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11 min read

How to implement marketing attribution at your organization

Marketing attribution

In a landscape where marketing technologies and methodologies are rapidly evolving, mastering the art of marketing attribution stands as a cornerstone for success. 

I'm Nic Zangre, VP, Customer Success and Revenue Operations at CaliberMind, and I've navigated through various facets of marketing attribution, from the early days of simple automation to the complex interplay of data, technology, and strategy in the current era. 

In this article, I’ll guide you through the essentials of setting up an effective marketing attribution system, whether you're adopting a DIY approach or leveraging sophisticated platforms.

The evolution of marketing technology and the role of marketing attribution platforms

Reflecting on the evolution of marketing technology, it's fascinating to see how the field has transformed. In the early days, the sheer novelty of being able to send automated, personalized emails to an entire database was groundbreaking. 

Mistakes were made, like sending out an email with a broken link, but these were all part of the learning curve. Now, the landscape is vastly different with digital ads, retargeting, offline events, and numerous channels, making measurement a critical focus.

The shift towards prioritizing marketing attribution is notable. Revenue Marketing Alliance's 2023 State of Revenue Marketing report underscores this change. It highlights a significant increase in the emphasis on marketing attribution, jumping from 47.2% to 70.6% of participants identifying it as a top objective. 

This evolution from the early 2000s, when implementing tools like Eloqua and Salesforce was a novelty, to now, where marketing attribution is seen as essential, marks a substantial shift in the industry.

Addressing the challenges of today's marketing landscape requires a two-pronged approach. Firstly, the current economic climate and the uncertainties it brings – over 60% of survey respondents expressed concern about the economy. 

Secondly, there's the need for marketers to feel valued. They face increasing pressure to demonstrate marketing attribution while concurrently dealing with budget cuts and the expectation to deliver more with less. In the context of a slowing buying cycle, particularly in software sectors, the need for effective marketing attribution tools becomes even more critical.

Platforms like CalibreMind play a vital role in this environment. The key lies in wrangling the data – a term I use to describe connecting all data silos and centralizing them into a coherent, standardized format. 

This process involves integrating various data sources, such as email activity from Eloqua, web visits, offline event data from Salesforce, and more, into one unified schema. This consolidation, which constitutes about 70% of the effort in building a DIY attribution solution, is crucial for breaking down data silos.

Once the data is centralized and standardized, the next step is to facilitate a cultural shift towards adopting data and marketing analytics in revenue strategies. Here, platforms can offer an advantage with their slick user interfaces and pre-built models that provide ready-to-go insights. This setup not only streamlines the analysis process but also aids in transitioning towards a revenue marketing culture.

The journey in marketing technology from basic email automation to sophisticated marketing attribution reflects the industry's growth and adaptation to changing market conditions. Platforms are instrumental in bridging the gap for revenue marketers, enabling them to consolidate data, derive insights, and ultimately gain recognition for their contributions within their organizations.

Foundations for successful marketing attribution implementation

Addressing the complexities of integrating and leveraging data in revenue marketing is indeed a challenging yet vital task. As the marketing landscape evolves, particularly with the rise of privacy controls and policies like GDPR, there's a significant shift towards reliance on first-party data. This shift ensures that your data remains unaffected by external policy changes, such as those from Google.

When considering the types of signals to include in a first-party data set, several key components come into play. First, marketing automation data forms the cornerstone, encompassing form submissions, website visits, and email clicks. This digital body language provides a wealth of information about customer interactions and preferences.

Additionally, CRM data, particularly campaign data, is crucial. This data often includes call-to-action responses, such as demo requests or interactions at offline events like trade shows. It's not just limited to Salesforce but applies to all CRM systems. 

Importantly, cost data plays a critical role in calculating ROI. Savvy demand gen and revenue marketers typically maintain accurate cost data on their campaigns within their CRM systems. This data isn't limited to campaign costs but also extends to digital channels, including ad impressions and spend data.

An often overlooked yet critical aspect of attribution is the integration with advertising platforms to fetch ad spend data, cost per lead, and impression metrics. The art and science of attribution lie in connecting these expenditure figures to actual revenue and pipeline generated. 

This connection is facilitated through meticulous tagging, including the use of UTM parameters and web trackers. These tools create a traceable link from the advertisement click to the specific campaign ID on your website, allowing for precise tracking of the customer journey.

The process involves triangulating various data points: the opportunity data (revenue generated), campaign data, and the expenditure associated with each response.

By leveraging UTM strings and web trackers, it becomes possible to correlate specific campaign IDs to the ad spend on that day, thus determining the exact cost associated with generating a particular response and the revenue it ultimately brings in.

Therefore, the key to successful marketing attribution lies in a thorough understanding and implementation of these principles. By focusing on first-party data, integrating various data sources like marketing automation and CRM systems, and meticulously tracking campaign-related expenditures, revenue marketers can effectively demonstrate the impact of their efforts and optimize their programs for better results.

Overcoming resource and budget constraints in marketing attribution

The journey of implementing marketing attribution often encounters obstacles like limited resources and budget constraints. About a third of marketers, according to the Revenue Marketing Alliance study, face these challenges. To navigate these hurdles, creativity and resourcefulness are key.

One approach is to collaborate with other departments within your organization. For instance, at AdRoll, we faced the challenge of lacking the technical expertise in our marketing operations team to handle complex tasks like writing SQL (sales qualified leads) queries or connecting to data warehouses. 

To address this, we tapped into the expertise of our product, data engineering, and data science teams. This cross-departmental collaboration allowed us to build our own DIY marketing attribution solution, eventually leading to sophisticated reporting in Tableau.

Another strategy is budget engineering. This involves identifying opportunities to combine budgets from different projects to secure the necessary funds for your desired solution. 

For example, if you have a certain amount allocated for a marketing attribution tool but require more, you could merge your budget with other ongoing projects, like data warehouse or BI projects. This not only helps in overcoming budgetary limitations but also fosters interdepartmental collaboration.

In addition to these practical approaches, there's a significant element of 'internal sales' involved. It’s crucial to communicate the benefits of marketing attribution to different stakeholders within the organization, tailoring the message to their specific needs and objectives. 

For example, illustrating to sales teams how attribution data can provide them with timely and relevant information is vital. This process involves building a strong business case, highlighting statistics like the potential for a 300% increase in annual revenue growth for marketers who utilize attribution insights.

Furthermore, driving alignment between sales and marketing is essential, and marketing attribution plays a critical role in this. It's important to approach attribution holistically, acknowledging the contributions of various departments, including sales. 

Integrating touches from sales automation tools into the marketing attribution model ensures that the data is not biased towards any single department. The goal is to become like Switzerland – completely objective and unbiased, telling the full story of the buyer's journey, especially in B2B environments with long sales cycles and multiple stakeholders.

However, it's also crucial to recognize that no attribution model is perfect. There will always be elements of the 'dark funnel' – aspects of the buyer's journey that aren't captured in your system. Accepting that and aiming to get the majority of the story right is essential. 

Even if the model isn't 100% accurate, achieving 90% accuracy can still provide valuable directional insights for making informed decisions about where to allocate marketing resources.

The evolution and challenges of DIY marketing attribution

Reflecting on the evolution of DIY marketing attribution, it's important to recognize that DIY today doesn't necessarily mean manual work. The modern data stack has evolved significantly, offering sophisticated tools and resources.

In the early days of marketing automation, data was mostly confined within private clouds like Eloqua, with limited accessibility. APIs were available, but they were akin to "drinking data through a straw from a swimming pool" – slow and inefficient. 

However, the landscape has drastically changed now. Platforms such as Snowflake, Google BigQuery, and Amazon Redshift have shifted the center of gravity of data away from traditional systems like CRM to more expansive data lakes and warehouses. These tools take a 'warehouse-first' approach, reflecting the changing ecosystem where data storage has become more affordable and accessible.

CalibreMind's entry into the market coincided with this shift towards a modern data stack. The transition from ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) to ELT (Extract, Load, Transform) is a subtle yet significant change. It involves pulling in massive amounts of data first (the entire "swimming pool") and then transforming it, leveraging the cheaper data storage options available today.

From my experiences, many customers initially attempted a DIY approach but encountered challenges, often due to a skills gap. This issue echoes findings from the Revenue Marketing Alliance survey, where a third of respondents struggled to achieve their goals due to a lack of necessary skills in their teams. 

This gap underscores the importance of not hesitating to engage consultants or leverage managed services, especially when using vendor solutions. Often, professional assistance can be more cost-effective and efficient than attempting to navigate complex tasks internally.

A key lesson from these experiences is the recognition that sometimes, professional help is essential. Just as one might decide not to change spark plugs in their car and instead rely on a professional, the same principle applies in the complex world of marketing attribution. 

Navigating this landscape requires both the right tools and the right expertise to effectively integrate and utilize data for successful marketing attribution.

The journey of implementing a DIY marketing attribution solution can be likened to building an entire plumbing system from scratch. It's often underestimated how much time and money can be saved by investing properly upfront in the right BI solution or team. 

A common misconception is that having an Oracle database and an IT person capable of writing queries is enough, but that's just the beginning. There are numerous other factors to consider, such as setting up UTMs, campaign hierarchies in CRM, and ensuring web tracking is privacy-compliant.

I've seen enterprises attempt DIY attribution, only to realize, after investing significant time and money, that they could have achieved their goals more efficiently with the right solution and approach. 

In instances where they have struggled for years, we've been able to step in and set up an effective system in just a matter of months. This involves a lot of effort in standardizing and mapping data from different sources like Eloqua and Marketo, despite being essentially the same type of data – email, web, and form data.

The key is to convert all this disparate data into a uniform format, making it comparable – turning it into "apples to apples." This process is often overlooked in DIY approaches, as is the integration of APIs for cost data and sales data, ensuring that all forms of interaction, whether from sales or marketing, are valued equally in the reports.

Regarding platforms and addressing reporting gaps, it's interesting to note that the journey often starts with attribution but evolves into data-driven marketing and revenue operations.

One of my customers, for example, began with attribution and ended up enhancing lead scoring, funnel analytics, and upsell/cross-sell strategies. All these enhancements were possible because the journey to attribution involves normalizing and consolidating data, breaking down silos.

One common misconception is that an organization's data is too chaotic to be useful, but in reality, if modern marketing tools like Marketo and Salesforce are in use, there's already a level of data organization present. Platforms add value by modeling this data, interpreting it to make sense of non-linear buyer journeys, and providing reports that accurately reflect the actual sales process.

DIY approaches may hit roadblocks, especially when it comes to advanced requirements like machine learning. Building a machine learning model requires a different infrastructure, skills, and resources. In contrast, platform solutions offer years of development in templating, field mapping, and the expertise of a diverse team skilled in data science, engineering, and user-friendly interfaces. 

These platforms not only simplify the process but also provide a more robust, comprehensive solution than what a DIY approach could achieve.

Essential skills for revenue marketers in the era of advanced marketing attribution

As marketing attribution becomes more complex and intertwined with advanced technologies like AI and machine learning, revenue marketers need to evolve and acquire a diverse set of skills. The modern revenue ops professional must go beyond traditional certifications in Salesforce or Marketo and delve into a broader ecosystem of tools and capabilities.

One critical skill is proficiency in SQL. Initially, it might seem daunting, especially for those who identify primarily as marketers rather than coders. However, SQL is an invaluable tool that allows for robust and efficient data retrieval. 

Unlike the limited reporting capabilities within CRM or marketing automation tools, SQL enables the integration and analysis of data from multiple systems, offering much more flexibility and depth. There are various ways to learn SQL, including mobile apps with flashcards or interactive games, making the learning process more accessible and engaging.

Another important aspect is staying current with industry developments and the plethora of available automation tools. Familiarity with tools like Tray, Workato, or Zapier can empower marketers to create ad-hoc integrations and connect multiple systems effectively. This adaptability and knowledge of the larger ecosystem, including platforms like Demandbase, Sixense, or Metadata.io for advertising, are crucial.

However, technical skills alone are not enough. Understanding broader business functions and developing a revenue-centric mindset are equally important. This may involve taking finance courses or engaging in activities that enhance one's understanding of the company's top and bottom lines. 

By aligning operational roles with executive-level thinking, focusing on business objectives and goals, a marketer can transition from an operational role to an executive one.

The ability to speak the language of revenue and business outcomes is particularly valued in boardrooms and among executives. It demonstrates a marketer's capacity to think beyond operational efficiency and contribute to strategic business decisions. 

Therefore, the combination of technical skills, like SQL, familiarity with a wide range of marketing tools, and a strong understanding of business and financial principles, forms the cornerstone of a successful revenue marketer in today's rapidly evolving digital marketing landscape.

Resources and predictions for the future of marketing attribution

As for the future of marketing attribution, the focus is inevitably shifting towards the integration of generative AI. The potential of this technology is vast, especially in terms of querying data and making predictions. 

However, the challenge lies in preparing the data in a format that is conducive to generative AI, specifically in a vector format that can be easily queried using natural language.

Simple questions like "How many MQLs did I produce last quarter?" or "How many will I produce next quarter?" could potentially involve complex SQL queries. The key is to have the data organized in such a way that it's ready for generative AI analysis. 

At CalibreMind, we are actively working on this, anticipating that the future of attribution marketing will be dominated by those who have their data most prepared for this evolution.

Our goal is to stay at the forefront of these advancements. By doing so, we aim to empower not just the less technical marketers but also those who are technically adept and looking to save time. There's a great opportunity here to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing attribution, leveraging the power of generative AI.

Written by:

Nic Zangre

Nic Zangre

Nic is the VP of Customer Success and Revenue Operations at CaliberMind.

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How to implement marketing attribution at your organization