Revenue Attribution – it’s All in The Way That You Sell it

Partner Content


It’s just a matter of time before marketing operations and automation professionals get asked by the CMO to create better revenue attribution models and reporting, and start trying to push the concept within their organisation.

It’s also not that unusual for the organisation to push right back.

But “why?!” you wail in frustration. Why would any organisation object to knowing how much revenue or pipeline can be attributed to your marketing spend?

I asked some Sales and Sales Ops professionals this very question. Interestingly, some of them had even worked in Marketing before. I got some bored, dismissive responses along the lines of “it’s too hard to do well”, or “I don’t have time for that, it’s just a marketing vanity exercise”. There were also some borderline aggressive and cynical responses, such as “it’s just marketing trying to prove they’re relevant”, and “they try to credit for everything”, or “I know how much marketing contributes to sales – very little”. Sales know little and trust less of modelling around revenue attribution. At worst, attribution is seen as a black box of made up marketing hocus pocus.

Who can blame them? After years of MarTech platforms insisting that “marketing needs to earn their seat at the revenue table”, it’s only natural Sales or Finance might see attempts at attribution modelling as a power or land grab.

You have to ask yourself what your own (or your CMO’s) motivations are. Is your push for a functioning revenue attribution model a genuine desire to improve the contribution that marketing makes to pipeline and revenue, or is it actually just a search for any good-looking numbers marketing can use to justify their jobs and existence?

Very often us marketing operations professionals (and if you’re reading this article you’re at least ops-curious) are great at spouting concepts such as change, and process development, and efficiency, but we forget how horrifying those words can be to others, and how different their meaning can be to the listener. It’s like we understand perfectly well how to market to the outside world, but how about marketing ourselves and our projects?

For starters, how about we look carefully at the term “revenue attribution”. When you break it down, it can be perceived as “who gets credit for revenue?” That was never the way it was meant, but it is how it evolved in many organisations. What it’s actually supposed to be is “How much pipeline does marketing generate, influence or progress?”. As in, how does marketing help an organisation achieve its revenue goals, not how much of that revenue can we take credit for. There’s a huge difference in selling those two concepts.

How would I sell revenue attribution to a recalcitrant Sales Director? I’d say, “we need to understand the impact and influence we’re having on pipeline now, put a baseline on it, so we can invest more money into the channels and tactics that are getting you better leads and/or account engagement. We want to help you find and close deals.”

Talking points can include any of the following. No, I don’t want to take credit for everything you’ve sold. I’m not insisting that the click on that last email we sent the prospect is worth $100K in attribution on your last deal. I’m not saying taking the prospect out to dinner and buying them a $100 steak won the deal. However, the accumulation of all these things certainly helped.

When determining success points to measure your marketing against, you need to focus on marketing influence that truly impacts and agree with Sales and Management what those are. In short, you do need to be transparent, collaborative and straightforward. No marketing statistical hocus pocus. Minimise the scrabbling about from data analysts trying to gather and prove every hint of pipeline influence.

I’ve worked with organisations who had Revenue Attribution percentage numbers in the high 90%, because they insisted that merely touching an account with a marketing channel counted as influence on the deal. It might make your marketing numbers look impressive, but Sales will dismiss it and management won’t trust it.

As marketers though, we also need to sell modelling that takes into account newer paradigms around prospect nurture and engagement. Simple, old school linear attribution only considers lead creation, opportunity creation and closed won as contributing factors. This type of simplicity does marketers no favours, and tends to drive unhealthy marketing behaviours around acquisition, sheer quantity versus quality of leads, a lack of focus on funnel leakage, and always spending more on re-stuffing the funnel rather than nurturing and engaging leads you’ve already created.

I’d argue that Sales people do inherently understand engagement – they live and breathe relationships. We need to sell them on ways marketing is using digital to have mass, personalised, relevant conversations that they’ll get to extend upon once the leads and accounts are ready (oh, and actually DO that!). Not only do they get it, they get excited about it, and they’re happy to give you influencer credit for it.

The bottom line is, how we brand and sell this matters. Call it Pipeline Influence. Call it Revenue Contribution. Call it “let’s all get together and make money!” OK, that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but you get the picture. Get your organisation thinking in a different way about revenue attribution, and they’ll stop seeing it as marketing’s desperate grab for relevance. All of a sudden, you’ll find that your efforts to help your organisation understand, track and improve marketing’s overall contribution to pipeline and revenue becomes unbarred from cynics and blockers. 


1 Measure the Impact of Cross-Channel Attribution. Forrester Research Inc. (4 June 2014)