SaaS Marketing Tactics Series: Attribution Planning

By Katie Burns

Sep 12 2019

I’m working with several companies on the advisory side that have similar marketing challenges around tactics and execution. So, beginning today with SaaS marketing attribution, I’m going to address some of the most common and basic executional failures. The fact is, from CMOs, down to VPs, senior directors, and directors, marketers often have far better intentions than execution. All the data-driven prowess in the world is useless if the data stinks. The oldest adage in the books of garbage-in, garbage-out rears its ugly head in modern marketing every day. So, let’s address the garbage-in side of that equation.

Marketing Data Pipes and the Stuff that Flows Through Them

Getting SaaS marketing data pipes right is hard. You plan your flow; define your fields; set your values; choose your tools, and then implement all of that plumbing. Once you’re done, you’ve got the pipes. But they’re useless until you pump the right stuff through them. Unfortunately, the flow is easier to screw up than the pipes. Why? Because the plumbing is supervised by a small number of higher-level marketing folks, but what gets pumped through the pipes is executed by a larger number of less experienced people. And the oversight on the plumbing is intense, while the flow tends to be neglected in haste when the workload gets dicey (which is pretty much always the case).

That larger group of less experienced people needs tools to help them pump high fidelity data through that shiny data-driven marketing machine. Left to their own devices, most will unwittingly degrade the machine little by little — slowly chipping away at the integrity of what gets sent into the machine. Before you know it, your data-driven machine is a mess, and the reasons it got built get buried in a sea of mediocre, inconsistent data.

SaaS Marketing Attribution Fidelity

Attribution simply means knowing where people and actions come from. The trick to maintaining fidelity is first and foremost having 100% of people fully attributed. First-touch refers to where the came from when they were created. And last-touch means what they did most recently or just prior to a key action being taken. First-touch is critical to understanding where people come from and last-touch is important to understanding what makes them act. You memorialize first-touch forever (as original lead source) and append a running history of last touches.

In order to have valuable, historical attribution analysis and reporting, you need consistent, high-fidelity data. What does that mean? It means you can’t have attribution values change names or structures over time. The path to ensuring that fidelity despite changes in personnel, and variability in tools and versions, is process. How attribution values get set should be as methodically planned as the plumbing itself. And managers with authority need to be able to maintain quality assurance, which means having set rules around the process and a way to verify that those rules are being followed.

This is about super tactical, in-the-weeds stuff like campaign naming structures and UTM values. When it’s planned and tracked, fidelity is high. When it’s left to ad-hoc interpretation, fidelity is low. Low fidelity inputs lead to low fidelity reporting and analysis, which degrade marketing efficacy. 

You will spend more to acquire a customer when your attribution fidelity is low.

SaaS Marketing Attribution Planner

All the blog posts (like this one) in the world don’t really help with the in-the-weeds executional challenges. Sometimes you just need a basic, practical boost to help organize the day-to-day into a logical, referenceable and verifiable process. To that end, and to whatever extent it’s helpful, I’m sharing a scaffolded Google Sheet version of a super basic SaaS marketing attribution planner. I made it generic and added some hopefully helpful comments in there. Ultimately, my hope is that you’ll download it and make it your own — with your lead sources, your objectives etc. And, although I link to Google’s URL Builder for convenience, I’m sure many of you have your own version of that somewhere in your martech stack. I hope you find the sheet helpful and use it as a launching point for your own, deeper and more scalable system or tool.

SaaS Marketing Attribution Planner from SaaSX and Beacon9 SaaS Business Advisory
Click to View and Download Your SaaS Marketing Attribution Planner

Next up on my list of SaaS marketing tactics is content marketing asset tracking. This is another one of those things that I keep seeing neglected, so I’ll tackle that one next week. Expect another Google Sheet for that one too. Have a great week and thank you for reading.

Content by Beacon9 SaaS Business Advisory

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