From The Editor | March 22, 2023

Measuring The Results Of B2B Marketing: Looking Beyond Sales Lead Attribution


By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer


It was a periodic check-in call with a client and they had just wrapped-up their Spring tradeshow schedule. I learned that two procurement managers from a large pharma company had stopped by their booth, and they were now having constructive meetings that would lead to a multi-year contract to manufacture and package a well-known over-the-counter drug brand. Alex, the head of marketing and sales, was thrilled!

When the two representatives showed up at the client’s booth, they were armed with specific questions regarding capacity and timing. My initial response was, “you must be happy with that event’s ROI!” But he told me that the tradeshow wasn’t that great, it was just a convenient location for the procurement team to meet with him personally.

Alex knew that business like this doesn’t occur as the result of prospects stopping by a tradeshow like they’re on a visit to the mall looking for deals. Rather, he understood they had already gathered enough information about his company before the event to make the meeting worthwhile. And Alex wanted to know more about their buyer’s journey leading up to the tradeshow. What marketing content did they engage with and why? When did they see it? Who else in their company engaged with the same content?

Looking Beyond Lead Attribution

For every business leader like Alex, there are scores that are convinced that the tradeshow is where the buyer’s journey begins. They would attribute the lead to the tradeshow, increase their presence at that event, and maybe even increase the number of events they attend. This logic has many B2B solution providers prioritizing their marketing activities to what Gartner says is the last 17% of the B2B buyer’s journey.1

Far too many B2B solution providers put all their marketing efforts into the end of the buyer’s journey. Doing this misses the opportunity to engage prospects in the early to mid-stages of their journey when marketers can help and influence buyers the most. This is before buyers have finalized a strategy to achieve an outcome, budgeted for a solution, developed partnership selection criteria, and created a list of solution providers to speak with.

Lead attribution is the process of assigning credit for marketing activities that result in a sale or bring in a prospect. While there is an overwhelming amount of data that tells us the buyer’s journey begins long before direct contact with a salesperson, most B2B solution providers attribute leads to something that occurred right before the direct contact. For example, they saw our booth at a tradeshow, or they contacted us right after visiting our website. However, a single piece of marketing collateral rarely, if ever, converts someone from knowing nothing about you to a sales qualified lead. 

Measuring the Entire Buyer’s Journey

To gain clear and complete understanding of what marketing activities lead to a sale, B2B companies must look beyond sales lead attribution. This means that marketers may have to augment their marketing know-how with a bit of data analysis and common sense, investigative work.  Many B2B marketers I speak with feel like they currently don’t have enough time to create content, manage media placement, nurture marketing qualified leads (MQLs), and keep sales teams supplied with collateral. Adding another bucket of work isn’t a priority.  

But what if understanding the entire buyer’s journey would add precision to your other responsibilities, reduce your overall workload, and make your marketing more effective?

Let’s redefine lead attribution. Instead of focusing our efforts on determining what or who should be given credit for a sale, let’s set out to learn as much as possible about the journey our buyer’s take to make purchasing decisions. Yes, this is a big goal and can seem daunting at first. But the information that can be gained includes:

  • Time required for the typical buyer’s journey.
  • When buyers begin their process.
  • Time a buyer spends engaging with early buyer’s journey content.
  • Content that is most popular with buyers. 
  • Content that most helped buyers advance in their journey.
  • Most common issues your buyers face.
  • Identity of buying team members.

When armed with this information, B2B marketing and sales team will:

  • Better understand the content mix needed to drive sales.
  • Better understand how to nurture a relationship with helpful content.
  • Know when trust is being built with a buyer.
  • Know when the buyer is ready to speak with them.
  • Accurately predict sales revenue based on buyer engagement with content.

Wouldn’t this kind of ROI in time, energy, and some technology be worthwhile? Alex thought so and it transformed his marketing and sales operations.

Illuminating the Buyers Journey    

Let’s go back to where we started with Alex and the large pharma company prospect. He knew that the key competitive advantage he needed was to understand what his prospect did before meeting with him at the tradeshow. His top media partner was Life Science Connect, who not only publish great content, but also have a robust capability to capture and make sense of reader engagement data. So, Alex asked them for help.  

They discovered a noticeable increase in reader engagement by the pharma company about 16 months before they met with him at the tradeshow. Pharma company readers first accessed thought leadership articles and white papers on pharmaceutical regulatory inspections, quality system best practices, and pharmaceutical packaging. This content was being shared with colleagues too: quality specialists and manufacturing engineers.

More readers from the same pharma company began engaging with content that more directly described the capabilities of Alex’s organization. They too shared the content with their colleagues. This activity went on for nearly a year-and-a-half before the two procurement specialists contacted Alex to set-up a meeting.

With this body of data Alex went to work on transforming his marketing and sales operations. He reprioritized his content development to create more early buyer’s journey content like white papers, industry thought leadership, and pharma manufacturing best practices. And they were authored by subject matter experts including his leadership team and the scientists, engineers, and quality experts that would be handling client projects.

Alex continued to analyze engagement data for activity similar to the pharma company he met with at the tradeshow. Over time, he identified specific behavior that indicated a deeper level of prospect interest, like when they shared specific content with colleagues.

As the data accumulated and Alex’s analysis skills improved, he was able to develop predictable project timelines based on when a prospect first engaged with his content. His timelines enabled manufacturing operations engineers to better manage their capacity. And he predicted revenue flow with incredible accuracy, compared it to his marketing and sales costs, and maintained a complete and accurate understanding of ROI.    

At first glance, looking beyond lead attribution seems like an overwhelming task that most of us don’t have time for. But the predictive analytics, that deliver a complete understanding of the buyer’s journey, more than make up for the effort it takes.

  1. The B2B Buying Journey, 2020, The B2B Buying Journey | Sales Insights |