcast from one of his PM software options. The topic looks interesting, so he then pulls out his phone and downloads a few to listen to on the commute home.
He likes what he hears, so he texts that podcast link to another person on his team, who then Slacks it to someone else.
Then, all of our key players jumped on a phone call about the solution and decided to go with it. Later that night, from home, the Director goes to the site and signs up for the best project management software ever.
Still with us? Was this massively convoluted and hard to follow?
That’s the point.
In B2B marketing, much of our prospect’s behavior is hidden from us. Real-life is complicated.
If we worked on the marketing team for the purchased solution, we would think that we scored a sale by just three clicks in ten minutes from direct traffic on our website.
In reality, it was two months of research, several discussions, and many touches from virtually untrackable sources.
This skewed perspective can negatively affect marketing decisions going forward because they don’t have the entire view of customer behavior.
For example, a podcast will rarely (if ever) get credit for pulling in a new prospect, even if it was the most critical part of the decision.
As marketing professionals, we need to evolve our understanding of the B2B buying journey.
Marketing strategy needs to progress beyond the traditional view of tracking.
This progression is a good thing!
Not only is marketing reality pointing us this way, but technology is pushing us there, too.
Internet giants like Google and Apple are boosting user privacy directly in their browsers and operating systems making tracking increasingly difficult. Not only is less data available, but what data we do have isn’t as reliable.
It’s time for B2B marketing to evolve—and marketers along with it.
Let’s take a breather to clarify an important idea.
This article is not saying don’t track attribution and data. Tracking these things is a major part of marketing and always should be.
We get it. We are a data-oriented company. But we do recognize that the story goes deeper than what we see in that data (and we hope you do as well.)
We always look at data, but we also qualify and investigate before basing any decisions off it. We’re not saying “don’t rely on data.”
We’re saying data doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.
Ask yourself this:
- What data are you looking at?
- How integrated is that data?
- Most importantly: where does or should data sit in your marketing strategy and decision-making processes?
The way forward
Let’s catch up to reality. Let’s stop chasing shiny objects.
Don’t take out data but add to it. Add a subjective layer that should be married to data tracking.
For example, combine automated attribution with an open text “how’d you hear for us?” Field on your website forms. Pay attention to what prospects say.
Don’t not do podcasting simply because there’s no simple, automated way to measure impact there.
If you know your audience listens to podcasts and you have something valuable to say. Podcast away!
If done right will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your bottom line.
The idea here is to avoid falling into the trap of doing something because it’s measurable, not because it’s actually impactful.
What does this mean for you?
Embrace the fact that you’re tracking data is fundamentally incomplete. Take the ideas expressed here to heart.
Any action from this article should be on individual cases. But maybe it means looking at your attribution model and practices and reevaluating?
It’s up to you, and it’s exciting!
Ready to evolve your tracking?
We hope you feel excited and empowered after reading this article. It’s on you to take these ideas and run with them- any action is better than no action at all!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. At New North, we have the expertise to help you find the right balance between the data and the real world.