“Where did this awesome opportunity come from?”

The question every data-driven marketer hopes to hear from their sales team.

Even more, the question they hope to answer quickly and easily, at a glance.

A full-funnel picture of the marketing programs that are driving demand is your ultimate goal, but to do that, you must have a solid framework for determining the top-level marketing channels or tactics you will use to show ROI.

The first step is your lead-source field.

Source from the top

The lead-source field should record the “first touch”* campaign’s top-level category and be the key to understanding which tactics to do more of and which tactics to ditch.

So, what’s a “top-level category”? Basically, it’s the highest level you want to report on in your beautiful pie charts that show marketing campaign contribution to pipeline. This will vary from business to business, but generally we recommend broad categories like:

  • Online advertising
  • In-person event
  • Organic search
  • Sales prospecting
  • List purchase

Keep this list as short as possible so that it remains meaningful. Ensure that it is a picklist, and that those picklist options are locked down and never touched without marketing’s explicit consent and approval.

Typically, the lead-source field is housed in CRM, which can make governance tricky in a business where sales ops oversee CRM and marketing ops oversee the marketing automation platform (MAP). But be vigilant about its integrity and keep that list clean!

Top-level categories can then be broken down into subcategories like “Facebook ad” or the specific name of your list vendor or sales prospecting tool. These, in turn, can be listed in the lead-source-detail field, which can be a picklist (just a longer one) or a text field, depending on what you want to use it for later.

Track the easy first

Once you’ve decided the categories that make up your highest level of reporting, you’ll need to implement operational tracking campaigns within your MAP and CRM to ensure clean data capture.

You can implement these programs several ways, but each approach has the same basic premise—start with what’s easy to track and work toward the more difficult.

The easy: If you’re capturing utm parameters through hidden fields on your forms or cookies (and you should be!), use those utm parameters to automate your lead-source field first. That will take care of the leads you’re capturing from paid media, display, and social channels, and from third-party referrers.

If sales teams are entering leads from their prospecting efforts, it should be detectable in an automated way—though you might have to ask the sales team to note this in a field somewhere or to select the lead source themselves when they enter it. Still, this should be easy to track given the right process.

The next easiest lead sources to capture are going to depend on the inferred data your MAP can catch.  If your MAP can tell you that the lead arrived on your website from a search term, you can categorize that lead as “organic search.” If it can tell you what link referred the lead to your website, you might have data you can translate into a lead source.

Then solve the mysteries

Eventually, you’ll end up with (hopefully) a very small percentage of leads that don’t have utm parameters, weren’t directly entered into CRM by sales, don’t have any referral data, and seem to have appeared out of nowhere, fully formed, and entering data into your forms.

Here, you can try to match up likely sources with your web analytics data, but you might end up with a catch-all lead source you call “direct” (as in “this lead directly typed my website into their browser window”). Keep an eye on these leads and set up a list to catch them so you can assess whether they really are coming in directly or from otherwise unknown sources and whether there is a way better automate capturing their source.

Want to know more about how lead-source tracking can lead to better reporting success? Check out the Marketing automation owner’s manual.

*In the marketing automation world, we tend to think of the “first touch” as the campaign that drove the conversion on a form and made an anonymous prospect known. Ideally, your organization would have a truly full-funnel picture of all the pre-conversion influences on the prospect. If you have integrations that allow you to do this, please read “first touch” as true first touch. Otherwise, when we say “first touch” we mean the point of form conversion.