Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
April 5, 2023

The Flaws of Marketing Attribution: Exploring the Limitations of Software-Based Solutions

This week our host, Brandi Starr, is joined by Andrew Bolis, Fractional CMO & B2B Growth Advisor.   Andrew has 15 years of marketing experience. He has built and led global marketing teams of up to 20 people across both North America &...

This week our host, Brandi Starr, is joined by Andrew Bolis, Fractional CMO & B2B Growth Advisor.

Andrew has 15 years of marketing experience. He has built and led global marketing teams of up to 20 people across both North America & Europe. He has successfully driven revenue growth from Series A to Series E stages at start-ups.  Most recently, he was a full-time CMO at a Series B tech company.

Currently, Andrew is a Fractional CMO working with a several B2B start-ups in a part-time capacity to help them drive growth.

In this week’s episode of Revenue Rehab, join us on the couch, where Brandi and Andrew discuss The Flaws of Marketing Attribution: Exploring the Limitations of Software-Based Solutions.

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers:

  • Topic #1 Attribution is Multidimensional [04:06] “We know that it's kind of a team sport”, Andrew says, “to generate pipeline or revenue or get a new customer…there's multiple teams involved across the company”.  The goal is to find a way to illustrate that when it comes to attribution.
  • Topic #2 How Can CMOs Navigate a New Approach to Attribution? [10:25] Using a blended approach when capturing attribution is key towards figuring this out, Andrew shares. A combination of self-reported and software attribution is ideal, and this can also help CMOs to get buy-in from the C-Suite.
  • Topic #3 Managing the Limitations with Attribution Software [17:46] At best, due to the structure of most attribution software, you’re going to be getting some directional, but not necessarily accurate data, explains Andrew. There are exceptions emerging, but this is why including self-attribution is so important since it gives a much more robust and complete picture of what is truly going on.

So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

The ‘One Thing’ Andrew suggestion to do today is to look up blended attribution models and how to use them to grab some pointers on how others are accomplishing this.

Buzzword Banishment:

Andrew’s Buzzword to Banish is “basically anything ‘generated pipeline’”, he says.  Whether someone is saying marketing generated or sales generated, it gives him pause to wonder if the person using the phrase knows what they are talking about.


Get in touch with Andrew Bolis on:

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Intro VO  00:05

Welcome to revenue rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita Brandi Starr

Brandi Starr  00:33

Hello, hello hello and welcome to another episode of revenue rehab. I am your host Brandi Starr and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by Andrew Bolis. Andrew has 15 years of marketing experience. He's built and led global marketing teams of up to 20 people across North America and Europe. He drove revenue growth from series A to Series II stages at startups. And most recently, he was a full time CMO at a series B tech company. Currently, he's a fractional CMO, working with a few b2b startups in a part time capacity to help them drive growth. Andrew, welcome to revenue rehab, your session begins now.

Andrew Bolis  01:20

Thank you for having me on the show brandy.

Brandi Starr  01:23

Awesome. I'm excited for our topic today. But before we dive into that, I like to break the ice with a little woozy moment that I call buzzword. banishment. So tell me what industry buzzword? Would you like to get rid of forever?

Andrew Bolis  01:44

Sure. So I think the one buzzword that annoys me is like when I see things like marketing generated pipeline or sales generated pipeline, or basically anything generated pipeline. So I and I know it is a common phrase, it's, you still sometimes have to use it. But I always kind of, you know, pause and wonder like, you know, if if the person knows what they're talking about?

Brandi Starr  02:09

Yeah, that is a really common, commonly used term is, you know, who the other one I think I hear is originated marketing, originally, blind or sales originated. And, you know, it's kind of like, that's not really how it works. I was on a call the other day, and someone used the analogy of, it's not like a relay race where one person starts and then or one department starts and then you know, it gets handed off to another, it really is more of a collaborative tango, so to speak.

Andrew Bolis  02:42

Yes, definitely like a team effort.

Brandi Starr  02:45

Well, awesome. Now that we have gotten that off our chest, I promise I will talk not talk about marketing generated revenue today. But it does tie into our topic. So now that we have gotten that off our chest. Tell me what brings you to revenue rehab today?

Andrew Bolis  03:04

Sure. So I'm here to talk about marketing attribution. Why does it work, how it can lead to wrong business decisions and what to do

Brandi Starr  03:13

instead. Okay, and it's funny, we talked about buzzword management. We last month during March Madness, we had our buzzword, banishment madness, and marketing attribution was one of those buzzwords that got banished in a previous episode that we were voting on. So it's a timely topic and something that I think a lot of people feel the pain of. It's difficult to and not always effective. And I believe in setting intentions, it gives us focus, it gives us purpose and most important, it gives our audience an understanding of what they should expect from our discussion. So tell me for those heads of marketing that are listening, what would you like them to take away from this discussion on attribution?

Andrew Bolis  04:06

I think one thing I'd like to take away from it is just kind of how to think about it that it's not one dimensional, one dimension, that there's multiple dimensions to it. I also, I guess, would want them to take away how ideally to avoid using it altogether whenever possible, or to kind of think about alternatives because when you say marketing attributed, pipeline or marketing attributed revenue or any kind of thing like that to you sort of alienate other teams like sales, customer success within the company. And then it can also sort of backfire when the other teams start saying, well, like it's, you know, sales attributed pipeline sales, attributed revenue, and things like that. And then even for CEOs, then CEO start talking about it. And now they're giving credit to different teams. When as you probably We know that it's kind of a team sport, like to generate pipeline or revenue or get a new customer that there's multiple teams involved across the company.

Brandi Starr  05:08

So true, I was working with a client, we're, you know, helping to support the evolution of their reporting. And one of the things they found when they gathered, you know, you do your quarterly reporting, and all the different teams put together their slides. And so when they pulled together, all the slides from the different, and these were just different marketing teams and the different sales teams, and you looked at how much pipeline and revenue, they were air quotes claiming, when you add that up, it was like 3x, what the company's pipeline and revenue actually was. And so it was very clear that people were essentially taking credit for the same things in multiple departments, because it was kind of like, if these numbers were accurate, like, you know, our goals would have been blown out of the water, and we'd be in a completely different place. And I think that really speaks to some of the challenges around attribution. My first question for you is, I hear you say that, you know, you prefer to avoid it altogether. But the pushback that I hear on that is, we all have to prove our worth, especially in marketing, you know, marketing generally has one of the largest, you know, budget line items in the company, it's often a percentage of total revenue, it's never enough. And so there, you know, there is a need to be able to prove the value and that the money we're spending is useful. So I'll start with if we did away with attribution, how do we address the gap in being able to show that what we're spending actually makes sense?

Andrew Bolis  06:57

Sure, sure. That's a great question. So let me answer it in two ways. One is a lot of attribution. And specifically software attribution started in E commerce, where, you know, you had stores that are just selling kind of more affordable items, and they're just seeing where people are coming from and seeing how much they're buying. So in that case, you know, software, attribution works. But these are small purchase purchases, they're easy to track. In my case, where I've worked mostly in enterprise and going after a mid market, these are much bigger annual contract values, you're going after enterprise clients, the buying committee is very big, the sales cycle takes a lot longer six 912 month, and then a lot of the revenue even comes from upsells, or cross sells later on, which you can't even really attribute to anything, even though there's a lot of things impacting those. So in that model, you know, attribution, while you can still use it, it doesn't end up being as useful. So instead, what I recommend is, you know, having kind of the the marketing and sales leadership, almost like divide and conquer. So sometimes it helps, for example, to have marketing on the pipeline generation number, and then have sales on the, you know, the revenue number or, you know, even pipeline generation can be shared across both marketing and sales where, you know, you have, you know, that there's a percentage expected. And that kind of gets you away a bit a bit away, sort of from attribution altogether. And and lets you actually ensure that you generating pipeline and revenue and helping the company meet their goals.

Brandi Starr  08:38

Okay, so what I'm hearing is thinking about it, like if we think about the journey, linear, that the getting them in the door, that first part of the journey, those numbers, essentially solely are attributed to marketing efforts. And we could then look at which efforts, you know, are driving the most amount of pipeline and kind of take it to a granular level. And then once that initial pipeline is created, the closed number, that final revenue number gets owned by the sales team. Is that a fair summary of what you're saying?

Andrew Bolis  09:17

Exactly that the best sort of CMOs and CROs that I've seen figure this out is typically where the CMO owns a lot of the pipeline generation number and the sales owns the revenue number. And that way, when there are gaps or goals being missed, they can both look at each of their teams and figure out like what levers they need to pull or what adjustments they need to make. So in that so in that case, too. You can have things like have the BDR SDR team Sen and marketing you know, so that way, kind of the sales org are just more focused on like, once they get those booked qualified demos. I'm more like moving them forward and closing them. And then just marking just owns all of the pipeline generation altogether. And again, that just creates a lot better accountability. Because now when when, you know, goals are being missed, you can check, okay, is it a pipeline challenge? Like, are we not generating enough pipeline? Or is it a revenue challenges and we're not closing enough pipeline. So that just kind of avoids a lot of headaches later on. So that would be my ideal state. But there's other alternatives as well, if you can't get to that state right away.

Brandi Starr  10:25

I really like that. So in our book, cmo to CRO, which is I always can't remember which shoulder over me, um, one of our chapters is called the domino effect. And what it talks about is setting goals up exactly the way that you're referring to them, where each functions goal ties into the next. And so if you think about creating a domino formation, if you set it up correctly, once you hit that first domino, you know, it trickles and makes the beautiful shapes that they can make. And like, that's what I'm thinking about is like, if marketing fully owned that number on the front end, and there's not enough pipeline being generated, then you start to look at what levers does marketing pull to increase pipeline and not leads, because I know like, historically, there's the MQLs. And it's, you know, do whatever to increase the MQL. And it's like, well, we just redefine what an MQL is, and bam, we've got more, which is completely ineffective. But it's like, if we focus on we got to drive more pipeline, or if we're hitting our pipeline numbers, but then they're not moving through the stages, then that's a sales problem. And you have kind of some clear lines there. So where I know, you said that, that doesn't work for everyone, you know, if if I'm a CMO, listening, and I'm thinking like, ooh, like, maybe this is a solution that I should pursue? Are there gotchas to that approach that we need to think about? And consider when evaluating? You know, where do we go from here?

Andrew Bolis  12:09

Sure. So I think there's a couple things to be aware of sometimes, sales leadership sort of pushes back against that, because you know, they have BDR, 's, or STRS, under, you know, or sort of as part of the sales team. So they don't like this approach. Other times, the CEO doesn't like that approach. So so, you know, if I wasn't head of marketing, or, you know, if I wouldn't even was in my last role, I pushed for that goal. And I sort of got it and it made my job a lot easier. But if you as a marketing leader just cannot get buy in right away, there's kind of a few things you can do to work towards that goal. The other approach you can use instead is if you are you know, if like let's say the CEO sales leadership wants to see attribution data as use a blended attribution model, where it's not just software, you're also using self reported attribution, and also asking the sales reps and customer success, like what they hear from prospects and customers about how they found out about your company. So that blended model to allows you to sort of see a lot of things that software attribution misses.

Brandi Starr  13:23

Okay, so talk a little bit more about that, if I'm using a blended approach of we've got a software that's managing attribution. But then we also are doing some self reported attribution, like, how do I actually show that like, for me, like I understand the two concepts independently, but I think what I'm struggling with is if I'm trying to report on my marketing, you know, marketing's performance, how do I really put those two things together in a meaningful way?

Andrew Bolis  13:58

Sure. So so to start capturing self reported attribution, you just have a question on your demo request form, or the call scheduling form? Just asking, How did you hear about us, and you leave it as a free text field. Because if you do a drop down, that will bias the responses, because some people will just pick, you know, the first thing and it's wrong, and you make it required. So what happens is now as you're getting demo requests, you're always kind of seeing something filled in and over time that starts to give you very interesting data. Like if someone heard about you from a podcast, that's usually not trackable. Even though your company has a podcast or if they just read one of your posts on LinkedIn. Again, that's not really trackable. They that's but that's still a very important brand impression. So so just you know, just setting up self report attribution starts getting given you that data. And then what you can do then is when reporting do an attribution reporting kind of report on both so you have software like HubSpot Marketo or whatever your marketing automation is that that's going to report on certain sources. So you show that model, you show them that report. And then you also use that self attribution, self reported attribution data to also show like, kind of like the other model from, you know, to even start seeing the differences. And then you will see things like podcasts. This was like shared from a co worker, word of mouth, I heard about you guys through a community come up in the self attribution model that you just can't track through software.

Brandi Starr  15:29

Okay, and that sounds like that addresses multiple challenges, because everyone talks about the dark funnel. You know, everyone talks about the challenges with getting buy in to spend money on brand awareness initiatives, because, you know, they don't tie back to revenue, but adding that self reported model, you're gonna get some of that. And I think, you know, kind of the trickle down to that, because as a marketing leader, I'm not only thinking about like, how do I prove my worth and show what I'm doing is working. But I'm also thinking about how do I optimize the efforts of me and my team? So if I know that, you know, communities, like people are talking about us and referring us or, you know, we have this podcast, they're hearing the podcast, and that's how they're getting to us. That tells my team and I were to spend more of our efforts on those brand, building things. So it's, I really like your ideas of attribution, because it isn't just, you know, addressing the attribution problem, it actually support some of the other larger business challenges.

Andrew Bolis  16:45

Yeah, exactly. And I think you've already touched on it, it's that brand building piece. So a lot of brand building activities, even though marketing leaders know they work, because when they start doing them, they see an uptick in everything else you can track, like they see even, you know, sales outreach, getting more responses, they see more people come in to their website, but you know, sometimes it's like, there is no refer, or it's not clear how they you know, how those people ended up on the site. You know, they start seeing people engage more with their content on social media. So, so we know brand building works, but it's just not really trackable through software, most of the time, similar to word of mouth, you know, when you have a great product, or you do a lot of like, events or speaking opportunities, people will start talking about your product and recommending it to each other. But again, there is no way to track that. So self reported, attribution is just starts allowing you to see some of the cut some of those channels that are more sort of brand and content channels.

Brandi Starr  17:46

Awesome. So I want to switch gears a little bit, because you touched on some of the limitations of software based attribution solutions. And I want to dig into that a little bit, because I know that they started as E commerce tools. But if I think about all the marketing technology and how that space has grown so much, there's so many more tools out there right now. And it you know, the question that I have is like, how do they all keep getting it wrong? Like, you know, it's like, this is a nut that is not new to being tried, you know, for people to try to crack it. But it seems like every time I hear someone talking about an attribution tool, they're saying similar things to you that you're saying that there's limitations to it, we can only get so far, you know, it still uses a lot of the old approach. So what are some of those limitations? And do you have any thoughts on like, why we're still stuck here when there's so much evolution in technology?

Andrew Bolis  18:52

Sure, that's a great question. So what is important to keep in mind that a lot of those tools like marketing automation platforms, or now there's even full attribution platforms that plug into your marketing, audit, automation, and CRM, they have something to sell you right? So they're selling you their solution to the problem. So to start with, they're very biased about how well it works because they want you to buy it. The other the other part of it too, is that a lot of them like you have to pick an attribution model either way, right? So you're gonna go with first touch, last touch, or some of them will let you set up multi touch attribution. But even with multi touch, you then have to like give different weight to different activities. So you know, if someone reads a blog post, how is that different than them attending an event? Versus opening an email versus replying to an email so even that gets tricky because you're making a lot of assumptions about like, which touchpoint is the most influential when you don't really know. So, so even attribution itself like doing it the software kind of based approach you, you have to pick a model, you have to make a lot of assumptions. So at best, you know, you're almost getting maybe some directional data, but it's not accurate data. So I still think, you know, software attribution can be beneficial for like a marketing team to look at. But but you have to just understand those limitations. Because you don't, because you have to make a model, and you have to make a lot of assumptions to even use a software tool.

Brandi Starr  20:24

Okay, so the big limitation is software, they have to code something so that there is, you know, a basis or a model for it. And it sounds like it's very much like doing the best we can kind of thing. And so there's still a gap. Do you think that software will ever get there? And I mean, this is, you know, we obviously don't know. But I'm always thinking about, like, anytime I'm using a tool, and there's something I don't like, I naturally My mind wanders to how would I do this better? What would I put in there? And for attribution? I'm like, I don't know, like, and it may be because it's not my area of expertise. So I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts, you know, if you could program your own software, is there something you would do differently?

Andrew Bolis  21:22

Sure. So some of the newer attribution solutions sort of allowed you to both so they, you know, do the software attribution. And then they also show you kind of how to set up self reported attribution, and then they can sort of report on both, which is interesting. And then I also know that Chris Walker and refined labs, I think they have like a Salesforce, either plugin or add on that's kind of a newer that helps solve this problem, where it works on that self attribution side, to where that it kind of reviews some of those responses, helps map them to some of your channels and helps you report on in Salesforce. So that's also that's a kind of a very new solution. I haven't used either of those. So I, you know, I don't know how well they work, but but there are kind of newer software that's trying to solve for both, and sort of trying to gather, you know, kind of both the software data and the self reported data.

Brandi Starr  22:21

Okay. Um, and my last question, when we were talking about, you know, avoiding using attribution, you were saying, you know, modify how you're doing it take a blended approach, or avoid it altogether. And I didn't touch on that. So do you think that's possible that you could just not have any sort of attribution model? And, you know, it's almost like, does that mean, I'm just winging it? Like, what does that look like?

Andrew Bolis  22:51

Yeah, so I guess, let me clarify. So when I say avoid it altogether, you know, you can I feel like as a marketing team, you can still look at attribution, but but when you're doing it as a marketing team, or a marketing team member, you have a lot of context behind it. So you know, for example, that a buyer needs multiple touches, you know, that a lot of potential future buyers are not ready to buy now. So they're still going to be consuming a lot of things but not converting. So I feel like as a marketing professional, like, you probably get the limitations of special, like software attribution. But I feel like, you know, it's never just a marketing conversation, it always, you know, ends up becoming a conversation with sales leadership, especially now, with the economic downturn and companies missing their targets. Because when a target is missed, it's always a question of, where were we falling short, let's look at our attribution data is marketing doing a good job or not? And so that, you know, that's why, you know, say, avoided if possible. And I think as a marketing leader, you can avoid it if you own that pipeline number, because then you're sort of reporting on pipeline. And that could be in the form of, you know, a certain number of booked qualified demos, a certain like, you know, pipeline value, once it you know, those demos become early stage, and there's a value attached to them, there's a lot of ways you can do it. But by sort of owning that pipeline number, then you could still look at attribution as a marketing team, but you just don't have to sort of discuss it outside of the marketing team, because I find those discussions end up almost being like a waste of time and very distracting.

Brandi Starr  24:29

Okay, so it's not that we're not looking at attribution at all, we're basically just gonna keep it within our marketing team as a method to understand how our different efforts are performing, but not report on it, you know, to the executive team and our board, etc.

Andrew Bolis  24:47

Exactly. And it's more even when you're looking at it. You know, from a marketing perspective, it's more to your point, to know like what's working as far as marketing channels, tactics, types of content It's not so much to figure out what's actually driving the revenue, because even that question assumes that it's like one thing, it's gonna drive the revenue when when it's never like one touch point. It's always multiple touch points.

Brandi Starr  25:12

Okay, awesome. Well, talking about our challenges is just the first step and nothing changes if nothing changes. And so, in traditional therapy, the therapist would give the client some homework, but here at revenue rehab, we like to flip that on its head and ask you to give us some homework. So I'd love to hear from you. What your one thing your one action item. If I am a marketing leader, and I'm recognizing that, you know, my attribution model is flawed. What's my first step? What's that next action item?

Andrew Bolis  25:47

It's, it would be looking up sort of blended attribution models and kind of how to use those. So I would, I would say, that's a good next step.

Brandi Starr  25:58

Awesome. So we all have our next action on if you are not well versed on blended attribution models. That is your takeaway is to figure that out, to figure out how to move your company in the right direction. Well, Andrew, I have enjoyed our discussion. But that's our time for today. But before we go, how can our audience connect with you?

Andrew Bolis  26:26

Sure, they can connect with me on LinkedIn, I'm very active on there, and I regularly post

Brandi Starr  26:32

Awesome, well, we will make sure to link to your LinkedIn in the show notes. So wherever you are listening or watching this podcast, you can connect with Andrew, we are connected on LinkedIn, and I can vouch for the great content that he does share, so make sure to check them out. Well, Andrew, thanks so much for joining me. And thanks, everyone, for joining us today. I hope that you have enjoyed my conversation with Andrew, I can't believe we're at the end. We'll see you next time.

Outro VO  27:06

You've been listening to revenue rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenue rehab dot live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at revenue we have. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

Andrew BolisProfile Photo

Andrew Bolis

Fractional CMO

Andrew has 15 yrs of marketing experience. He's built and led global marketing teams of up to 20 people across North America & Europe. He drove revenue growth from Series A to Series E stages at startups. Most recently, he was a full-time CMO at a Series B tech company. Currently, he's a Fractional CMO working with a few B2B startups in a part-time capacity to help them drive growth.