Self-driving cars. Medical implants made with 3D printers. Refrigerators with built-in LED screens (so you can see what’s inside them without having to open the door). Looking around at all the available data, there’s no denying it: The future is now. And this miraculous future we already inhabit is largely underpinned by data-driven technologies, which continue to spur innovation and growth across countless industries and change the way we go about our lives.

But while we in the world of B2B marketing and especially in B2B paid media have enjoyed the energy-saving benefits of screen-in-fridge technology, we’ve also noticed a worrying trend: B2B organizations, even those with deep roots in tech, often don’t think that paid media can drive meaningful, measurable results.

“Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” you might be thinking.

Our thought exactly.

Paid media is a data-driven marketing medium. Producing meaningful, measurable results is what we do.

And the results from investments in paid media aren’t restricted to the paid media program—when paid media is executed correctly, it provides data that shows which marketing dollars are actually driving sales activity. For example, the multiregional campaigns we ran for one of our clients or the performance reports we provided another client that tied deep, down-funnel sales activities back to their high-funnel ad engagement.

So, it just doesn’t add up that B2B marketers remain skeptical of using paid media when the results speak for themselves.

We gave it some thought, and here’s what we think is going on.

Complexities of the B2B buying journey

B2B firms are reluctant to embrace paid media because the buying journey is more complicated than it is for B2C, and those complexities make the technical and operational setups for paid media more intricate. And because B2C has basically made paid media it’s primary marketing channel, looking at the differences between B2B and B2C offers some insights:

Length of buying journey. Unlike the B2C buying journey, which is typically measured in days and weeks, the B2B journey is measured in months (or quarters and years). A long buying cycle requires a much more sophisticated approach to engagement.

Number of decision makers. B2C transactions usually rely on just a single individual to make a purchase decision. For B2B, that’s almost never the case. B2B products are complex, affect multiple stakeholders, and can represent a significant investment. A whole team of mid-to-senior management is often involved in purchase decisions.

Attribution and ROI. Perhaps the biggest difference between B2C and B2B is the ease of attributing and backing-out campaign ROI. B2C campaigns often report accurate paid media ROI from within the ad platforms themselves. But for B2B, where much of the sales cycle happens after the click and “on the back end,” attribution is never that straightforward.

Any of the above could undermine a B2B company’s confidence in the ability of paid media to provide meaningful results. But none of those challenges are insurmountable; in many respects, paid media is the channel best-suited to tackle them.

But it’s the third bullet­—the data setup and measurement—that we think is the real culprit behind a lack of confidence in paid media. Many B2B firms can’t realize the potential of paid media when they aren’t using all available analytics.

Align data sources to enable analytics

We’ve observed a relationship between B2B companies that are reluctant to use paid media and disconnected platform and back-end data sources. Not being able to accurately analyze data makes it difficult to overcome many of their marketing challenges—not just challenges with paid media.

When platform data has only a vague, correlative relationship to back-end data, the two data sets are much less than the sum of their parts. As mentioned before, paid media is literally a data-driven marketing medium. For B2B companies, the post-click, back-end portion of the sales cycle is what really matters, and excluding that data from the optimization feedback loop makes paid media less effective.

The good news is, this is a relatively easy problem to fix. Aligning data simply requires passing information from the platform to the back-end CRM system, which can be done through tracking URLs or in-platform features like Google Click IDs. Once that information is stored, back-end reports can be exported and matched with the corresponding front-end data. Doing this provides valuable insights for optimization and makes possible granular, down-funnel attribution and accurate ROI reporting.

You might be wondering: “If it’s so easy, why don’t all B2B companies align their data sources and then go crush it with paid media?”

Complexity promotes inertia

The question doesn’t have a single, simple answer, of course. The challenges we’ve seen parallel the idiosyncrasies of the B2B buyer journey we discussed earlier:

Long development time. B2B firms tend to be large, complex organizations, and even small changes to a back-end system (like creating new fields to store URL tracking parameters) can take significant development time to complete.

Multiple decision makers. Complexity in organizations means that even small changes can affect multiple stakeholders and groups, like that “whole team of mid-to-senior management” that is involved in decisions.

Incompatible tech. Although not as common, technical limitations of a back-end system (for example, one that doesn’t support custom fields or can’t pull data from URLs) can hamstring an effort to align data sources.

Internal blockers like those above can be difficult to resolve, but the effort to find a resolution is guaranteed to be worth the rewards. Proper data alignment provides deeper, more actionable insights, which in turn means you can make more informed decisions about where to invest your marketing dollars. And underinvesting in paid media due to misaligned data means you’re leaving sales pipeline on the metaphorical table, and that’s the last thing any marketer wants to do.

Let’s assume it costs 5% of your Q1 marketing budget to invest in better data alignment. The better data you get from the effort allows you to improve the efficiency of your investments by 3% every quarter thereafter. By the end of Q3 you’ve already made back your Q1 investment in increased pipeline. Even in situations where blockers to back-end data alignment can’t be resolved, don’t discount the value of paid media; just keep in mind how the lack of alignment affects that value and hinders the performance of your marketing overall.

Need some help aligning your front-end and back-end data? Or maybe just a good recommendation on a smart refrigerator? Just get in touch.