My CMO used to constantly question the validity of my marketing tracking.  He would question how we knew that marketing made a difference and that the sale wouldn’t have happened anyway.  He would ask how we knew it was this event or that campaign that specifically led to the sale.  I would pour over report after report trying to sort this out in fear of my next meeting with him.  Was he right to be asking these questions?  Absolutely.  Did I ever come up with a great answer for him?  Absolutely not.

When you work in B2B services selling big ticket items that take 6-24 months to close, you just can’t find clean metrics that say this campaign brought in $X directly and that campaign didn’t work at all.  It’s all about aggregation.  If you look at activity and behavior over time, the picture can become clear.  One metric I found that I really loved was comparing marketing-influenced versus non-marketing-influenced sales.  You can look at the average deal size and time to close.  I found that on average marketing-influenced deals were larger and closed quicker.  That can’t just be coincidental when you are talking about large enough sample sizes.

It’s still worth it to track the source of leads, though, as long as you are clear about it.  Companies will generally tag the resulting opportunity with either the first campaign that created the lead, or the most recent one that created the opportunity (or both).  That’s still a meaningful metric if you are tracking that consistently – if certain campaigns are never generating leads or pushing leads over the edge, it’s at least worth reclassifying those as branding instead of demand gen campaigns.  You also need to be patient and track over long periods of time before you start analyzing this data.  A few months of data isn’t enough to decide a campaign was successful or not – you may have to wait a year before you do the final analysis.

My advice is this – track everything.  Track the original source of the leads, track the campaigns that push your leads into opportunities, track behavior.  Once you’ve done this for a while (and that may mean 6-24 months depending on your sales cycle), analyze it by going through some deals that closed in detail – look at the campaigns that were run, the contacts’ responses to those campaigns and the results.  Looking at five to ten accounts in detail will probably give you the information you need to figure out what is going on and what is meaningful.  Then you can narrow what you track and the metrics you focus on to report to your senior team.  While it’s not ideal, “I just don’t know yet” may have to be your stock answer for a while until you get enough numbers to make your reports and metrics meaningful.