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Insights from the Tactical to the Strategic

Getting the Full Story Why Lead Source is Fake News

If you’re spending any time or money doing advertising, one of the most important things you should be doing is tracking how well each of those activities is performing.

Luckily for us, technology has made that process more simple and resources such as lead sources help us determine what’s actually working.  

Lead source is a critical piece of data you need in order to assess the value of your marketing campaigns and part of proper lead management. When done right, you can measure the value of your marketing campaign efforts while also communicating with sales the important information about a lead.

“When you boil it down, the process is actually pretty simple,” Ronnie Duke, Marketing Operations Manager at DemandRamp says. “First, you spend some money, you get your name out there, you try and acquire leads, you promote your brand, you figure out what works and then you repeat.”

History of lead source

However, Duke points out that how we measure that success has changed as technology has evolved. Gone are the days of the Rolodex. Now we have systems, like marketing automation, that give us a really granular view of what’s working, whereas twenty years ago, marketers had to infer a correlation.

“If you put a billboard up on the side of a freeway, there was no way to tell if someone ended up buying your product because they saw that billboard or they heard that radio ad,” Duke says. “So what people did is some correlation type of analysis.”

It wasn’t until the late 90s and the advent of the cloud CRM, that companies started to transition from handwritten notes and databases stored on computers to cloud-based platforms and Software as a Service. 

“This allowed salespeople to give really good insight into how things are operating from a sales standpoint in their organization,” Duke says. “So they can see their pipeline and how they’re doing fiscally throughout the year. It gave managers a way to look at their sales team and see who’s performing and who’s not.”

And with the implementation of CRM also lead to the development of a field called lead source. “They wanted a way to keep track of the person they met a trade show or keep a virtual Rolodex,” Duke says.

Lead source started out pretty simple, with basic sources such as ads, cold calls, referrals, and web activity. But with the rise of channels such as social, search, and digital ads, lead sources became more complicated too. 

Then came marketing automation. “This really disrupted the way that marketers thought about promoting things on their website and it really boils down to this idea of content marketing,” Duke says. “But marketing automation has spanned into all kinds of different areas. We have ebooks, white papers, webinars, and that data has been broken out into many granular pieces.”

So what happens to your lead source field at that point? Duke says that often times, lead sources have become too convoluted, leading him to believe they’re “fake news.”

Why fake news?

“When I think of fake news I think of a story that is only giving part of the story often without context and causing you to draw inaccurate conclusions from the information that’s being delivered to you,” Duke says. “Or it could be just completely inaccurate information altogether.” 

Steps to get better data and better analytics from our marketing attribution:

1. Clean, Structured Data

The first step in getting clean, structured data is to take a look at the structure of your URLs and then create a better pattern for your URL naming conventions by including content type and the content name itself.

Then utilize UTM keywords. “It’s really important if you’re promoting the same page in several different outlets to use UTM keywords,” Duke says. “Use UTM mediums to accurately describe where those are coming from. An example of this is if your lead source is Adwords, the UTM medium is CPC and the UTM source is Google.

And be consistent. Use URL generators or spreadsheets. “Get your entire team on board with utilizing the same values for all of these,” Duke says. “Especially if you’re familiar with trying to process this data through marketing automation. Marketing automation looks for very specific terms so if you’re off by one of those that interaction isn’t going to be recorded accurately.”

2. Define Your Attribution Model

There are different ways of looking at how you define revenue and where your ROI is coming from. Those models are:

   a. First touch: The very first thing that brought you the lead.

   b. Last touch: The last thing they did (usually before becoming MQL or Opportunity).

   c. Multi-touch: Everything the lead or account interacted with from first touch all the way to a closed deal.

Create a structure and workflow to store the data

Structure is important when it comes to your data. And keep in mind that the URL where the lead ultimately filled out the form on is not always the URL they entered the funnel on. “It’s very important to look at the very first URL that the lead came in on,” Duke says. 

Plus, Duke points out that leads can do multiple things “It’s very important to keep track of the entire lifespan and the entire journey.”

Associate lead touches to revenue (ROI)

“Now when you go back and start asking how am I going to spend this money you can look at the different combinations of your data and start putting together more meaningful analytics and patterns to make better business decisions,” Duke says.

But he points out that another thing to keep in mind is that the primary contact on the opportunity is not always the first touch. This can happen when more than one person from a company engages with content or if a lead isn’t added to an opportunity, their activity cannot be associated with that revenue.

Evaluate and make better marketing decisions

“Now that you have all this data coming in and you’re assigning it to your revenue and you’re taking a look at ROI, you can really take a look at things and see if you should be refocusing your money and your energy to other places depending on how it’s actually performing,” Duke says.

However, be aware that large deals and unique circumstances can skew your numbers. And that sometimes ROI is different than ROI, meaning it can mean different things to different people. 

“When you’re looking at different tools and trying to build analytics processes, the term ROI gets thrown around a lot, so just be careful,” Duke cautions. “When some people are talking about ROI they’re talking about revenue, but then some people refer to ROI as leads generated.”

Overall, lead sources and reporting go hand-in-hand. Lead sources enable you to be more strategic about your marketing activity. Instead of investing in channels that do not generate leads or customers for your business, you are able to focus on those that do, saving money and maximizing your ROI. 

More from Ronnie Duke and Blueriver 


Lead source is a critical piece of data you need in order to assess the value of your marketing campaigns and part of proper lead management.

When done right, you can measure the value of your marketing campaign efforts and ROI. When done wrong, they can become “fake news.”

In this free on-demand video presentation, DemandRamp Marketing Operations Manager Ronnie Duke explains how to set up your lead sources to get better data and better analytics and avoid them becoming fake news.