Breaking Down the Conversion Wall

The Complete Guide to Improving Down-Funnel Marketing Data in B2B and B2C Organizations

If your job involves any level of digital marketing, you’ve undoubtedly faced The Conversion Wall, and you might not even know it.  Amongst other things, RealProof was invented to solve this problem, which hinders a marketer’s ability to communicate truth and optimize towards real business value: revenue and profit.  Regardless of whether you use RealProof, it’s important to understand the current landscape leading to this challenge, and how you can overcome it.

In this multi-part article, you’ll find answers to the following:

  1. What is The Conversion Wall?
  2. Why does The Conversion Wall matter (to marketers and business executives)?
  3. What technical challenges make The Conversion Wall such a large issue?
  4. What cultural norms give The Conversion Wall validity?
  5. How marketers can overcome The Conversion Wall to prove true value and optimize granularly within marketing channels.

Grab some coffee and let’s get started!

What is The Conversion Wall?

The Conversion Wall is the divide between a marketer’s understanding of how an activity performs at the top of the funnel vs. the bottom, and it’s caused by very specific elements of digital marketing.

The Conversion Wall: the invisible, but extremely powerful blocking force between conversion count and business revenue.

I’m sure you’ve reviewed, or possibly generated, hundreds of digital marketing reports from platforms like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or Google Analytics.  Each platform tracks “conversions,” which are, at a very basic level, important actions that a user takes in relation to a session on your website.

For years, digital marketing platforms have developed conversion tracking to give marketers real-time, granular data about critical actions users take after engaging with a marketing channel.

Technical marketers use this data to:

  1. Optimize channels down to the click level
  2. Feed algorithms that adjust bidding and targeting strategies
  3. Understand and report on authority, content, influencer, organic search, and other initiatives

Senior marketers use this data to:

  1. Allocate budget to various marketing channels
  2. Attempt to understand how things are “performing”
  3. Paint a picture for their bosses (all the way up to the Board of Directors) of the marketing-health of the organization.

The problem with conversions typically arises at the executive level. Hand a report with spend and conversions to any VP and up, you might just receive the following response:

“We spent how much, and drove 300 conversions? What about revenue and opportunities for new business? How many of those did we drive and can you tell me who the new clients are?”

The further you go up the chain of command, the higher the probability of receiving this response. That’s because at the very top of an organization is the CEO, who reports directly to the Board.  Chief Executive Officers aren’t reporting conversions to the Board, their focus is revenue and profit.

Now, you might be able to provide revenue numbers in some granularity. But let’s look at a scenario: your company just closed the biggest deal of the year, worth up to $1.3 million annually. The CEO wants to know the details: how did they find us, did marketing influence the opportunity or was it mostly sales-driven, can we replicate this elsewhere? You can settle for high-level details, and basic assumptions, but wouldn’t it be better to have truly granular data?  What if the sales team takes all the credit simply because you use last-touch attribution and can’t prove that marketing played a role?

Want to be a successful marketer?  Want to get a promotion, raise, or build your own authority?  Care about what the CEO cares about – data that points to revenue.

In the end, you should be able to tie each conversion you report on to a lead in your CRM. You should be able to track and report on every session a contact had with your website. When you achieve this, you can align perfectly with your organization’s needs – and you can prove the value of marketing!

Understanding The Conversion Wall, at a Deep Level

Sometimes you don’t truly understand a concept until you can define it from multiple angles. In this case, we should clearly understand what The Conversion Wall is and what it looks like when you’ve broken down the wall.

First, The Conversion Wall is the invisible, but extremely powerful blocking force between conversion count and business revenue.

Second, if you’ve successfully broken down The Conversion Wall you will

  1. Be able to trace revenue opportunities back to individual web sessions, along with all of the data for those web sessions and regardless of whether users engaged via chat, form, e-commerce, or inbound call.
  2. Be able to report revenue opportunities down to the keyword, ad, click, and session level – often for multiple Contacts on a single Account in your CRM.
  3. Stop relying solely on first click or last click attribution, rather understand how individual keywords, clicks, ads, and content influenced an opportunity.
  4. Be able to introduce dimensions to your marketing activities and further analyze how elements contribute to revenue.
  5. Diagnose areas in a marketing channel that are not driving revenue and optimize them at a granular level.
  6. Allocate budget based on a true understanding of where revenue comes from, and then optimize each area to drive efficiency and growth.

The Skeptics

Now, I am the first to admit there are some powerful conversion tracking methods that provide granular revenue detail, and there are scenarios where you might think you’ve solved The Conversion Wall (or never had the issue to begin with). My years of experience would indicate that you are likely wrong, and by believing this, you are missing out on revenue and optimization opportunities.

Here are some scenarios that might lead you to believe you’ve broken down The Conversion Wall:

  1. You care about leads, and so conversions give you all the data you need.
  2. You track and report activity to your boss based on marketing channels or “campaigns”, and that seems acceptable.
  3. You capture revenue in browser sessions, for example on an e-commerce or learning platform.

Let’s dig into each of these independently.

#1 – The Focus on Leads

This scenario is easy to address: if you are focused on leads only, you’re likely going to fall behind quickly in the coming years. Remember, the CEO cares about revenue – conversions and leads mean nothing if not for revenue.  Optimizing towards a “lead count” at the top of the funnel is the inherent issue with conversion tracking.

If you are a lead aggregator, or you sell leads, then lead count might be a good start; however, it’s likely that your compensation is driven by true lead-value (not lead-count). At the end of the day, basing budget, optimization, and reporting on leads is not going to align you with an organization’s long-term needs – you will become irrelevant.

If your organizational culture is aligned to leads, I would recommend you use this as an opportunity to become the champion of “through-to-revenue tracking.”  Build your authority in the organization, push the boundaries of what’s possible – you might just get a promotion!

#2 – Settling for Channel or Campaign Level Tracking

Most marketers don’t recognize The Conversion Wall, because they’ve settled for channel-level (often campaign-level) tracking down the funnel. This is a poor solution to a real problem.

When you make decisions only based on marketing channel you are using averages to guide your investments, forecasts, and optimization – and thus you are subjected to “The Flaw of Averages.” Major issues arise when using averages to understand performance. Let’s explore some potentials “Flaws” with a few examples:

  1. On average, your paid search campaigns tend to generate 30 leads per month, therefore you forecast 720 leads for the coming 12 months if you double monthly spend. The average ignores the probability of wildly different outcomes and sets you up to miss your target by a mile. It also ignores a number of underlying variables that will directly contribute to the real outcome. For example, maybe you’re already maxing out impression share at the campaign level (which is, by itself, an average) – your projections are now wildly off!
  2. On average, your Facebook Ads perform better against females ages 35 to 44, and so you shift all of your spend to this audience. Not only does the average ignore the true distribution of performance, but most marketers also make decisions like this without reaching statistical significance. By focusing solely on this segment, you might be ignoring that fact that 30% of your most cost-effective contracts came from Facebook Ads appearing to males 45 to 55. If you’ve removed that segment due to a lower “conversion rate,” you’re ignoring perfectly good revenue for no good reason.

As marketers, we can’t control every variable that leads to impressions, clicks, and conversions – there is no perfect answer to The Flaw of Averages; however, we can do things to make smarter decisions.  The simplest method is to focus on tracking more data and reporting at a granular level, avoiding the focus on averages as much as possible.  Settling for down-funnel tracking at the channel level makes this task inherently difficult.

Think of it in very simple terms: when you’re picking out your clothes for today, would you rather know today’s weather forecast or the average daily weather of the last 365 days?

#3 – Tracking Revenue in the Browser

If you run an e-commerce business, you might generate a large portion of revenue through website sessions. In these situations, Google Analytics and other conversion tools do a good job of tracking performance granularly; however, are they giving you the entire picture? Here are 3 issues with this approach.

  1. How much of your revenue is generated by phone calls from your website? If the amount or percentage is measurable, you’re likely losing all data about that revenue once the user picks up the phone. The same is often true for transactions occurring over chat.
  2. Platforms like Google Analytics are keenly focused on consumer privacy, building limitations into their products. You must understand that these platforms are focused on self-preservation. They track so much information about users that they are protecting against the data they have, not the data you have. Most e-commerce customers feed you as much data as you ask for, and while respecting their privacy, you can still leverage this data to optimize your business performance – however, that can become challenging even in an e-commerce setting.
  3. Lastly, while you might collect a good amount of down-funnel data at the user level, it is often limited to standard segmentation (for example utm_ URL parameters). Introducing a whole new set of dimensions can be a challenge. Your business is unique, and your ability to segment performance should be as well.

If you’re involved in reporting on or optimizing marketing spend, The Conversion Wall is real, and it’s keeping you from being a better marketer.

In the coming years, your success might depend completely on your ability to collect better data, at a granular level, about exactly what activities lead to revenue.  As offline advertising budgets shift online, digital marketing is becoming more and more competitive – you need an edge.

Up Next – Why The Conversion Wall Matters and How to Develop a Healthy Data Culture

Zachary Randall

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Zachary Randall

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