B2B Marketing’s Measurement Problem

New B2B Buying ProcessNo one makes a million dollar decision based on one white paper, one email or one Google search.

The buying process may take 12 to 18 months. 20 different people may be involved in the decision. Peers, consultants and analysts will provide their input.

It is called a complex sale for a reason, but B2B marketers keep trying to fit it into a simplistic measurement framework: where did we get that lead?

The problem doesn’t begin with marketing though. In most B2B organizations, Salesforce.com or a similar solution is the system of record. If the results of your campaign aren’t visible in Salesforce, the campaign wasn’t successful.

As a results, B2B acquisition marketing often devolves into one of two places:

  1. Just getting a lead (really just some contact details, but I digress) into the marketing and sales machine. Beyond cold, these leads may frozen solid. But if your program is the one that put them in the system, your program gets the credit if they become a qualified lead in the future.
  2. Sweeping up late stage contacts. Tactics like buying branded search terms or running retargeting campaigns are particularly cost-effective on paper because only target people who have already shown a level of interest or familiarity with your solution. In short, they get the benefit of much of the work your other marketing efforts did.

Ultimately most B2B marketers focused on lead generation come to the conclusion that banners don’t drive leads, print advertising is ineffective or telemarketing still reigns supreme. The conclusions are true because of the system marketers are working within.

The solution isn’t simple. Yes, there are ways to more effectively measure the impact of marketing on your business, solutions that many mid-sized B2B marketers have access too.

  1. Measure the impact of your overall marketing mix using sophisticated statistical models.
  2. Assess the change in perception of your brand or product as well as the overall intent to purchase using attitudinal research (aka brand studies).
  3. Develop an attribution approach that assigns credit for leads to marketing they likely saw (for instance, using cookie data to see if they potentially saw a banner, known as viewthrough).

But your organization that is accustomed to measuring marketing by the value it delivers (in qualified leads or ultimate sales) versus the investment you made. Is your entire organization, not just the marketing department, ready to change how you measure marketing?

Usually, the near term answer is no. Changing how marketing is measured is a significant change and is, at its heart, a change management issue. For example, these are just a few of the areas it will impact:

  1. Business stakeholders throughout the organization (from existing marketing partners to sales to the executive team) will need to understand the new measurement.
  2. New marketing technology or service investment will need to be made, likely increasing the infrastructure cost of marketing.
  3. All existing marketing performance will need to be updated, triggering an extended period of testing in order to determine the most effective tactics based on the new measurement.

It is a complex sale, but most B2B companies will continue to use their simple measurement.

Your Turn

Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@wittlake) if you see most B2B organizations moving away from Salesforce (or similar) lead source as the primary measurement of their lead generation campaigns.

Image by Kenny Madden on Flickr, used with permission

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  • Couldn’t agree more, Eric, and your lede is spot on. The cycle is more of a circle than a funnel!

  • Wouldn’t a system like HubSpot or Kissmetrics solve this problem, because it not only attributes the first touchpoint/referral, but tracks all email/website activity so you could see what triggers moved them to different points in the buying process?

    • Hi Amrita,

      I don’t believe these solve the problem, for two reasons. First, there is still a benefit of being that first touchpoint or referral source in the reporting I’ve seen most companies use out of similar systems (I’m not as familiar with the inner workings of Kissmetrics though, it might be different). Second, all of these systems still have very limited scope. They have good insight into site traffic and sources and end up overweighting digital. For instance, the lead that comes in from search on your brand name: why are they searching for your brand? What put you in the consideration set? Today’s measurement undervalues the activities like PR may be the reason for that search in the first place.

      That said, I don’t want to discount the value these solutions bring, as you pointed out, showing what triggers moved people once they are in your marketing and sales machine. They are valuable at that point, I just don’t believe they solve the earlier stage problem.

      Thanks for the good question!

  • The problem, as I see it, is that marketing has become so taken with breaking itself into sub-specialties (engagement marketing, content marketing, etc.) that marketers have lost the ability to look at the whole marketplace. Further, as they pursue more “likes,” “connects”, “follows,” etc., they have a tendency to make that the end game rather than a starting point for sales.

    • Great point. “Wow, look at how many people saw our question about their local weather on Facebook!” (Yes, a made up but all too realistic quote). Ugh.

  • Great question, Eric. I agree completely that measuring the complex sale is (ahem) complex, and that the problem must be resolved. My biggest concern is that Key Performance Indicators drive decisions that actually run counter to the company’s real goals to persuade buyers to choose their solutions. So we’re in an endless loop of marketing management approaches driving further dissatisfaction with marketing. This keeps me awake at night, as you know.

    I believe that the solution lies in combining statistical data from the current marketing automation systems with interview data collected from recent evaluators of the company’s solutions, including wins and losses. Your question has inspired me to write a blog post on this topic … will get to work on that today. Thanks!

    • Thanks Adele! Yes, and I definitely agree on adding in interview data. I would add one more source: overall business results. Because marketing impacts individuals beyond the 1-1 communication we can measure (from more broadcast advertising to forwards or discussions 1-1 communications can spark), good marketing has a broader impact.

      Ultimately, I believe we need to start measuring lift, ie what difference did this marketing activity make in the overall results, instead of measuring what portion of results our marketing activity touched and then attempting to determine which touches had the greatest impact.

      Thanks for the comment and apologies for the tardy response!

  • Great post Eric. What I’m seeing with my clients is the need of linking all sources to the revenues. Attribution seems to become a standard in order to credit marketing sources with the right amount. But I guess to your point, maybe we should think adding other type of activities like Sales Rep interactions with the lead during the sales process. We could argue that it has equal value in the conversion process as a Search on Google.

    I think you are right to say that we limit ourselves to view marketing only in a “funnel” way. Now let’s go to work and innovate by creating a new measurement framework. Anyone is in? 😉

    • I’m in. Ok, now what? 🙂

      Seriously, thanks for the comment. I definitely agree there is work to be done here.

  • Hi Eric,

    Good thinking in this post. You know how I feel about the traditional funnel.

    My question to you would be how our measurement or attribution needs to change given buyers entering our “marketing and sales machines” much later in their buying process? You start to reach toward that with your answer to Amrita when you question what drove a branded search in the first place – but we still need to get to that. And it’s getting even more challenging as new channels come into the mix with interactions that take place on platforms we don’t own.

    You’ve raised lots of questions that will be fun to wrestle with as marketing measurement evolves. Dr. Emily also makes a great point about why marketing has an attribution problem. However, wasn’t this the reason for the evolution of the CMO role? I have to say that I don’t see much changing with the addition of the CMO as a strategic umbrella to get to that big-picture, marketplace view. But that’s another conversation 🙂

    • Thanks Ardath!

      I don’t know if the evolution of the CMO’s role is nearly as real as some of the public discourse has painted it to be. Yes, it is evolving, but a huge portion of marketing isn’t vastly and fundamentally different than it was a decade ago (and some of that is ok).

      I’m a contrarian on this, but I actually believe all of the data we have is becoming a hindrance to measuring the overall impact of marketing on the business. It is giving marketers a false sense that they can measure everything with both accuracy and granularity. That isn’t the case today and many of the measurement techniques that were being used 20 years ago actually work better for measuring the overall impact.

      Today’s granular measurements only apply to some channels (therefore undervalue others) and they confuse reach with impact. Based on the granular (click stream, cookie, etc) digital data, marketers aggressively assign credit to activities that may simply have been navigational (brand search) or chance.

      Until we can measure lift, or the difference to our business of having versus not having a given aspect of our marketing, we are likely fooling ourselves with any measurement, particularly in digital.

      Ok, now you have taken me WAY off course. Thanks, as always, for the inspiration! I suspect this will spark another post.

  • Eric, Great post. I agree with Frank, currently it looks more like a circle than a funnel. You bring a matter to the forefront and that is that until the organisation as a whole is prepared to change their total view of marketing, marketers will have to deal with the fact (and frustration) of trying really hard to demonstrate the ROI.
    Also you have a very valid point. All these branded searches…. what on earth made them search for you instead of the competition? We all have hypothesised in the bar with our fellow marketers (and the top guys too) and came to the conclusion that very likely all those direct mail pieces, press releases and banners might have had a lot to do with it. It serves as a comfort… but the following day everything goes back to normal trying to chase the ROI.

    • Great point, everyone seems to understand it, but when push comes to shove, most aren’t ready to make the change.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Great post Eric! We’re experiencing similar challenges with the complex sale and we’ve been reaching the same conclusion as some of the responses (Brightbull in particular). It seems the fundamental issue is the underlying marketing paradigm. High performance tends to be handicapped by older marketing mindset… And doesn’t really matter how well it’s measured.

    • Definitely agree that it becomes a handicap, thanks for commenting!

  • Jeff Wilson

    I’ve dealt with this issue with many of my clients and found it was perspective that was the issue. Instead of looking at 4-5 “easy” steps to an acquisition, i helped them to understand instead levels of emotional engagement. In this regard we were always able to move from indifference to familiarity (interest) to comfort to confidence to trust – all the while still aligning to classic sales measurement models.

    To your point Eric, this methodology helped to make the acquisition marketing much more flexible and actually helped to create more innovative tactics to push the emotional agenda.

    • Jeff, we might need to talk about this one! I’ve seen this perspective dramatically shift what marketers will do from a nurturing perspective but less so on the initial acquisition side. Would love to hear more on this if you are willing to share.

  • Not all leads are created equal. Do you qualify a lead by how “ready” is it? How much it cost to bring in? How long it takes your sales team to close a deal? Especially in B2B, there are very few leads that show up on your radar that are “perfect” and ready to buy.

  • It’s not the system (Sfdc or the marketing automation system that feeds it) that’s at issue, it’s how to analyze the data. An effective analysis technique is to look at deals. How many touches, what types, what specific campaigns and activities drive deals, over how long a time period. Where the systems do lack is ability to take the data collected and allow the marketer to easily see trends and “hot spots” showing which activities consistently impact deals and when. Much more robust analysis and reporing looking across numerous data types and presenting visually is needed.

    • Scott, I agree, looking at closed deals, or alternatively a cluster analysis approach that compares won to lost deals, can be a useful method.

      I disagree on one point: there is a very real system issue here as well. The systems have “complete” information about just a subset of exposures to marketing. When we apply an analysis technique to this partial data set, we effectively credit the impact of any activity that isn’t in the system to the activities in the system.

      From there we spiral into all sorts of issues, such as strong correlations between tracked and untracked activities causing certain tracked marketing activities to appear to have contributed significantly more than they actually did.

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