Skip to main content

Impossible Lead Attribution Scenarios

Sales, marketing, and revenue operations leaders spend more time than they should debating the attribution for individual leads. The attribution challenges are most pronounced at SaaS and cloud organizations that have BDRs, marketing, and partner teams all driving leads into the funnel. Having multiple campaigns and channels prospecting target accounts should be a good thing that drives greater pipeline. However, it can turn into a bad thing if the policies around lead attribution drive internal competition within the business.

business people sitting atop stair blocks with numbers 1-3 on purple background

The root cause of the issue is usually the desire to avoid multi-attribution models in which credit for leads is split between different groups. Instead, a single-attribution model is forced to simplify quota assignment, compensation plans, and board reporting. Inter-departmental friction emerges when two organizations within the business both want to claim credit for a single lead. Revenue operations will investigate only to find that the forensic analysis offers inconclusive evidence as to the true source of the opportunity. Not only do these attribution debates consume valuable time from the GTM leaders, but they also drive a wedge between the different organizations that leads to undesirable behaviors.

To better understand the challenges let’s explore a few hypothetical examples:

Lead Attribution Example 1:

BDRs vs Marketing

Ben the BDR vs Bianca the ABM Manager

Ben works for TinMan, a company that makes exoskeletons for superheroes and other exceptionally gifted human beings. As one of the company’s top BDRs, Ben is tasked with prospecting industrial defense technology firms. His largest potential whale account is Stark Industries. One of the company’s top 100 dream accounts, Stark Industries is led by CEO and President Tony Stark.

The Yellowbrick Road to a Lead

Ben is desperate to get an appointment with Tony as he believes no firm could benefit more from TinMan’s newest product line than Stark. Originally developed for stabilization control during human flight, TinMan’s new repulsors can also be used to channel large bursts of energy at enemy air forces. Stark’s position as the preferred supplier of weapons to the US Air Force could open up a large revenue stream for TinMan.

Ben starts a 15-step cadence of outreach to Tony. He sends personalized emails with catchy subject lines and funny body copy. He cold calls Tony’s office line early and late in the day on the hopes that Tony might pick up outside his executive assistant’s normal work hours. He follows Tony on LinkedIn, comments on recent posts, and sends InMail messages. He sends Tony a Cameo video from Bruce Wayne, who wishes him best-of-luck on a recently awarded government contract.

Proof that is Hardly Ironclad

Ben is on step 8 of his 15 cadence outreach and Tony has not responded yet. But then magically, on Saturday afternoon Ben sees an email from the marketing automation system that one of Tony’s key lieutenants, Stark’s CTO, has just requested a sales consultation on the website. Ben has not been prospecting the CTO. But the correlation in timing is too close to be a coincidence. The sudden inbound lead from Stark had to have been triggered by Ben’s aggressive personalized outreach, even though it was not a direct response.

A deal with Stark Industries could be worth $10M+ to TinMan. Ben gets a small percentage of the bookings for any deals he sources in addition to a fixed per-lead commission. Securing a discovery call with Tony Stark is the type of high visibility lead that will earn Ben a promotion into the sales organization. Jumping from a BDR to an inside account executive will increase his base pay by 50% and OTE will double.

In Stark Contrast

What Ben does not know is that the marketing team at TinMan has been spending big bucks on account-based marketing (ABM) campaign that delivers personalized, targeted ads to key executives at accounts like Stark Industries. Tony along with his CTO and executive staff are on the list of 500 aerospace and defense leaders that TinMan is targeting.

Bianca, the ABM Manager has been bidding top dollar to serve display ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the Google Display Network. The adtech platform shows that Stark’s CTO and other team members has been served thousands of ad impressions over the past 30 days. However, there is no evidence of a click or conversion from the ad campaigns in the period before the CTO submitted the request on the website.

Marketing wants attribution for the lead. Bianca’s ABM team has been spending big bucks on the account-based marketing campaign. If the marketing team cannot show ROI from the ABM campaign before the next board meeting, she may have to significantly curtail ad spend.

Competition so Cutthroat – It’s Repulsive

Who should get credit for the lead, the associated pipeline, and potential eight-figure deal? Ben as the BDR for alerting Stark to TinMan’s products? Or the marketing team for attracting Stark’s CTO to the website and encouraging him to take the big leap of requesting engagement?

Neither Ben nor Bianca have conclusive evidence that they sourced the leads. Both the BDR and marketing teams have been targeting Stark industries, but all of the outreach and advertising could have been ignored. It is possible that the Stark CTO simply heard about the new repulsor weapon system from a peer in the industry while attending a networking event.

The true source of the lead is not clear, but both the BDR and marketing teams want attribution. The company’s lead attribution policies state that only one source can get quota credit and commission.

Welcome to lead attribution hell!

Lead Attribution Example 2:

Channels vs Marketing

Franco the Partner Manager vs Felicity the Content Marketer

Diana Prince is the Chief Marketing Officer at Wonder Industries, a women-led AI/ML vendor that is taking the market by storm. InvisibleThought is a software company that is 90 days from launching a new lead generation capability that promises game-changing results for marketing teams. The new product allows marketers to use telepathy to reach prospective buyers. Circumventing the traditional noisy channels like email, phone, and LinkedIn, telepathy enables marketers to send messages directly into the prospect’s head for consideration.

A Wonderful Idea?

InvisibleThought has identified Wonder as one of its top potential accounts. The stealthy communication protocol will enable Diana’s marketing team to reach Chief Technology Officers and Chief Digital Officers at Global 2000 accounts faster than ever before.

Diana was introduced to InvisibleThought’s CEO at networking events over the past few years and along the way has opted into marketing communications. Recently, one of Diana’s team members, the North America Demand Generation Director, registered for a webinar hosted by InvisibleThought. Featuring the reknowned neurologist, Dr. Knevercaul, the webinar provided a vision for the Next Generation of Prospecting.

After the webinar, InvisibleThought’s BDRs reached out to both Diana and the Demand Generation leader, but got no response from either of them. Marketing sent a link to the webinar replay after the event, but the email was not opened. There was silence for three weeks and then something magical happened. Wonder’s VP of Marketing Operations sent an unsolicited request for proposal to seeking pricing and details for a telepathy-based lead generation solution.

InvisibleThought’s Content Marketing leader, Felicity, sees the RFP and claims victory. It was the recent webinar with Dr. Knevercaul that triggered the need and the proposal. Felicity is certain that Wonder’s Demand Generation Director must have told the Marketing Ops leader to investigate InvisibleThought after the webinar. Both Felicity and the marketing team are ecstatic as this deal is sure to be eight figures in value and will “make their year” for pipeline generation.

Food for Thought

Meanwhile, Franco, who works on the partner channel team at InvisibleThought, learns of the new RFP and is curious what triggered the request from Wonder. One of Franco’s partners, BrainTrust, works closely with Wonder on strategy and technology initiatives. Franco has been begging BrainTrust’s Managing Director, Jim Cranium, for an introduction to Diana’s team for several months. Cranium has promised to facilitate a meeting, but has yet to come through.

After learning of the RFP, Franco calls Jim to ask if he knows anything about the origin of the request. Jim says that he was in Wonder’s offices last week meeting with Diana and that he mentioned a cool new startup he was working with that can send telepathic messages to prospects. He stresses to Franco that his expectation is that BrainTrust will be called in to help with implementation should InvisibleThought win the deal.

Armed with these new details, Franco, lobbies with the Revenue Operations team to change the attribution for the deal. He believes the webinar registration three weeks prior to the RFP submission is merely circumstantial and that the deal originated through his persistent lobbying of the partner – BrainTrust.

The Rev Ops team asks Franco for any written evidence of his partner’s involvement with the RFP and submission to InvisibleThought. Franco explains that BrainTrust would be in violation of its NDA with Wonder if it were to formally disclose the discussion topics from a confidential, on-site meeting with its client.

A Real Brain Teaser

Who should get credit for the RFP lead, the associated pipeline, and potentially massive win? Felicity and the marketing team, which hosted the webinar attended by Wonder’s Demand Generation leader? Or Franco and the partner team, whose relationship with consulting firm BrainTrust claims to have influenced Wonder’s inclusion on the RFP invitation?

Neither Franco nor Felicity have any conclusive evidence that they sourced the RFP. Both the channel and marketing teams have been targeting Wonder, but the webinars and on-site meeting could have been circumstantial. It is possible that Wonder’s Marketing Operations leader has been working on the RFP for months and that the webinar and on-site meeting were just a coincidence.

The true source of the lead is not clear, but both the partner and marketing teams want attribution. The company’s lead attribution policies state that only one source can get quota credit and commission.

Welcome to lead attribution hell!

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.