The Source of the Lead Source

December 11, 2014 Ashley Brucker Stepien


When getting our clients up and running on marketing automation, there are a few things that come up like clockwork. One of them is ALWAYS “Lead Source.”

It’s amazing how this seemingly trivial, little field can cause so many problems and yet hold so much power.  Use it wrong and you’re on the highway to Data Nightmare Hell. Use it right and you’re fast tracking straight to Closed Loop ROI Nirvana.  So this Cloud Marketing Consultant wants to give you some simple and straight-forward driving directions to the latter…

1.  A Locked Down Standardized List

A huge mistake we see often is making this field a free-form field. This results in countless one-off values and a total lack of data validity. Make a decision to make this a drop-down field.  Start by sitting down with a cross section of your marketing and sales team to pick a concrete list of values to include. And for the love of everything that is data holy, keep that list at a relatively high-level.  What I mean is this field should be the 30,000 foot view of the different ways a lead can make it into your system.  Below is a typical list of examples for you to start with:

  • Trade Show
  • Web Form
  • Webinar
  • Content Download
  • Third Party Source
  • List Rental/Purchase
  • Sales Sourced

And now you’re thinking “but how will I know where they REALLY came from?  This list will NEVER work for my organization.”  Hold your data, Chicken Little, and read on

2.  The Lead Source Detail Sidekick

Now this is where you can get more granular.  Create a custom field with a dependency on the Lead Source Field. Depending on what is picked in the Lead Source field, sub-values should be available in the Lead Source Detail field that are more specific to the Lead Source.  For example, if you chose “Trade Show” as the Lead Source, then available Lead Source Detail values would be things like  “Super Fantastic Trade Show GTV Q4 2014.”  Or if Lead Source was “Web Form” then values in the Lead Source Detail could be “Contact Me Now Form” or “Request a Meeting Form.”  (Pro-tip: This is especially priceless for Content Download details!) To avoid more data drama, make sure this field is relatively locked down. Only a sample of trusted administrators should be able to update it.

Hopefully you get the idea, but to sum it up: Lead Source is the high level source and Lead Source Detail is the detail of the Lead Source. Implementing this simple approach will allow your organization to report at that 30,000 foot level and that granular level. This ultimately means tracing Marketing spend and ROI. Those marketing metrics can seem like the stuff of unicorns and leprechauns, but in reality, simple changes like the above make that fantasy closer to arm’s reach than you may think.

3.  To Overwrite or Not to Overwrite

This is the question where wars have been waged and battles have been lost. In essence, we’re dealing with the issue of a lead that has potentially been in the system for a while, has been active in multiple capacities, or dormant and then came back to life.  Do you overwrite the Lead Source field and Lead Source Detail field when they complete a new activity or come back to life?  This self-proclaimed marketing operations obsessive will tell you to NEVER OVERWRITE THOSE FIELDS. EVER.

The original lead source/detail records are sacred, despite becoming stale. They show you where you first met that individual, and allow you to trace back to the true origin.  As a Marketing Professional, I know this is important.  It allows me to understand how long my investments may take to give me return.  There’s an argument that those fields should be kept to recent sources. I don’t want to completely dismiss that concern but there are better ways. Consider two options: the Activity History on the Lead/Contact record OR a few more custom fields (hold your shudder until I explain.)

The Activity History is where you may consider adding those other interactions (or sources of interactions) with that individual. This will let you maintain a full picture of your dance with them. For those of you in the Marketing Automation world, even better than Activity History are those nifty sales plug-in tools like Marketo, Sales Insight or Eloqua Engage. These tools allow Activity History to remain somewhat pristine to pure sales interactions.

The second, and arguably more preferable option, is adding more custom fields.  Now, I know that statement resulted in some eye rolls from the purists out there but hear me out. A “Most Recent Lead Source” field and “Most Recent Lead Source Detail” field can give you that “last touch” visibility we all covet. You can allow these fields to get overwritten every time it’s appropriate. These should just maintain the same values as the actual Lead Source/Detail fields. This approach opens up a world of reporting possibilities to you. Imagine being able to report on the first touch and the last touch of a lead/contact/opportunity.  All of a sudden you have that complete visibility of the lead’s lifecycle, and even dates when those fields were updated so you could do some wicked awesome analysis.  Yes – it means more fields – but the wealth of knowledge it may provide should pay it forward infinitely. And then, we could talk about the NUMBER of touches to conversion field, that I love and covet, and can’t wait to run reports on.  But wait, better keep you in suspense for another blog post before I blow your minds too much.

In conclusion, is “Lead Source” the silver bullet to full marketing ROI visibility?  Probably not. But it’s the low hanging fruit that would allow a more reliable source of reporting and analysis than you’re getting today.  It’s low risk, high benefit, and minimal effort to implement so get out there, people, and reclaim your sources.


Previous Article
Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014
Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014

As 2014 comes to a close, we are taking a look back at the top 10 blogs this year. Here they are, in no par...

Next Article
HR Services in the Cloud: Roles Don’t Need to Change, but Competencies Do
HR Services in the Cloud: Roles Don’t Need to Change, but Competencies Do

For a lot of organizations, the deployment and integration of cloud solutions are at the heart of HR transf...