Guide to B2B marketing attribution in B2B tech & SaaS

When our recent research shows that 40% of B2B tech marketers feel measuring the right KPIs is their biggest challenge, marketing attribution offers a great solution for B2B marketers in the tech, software & SaaS world.

What is B2B marketing attribution? 

Marketing attribution helps you prove the success of your campaigns by showing you how different touch points in a buyer journey impact revenue. In doing marketing attribution, you can: 

  1. Prove the value of marketing to stakeholders so you can get buy-in for more support and financial backing. 
  2. Plan for what to do next as part of your B2B marketing strategy and which campaigns to continue or change. Attribution can tell you what’s working in your marketing strategy and what’s not, allowing you to identify and focus on your most lucrative lead generation channels.

After reading this guide, you’ll know: 

  • Why marketing attribution is important for B2B tech companies in particular
  • What marketing attribution models are
  • Traditional marketing attribution models
    • First touch
    • Last touch
    • Linear
    • Time decay 
  • Which model is best for your B2B tech company 
  • Key things to remember when choosing an attribution model 
  • Common challenges of marketing attribution for B2B tech companies 
  • Tools for attribution modelling 

Why is marketing attribution important for B2B tech companies in particular? 

The length of B2B tech sales cycles is often long and complex due to needing multiple decision makers and having complicated solutions. This means it can be hard to know which channels prospects are most influenced by and which channels have the most value to you as a marketer. 

Attribution can shed light on this complex and lengthy sales journey by telling you which channels made an impact on customer’s buying decisions. 

What are marketing attribution models? 

Marketing attribution models are frameworks you can use to measure the impact of your marketing efforts  on revenue. They can measure different touch points, website traffic and conversion rates. 

Traditional marketing attribution models 

First touch attribution model 

One of the simplest and easiest attribution models to set up is the first touch model. The definition is in the name – it’s a model that attributes all value to the channel in which a prospect has their first interaction with you. This is their first touch. 

The first touch model is generally used by start-ups or marketers who have just joined a company with a small marketing function. It has many benefits, with the most prominent being its ease to implement. It doesn’t require any sophisticated tech platforms, meaning it can be done on a limited budget. It also keeps analytics simple, meaning you don’t need to have an analytical mind or a dedicated analytics person. 

With this simplicity comes disadvantages. Particularly its failure to represent a complex B2B tech buying journey. Often, the first interaction a prospect has with your company is not the most important, or the most influential in their conversion or decision making. The first touch model also fails to reflect the time taken between the first interaction and this conversion point. 

However, as mentioned the first touch model is suitable for startups and small marketing teams because it gives a useful outlook of the market. It can show you which channels provide the best awareness points for your buyer persona. 

Last touch attribution model 

The last touch attribution model captures the most recent, valuable interaction; the conversion point. This is the point where a prospect makes a decision to purchase your solution, or becomes a lead by showing interest in your solution. The conversion point could be a demo request, a live event or even an ad. 

This model is great for telling you what precisely drove your prospects over the edge, so that you can focus on improving those channels. It’s also useful for knowing when marketing should hand over to sales.

The last touch model has similar downsides to the first touch. The last touch model doesn’t record the time frame between multiple touch points. With the long sales cycle of a B2B tech buyer, it’s important to know when the sales cycle is shortening. This model also fails to reflect the first touch point – you might miss out on opportunities to build brand awareness and gain more leads. 

Linear attribution model 

The linear attribution model tracks buyer journey length by measuring multiple touch points. It provides insightful information as to how many interactions are needed before a prospect turns into a customer. 

One issue with the linear model is that it attributes the same value to every channel. This is problematic when some channels showcase a higher level of intent than others. It’s even more problematic when you employ many channels and may touch points – a common occurrence in B2B tech. 

E.g. if you generally need ten touch points before a conversion, each channel gets 10% attribution. This isn’t enough information to know which channels are working better than others. 

The best part about the linear model is that it shows you the mix of channels necessary for a conversion. You can test multiple channels to see which ones have an effect on the amount of conversions and sales length. 

The time-decay attribution model 

The time-decay attribution model is similar to the linear model in that it measures the value of multiple interactions. This means you can measure the velocity of the buyer journey. However, in the time-decay model the most recent touchpoints are seen to hold the most influence. 

Be slightly wary of the time-decay model, because assuming the higher value of last touch points might not be accurate to your buyer journey. Sometimes the beginning interactions are more influential than the end ones. 

Which attribution model is best for your B2B tech marketing strategy? 

The most important thing to remember in marketing attribution is that whichever model you choose, it needs to fit the goals of your organisation. This is why a custom model is best if you have the team, resources and time to dedicate to measuring your marketing properly. 

You need to look at your market and your buyer journey to recognise the value of each stage, and which ones would benefit you most to measure. This could be that the first and last touch points hold the most influence on a decision, whereas the ones in between less so. 

A custom model can require a lot of investment, so you’ll need to have buy-in from key stakeholders. By marketing internally first, these stakeholders will also see the benefits of investing in marketing attribution. 

In creating a custom model you’ll reap the most rewards from the data you collect. This will enable you to better understand your customer, how they behave and what they want – critical insights for a complex B2B tech buyer journey. By learning these insights you can anticipate campaigns and know which move to make next in your marketing plan.

There are two main things to remember when choosing which attribution model is the right fit for your B2B tech marketing strategy. 

  1. Your chosen model should align with wider business objectives. You need to look at the business holistically to understand which channels you should focus on measuring. This will help you to demonstrate the right impact. 
  2. You should choose the attribution model in collaboration with the other leaders in your organisation. You need to convince stakeholders which one is right so that they give full support and funding to implement it properly. 

Common challenges of marketing attribution 

A short term mindset 

Marketing attribution can often only prove the value of short term marketing activities such as PPC ads, email campaigns and social media posts. It is still a challenge for marketers to prove the value of long term activities like brand building and content marketing. 

Long term activities still hold equal or more value as they certainly make a large contribution to business growth. Long term strategies are critical to establishing a brand within a competitive marketplace such as B2B tech. 

In focussing too much on short term strategies that show immediate results, you might neglect these long term strategies. Don’t get too tempted by the excitement of the quick results that attribution models can so easily reveal. 

Too much data 

Too much data can be a headache for a B2B marketer in tech. With so many different touch points, a complex buyer’s journey and a long sales cycle, there is an almost endless amount of possible variables you can measure. 

Having too much data can make attribution overly complicated. It can distract you from attribution goals shown by the most important variables of your marketing. Data needs to be clean so that you spend less time organising it, and more time analysing and taking action based on the great insights it can show you. 

Discrepancies in analytics 

You might find a mismatch between the results in Google Analytics and Facebook ads. Why? These tools track data in different ways, making it difficult to know which analytics to rely on. Unified data through one platform can solve this problem. Read this guide to learn more about analytics discrepancies, why they occur and how to fix it. 

Ruler Analytics whitepaper

Tools for marketing attribution 

Multi-touch attribution tools 

Ruler Analytics is a multi-touch attribution tool, meaning you can track multiple touch points and trace them all to revenue. It is a closed-loop tool, so when your prospect turns into a customer, the revenue they bring can be integrated into other tools such as Google Ads. In other words, your revenue is tracked as it comes in and goes out, all on one platform. 

Account-based attribution tools 

If you are running an account-based marketing strategy (ABM), there are specific tools you can use that are tailored to an ABM approach. Demandbase is an ABM platform that has attribution included, as it tracks the interactions of accounts at each stage of their buyer journey. This will let you see how engaged your accounts are to your targeted campaigns. 

Social media attribution tools 

Attribute the ROI of your social media campaigns with social media distribution tools like Oktopost. Oktopost integrates with marketing automation software to enrich leads with the data it collects. You’ll be able to see which social media campaigns are paying off and adjust your strategy accordingly. 

Oktopost website screenshot

To summarise, marketing attribution is necessary to see how your efforts are affecting revenue. In measuring marketing ROI, you’ll know how to make your next move, adjust campaigns and suit the needs of your prospects. This is of particular importance for a long and complex B2B tech buyer journey. 

Attribution models are the way in which you measure certain touch points. Choose a model that’s right for your marketing by looking at the business as a whole. Choose in collaboration with stakeholders so that they understand the importance of investing in attribution. 

Attribution often needs quite a lot of investment because the best model tends to be a custom model. Ideally it will be tailored to the specific requirements of your marketing and buyer journey, tying back to the overall business objectives.

There are a few challenges to be aware of when embarking on marketing attribution. These include having too much data, focussing on short term marketing efforts, and discrepancies in analytics. 

Attribution tools can make the process easier by automatically tracking your customers’ interactions and integrating them with your existing MarTech stack. There are specific tools you can use depending on your approach to targeting and messaging. 

To learn more about marketing attribution right from the expert’s mouth. Watch this webinar that gives more detail about closed loop attribution and traditional marketing models from the perspective of an attribution tool vendor, Ian Leadbetter, Director at Ruler Analytics and Jessica Dahan, VP Global Marketing at Userlane

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