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Selecting an Attribution Model for a Long Sales Cycle

Download The Ultimate Guide to Perfecting Your Attribution Reporting

October 6, 2023

By Chelsey Clayton

In the fast-paced world of digital marketing, understanding the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is crucial. Attribution models play a pivotal role in this process, helping businesses assign credit to various touchpoints along the customer journey. For businesses with long sales cycles, selecting the right attribution model can be a game changer. 

In this blog post, we'll guide you through the process of selecting an attribution model that suits your business needs. With a plethora of options available, it can be overwhelming to determine which model will accurately measure the impact of your marketing efforts. Fear not, as we break down the pros and cons of various attribution models, helping you make an informed decision. Now, let us delve into the topic at hand.

What Is an Attribution Model?

To begin, let's delve into the fundamentals: What exactly is an attribution model? Simply put, is a system that assigns value to each touchpoint or interaction a potential customer has with your brand before making a conversion. These touchpoints can include website visits, social media engagements, email opens, and more.

Attribution models help answer the fundamental question: Which marketing channels and touchpoints are contributing the most to conversions? By providing this insight, businesses can optimize their marketing strategies and allocate resources effectively.

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Types of Attribution Models

Now that we understand the purpose of attribution models, let's dive into the different types you can choose from. Each model has its own way of distributing credit to touchpoints based on the customer's journey. Here are some common attribution models:

First-touch attribution model: This model gives full credit to the first touchpoint a customer interacts with. It's like giving all the credit to the initial spark that ignited the customer's interest.

Last-touch attribution model: Conversely, the last-touch attribution model assigns full credit to the final touchpoint before conversion. It's like saying the last impression sealed the deal.

Linear attribution model: The linear model distributes credit equally among all touchpoints in the customer journey. It's a democratic approach that values every interaction equally.

Time decay attribution model: In this model, you give more credit to touchpoints that are closer to the conversion event, while earlier touchpoints receive less credit. It acknowledges that interactions closer to conversion are more influential.

Position-based attribution model: Also known as the U-shaped model, it assigns the highest credit to the first and last touchpoints, emphasizing the importance of initial interest and final conversion.

Full-path attribution model: This model provides a holistic view by considering all touchpoints in the customer journey. It gives credit to each interaction, not just the first or last, offering a more comprehensive perspective.

How Does the Full-Path Attribution Model Calculate Credit?

Among the various attribution models, the full-path attribution model is particularly well suited for businesses with long sales cycles. It offers a detailed and nuanced understanding of the entire customer journey. 

The full-path attribution model assigns credit to all touchpoints throughout the customer journey, giving each interaction a proportional share of the credit based on its contribution. This means that whether a customer discovered your brand through a social media ad, engaged with your email campaigns, or visited your website multiple times before converting, each touchpoint receives recognition.

This model offers a highly accurate representation of how marketing efforts impact the long sales cycle. It takes into account the numerous touchpoints and the interplay between them, providing valuable insights for optimizing your marketing strategies.

How Does the Linear Model Calculate Credit?

The linear attribution model, though not as detailed as the full-path model, is another good option for businesses with long sales cycles. It calculates credit by distributing it equally across all touchpoints. 

Imagine a customer's journey involves five touchpoints: an initial social media ad, a webinar registration, an email newsletter subscription, a product demo, and, finally, a purchase. In the linear model, each of these touchpoints would receive 20 percent of the credit, regardless of their position in the journey.

The linear model may not capture the nuances of customer behavior as well as the full-path model, but it offers a fair and straightforward way to evaluate touchpoint contributions. This can be beneficial for businesses that want a more balanced perspective of their marketing efforts in long sales cycles.

Which Attribution Model Should You Use for a Long Sales Cycle?

Selecting the right attribution model for a long sales cycle depends on your specific business goals and the complexity of your customer journey. Here are a few key considerations to bear in mind as you explore different models:

Full-Path Attribution Model 

If you have a lengthy sales cycle with multiple touchpoints and interactions, the full-path model is a robust choice that provides a powerhouse perspective. By unraveling the most influential touchpoints throughout the extended buying process, this model empowers you to make informed decisions.

For example, let's say a customer interacts with your website, attends a webinar, receives a personalized email, and then makes a purchase. The full-path model will show you exactly how each of these touchpoints contributed to the conversion, allowing you to optimize your marketing efforts accordingly.

Linear Attribution Model 

If you're looking for a more straightforward approach that gives equal weight to all touchpoints, the linear model is the perfect choice. It provides a balanced perspective, streamlining the attribution process while maintaining accuracy.

For example, let's say you have a customer who discovers your product through social media, visits your website, reads a blog post, and then makes a purchase. The linear model will assign equal value to each of these touchpoints, allowing you to see the overall impact of your marketing efforts throughout the customer journey.

Position-Based (U-Shaped) Attribution Model 

In a long sales cycle where initial engagement and final conversion are of utmost importance, the position-based model presents an ideal compromise. By recognizing the significance of both aspects, this model enhances your understanding of how they interact.

For example, imagine a potential customer who first engages with your brand through a social media ad, interacts with your website by downloading a whitepaper, attends a webinar, and then ultimately converts by making a purchase. The position-based model allows you to see how each stage contributed to their journey, enabling you to optimize your strategies accordingly.

Finding the perfect attribution model

Finding the perfect model for a long sales cycle involves assessing the complexity of your customer journey, your business goals, and your willingness to assign credit differently to various touchpoints. While the full-path model offers the most detailed insights, the linear and position-based models provide alternative approaches that can be effective for businesses with extended sales cycles. Ultimately, the choice of attribution model should align with your unique marketing strategy and objectives.


Learn the ins and outs of attribution reporting with popular platforms, and cover the models your company needs to supercharge your campaigns.

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Topics: HubSpot, Attribution Reporting, Revenue Operations