2 Attribution Challenges for Partnership Professionals (and How to Get Ahead of Them)

2 Attribution Challenges for Partnership Professionals (and How to Get Ahead of Them)

Olivia Ramirez 14 min
By Olivia Ramirez

You’ve landed your first partnerships gig (Wowza!). You’ve got a handful of partners, and you’re building the company’s first-ever partner ecosystem. 

“Things are going great, things are going great, things are going great,” you tell yourself, while laugh-crying in the mirror. Your partnerships are accelerating the sales cycle and increasing deal sizes, so why are you only getting credit 25% of the time? 

Getting attribution for revenue driven by partnerships has been an unwavering challenge from 2020 to 2021, according to our State of the Partner Ecosystem Reports.

Data collected in our 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Survey

See? It’s not just you. 

In your partnerships role, you’ve likely encountered these two common attribution challenges: 

Attribution Challenge #1: Giving credit to the partnerships team and sales team when both teams impact a given deal 

Attribution Challenge #2: Giving credit to the partnerships team and marketing team when both teams impact a given deal (Sales, too, of course!)

We gathered insights from partnership professionals at Airship, Contentsquare, SignEasy, and PrinterLogic (recently rebranded as Vasion) on how they approach attribution for their internal teams.

What to expect:

(To note: Another form of “attribution” is tracking and giving credit to your partner. In this article, we’re focusing on how you can get credit internally. You deserve it!)

Challenge #1: Credit to the Partnerships Team and Sales Team 

To optimize your workflow for proper attribution for deals-won, the sales and partnerships teams need to align throughout the entirety of the sales cycle. It’s not about how much influence each team has, it’s about showing that both teams impacted the deal.

The sales team and partnerships team play a role in the sales funnel. Take a look at the “Sales-Partnerships Alignment for Attribution” graphic below.

Think of each row as an activity or event that advances each stage of the deal. The partnerships team and sales team need to engage in “touchpoints” across these activities to maximize their combined impact on the deal and ensure both teams get credit for the role they played.

For example, the partnership team’s initial impact on a deal may be as simple as brokering an intro between their sales rep and a particular account — but the engagement between the sales team and partnerships team shouldn’t stop there. The more the partnership team aligns with the sales team, the more impact a given partnership will have on a particular deal — and the easier it will be to track that attribution.

A couple of examples where alignment between sales and partnerships during the sales cycle improves attribution for partnerships: 

  • The partner manager (PM) reaches out to a given sales rep to see how the partner-sourced account is progressing through the funnel. The PM asks how they can help the sales rep accelerate the deal. The PM offers to map accounts with new partners to see who can make an introduction between their sales rep and the stakeholder with the most buying power. 
  • An account marked “partner-influenced” goes dark. The sales rep reaches out to the partner manager or corresponding partner for help reviving the deal through a co-selling motion
  • The partner manager builds a report for an account executive on their sales team. The report includes a list of high value opportunities overlapping with a particular partner. The AE then reaches out to the partner to discuss the best strategies for targeting those particular accounts. 

Tip: Measure Partner-Sourced Revenue First 

There’s less grayness around tracking partner-sourced revenue than partner-influenced revenue, so start tracking partner-sourced revenue first.

Gilad Zubery, Executive Vice President of Global Business Development and Partnerships at Contentsquare, says he measures the success of partnerships through partner-sourced revenue and growth in annual contract value (ACV). He does not measure his team against a partner-influenced revenue metric. 

“Show first that you’re pulling your full weight on sourced, then you can add other aspects to the package,” says Zubery.

Zubery recalls an episode from the podcast Partner Up, in which Bobby Napiltonia, the creator of Salesforce’s Enterprise Channel Partnerships Program in the early 2000s, voiced his frustration with tracking partner-influenced deals. When leadership said they didn’t want to pay out for partner-influenced deals, Napiltonia drafted a letter to all of Salesforce’s partners saying, “If you didn’t bring in the deal, please do not work on it, please do not assist, please let’s go find a net new opportunity so you can be rewarded for that” and presented the letter to his team. Spoiler alert: He was not allowed to send the letter! 😂


Fun fact: The easiest way for Napiltonia’s team to track ecosystem qualified leads (partner-sourced) was to timestamp them — they received their leads via fax!

Tip: Make it a Routine for Your Sales Team to Ask, “How Did You Hear About Us?”

Or, “Which products do you plan on using with ours?” Questions like these help your team uncover the true source of the potential deal — opening the doors to answers like, “I was on AppExchange and liked the functionality your product has with Salesforce” (source: Salesforce) or “I was reading about the product on Conversica’s blog” (source: Conversica). 

You can set up alerts in tools like Gong to get notified any time partner-related keywords come up in your team’s sales conversations. Then, tag the partner as an “influence” or “source” in your CRM, so the partner data stays with the account throughout the sales cycle. 

Speak with your sales leadership about adopting these tactics as part of yours and the sales team’s daily workflows. 

Tip: Create Partner-Specific Accounts in Your CRM 

Forest Yule, Senior Director of Partner Development at Airship, says his team made it easier to track deals attributed to partner data by creating “parent” and “child” accounts in Salesforce. 

For example, if Stitch is a customer and a partner, create a master record for the customer account and a child record for the partner account. If the sourcing partner for a given deal is Stitch, the correlating “Stitch-Partner” child account ties directly to the opportunity (and lives within the parent account).

Take a look at this example of a partner-influenced deal. if Stitch was the “influencing partner,” the corresponding box for “Influencing Partner” would read “Stitch – Partner.”

When you click into the “Stitch-Partner” account, the account record type reads “Partner.” The partner account exists as a separate account that lives within the customer record. This helps you organize your customer and partner accounts and avoid confusion during the reporting process. The account name in the image below would be “Stitch – Partner” and the “Ultimate Parent” box would read “Stitch.”

Yule’s team also includes data about Airship’s four-stage partner journey

  • Stage 1: Identify and Recruit
  • Stage 2: Qualify and Contract
  • Stage 3: Onboarding
  • Stage 4: Collaborate and Educate

By tying the partner’s stage in the enablement process, for example, to your CRM, you can track potential correlations between enablement and deals. What’s actually driving results?

“So I can see, ‘Hey, when we do these partner training sessions, we see a resulting uptick in partner-generated opportunities. Let’s do more of those partner training sessions,’” says Yule, “Or, ‘I do tons of these partner training sessions and we do not see an associated increase in partner-sourced opps. I’m going to stop doing those and focus on something else.’ And so it gives me a much more data-driven approach.”

Yule says you should pay attention to both ends of the spectrum. “One is, ‘What are the activities that tend to lead towards closed-won deals, deals that close faster, and deals that close with higher contract values?’ and ‘What are the things that tend to create opportunities that sit in your pipeline and never go anywhere?’ Invest in one. Don’t invest in the other.”

Challenge #2: Credit to the Partnerships Team and Marketing Team (Sales, too!)

You’re co-hosting a webinar with a partner, so you and your marketing team divvy up the work. The leads start coming in. Are they ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs) or marketing qualified leads (MQLs)? The answer might be different depending on who you ask.  

Tip: Focus on the “Last Touch” Before Entering the Pipeline

A lead comes in through a partner-led webinar. Cool, you’ve got an EQL on your hands. Then, you find out the lead heard about your company’s product two years ago from a Gartner report. Again, is it a marketing qualified lead or an ecosystem qualified lead? 

Track the “last touch” as a lead enters the pipeline to determine its source (and proper attribution). The marketing team has a handful of additional metrics for tracking multiple touchpoints from the early days of the buyer journey (like website clicks and time on page). To define attribution between partnerships and marketing, keep it simple by focusing on the “last touch.”

Tip: Consider Different KPIs for Your Partner Marketing and Marketing Teams 

One way to clarify attribution for your partner marketing and marketing teams is to give each team different KPIs. If your partner marketing manager’s top KPI is partner-sourced revenue, perhaps the marketing team gets measured by net new leads. 

Rather than prioritizing the amount of net new leads or partner-sourced revenue, Forest Yule’s partner marketing team at Airship sits within the marketing org and is predominantly OKR-driven — focusing on content creation rather than generating EQLs.

Yule says that, while the partner marketing team does prioritize ecosystem qualified leads, they know that more leads isn’t always better. 

“When you start to bring a lot of leads into the pipe, the conversion model starts to break a little bit because they don’t convert as well,” says Yule. “What they’ve really been focused on is less about opportunity creation and more about content creation and collaborative efforts, like webinars or co-selling documents with partners.”

Alternatively, in our series, Reporting Lines, Garrett Helmer, CMO at Vasion (previously known as PrinterLogic), says he folded his channel sales team into the marketing org to align each team on similar goals. 

“By merging channel and marketing together, all we care about is top-of-funnel leads and we’re not so precious about where they come from… The bias is gone,” says Helmer. 

Tip: Define Mutual Goals and Align Your Workflows With Partners 

Jake Wallace, Head of Strategic Partnerships at SignEasy, says his team prioritizes net new leads each quarter. He finds it easier to achieve proper attribution when his team and his partner’s team align for each stage of the sales cycle. Not only is it easier to measure the results, but it’s also easier to set the bar higher.

“We’ve actually set that number of leads higher because we have that shared goal in mind of co-selling and leveraging Crossbeam to uncover that data,” says Wallace. “A high percentage of our goal is with our key partners because we’re on the same page.”

Tip: Analyze Data Over Time to Create “Sources of Truth” 

One sign of a mature partner organization is that they understand how partnerships play into their larger business goals. How does the number and quality of your partnerships correlate to a better retention rate, faster time-to-close rate, and a higher customer lifetime value?

Analyze the high-level impact of your partnerships over time to give yourself a benchmark for success. Perhaps you’ve seen a 50% faster time-to-close for deals impacted by partners through co-selling. This data can get your internal teams on board with partnerships and make your sales team more likely to adopt a co-selling workflow to shorten the length of the sales cycle.

More buy-in from your team leads to better alignment throughout the sales cycle. Your sales reps will be more likely to engage you and your partners in a given opportunity, and your sales leadership will be more likely to adopt co-selling as a top priority in the sales team’s daily workflows. Thus, partner data is less likely to get lost before the deal-won stage.

If you’re developing integrations with your tech partners, look to customer retention and annual contract value (ACV) as your source of truth. 

Gilad Zubery and the team at Contentsquare developed an equation to calculate how their integrations lead to a higher gross revenue retention (revenue maintained year-over-year) and an increase in upsell opportunities. To do so, Zubery’s team tracks every touchpoint of an integration, from the frequency of API calls to the accounts that adopt the integration (and renew their contracts). 

Why is Attribution a Challenge?

It can take a while to see a partnership’s ROI, and it can be difficult to pinpoint and communicate the partnership’s more immediate effects.

If there aren’t definitive processes in place (think: Ecosystem Ops) for tracking the incremental impact of a partnership as it unfolds, the likelihood of tying a partnership to a given deal decreases as the account moves through the sales funnel.

Just think of the number of touchpoints that occur between launching a co-marketing campaign, for example, and closing a deal influenced by the campaign. The source of that influence can get lost when: 

  • A net new lead sourced from the campaign gets tagged as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) rather than an ecosystem qualified lead (EQL) → No credit to the partner manager or the corresponding partner. The sales and marketing teams get credit. 
  • During the initial sales call, a prospect mentions that the co-marketing campaign increased their interest in the product, which influenced them to take the call. The sales rep forgets to tag the account as partner-sourced in their CRM. → No credit to the partner manager, the corresponding partner, or the marketing team. The sales team gets credit.
  • As a result of the co-marketing campaign, a lead existing in your sales pipeline becomes a customer for your partner. Your sales rep doesn’t have access to partner data and doesn’t realize they can reach out to your partner for an intro that could help them accelerate the deal (or, you mapped accounts with your partner using spreadsheets in the early days of the campaign, so you’re not aware of the new overlap.) → No credit to the partner manager, the corresponding partner, or the marketing team. The sales team gets credit.

(We can see you nodding from here.)

Challenges with partner attribution arise when multiple groups contribute to a given deal. Given the cross-functional nature of partnerships, that means every single deal that the partner team sources or influences. 

The connection between one team and the deal closing may be clear, while the second team’s connection gets lost along the way. To close that gap, organizations can adopt processes, workflows, and documentation for working together cross-functionally

We’ll leave you with this: nobody’s got attribution down to a T. Adopt some of the tactics above, iterate, and build from there. 

Olivia Ramirez 14 min

2 Attribution Challenges for Partnership Professionals (and How to Get Ahead of Them)

Learn from partnership professionals at Airship, Contentsquare, SignEasy, and PrinterLogic about how they approach attribution in their orgs.

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