Phase One – Marketing Infancy

Young startups need deals – not documentation. The earliest deals are sourced by the founders as they validate their use case. Oftentimes sales will join next as the founders can’t scale this approach and have too many other things to focus on. At some point sales hits their ceiling of deals they can generate on their own and it becomes time to hire the first marketer.

When marketing first joins a startup our gut reaction is to create the system we will be measured by. How could we not? If we’re going to be held accountable for a number, then we need to agree how we’ll track it. Maybe this is a google sheet. Maybe this uses our marketing automation platform. 

But early on — results matter more than proof. If you’re the first marketer, spend your initial days focused on driving business impact. Allow yourself the ambiguity of relying on anecdotal stories and qualitative analysis. You need to get wins on the board before designing a scoreboard. 

The only question you need to be able to answer at this stage is “Where are leads coming from?” 

Finance will often be owned by the CEO for the first phase of the company. By the time a finance person is being added, marketing needs to move from ad hoc stories about wins, to a v1 framework for how we’re going to track wins. There’s no reason at this stage that your reporting can’t still be in a google sheet, but it’s time to start having an up-to-date report that showcases marketing’s contribution to the business. The first step along this journey is systematically capturing lead sources and lead source details. 

Phase Two – Starting to Grow Up

By this point, we’ve expanded the sales team to include more AEs, perhaps added an SDR or two. We’re starting to learn post-sales motions for how to onboard, train, and make customers successful. We’re watching whether customers churn and are proactively identifying ways to prevent it.

If you haven’t yet architected a lead lifecycle, now is the time to get it operational. If you don’t, then chaos is about to break your blossoming culture. There will be blame and finger pointing across the customer-facing revenue organization that causes unnecessary spin for a young team. 

A lead lifecycle tracks how prospects move throughout your sales process. It forms the “rules of engagement” for how the revenue teams work together to close and retain business. Lifecycle stages often mirror the roles and responsibilities of each team to guide how we all work together. Marketing > Sales Development > Sales > Customer Success > Account Management

Once you’ve defined your stages, now you need to define the programmatic reasons that someone will move from one stage to another. That could be based on lead scoring changes, behavioral or intent data, or a manual action by a salesperson. Once your CRM or Marketing Automation Platform has been configured to push prospects through your lifecycle, now you need to track when important milestones were achieved.

The reason to track your lead lifecycle is to understand your conversion rates between stages. Understanding trends in conversion rates is one of the most critical data sets to diagnose challenges in a business. If your marketing team is creating a boat load of engaged and qualified prospects, but no meetings are getting booked, then you know precisely where to investigate to know whether the quality is off or the followup falls short. Either way, we now know what to fix. Tracking the dates for each milestone allows you to do cohort analysis at different stages of the funnel. 

Two places that operations teams struggle with conversion rate data are:

  1. The relationship between website visitors and known leads
  2. The relationship between people and opportunities

In non-transactable businesses, where you don’t put in a credit card to get started, often has many non-linear paths between visiting a website and becoming a known lead. Perhaps the sales team already pre-loaded all relevant buyers in the database. The Website Visitor to Known Lead conversion rate can be disastrously low at 3% or laughably high at 4000%. Either way, complex B2B sales teams should track their website visitors, but calculate conversion rates starting with names in the database. 

Phase Three – The Money Gets Real

As marketing continues to prove itself and the business keeps growing, there comes a time when investors are ready to pour gasoline on the fire. Put the pedal to the metal. LFG.

When the money gets real, you have to know where to invest it next to get the highest returns. It becomes the ‘if I gave you one more dollar’ thought exercise. 

If you haven’t yet systematized use of the campaign object, it’s time to get serious. You should spend some time reviewing your lead sources and how they will correspond to campaign types (channels). What is marketing doing to drive engagement with prospects? Where is marketing investing real dollars? Both questions need to be answered as you’re preparing your master list of campaign types. 

Many organizations get themselves into trouble around granularity. Either they track all white papers in a single campaign & move on. Or they have 6 campaigns per white paper that separate out each source. Both can cause headaches and complexities when you start to do reporting with campaign data. No matter at which depth you choose to track your campaigns, the important thing is to be consistent across all campaign types. So if you have 6 campaigns for your white papers, you need to have it also for your webinars and events. 6 times every initiative you’re running this quarter, plus testing in QA, ick. That’s way too much work in administrative overhead.

It can be cumbersome to track and ensure accuracy of your campaigns, but it’s critical for your executive team to achieve a holistic view of your buyer’s journey. 

“Marketing Attribution” as a technology solution is a landmine in many organizations. People don’t often trust the data or believe what it stands for, and that’s a shame. Marketing attribution is critical for marketing teams to assess and evaluate the success of their work. And most importantly, to know where to spend that next dollar. 

Most of the philosophy of marketing attribution has been driven by limitations in vendor’s technology. Whether calculations are done first touch or last touch, giving 100% of the credit for an opportunity has never made sense to me. B2B sales, especially for enterprise, involve complex buying committees with multiple stakeholders. The fact that an intern downloaded an ebook & got 100% of the revenue attributed to their action is a surefire way to have your team make bad decisions with well intentioned data. Attribution should never devolve into a fight into who gets credit between revenue teams. Attribution is for marketing. Using this data to pit teams against each other is a major culture killer. 

The push and pull of sourced or generated pipeline versus influenced pipeline is an interesting tussle that people in the industry feel deeply about. At the end of the day, the data tells two different stories. Marketing’s credo is to generate pipeline, so that’s where we need to look first. But teams that don’t know how pipeline converts into revenue are wasting time on elongated sales cycles and deals that never seem to close. Marketing’s influence on active opportunities might not be our primary objective, but we’re foolish not to monitor what things help close deals. 

Like I said, there are a lot of landmines. Multi-touch attribution is a series of them – which touches are included –  are touches weighted – does AI force a model or does it learn –  should we include pre-name acquisition touches like ad impressions – do sales plays and sdr cadences get included? What about multiple products? Should you count all contacts? Just those with roles on the opportunity? What about those leads that were crucial to the deal who never got converted or attached?

There’s a lot of complexity when you get into the weeds of marketing attribution, which is why many young startups avoid it for as long as they can. But you can’t have a sophisticated analysis of your buyer’s journey or understand your true funnel without it. It’s better to get started, be consistent, use the data to scientifically optimize, and know when to turn to art and magic. It all starts with tracking campaigns, and gets more sophisticated as your tease out your true buyers journey. It isn’t an easy journey, but it’s a critical one. 

Phase Four – Continual Learning

Data for data sake is a waste of time. If no one trusts the data and nothing gets done with it — then all the effort is a waste of time. 

Taking true action from data is the missing leap for most marketing teams. They are tracking their campaigns. Telling the organization how much pipeline they’re generating. Finance is happy and keeps approving new spending.

But executives and the board don’t have foresight. They can’t see around corners. 

Most revenue teams wait too long before they start pushing their data to a data warehouse or CDP. It seems hard. You need a developer. There are data pipeline issues that waste people’s time. So many teams leave this last phase until they’re forced to. 

The no-code tools that revenue teams rely on all share a common premise — they can tell you how the world looks right now. Stats on every email you’ve ever sent? No problem. Knowing how that evergreen email’s performance has shifted over the last 6 weeks is impossible in most systems. A data warehouse allows you to snapshot data so you can see trends over time and easily perform cohort analysis. 

For executives, it’s not just good enough to tell the story of what has happened, they need to be able to predict the future. Marketing attribution and opportunity stage conversions are key elements of being able to make claims at prognostication that you can later validate. Mature teams are predicting revenue outcomes four months in advance with +/- 5% accuracy. For real. 

Mature marketing organization can proactively pinpoint which part of a lead’s lifecycle could be optimized to increase revenue. Their efforts might not always pay-off, but with strong marketing analytics that are underpinned by thoughtful marketing attribution, they know when there’s a leak in their funnel, what types of campaigns could best get prospects back on track.

That’s how to be a hero to the executive team.