The Decline of Attribution and Rise of Intent: Measuring Marketing’s Value in a Complex Sale

March 4, 2020 Matt Heinz

A recurring theme in the Breakthrough2U CMO Breakfast series with 6sense and Heinz Marketing has been the move away from lead capture (which we could argue is a vanity metric for complex B2B sales cycles) and towards prioritizing prospect engagement and experiences.

Especially when you’re managing a complex and long sales cycle, let’s not pretend that the white paper download generated the seven-figure deal.  Let’s not pretend that the badge scan at a trade show six years ago “drove the opportunity.”

So if we’re moving away from leads and towards experiences as the coin of the realm for B2B marketers, the value of attribution weakens as well.

Measuring the full buying process, and especially measuring marketing’s influence on it, has been a pain point for CMOs for a long time.  Academically most of us understand the difference between marketing-generated and marketing-influenced business.  But how do you measure the latter?

Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Sale, wondered out loud in a meeting four years ago whether attribution was worth all of the hassle.  Would we be more effective, he stated, if we just eliminated attribution altogether?

Attribution, too often, is about the individual.  Complex buying decisions are made as a group.   Where exactly one of the eight-plus members of the buying committee came from in your lead sourcing isn’t important (and probably never has been).

There is still value in knowing which marketing and sales efforts are working – which are most efficient, which have the most impact on driving understanding and velocity amongst members of the buying committee.

Too often, attribution inside selling organizations is a proxy for “credit” which is another way of describing unproductive internal politics.  If you’re chasing credit or still using service level agreements (SLAs) between sales and marketing, you have bigger alignment issues than simply knowing which channels and tactics are working for you.

In complex buying situations, isolated lead activities aren’t nearly as valuable as group behavior, consensus building and intent.  And as hard as it can be to measure, the “body of work” executed by sales and marketing, in an integrated and coordinated way, is what will consistently and predictably help your organization engage, mobilize and convert target accounts.

It has been heartening in our CMO breakfasts these past few weeks to hear more and more CMOs focused less on lead capture and more on managing (and measuring) account intent and experience. 

The very best, highest performing organizations do this with a combined revenue team (sales, marketing, often customer success as well) that minimizes politics and defensiveness about who’s “doing the most work”, and instead focuses on winning together.

How do you measure marketing’s impact in this environment? 

Look for focused engagement.  Know your target accounts and personas well enough to identify and track intent as a function of engagement for more motivated, ready-to-engage accounts. 

Look for (and proactively drive with your marketing efforts) group engagement and intent, by helping to increase awareness, exposure and mobilization from a group of buying committee member towards a particular problem, commercial insight or other challenge to the status quo that gets them, together, to agree that change is necessary.

What counts as intent?  Heightened frequency and duration on content that speaks directly to a core problem that you solve.  Engagement with outside variables, parallel firms, new software or other leading indicators that your solution (or representative problem to solve) is next.

When these intent signals exist, your prospects are more likely to take your call, respond to your email or engage with the next content they see from you if it’s relevant.  I know of more than one company that has a #heynicetiming feed in their Slack channel to highlight and celebrate these moments (which can be executed by sales, or marketing, or both in concert).

Is all of this easier said than done?  Perhaps.  Harder to measure than a landing page conversion?  For sure.

Just because something can be easily measured doesn’t make it important.  And just because your most important marketing objectives are difficult to measure doesn’t make them any less critical to driving revenue-responsible marketing and accountability towards business goals.

This may be the single most important issue for B2B CMOs in 2020.  Where is it on your priority list?

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