Sales attribution isn’t perfect—but you still need to try.

Digital wants to be binary: Yes or no. On or off. Pass or fail.


Sales attribution is messy. It’s about trying to figure out what’s going on inside people’s heads.


Aiming for sales attribution perfection will get in the way of getting “good enough” useful information. The truth is that in our multi-channel world, we can’t possibly know everything consumers consider throughout their journey.


But, as Lyle Lovett once said, “What would you be if you didn’t even try?”


You have plenty of data to track—even if you can’t always know for sure that a specific solicitation led to a specific response which led to a completed sale. What to track? At minimum:


  • All outgoing messages in all media
  • IDs of recipients whenever possible (e.g., direct mail and email go to identifiable individuals, DRTV and print ads do not, and other digital marketing methods may provide a mix of both)
  • Response data—with responder IDs, campaign source codes and responder identity data across all media vehicles
  • Sales data—preferably with IDs that correspond to the recipient and responder IDs, sales channel source, product data and identity information


In the end, you’ll have your inputs and results—and analysis should show you whether your marketing efforts influenced results. Perhaps you can’t give full credit for a specific sale to your direct mail campaign, but if you know a buyer received your mail, you could reasonably assume some credit.


These kinds of decisions are best worked out with all stakeholders involved. If you don’t get buy-in on your methodology, no one in your organization will believe your data. It’s far more productive to use your analysis to focus on the future than to be endlessly arguing about what really happened in the past.