Marketing Attribution: Creating a Growth Engine at Salesforce, Zendesk and Slack


This is a condensed version of an article originally published on forEntrepreneurs. You can read the full post here: Marketing Attribution: Creating a Growth Engine at Salesforce, Zendesk, and Slack.

I recently sat down with Bill Macaitis, CMO at Slack. In an age where product gets most of the attention, Bill is the kind of marketer founders crave. He knows exactly what impact his marketing efforts are having and he’s able to build a predictable growth engine. How does he do this? The key, Bill would say, is marketing attribution–being able to evaluate how each marketing channel is contributing to your growth.

What is Marketing Attribution

Bill Macaitis, CMO of Slack and formerly CMO at Zendesk has a simple view: Marketing Attribution means are you spending your money wisely.

A simplified example: let’s say you have a customer who first saw your display ad but didn’t click. Weeks later they saw your Facebook ad, clicked through and read several of your blog posts. Still weeks later, they clicked on one of your Google ad words and ended up signing up for a free trial. How do you value each of these marketing channels? If the display ad hadn’t been seen, would it have mattered? Would they have found their way to your site without the Google ad word? Which blog posts resulted in the highest value signups?

A simplistic last-touch model would give all the value to the ad word and undervalue earlier touchpoints. A first-click model would give too much credit to the first click, the Facebook ad. Equally or linearly spreading the value across all channels would just be guessing. To get a much more accurate view of each channel’s role and be able to optimize your spend, you need an attribution model that analyzes all of your data–who viewed what, who clicked what and what actions did they take and algorithmically determines the impact of each touchpoint.

Why You Need Marketing Attribution

As you ramp up marketing and start using different channels, you need a more sophisticated approach than simple click tracking to follow your buyer’s journey and know what’s working, what’s needed when, and where your spend is paying off. But, how does a startup approach this? Don’t you need complex systems and data scientists to get this right? Don’t you need a large marketing spend? Not necessarily. Luckily, we live in an age when marketers, even at startups, have more data at their disposal than at any other time.

Today, algorithmic attribution has become the best practice for data-driven marketers and companies. We can now utilize all the available data collection, tools and models to take in all different touch points and make predictive, algorithmic attributions.

When is it too Early for Marketing Attribution?

It doesn’t make sense to scale any marketing before you have product-market fit. But, once you have this and you’re starting to think about your marketing mix, you need marketing attribution. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re starting to spend money and you don’t have a way to track it.

A Guide For Implementing Marketing Attribution at a Startup

Once you have a few channels you’re using for marketing (i.e., webinars + content marketing + fb ads), you need to get some basic tracking in place. This is the non-sexy groundwork that will end up guiding all of your decisions down the road.

  1. Educate Your Team

Because you will need an investment of people and dollars to build your attribution system, and because the data you collect will drive fundamental decisions about how you market to and engage customers, you need to start by educating your internal team. This is a classic change management process. Put it into terms your team will understand–we are going to collect a large set of data and let the data science determine what channels and campaigns are having what impact.

2) Hire the Right Team

As I shared in my introduction, Bill typically recommends the first people a head of marketing should hire is a marketing operations person. These people are worth their weight in gold. When you’re first starting, this may be more of a generalist role. And while you may not find someone with a background in building out a marketing tech stack and a focus on attribution, a lot of people who have done SEM or media buying will inherently grasp looking at ROI vs spend and will have some experience with the different viewpoints on attribution. The key is finding people who believe in data driven decisions. Hire this operations, data-focused person first so that you can begin tracking from the very beginning.

3) Buy or Build

The attribution marketing space is crowded, with plenty of pure play vendors as well as many smaller players to fit different budgets. You may get along with Google Analytics to start, or some marketing automation tools also come with attribution modules.

At Salesforce, Bill built his own system when they had a lot of custom tracking needs for events they were attending, and there were many fewer vendors to choose from. Now, it’s worth a thorough search of vendors to see if there is a tool to fit your needs.

4) Integrate for Deep Funnel Metrics

Marketing needs to form a really strong partnership with your development team and those who manage your data warehouse. For attribution to work and to get the most actionable data, you’ll need to integrate into your data warehouse to track specific customer actions. Your focus needs to be on your long term, core business metrics–for example did they convert to a lead, an opportunity, to a signed deal, and what kind of expansion revenue they contributed? Tying marketing value to short term metrics can lead to the wrong incentives and actions.

5) Start Small

Start with Google Analytics or another tool you’re already using that may have some tagging and tracking abilities. Track a couple channels, e.g., ad words, some display ads, and maybe choose a couple performance networks. Focus on three metrics you care about the most, such as filling out a registration form, receiving a demo, or becoming a qualified opportunity or signed contract. If you have different sizes or lengths of contacts, pretty quickly you may find a lot of value in tracking the resulting ACV to see if different channels are impacting this key metric. Over time you’ll add more channels and start to track at a more granular level, but for now, keep it simple.

The Slack Example — Taking it to the Next Level

The way you set up your attribution tracking needs to align with your core business objectives. At Slack, the metric of success is based on the total experience customers have with the brand and offering, and ultimately whether they recommend the service. It’s not just whether they sign up. Add to this that Slack limits the number of registration and signup forms, favoring a delightful experience over contact collection and tracking. And, finally add in a significant focus on word of mouth marketing and offline marketing, including TV ads and podcasts. This makes for a very complex marketing attribution system.

While most startups will not need to start with the layered system Slack has developed, there are tactics they are using that others will find helpful:

  1. Because Slack focuses on a team concept, not individual use, they have developed tracking for deeper team-based funnel metrics including size of team, average ARR per seat and activity across teams.
  2. To track “non clickable” performance ads and brand focused touch points from TV, billboards, magazines, radio and podcast advertising, Bill put in place a robust system with multiple tracking signals including:
  3. Referral codes and coupon codes (e.g., get $50 in credits when you go to’name of podcast’..).
  4. Local test markets (advertise in a collection of cities) and compare those cities’ growth rates (visits, leads, aided recall, expansion ARR) against your control group (similar cities or rest of US).
  5. Multiple brand metrics are tracked including aided brand recall, unaided brand recall, visits to website, sentiment and share of voice in addition to traditional funnel metrics (leads/opps/ARR).
  6. Signup survey which lets users choose multiple channels where they had heard about Slack (including offline channels and word of mouth).
  7. Bill is also a big believer in NPS and tracks NPS at both a relational level (would you recommend Slack in general) and transactional level (would you recommend Slack after a specific encounter with a feature or service).

All of this data gets plugged into their attribution model to find which channels are having the most influence on a customer’s ultimate satisfaction with Slack.

To read more about how Bill Macaitis implemented marketing attribution, including an example at Zendesk, you can read the full post here: Marketing Attribution: Creating a Growth Engine at Salesforce, Zendesk, and Slack.

Follow us on Twitter: Dana Stalder, @dcstalder and Matrix Partners, @Matrix Partners.