6 Tips for Approaching the Revenue Attribution Discussion

During consulting engagements, I encourage the use of testing and measurement to identify marketing campaigns that drive revenue and profit. Clients often protest, stating that this is something they can’t accurately measure.

For B2B clients, the concern often centers on revenue attribution as a percentage of the sale. What percentage of a sale is due to the sales team versus marketing? Admittedly, the concern probably stems from past unsuccessful attempts to discuss revenue attribution with the sales team.

Like any change-management initiative, the best way to tackle the challenge is to break it down into parts. With that in mind, I asked Ben Potenza, vice president of marketing for EquipNet, to share some real-world scenarios and offer his insights into the process. Based on our conversation and my experience in the field, here are six tips that will help make your revenue attribution discussions with sales easier and more productive:

1) Frame the message in a new manner.

When discussing marketing-attributable revenue with sales, I find that positioning it as “influencing a sale” versus being “directly responsible for a sale” is much easier for sales to embrace. In other words, present revenue attribution as an effort to capture the marketing activities that reinforced sales’ messaging and aided sales in the delivery of a solution.

All too often, marketing approaches sales and says, “We would like to attribute 20 percent of this opportunity to the Webinar the contact attended.” I can assure you that no salesperson will accept this. Instead, start with 100 percent influence. It’s a new way of thinking that will lower the sales team’s guard: “Of the 100 percent influence that marketing had on the opportunity, what percentage should be attributed to the Webinar versus an email versus a lunch-and-learn?”

Be ready to accept a share of lost opportunities. These are often blamed on sales or the product, but never on marketing. If every lost opportunity has the same white paper in common, maybe it’s time to take a look at why that white paper is turning people away.

2) Find a frontline champion.

Target people on the sales team who already embrace marketing. They might be salespeople who ask for events in their territory, or reps who give feedback on campaigns. If a marketing effort has directly helped them close a sale, they’ll be more likely to promote your new revenue attribution initiative.

“EquipNet’s marketing team works hand-in-hand with specific salespeople in developing one-to-one emails to our target audiences,” explains Potenza. “These emails point to individual products, specific services and project landing pages. Marketing provides very targeted lists of recipients based on a variety of different data points, such as site activity, past sales, correspondence history, etc. The sales team continues to see a great response using this approach. The success breeds more interest from sales and helps foster a great team environment between the two departments.”

3) Reward, don’t penalize.

Everybody wins when marketing efforts result in new sales opportunities. When salespeople recognize the impact of marketing activities on revenue, they’ll be eager for more assistance. Reward those who buy into the concept, and others will come around. “Salespeople are very competitive by nature,” says Potenza. “Our marketing team uses that to our advantage by publishing the results of the aforementioned one-to-one promotional efforts. During the first few weeks of this approach, sales was somewhat suspicious. But after a few very successful campaigns, individual reps are now constantly asking marketing to provide more support.”

4) Invite sales to the marketing conversation.

Often, marketing efforts aren’t bidirectional. Survey and focus groups are impractical after every campaign, and you can’t send an email and then ask “How was that email? What did you like or dislike about it?” So, marketers launch a campaign, and based on basic “process” metrics such as opens and clicks, judge its success or failure.

Sales feedback can be valuable in filling in gaps in your evaluation process and helping you tweak future efforts. Ask salespeople for feedback on your marketing efforts – what do they think is working, and what isn’t working with their customers?

To gain even better insights from salespeople, get them involved in the process earlier. Ask how your efforts might impact their quota, positively or negatively. Potenza’s team promotes this regularly. “At EquipNet, we serve a variety of industries, and we break our sales territories up as ‘interests,’” he says. “We have weekly marketing meetings with each interest group. Between the meetings and publishing the results of our efforts, we’ve created an invaluable team atmosphere.”

5) Create the harmony of “we.”

This may seem ambitious, but since companies often organize by grouping “sales and marketing” together, why not operate that way? If sales is offering input on marketing campaigns, and marketing efforts are created to positively influence opportunities, then why not embrace the work as a collection of ideas and effort? Once you have salespeople openly campaigning for an increased marketing budget to aid in their territory, you’ll know you’ve built a harmonious team.

This concept is something Potenza and EquipNet have fully embraced. “Marketing is the creation, management and promotion of a company’s reputation for the purpose of selling products and services,” says Potenza. “Therefore, everyone at EquipNet is responsible for marketing. Once sales buys into the idea that it can provide valuable input and feedback, the team concept takes hold and the collaborative effort yields excellent results.”

6) Get executive buy-in.

Like any great idea, leadership needs to understand revenue attribution and promote it. “In this age of inbound marketing and crystal-clear analytics, getting executive buy-in is much easier than in the past,” says Potenza. “At EquipNet, we quantify the amount of exposure a marketing campaign has generated and how much of that activity has resulted in leads, rather than how much revenue should be assigned to marketing. We test various marketing elements, analyze the data, and rinse and repeat. But the key is to get this data in front of the executive staff.”

The steps above may seem straightforward, but it will take motivation and discipline to create the culture shift. There will be challenges along the way, including preconceived notions about marketing and sales’ roles, company policy and differing agendas. Staying positive and focused will make the hard work worth it. Keep at it, and marketing will be able to justify budgets and initiate new campaigns with accurate forecasting, leading to more sales and higher revenue for the company.

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