May 31, 2021

What you need to know about marketing attribution for B2B SaaS companies


In marketing circles, attribution is an infamously tricky beast to tackle. Prospects can take weeks, months, or even years to convert, and conversion paths often don’t move in a straight line. For B2B SaaS companies, attribution modelling can be especially tricky. This is because SaaS businesses, particularly those that are just starting off, usually grow through referrals and other means outside of digital marketing. And once digital marketing is in play, attribution quickly becomes a bit of a black box—no one person is accountable for managing the analytics, and it can be difficult to decipher. For that reason, setting up your analytics from the get-go is absolutely essential, even if your growth isn’t fueled by traditional marketing routes at first. 

The two phases of marketing attribution for SaaS

Unlike marketing attribution for e-commerce, attribution modelling for B2B SaaS comes in two separate phases. These two segments are separated by a demo or trial signup, like so:

  • Phase 1: Attribution prior to a demo/trial signup
  • Phase 2: Attribution after a demo/trial signup

When marketers talk about marketing attribution, they’re usually referring to the customer journey from the first touchpoint to the demo or trial signup, which represents Phase 1. Unlike e-commerce or B2C products, however, B2B SaaS products have longer sales cycles that can last multiple months after the initial trial or demo. That’s why it would be remiss not to include the time between becoming a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and becoming a customer (a.k.a. Phase 2).

Phase 1: Analytics Attribution

Since Google Analytics only allows tracking up to 90 days prior to a conversion goal, it’s not super helpful for tracking attribution beyond Phase 1—unless your sales cycle falls within that time frame. It is, however, the perfect tool for tracking conversions prior to the demo, including all the different conversion paths to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and SQLs

The key to analytics attribution is setting up the right conversion goals to track. For B2B SaaS companies, this means making sure you’re tracking any exchange of contact information. Since Phase 1 isn’t about making the sale, the conversion goals you set up should reflect that. 

For example, you should be tracking in Google Analytics any time a prospect downloads a content marketing resource, like a case study or PDF guide. In addition to that, signups to informational or educational events, such as webinars, should be monitored. Each of these pieces of the puzzle should have a conversion goal assigned, so that you can properly attribute those behaviours. 

Many B2B SaaS companies have the tendency to either over or under configure their conversion goals. Here’s a handful of common pitfalls to avoid: 

  • Setting up conversion goals that aren’t attached to an exchange of contact information: Data like pageviews are relevant for something like remarketing, but shouldn’t be used as a conversion goal for attribution.
  • No “thank you” page redirect after a signup form: This is crucial in order to be able to set up and track a conversion goal in Google Analytics.
  • Setting up too many conversion goals: This is typically a problem for larger SaaS companies, in which data management is muddled and coming from multiple sources. 

Phase 2: CRM Attribution 

Now that you have tracking set up from the initial touchpoint to demo or trial signup, it’s time to take a look at the conversion path that leads the prospect towards becoming a customer. This is especially important for SaaS companies with sales cycles that are longer than three months. 

If you’re an enterprise SaaS company on the larger end, your Phase 2 of marketing attribution will most likely take place inside a CRM like Marketo, Salesforce, Pardot, or HubSpot—all platforms that are able to track attribution data. 

For many larger SaaS companies, Phase 2 attribution tracking can be difficult—particularly when too many people have access to the CRM, leading to gaps in data and potential duplication in efforts. If there’s one thing you take away from this guide, we hope it’s that in order to track attribution properly, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen!

On the other hand, smaller SaaS businesses using less built-out CRM platforms run into a problem as well: these platforms might not track prospects’ behaviour at the depth needed for attribution modelling. 

Ideally, if you’re an enterprise SaaS company with a sales cycle of longer than 90 days, you should consider leveraging a CRM that gives you insight into every single touchpoint between demo or trial signup to becoming a customer. 

What’s the bottom line? 

Attribution for B2B SaaS companies comes in two parts: Phase 1, which occurs before the demo or trial signup, and Phase 2, which occurs after. In order to fully understand your customers’ behaviour, you need to examine and track both ecosystems. Without the two pieces of the puzzle, you’ll be left with fragmented attribution data that could lead your decision making astray.