Tying Your B2B Marketing to Revenue Attribution

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In this episode of the Rethink podcast, Act-On’s CMO Michelle Huff interviews Christine Vermes, Vice President and Head of Marketing at Full Circle Insights. They have a great and far-ranging conversation on B2C’s influence on B2B marketing, identifying what reporting numbers are most important, and they discuss their approaches to finding alignment with sales. They also chat about tying marketing activities to revenue and using those insights to help their own budgeting. And, with so much data coming at marketers, we find out what advice Christine has for someone just getting started.

Enjoy the conversation, and we hope you can get one or two takeaways that you can bring to your business.

In this Episode:

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.

Michelle Huff: Can you do a quick little introduction of yourself and a little bit about Full Circle.

Christine Vermes: My name is Christine Vermes and I’m the vice president and head of marketing at Full Circle Insights. We’re a marketing and sales analytics company. I like to say that I’m a big brand consumer marketer trapped in a B2B growth marketer’s body, because I’ve spent the bulk of my career at Intel, where I did a lot of brand marketing. I’ve had a bit of a career change, but this the big brand marketer in a B2B growth marketer’s body.

B2C’s Influence on B2B

Michelle: It’s funny because a lot of people always talk about how you have to pick one, [B2C or B2B]. But on the same side, I tend to see a lot of trends come from the B2C world and they come into B2B. With you being on both sides of the fence, are there any quick little distinctions you’ve seen between B2B versus B2C? Or anything interesting that you’ve seen in B2C that you think B2B is starting to adopt?

Christine: That’s a great question. I think there are a lot of things that bleed over. I would say in the B2C world there traditionally has been a lot more focus on the brand and building your brand. And I’m starting to hear more and more conversations around building brands in the B2B space. For me that’s very interesting and that’s where my two worlds and really passions collide.

Reporting and Attribution

Michelle: I feel like a lot of times the reporting and attribution is another thing that really brings sales and marketing together, because we’re looking at a lot of our activities and how that’s helping move things along, contributing to the pot, moving things in the funnel, the impact from a revenue standpoint. What’s your take on that? And then what are some challenges that you see ‒ because you talk to customers all the time about reporting ‒ what do you see mostly with alignment? Or what are the main challenges?

Christine: I think that’s a great question. In general, there’s always been ‒ I shouldn’t say always ‒ but traditionally there’s been this divide between sales and marketing. Like never the two shall meet – is that the saying? For many, many years the two organizations had been at odds with each other. And to this day a lot of organizations still struggle with that. I think therein lies the very first challenge. And I think being able to get over that, there are a couple different things that have to happen. You have to build trust with your sales organization. And there are a couple ways to go about that.

When technology is involved, being able to report out of the de facto standard revenue reporting system is a really, really big deal. If you aren’t reporting out of that, you don’t have the single source of truth that you’re all gathering around. And if this is Salesforce, for instance, it’s where the CEO is looking, of course the VP of sales is looking, your CFO is looking at that, and your board is looking at that. And that really is sort of the bible, so to speak. It’s right and everything else is wrong. So, if your marketing automation platform doesn’t match your sales platform, your Salesforce, you’re going to have some trust problems.

And if you can bridge that ‒ and there are technologies that help bridge that, Full Circle being one of them ‒ that goes a long way, because you’re reporting out of, like I said, the de facto standard revenue reporting system and a single source of truth. And then also, if you’re reporting out of Salesforce, all the information is transparent. I think transparency is really, really, really key. It’s what builds trust; you can come together and look at the numbers, both the sales numbers and the marketing numbers, and you’re taking a lot of emotion out of something, out of conversations, because you’re just reflecting on the numbers. And then you’re able to deal with whatever’s working or whatever’s not working together.

I see that happening a lot, especially with customers who are just starting to use our platform and others that haven’t quite yet gotten there. But that sales and marketing divide is a big one.

Sales and Marketing Alignment

Michelle: I feel like it’s the common language problem, too. What is a marketing-qualified lead or sales qualified lead? And it’s kind of really having people understand what it is, what moves between one state to the other …

Christine: 100 percent. So, yeah, sitting down with your sales team and actually having that conversation and getting agreement around those definitions ‒ huge. And the business process around it ‒ super huge. Getting that agreement goes a hell of a long way.

Michelle: Any tips you’ve seen work well on helping this? Is it just, literally, getting everyone in a room to just sit and talk about it? Or, what have you seen work well?

Christine: I think that works the best. It’s the good old-fashioned way, but I really do think it works the best. With my team here, I sit in a weekly sales meeting. And in that sales meeting not only are they reporting out on their numbers, but, guess what, marketing’s reporting out on our numbers, and what’s working, and what’s not working. And it really goes a long way. I’ve had the best relationship with any sales organization that I’ve ever had, not to say that I’ve had bad relationships before, but I think having that level of transparency is super huge.

And I guess I should preface that by saying, when I came in and started here just a year ago, it gave me a great opportunity to sit down and say, “OK, let’s talk about definitions; let’s talk about how this works.” And that went a long way, too.

Michelle: I guess since you have an ongoing meeting, do you guys think about the definitions as being set in stone or something that’s up for further modifications later on? When do you take a new look at definitions?

Christine: I think they’re set in stone until they’re not. In other words, everybody abides by them until we realize that something’s just not working, and realize that it’s either a process problem or a definition problem. And then we’ve got the power of the pen. When you’re working closely with your sales counterparts, it’s easy to come together and say, “You know, this isn’t quite working here. If we tweak this process, or if we expand this definition, or this definition’s way too broad, I think we need to get a little bit more focused…” then we do that. And it feels good to be able to do that. So, yeah, we do keep it to the definition or to the process until those things break. And then we use that as an opportunity to reevaluate. What about you? What do you guys do?

Michelle: I just started back in September, so we’re right now actually looking at all of our definitions. It’s a great time to get better agreement on each of the different stages, so that we can have better understanding of all the different conversion metrics and decide if that’s where we want to improve. I have a similar take, where the goal is for us to actually set it in stone because it needs to mean something. But we should take an iterative approach. So, six months, one year from now, take a look back and see: Was that too restricting? Do we need to change anything?

Christine: Yes.

Tying Marketing Activities to Revenue

Michelle: I’m big on attribution. It is the hot thing. Because you hear all the debates and everyone’s like: “Oh, the sales and marketing divide.” And marketing needs to make sure you’re thinking revenue. Attribution is key to seeing where you’re tied to revenue. And I feel like there are two questions. The first one is, the common one of: How long does it stay marketing? Because people always talk about it being marketing contributed, but what if we sourced it three years ago, and then no one’s touched it since, and then later on it resurfaces again? What’s your take? Do you ever change the source? Or do you have a different field? How do you think about attribution?

Christine: That’s a really, really great question. We track inside Salesforce, so we always do have the source, the original, original, original source. And that stays true. And then we capture first touch, which could be the source. We have an SLA with our sales team. If a lead stays open for 30 days, once it hits that 30-day mark and it hasn’t progressed, we close it out. And then once that happens, it’s now moved out of the funnel. And it can reopen a few weeks later. And we do have instances where that happens and we think, ‘Oh gosh, now sales gets the first-touch credit.’

But we do have the original source information. And that’s always really helpful to look at. Just like I said, because you know who sourced the deal. And I’m not sure if you in your organization have revenue goals. We certainly do here. Marketing is responsible for 50 percent of the revenue that happens. And those sorts of things really do matter, although it’s great if the company is just successful overall, no matter who gets it. After that of course you want credit to show that you’ve had impact. And I think having those agreements with sales and having a certain period of time where the lead closes out, and then if it reopens and it reopens under sales, it’s “Hey, that happens.” You can’t keep something open forever.

But I do think with attribution what happens then is ‒ overall, whether it was marketing sourced or sales sourced ‒ you’re able to say, “This was the impact on revenue. This is the overall marketing contribution to revenue, or even sales contribution to revenue.” I think that becomes really interesting. And I think if you can go beyond the first touch and last touch, because that’s no longer sufficient for sophisticated marketers, and get into the multi-touch weighted attribution, I think that gets to be really interesting.

Michelle: The journey is changing from a buyer’s perspective. It stops and starts and goes to all these different places. And maybe it’s just always been that way, but we see it a lot more because of all the digital touches we have.

Christine: It’s definitely not linear.

Budgeting Marketing Activities

Michelle: At the beginning of the year you have a budget and you’re trying to think how you want to allocate it. And you’re always faced with, “Which investments do I think are going to bear the most fruit?” How do you think of it from just even a campaign? Are they one and the same to you? Or do you think about it differently when you’re trying to think of digital coming in and where that lands once you touch the website, to where the person goes from there? Does that make sense?

Christine: I think so. It made me think about one of the things that’s changed, which is, traditionally, marketing drove awareness, and marketing played really at the top of the funnel. And what you’re seeing or what we’ve seen over the last few years is that marketing plays more and more of a critical role further down in the funnel.

Each analyst group has its own metric here. I think Forrester reported that a customer will get 90 percent of the way through the funnel before they even talk to a salesperson, which is really interesting. And we’re starting to see that if you start to look at the attribution data. And, frankly, if you look at sales funnel metrics and the attribution, you see how things are progressing – you’re really starting to get a big picture of not only what’s working, but what’s working where and in what part of the funnel.

I think attribution ‒ whether it’s at the end of the month, end of the quarter, midyear, or at the end of the year ‒ gives you a picture retrospectively of what worked, what didn’t work, what channels were – I break it down between channels and offers – most effective in impacting revenue, and what particular offers in those channels then were most effective in impacting revenue. I think that’s really helpful for optimizing your mix.

But I would also say – and I know this is less hot and sexy – funnel metrics, I still kind of get off on those, too, because those give you some really relevant here-and-now data. It gives you more immediate information than waiting for the sale to occur. Because if your sales cycle is long, sometimes you need information within six months or within the year. I like funnel metrics for that. That has helped me. I’ve changed my marketing budget from one month to another because I realized that, with a particular channel, those leads were not progressing through the funnel. They were sort of dead on arrival or soon thereafter. And I was able to really pull the plug quite quickly and switch those dollars around to something that was more effective.

That combination of the sales funnel metrics and the attribution data is quite a powerful combination for marketers as they both plan and optimize the end of a quarter, end of the year, and then in real time, really.

Analysis Paralysis

Michelle: Do you ever see people having challenges, where it’s almost too much data, and not knowing what to do with it?

Christine: Analysis paralysis, right? It’s a real thing and it really does happen. And it can be overwhelming and it can be scary, especially if you don’t have a data background or even a math background. Suddenly you have all these numbers coming at you. And if you’re a marketer who’s spent the bulk of your life on the creative side and suddenly you have all this stuff at your fingertips, you’re like, “Oh, what do I do with it?” But there are technologies that can help you make sense out of this. And just in general one of the things that I’m starting to see happen more and more in the industry ‒ and I think it’s really exciting ‒ is that we’re starting to see technologies that have artificial intelligence or they’re predictive.

I think we’re going to see a lot of this in 2017, and it’ll be with us for more than just a year, but this AI is kind of really starting to be hot and predictive. We’ve heard a lot about predictive, and AI feeds into the predictive space. I think getting into the prescriptive space gets really, really exciting.

There are technologies today that give you really great insight, that really do start to take all of that data and help you make sense out of it, and give you some good dashboards. I always have to ask myself when I’m looking at a sea of data: What is the most salient thing? What is it that I’m trying to prove? What is important for me to know? Turn away from the data, ask yourself those questions, then turn back to the data, and you’ll be good to go 9 times out of 10.

And start small, right? Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to come out of the gate and have everything perfect. Start small. Start with a little bit of data. Start with a little bit of attribution data.

Michelle: Well, I loved this conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Christine: Thank you, Michelle. This was so fun. Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure to join you here today.