The Basics of B2B Marketing Attribution

June 2, 2020

How do you know which programs are generating qualified leads and pipeline, and which aren’t? How can you make sure a lead is tagged correctly throughout the entirety of their buying journey? Here we discuss the basics of B2B marketing attribution.

b2b marketing attribution

The topic of marketing attribution is a major pain for many B2B marketers. How do you know which programs are generating qualified leads and pipeline, and which aren’t? How can you make sure a lead is tagged correctly throughout the entirety of their buying journey? Long lead cycles, numerous digital touchpoints, and multiple contacts from the same accounts make it difficult to track how much each channel contributes to the annual recurring revenue (ARR). 

Here we discuss the basics of B2B marketing attribution and how you can get started in analyzing how your marketing channels contribute to your sales pipeline.

What is B2B Attribution?

What we refer to as “B2B attribution” is the measurement and reporting of the impact of marketing programs on pipeline and/or revenue. These attribution models aren’t just designed to give marketers credit or bonuses, they are also there to help assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and channels. Marketing attribution allows marketers to improve their strategies and optimize budget to the channels that generate the most revenue. 

Why is it so hard?

Measuring B2B marketing attribution is so difficult because the buying cycle for most B2B products is long (3-20 months), and involves multiple decision makers and multiple touchpoints before any deal is closed. This is very different from the B2C sales cycle where they have one offer, one buyer, and a short sales cycle (lasting minutes or days). The simplicity of the B2C sales cycle allows you to be confident in your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), whereas in B2B your ROAS is much more complicated due to the multiple touches and stakeholders. 

Bizible ran a study that asked B2B marketers, “what is the primary metric you use to measure marketing performance?” Most participants responded with “Opportunities and Pipeline”. However, when asked “which attribution model does your marketing team use to measure performance”, almost ⅓ of participants said they did not have an attribution model in place. While it’s nearly impossible to know exactly how much each dollar spent brings back in revenue, having some visibility is better than none at all. 

b2b marketing attribution
b2b marketing attribution

Sales vs. Marketing

b2b marketing attribution sales

In SaaS, the Sales & Marketing budget is usually between about 30-50% of the revenue target, and payback is between 8 months to one year. A couple of examples: Salesforce started investing 49% of their revenue target in Sales & Marketing and saw 24% YoY growth, and Mindbody saw 37% YoY growth by investing 40% of their revenue target.

The main questions running through a B2B marketing leader’s head are usually “what programs are impacting my opportunities/deals?” and “where should I spend my marketing budget?” Essentially - what’s working, what’s not, and where can we best spend our money to increase our revenue? That is where your attribution model comes in. The ability to measure attribution across your multitude of marketing channels can provide your team with efficiency gains of 15-30%! (source: Zoominfo).

Here’s a typical CEO question - “Why should I invest more in Demand Generation instead of hiring 3 additional field reps?” To answer this question, you need an attribution model in place to track how successful your marketing programs are in generating opportunities for your reps. Calculating ROI from sales reps is pretty easy - let’s say you pay each rep $150k/yr and they each bring in $1M in revenue. If you invest the rest of your budget in hiring sales reps instead of deploying it on your successful marketing programs, there won’t be any campaign generating the opportunities for your reps to close deals with. Once their pipeline starts to dry, their quota attainment will significantly decrease, and so will the ROI. Learn how to grow your business effectively with demand generation here.

Common Challenges

When building your attribution model you are bound to run into some challenges:

1. Data issues 

You can’t track attribution if your CRM and marketing automation data is not flowing properly. Sometimes data is transferred incorrectly (or not transferred at all) when going from lead to opportunity. The solution to this is to always tag and track everything in your CRM at every step. Also, if Sales doesn’t take the right actions in the CRM during lead handoff, you will lose a lot of attribution traceability.

2. Complex sales cycles 

The B2B sales cycle involves multiple stakeholders and a long sales cycle, making it very easy to lose data along the way. Again, the most important thing is to always tag and track every prospect interaction, and aggregate the lead to account data when creating opportunities and moving them along the sales cycle.

3. Account-Based Attribution 

In B2B your campaigns usually engage multiple people at the same account. When going from leads to opportunities you need to bring all that data into the account object to be able to trace that opportunity’s attribution. Keep all tagging consistent, and keep all teams on the same page to ensure data is being transferred correctly on either side.

4. Sales vs Marketing touches

Both marketing and sales will be talking to your prospects, how will you make sure both team’s efforts are accounted for? For this, you need to combine data from both teams within the CRM to see the full attribution picture. There should be a campaign created for your SDR cold outreach, as well as referrals and partners.

5. Multi-Channel interactions

As we mentioned, your prospects will be engaging with you on multiple platforms. They might click on a display ad, browse a few webpages from their smartphone, download a whitepaper on LinkedIn, attend a webinar, or meet with you at an event. How can you aggregate that data to show a single picture? Digital interactions are easy to track with automations, but you need the discipline to track interactions at events and tag them in the CRM.  

b2b marketing attribution sales cycle

B2B Attribution Models

Now - about the models! There are several different types of attribution models used by marketers, and there’s no definitive “right” choice. Studies have shown that it takes an average of 6 to 8 touchpoints just to generate a lead, (source: Zoominfo), so the type of model you choose will depend on your specific campaign objectives and strategy. Each of the models below has its own pros and cons, so you will need to know the context of your business strategy and how you prefer to measure this data. 

First-Touch Model

In this model, the entire pipeline/revenue is credited to the first campaign interaction.

b2b attribution models

For Example: 

1st touch - Google Ads (100%) 

Lead conversion - Webinar

Opp - Facebook

Closed/Won - LinkedIn/Quora

Last-Touch Model

In this model, the entire pipeline/revenue is credited to the last campaign interaction before the opportunity is created.

b2b attribution models

For Example

1st touch - Google Ads

Lead conversion - Webinar

Opp - Facebook (100%)

Closed/Won - LinkedIn/Direct Mail

Multi-Touch Model

In this model, X equals the total number of touches.

For Example

b2b attribution models

1st touch - Google Ads (15%)

Lead conversion - webinar (15%)

Opp - Facebook (15%)

Closed/Won - LinkedIn/Quora/Direct Mail 

(5% x each of the 3 last touches)

Role-Weighted Model

In this model, the variable X depends on the lead role (Ex: Director+ = 30)

For Example

b2b attribution models

1st touch - Marketing Manager (20%)

Lead conversion - CMO (50%)

Opp - Dir of Marketing (30%)

Closed/Won - LinkedIn/Direct Mail (0%)

W-Shaped Model  

In this model, everything is weighted before the opportunity is even created - marketing is incentivized. Weight is divided equally between the 3 touches, with 10% for mid-touches.

b2b attribution models

For Example

1st touch - Google Ads (30%)

Lead conversion - Webinar (30%)

Opp - Facebook (30%)

Closed/Won - Direct Mail (0%)

Minor interactions - Linkedin Message (10%)

Full-Path Model 

In this model, the weight is divided equally between the touches AND close, with 10% for mid-touches.


For Example

1st touch - Google Ads (30%)

Lead conversion - Webinar (30%)

Opp - Facebook (30%)

Closed/Won - Direct Mail (0%)

Minor interactions - Linkedin Message (10%)

Getting started with attribution

So, which model should you use? The truth is that you should always use multiple models because your choice will depend on which metrics you are focusing on. If you are using Salesforce as CRM, you have probably noticed that it puts more emphasis on the last touch campaign. Thus, the last campaign that touches an account before the opportunity is created is tagged as the primary campaign for that opportunity. However, let’s say your lead came from downloading a whitepaper on LinkedIn, then they responded to an email, and then you sent them a direct mail box that generated the opportunity - you can’t just attribute the entire opportunity and pipeline to direct mail. Ideally, you want to include all of those other touchpoints because you need all these programs working together. If you decide to cut LinkedIn because it’s not directly creating opportunities, you will not have warm leads to then convert with direct mail.

If you are not yet measuring any attribution, start with last touch. This is the best way to start without overcomplicating the model, and it can show you which campaigns directly generated opportunities. Then, you can go a little further by seeing where those leads came from. Track what drives your opportunities and then work backwards to attribute your successes to all relevant programs. 

b2b attribution marketing sales

Final Tips

b2b marketing sales attribution
  1. Don’t start scaling marketing spend until you are confident about your attribution models.
  2. Keep it simple at the beginning, start by measuring which campaigns are converting leads into opportunities.
  3. Maintain rigorous data hygiene and track every interaction with prospects. You can also force user behaviors with validation rules in the CRM.
  4. Make sure your lead handoff is solid and well documented between Sales & Marketing.
  5. Don’t over-rely on these models - if you have a small sample of data, it’s usually too early to rely on them. Try looking at outliers first (those generating many or no opportunities).

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