Growth Frameworks

Rethinking Marketing Attribution for the Modern B2B Customer Journey

How evolving your measurement approach can help increase your marketing impact

The evolution of the modern B2B buyer’s journey is well-documented. However, this journey has only become more complex over the course of the last few years.

B2B buyers are increasingly comfortable with a “self-serve” approach – doing online research, seeking recommendations from peers and engaging on their own terms. As a result, marketers now have a greater opportunity to directly impact even more of the buyer journey.

Unfortunately, traditional approaches to B2B marketing measurement are not built for this new world and identifying attribution touchpoints can be convoluted. Here, we share four key considerations to evolve your approach to marketing measurement and more effectively leverage what marketing can do.

1. Understand the Limits of Software-Based Attribution

No attribution method is perfect. It’s important to think through the limits of your current approach and how that may impact your decision making. Software-based attribution is often great at reporting on the activities that help capture demand (e.g., paid search, SEO, remarketing, direct, etc.), but has significant blind spots when it comes to identifying the activities that help create that demand (e.g., educational content or conversations on social media, in communities, direct messages, events, content platforms, etc.). Demand creation touchpoints especially are not readily trackable by software. Many are referred to as occurring within “dark social” or the dark funnel:

The Dark Funnel and the B2B Buying Journey

If you rely solely on software-based attribution (e.g., Google Analytics), you will likely over-allocate credit to your demand capture channels. Like other, similar tools, most Google Analytics attribution methods require a click; and as the illustration above indicates, even if you use a “first touch” approach, you are limited to the information provided by the first detectable click. This can lead to the classic “just spend more on our branded search ads to get more revenue!” fallacy and result in over-investing in demand capture strategies. And while some tools provide impression-based “view-through” attribution, this is often limited to certain channels or time periods.

2. Complement Your Measurement Approach with Surveys

To compensate for limitations in software-based attribution, many B2B companies are implementing a “how did you hear about us?” (HDYHAU) survey. While there is certainly bias in what people remember, this can be a very valuable additional data source, especially when the data are trended over time. Across our portfolio companies, this approach has highlighted some significant gaps – and new opportunities. For example, one of our B2B technology portfolio companies added a HDYHAU question to their conversion form and learned that 30% of people had heard of them from YouTube. Their software-only attribution model showed less than 5% of conversions were attributed to the channel. In this case, the HDYHAU data gave them more confidence to invest further in YouTube.

So how can you implement this approach? We recommend adding the question as a required open-text field on your high-intent (e.g., demo, pricing, contact, sales request) conversion forms. Making it required ensures you get enough data and making it open text often yields longer responses (and can help you sift through real responses from throw aways). While some marketers raise concerns about the impact on conversions if this question is added to their forms, we have found that the conversion rate impact is typically negligible and the insights are worth it. There are several alternative approaches (e.g., have sales reps ask during their conversations, deliver the question on a page or via email after the form completion, or conduct a regular survey), but in our experience, response rates and response quality often suffer with these methods.

3. Develop a Listening Strategy & Share Qualitative Findings

The HDYHAU survey is just one of many viable ways to garner insights directly from prospects and customers. Ultimately, we believe a thoughtful listening strategy that yields actionable customer insights is one of the most critical components of successful marketing. Many B2B companies have created customer advisory boards to develop stronger relationships with and learn directly from top customers. Others conduct regular surveys or interviews to learn more about what influenced a customer’s buying decision, where those customers conducted research and more. Call recordings, social media comments and events can also be meaningful sources of qualitative data.

Many of our portfolio companies package and distribute these qualitative insights internally to give the broader team more confidence in the impact of their marketing programs. For example, screenshots of positive comments from target audiences and anecdotes from sales calls mentioning specific programs can be early signals of success. Including these in weekly or monthly emails and paired with dashboards can be a powerful – and motivating! – force for your team.

4. Remember the Network Effects

The B2B buyer journey has become increasingly complex and non-linear, often influenced by online research, peer recommendations and the many ways your prospect might interact with your content, product or service. It’s important to remember that your marketing impact is also multi-faceted – that there are often network effects between marketing channels and programs as well as between teams within your organization (e.g., between marketing and sales, marketing and customer success, marketing and recruiting, and more).

Your YouTube spend might drive organic search. Your new LinkedIn campaign might increase the chances your targeted audience answers the phone or responds to an outbound email. Your podcast on new product features might drive upsell and retention. A new billboard or display campaign might increase the number of job applicants you receive. Many of these relationships are hard to measure definitively, but the methods above can help.

When it comes to the modern B2B buyer journey, we believe marketing can be a multiplier – often with effects that your current measurement practices may miss. Rethinking your attribution approach can help you understand what’s working and what’s not and give you the freedom to test new tactics. However, no matter how complex and detailed you try to make sure your measurement system, you can’t track everything. It’s important to consider the tradeoffs between complexity and utility. We’ve observed that at a certain level of complexity, the utility declines. A good guiding principle: while not everything can be measured, everything should have a reason.

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Cae Keys

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The content herein reflects the views of Summit Partners and is intended for executives and operators considering partnering with Summit Partners. For a complete list of Summit investments, please click here.

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