B2B Marketing Attribution: A Practical Guide for SaaS Companies

B2B Marketing Attribution: A Practical Guide for SaaS Companies

When it comes to making decisions about how to allocate marketing budget based on performance, understanding the conversion paths that prospects take on the way to becoming customers is essential.

But during new client engagements, when we look under the hood, most SaaS companies we work with haven’t set up their analytics properly to have clear access to this data.

For smaller SaaS companies, oftentimes they’ve grown through referrals and means outside of digital marketing, and they haven’t had to worry about analytics and attribution yet. So once they want to make digital marketing work, attribution is a bit of a black box — and it shows in their analytics where tracking will be set up incorrectly, or not at all.

For larger SaaS companies, they’ll have tracking set up, but there are so many people that have access to the analytics account — and so many different things they’ve decided to track — that attribution has become disorganized and difficult to understand.

There also typically isn’t one person accountable for managing the analytics — so it just ends up being a free-for-all — and they’re left without the attribution data they need to make informed decisions.

This leaves both parties in situations where they can’t see conversion paths clearly, and therefore can only make assumptions about how their different marketing channels are performing in relation to each other.

In this article, we’re going to describe the important (yet rarely discussed) distinction between:

  • Phase 1: Attribution before a demo or trial signup
  • Phase 2: Attribution after a demo or trial signup.

…and why this matters for B2B SaaS companies.

Then we’ll walk you through a practical Google Analytics report to show you how we do Phase 1 attribution with our clients (and how you can do it yourself).

Note: There are many articles that cover the different attribution models (multi-touch attribution model, first touch, last touch, etc.). In this piece, we’re instead going to focus on providing actionable advice for B2B marketers to better understand their marketing performance and channel attribution. If you’re seeking to learn specifically about marketing attribution models, check out this article by Avinash Kaushik.

Setting up analytics and attribution is part of how we help B2B SaaS businesses grow through paid media and SEO. To learn more, schedule a Free SaaS Scale Session to chat with our team.

2 Phases of B2B Marketing Attribution: Before and After Demo or Trial Signups

When people talk about marketing attribution, most of the time, they’re referring to attribution as it relates to the customer journey from first touchpoint to a demo or trial signup (Phase 1).

But unlike most eCommerce or B2C products, B2B SaaS sales cycles can last for many months beyond the initial trial or demo signup, so there’s another phase of attribution that needs to be taken into account: the time between becoming an SQL and becoming an actual customer (Phase 2).

And because Google Analytics only allows you track 90 days prior to your conversion goals, if you have a sales cycle that can last longer than that, you’re only able to see a part of the data you need — which is why, ideally, analytics helps you understand how people become MQL’s and SQL’s, while a CRM helps you see conversion paths from the first time someone fills out a form to when they become a customer.

In short, attribution during Phase 1 happens inside your analytics, while attribution during Phase 2 happens in your CRM. For SaaS decision makers to truly understand the performance of their marketing activities, they need to have systems for tracking both.

Phase 1: Analytics Attribution

Analytics attribution is for tracking how people become MQL’s and SQL’s, and the key to getting this right is to set up the right conversion goals to track. To us, this means making sure you’re tracking any time there is an exchange of contact information.

When someone downloads a content marketing resource such as a case study, or signs up for a webinar, or opts in for your PDF guide, you want these actions to have conversion goals attached.

But most companies tend to under- or over-configure their conversion goals. Some of the ways we’ve seen this include:

  • Not having conversion goals attached to exchanges of contact info
  • Not redirecting form signups to a thank you page (which you need in order to track as a conversion goal)
  • Having conversion goals set up for less relevant events like pricing page views (which should be tracked for things like remarketing, but not set as a conversion)
  • Having too many conversion goals set up, including form sign-ups, but also many other less relevant actions (typically a problem for larger companies).

From our perspective, SaaS companies should follow this simple rule: When an exchange of contact information takes place, have a conversion goal for it in your analytics. For anything else, you can track it, but don’t set it as a conversion goal.

Phase 2: CRM Attribution

CRM attribution is for tracking the paths of prospects from when they become a MQL or SQL to when they become a customer. As we mentioned above, this is essential for businesses that have sales cycles longer than three months.

For enterprise SaaS companies, Phase 2 attribution will typically take place inside CRMs such as Marketo, Salesforce, or Pardot. For medium to large companies, they’ll typically be using something like HubSpot. All of these are capable of providing the necessary attribution data.

The problem that comes up for them is that, similar to their analytics accounts, there are often many people with access to their CRMs, leading to errors and gaps that make it difficult to track attribution clearly.

For smaller SaaS companies who use lighter CRMs or email tools like Mailchimp or ConvertKit, their problem is that these platforms don’t allow them to track prospects’ actions at the depth needed for doing attribution — so they also end up left without the attribution data they need.

Ideally, all B2B SaaS companies with the potential for sales cycles longer than 90 days should be using a CRM that allows them to see the marketing touchpoints between demo or trial sign-ups and becoming a customer. Without it, you’re stuck with fragmented attribution data for decision making.

In the final section of this article, we’re going to cover a Google Analytics report that we use specifically for Phase 1  analytics attribution — which helps us understand the paths our clients’ prospects are taking on the way to signing up to become MQL’s and SQL’s. Once you have your conversion goals set up properly, you can use this report to do the same.

Our Go-To Google Analytics Report for Phase 1 Attribution: Multi-Channel Funnels

We use Google’s Multi-Channel Funnels reports to figure out how people are converting on our clients’ websites, which helps us understand how various channels are performing in relation to each other and informs our decisions about which channels to focus on and invest in.

The point of looking at this is to figure out how someone heard about you, how they engaged with you, and then how they ended up converting into a trial or a demo. In contrast to what you’ll find in your CRM, you can see information about what happened before someone became a contact.

To view these reports, select Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Overview.

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Overview

From here, set your conversion type, lookback window, and date range.

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: select specific goals to measure

For the conversion type, select the last conversion before someone becomes a customer — typically a trial or a demo — because that will display the conversion paths of your best-fit prospects.

For the lookback window, you have the option to set it up to 90 days prior to conversions, so often in B2B SaaS, it makes the most sense to set this to 90. And for the date range, you’ll typically want to set that for 3-6 months.

Once this is set, you can begin looking through the different reports found in your left sidebar menu, and the data that’s displayed will be based on these criteria.

In particular, we like to look at Assisted Conversions, Top Conversion Paths, Time Lag, and Path Length.

1. Assisted Conversions

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions

Across the top of your table you’ll see the various “Primary Dimensions” you can choose from. The default setting is Channel Grouping, but we typically like to view the data for Source/Medium because it provides a better lens for understanding how your channels are performing in relation to each other.

What we look at here is Assisted Conversions and Last Click or Direct Conversions. This allows you to see which channels you’re receiving the most conversions through as well as which channels are playing a significant role in assisting conversions — which allows you to see the true value of each channel (whereas your other reports will only show you the data for last click or direct conversions). For both metrics, if either are high for a given channel, you can be confident it’s worth continuing to invest in.

2. Top Conversion Paths

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: Top Conversion Paths

This report shows you the most common paths people take on the way to converting and how many conversions occurred on that path during the set date range. In this example, you can see that this SaaS company’s top paths where people sign up for a free trial are:

  1. A paid search followed by a direct site visit
  2. Two paid searches
  3. An organic search followed by a direct site visit.

You can also see there’s a trend where paid search being the first touchpoint is significantly more important than it being the last touchpoint. So if this company were to eliminate or reduce spend on paid search, they’d be severely impacting the ability of their marketing efforts to drive revenue. Whereas if they increase spend there, this data shows their investment would likely have an attractive return.

If they didn’t look at this report, they’d have no idea about how those decisions could play out.

Note: The default primary dimension in this report is also channel grouping (what’s being displayed in the screenshot above). It’s the most attractive and simplest to understand. But if you want to drill down deeper, you can also look at Source/Medium which allows you to gain further insights (such as data related to specific channels and marketing campaigns).

3. Time Lag

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: Time Lag

This is the report that helps you see how long it takes people to sign up for a trial or demo (depending on which conversion goal you’ve selected), and it’s related to the story of your sales cycle.

For example, in the screenshot above, which happens to be a product with a relatively low price point and the conversion goal selected is a free trial, you can see there is very little time lag from when people discover them to when they convert.

Whereas for many B2B SaaS companies whose price points are higher and conversion goals are demos, sales cycles will be longer and you’ll see more conversions towards the bottom of this chart in the 12-30, 31-60, and 61-90 day rows.

For another example, you might find that only 30% of demo bookings are in the first day or two, while 40% happen between days 12-90. If you didn’t know that, you might think your advertising isn’t working and decide to cut your budget before it begins to work on a significant portion of your prospects. Being able to see and understand how long people take to convert is essential for continuing to make informed decisions about your campaigns.

4. Path Length

Multi-channel funnels report for B2B marketing attribution: Path Length

This shows you the number of touchpoints people take on the way to converting. Continuing with the example above, even though the majority of prospects convert on the first day, 28% have to see more than one touchpoint before they convert.

Based on how this looks, you can make decisions around how many different kinds of channels and content assets you should ideally have. For example, the more touchpoints it takes for prospects to convert, the more you’d want to leverage approaches such as email, remarketing, and a longer term content strategy. Or, if you’re like the SaaS company in the case above, you may need those things less.

Closing Thoughts

Many people talk about the importance of making data-driven decisions, but without proper analytics and attribution set up, the best you can do is make decisions based on part of the data — but the wider story will elude you.

For B2B SaaS companies, the importance of having this data is particularly important, because longer sales cycles necessitate a more granular view of the paths people take on the way to converting.

By setting up your conversion goals to track when exchanges of contact information occur and using the Multi-Channel Funnels reports available inside Google Analytics, you can better understand how various channels and campaigns are performing in relation to each other. This will help you make smarter budgeting decisions that will drive the most revenue.

Setting up analytics and attribution is part of how we help B2B SaaS businesses grow through paid media and SEO. To learn more, schedule a Free SaaS Scale Session to chat with our team.