By Ruth Stevens

Have you noticed how marketers are focusing on attribution these days? Which media channel is really driving the sale, they ask. What touch sequence is most productive? Where should we assign credit? There is much confusion and gnashing of teeth on this subject, but I say that in B2B, these are the junior questions, and just a building block to the bigger issues. Sure, we business marketers want to know where to invest our precious dollars. But what we really want to know is: 1) How do my prospects buy, and how can I make their journey easier, faster, and more likely to result in a sale for my company? 2) What’s the ROI on the sale, meaning how much sales and marketing investment do I need to close the piece of business?

I’ve been looking into this attribution discussion recently, and find it pretty frustrating. In the purely digital marketing world, marketing attribution analysis actually makes a lot of sense, and the various methods that are being talked about are worth looking at. To summarize, they boil down to 4 general techniques:

First touch, last touch.

This means all credit for the sale (or whatever is the desired outcome, like becoming a qualified lead) goes to the media channel that acquired the prospect (the first touch) OR the channel immediately before the outcome (the last touch). While many consumer marketers find last touch to make sense for attribution, in B2B, it’s more likely that marketers will be keeping close track of the first touch, since that is so useful for analyzing cold prospecting investment decisions.


All recorded touches are given some credit, and weighted equally, or according to some reasonable factor, like where they lie in the path to the sale. In B2B, this method becomes problematic very quickly, since the sales cycle is so complex, involving a long series of touches, to multiple contacts in a target account, through multiple channels, many of them offline, and difficult to capture in a database.


Statistical analysis of purchase patterns against touch sequences provides insight into the relative impact of each media channel, which can then be used for more reliable weighting. According to a

2010 Lenskold Group study, only 3% of business marketers are modeling for attribution. And even if they do, models tend to provide guidance only at a fairly high level, which doesn’t much help with granular touch-sequence decision-making.

Test and control.

Hands down, the most reliable method of sorting out the impact of an isolated single variable. But well nigh impossible to execute across a multi-channel, multi-touch relationship.

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