An image showing a traditional sales funnel.

What is Pipeline Marketing?

At its core, Pipeline Marketing is nothing more than the attribution of “credit” for generating revenue, across various activities that are required to capture a lead, nurture a lead, close a sale, and even later resell or upsell the customer.

How Does it Differ from Lead Generation?

With Lead Generation, the full “credit” for the revenue goes to the source of the lead, which is to say, to the marketing channel by which the lead came in.

Let’s say you have 4 means of generating leads, 4 marketing channels:

  • SEO
  • Google Paid Ads
  • Facebook Paid Ads
  • Social Media

For every lead generated, you identify the marketing channel from which the lead emerged, then allocate all the revenue for the sale to that lead source.

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Why is Pipeline Marketing Important?

There is a major deficiency in “merely” allocating revenue to lead sources, and that is almost no one who becomes a customer becomes a customer right away. There are often several “conversations” (some person to person, some person to website, some email to person to website) that occur as the prospective buyer goes through the process of assessing a need they have, identifying who might fulfill that need, comparing options, and (ideally) selecting you.

Lead Generation is Not Enough: Sales Funnels “Leak”

The diagram below shows a standard sales funnel.

Pipeline Marketing Diagram showing sales funnel: Courtesy of Bizible
Pipeline Marketing diagram courtesy of Bizible

Lead generation is concerned with dropping leads into the top of the funnel. However, not every lead becomes a sale. On average, fewer than 1% of leads become sales. The rest “leaked out” at various stages in the sales funnel.

With proper tracking systems, and proper use of them, it is possible to know (over time) what percentage of leads become marketing qualified leads, what percentage of marketing qualified leads become sales qualified leads, what percentage of sales qualified leads become opportunities, etc, etc.

From the above we can now infer two things (which everyone already knows but some organizations don’t track):

  1. Not every lead is of equal value.
  2. Action and effort is expended moving leads through the funnel.

To return to the initial statement of this post: At its core, Pipeline Marketing is the attribution of revenue to the various activities required to generate that revenue, which includes (but even precedes) Lead Generation. Stated differently, Pipeline Marketing is the process of assigning revenue generation across multiple marketing and sales activities.

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What are Attribution Models?

Attribution models are ways to allocate revenue to activities that generate revenue. This includes, but is not limited to, generating interest, generating leads, and nurturing leads.

We are going to discuss a few different revenue attribution models here, specifically:

  • Single Touch Attribution
    • Top of funnel
    • Middle of funnel
    • Bottom of funnel
  • Multi touch attribution
    • Linear
    • Descending
    • U Model
    • W Model
    • Full Path

Single Touch Attribution

Single touch attribution is where 100% of the revenue is attributed to a single activity. All the single touch attribution models give an inaccurate picture of what it takes to generate revenue, as important activities are not credited.

Top of Funnel: First Click

Single touch attribution at the top of the funnel is where 100% of the revenue is attributed to whatever activity (marketing channel) first brought the visitor to the website. Of course to make this work your marketing automation software needs the ability to match an anonymous visitor with a subsequent lead once the website form is submitted, which is the activity that turns an anonymous visitor into a lead. When Social Media brings in a website visitor, 100% of the revenue is attributed to Social Media as the online lead generation source, independent of any other activity involved in moving them to a lead, and nurturing the lead to a sale.

This places a very strong emphasis on how people come to the website, and none on lead generation or lead nurturing.

Middle of Funnel: Lead Generation

Similar to top of the funnel, but the emphasis is on the touch in which the website visitor becomes a lead. A website visitor may return to your website 3 times before filling out the form whereby they become a lead, but only that LeadGen click gets credit for the revenue.

Bottom of Funnel: Last Click

Is where the LAST marketing/sales activity to occur before the sale gets 100% of the revenue credit. If the last activity to occur prior to the sale is a person makes a phone call, the phone call gets 100% of the revenue credit.

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Multi Touch Attribution

Multi touch attribution is a far more accurate method. It gives a MUCH more accurate view of what it takes to generate a lead, nurture a lead, and close a sale.

Having said that, it’s more complex and it requires either that marketing and sales activities be tracked in the same system, or data from both systems be aggregated in some way for purposes of reporting.

The Linear Model

Linear attribution gives equal credit to every marketing and sales touchpoint. If there are 8 touch points in total, each one is credited with one eighth of the revenue.

The Descending Model

The descending model is similar to the linear model in that every touch point gets credit, but touchpoints closer to the sale get more credit than touchpoints at the start of the funnel. The idea behind this is the earlier touchpoints require less attention and effort.

The U Model

In the U model, the lead generation activity and the sales closing activity are assigned predefined percentages of the revenue (some do 40% each), and the lead nurturing activities are collectively assigned the rest. This model gives the greatest weight to the first touch point that brought the visitor to the website, and the final touch point that resulted in the sale.

Example of Pipeline Marketing, Multi-touch Attribution, U Model: Courtesy of Bizible
Diagram courtesy of Bizible

The W Model

The W model gives primary attribution to main 3 touch points: website visitor arrives, website visitor becomes lead, lead becomes customer. Each of those touch points is assigned 30% of the revenue, with the remaining 10% being spread across all other touch points.

Example of Pipeline Marketing, Multi-touch Attribution, W Model: Courtesy of Bizible
Diagram courtesy of Bizible

The Full Path Model

Full path is the probably the most accurate. In addition to the 3 touch points of the W model, the full path model counts the importance of the creation of the opportunity. Each of the 4 main touch points (website visitor, lead generation, opportunity generation, and sale) is assigned 22.5% of the revenue credit and the remaining 10% is evenly spread across every other touch point.

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Why Pipeline Marketing Attribution Makes Sense

In short, Pipeline Marketing gets Marketing and Sales in sync, and it does so in a way that improves your ability to measure the effectiveness of your marketing and sales activities. In a very real sense, getting marketing and sales in sync is ACCOMPLISHED by this revenue attribution and measurement model.

Pipeline marketing provides better visibility into what works and what doesn’t, which allows for a much more effective use of resources (money, time, people, you name it).

Aligning Marketing and Sales Better

This is achieved through better reporting on and monitoring of marketing and sales activities.

What does it make sense to report on? What attribution model should your company implement?

The short answer is: It depends.

It depends primarily upon how many touch points are generally involved in taking people from anonymous visitor to paying customer.

If your sales pipeline is short (for example: an ecommerce store where an anonymous visitor becomes a paying customer quickly) a single touch attribution model might make sense. If you’re selling big ticket items with longer multi touch sales pipelines, one of the multi touch attribution models will make more sense. Which one? Again, it depends.

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Visitors, Leads, Opportunities, Customers, and Revenue

No matter what your sales pipeline looks like, there are five MAJOR conversions that occur.

For businesses with very short sales pipelines, some of these occur together, but these are always the main five.

Typically visitors and leads are the domain (responsibility) of marketing, while opportunities, customers, and revenue are the domain of sales.

One DB of Leads, Opportunities, and Customers

Making pipeline marketing work requires there be a single database of visitors, leads, opportunities, customers, and revenue. This is accomplished in one of two ways:

  1. Marketing and sales use the same system, which is also fed analytics data from the website and other lead generation sources.
  2. The different repositories of marketing and sales data are combined into one central system for purposes of pipeline marketing reporting.

Where Does the Data Typically Come From

In this section we’re going to talk a little bit about: 1) how leads are often generated, nurtured, and closed, 2) what types of systems are typically used, and 3) where the needed data is generally obtained.

Lead Generation

We are focusing on online activities, and understand this list is not all inclusive. The purpose of this section is to illustrate some of the challenges of implementing pipeline marketing.

Paid Ads

Paid ads would be services like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads, and generally the “components” of this are: 1) Ads, and 2) Landing pages. The landing pages might, but might not be, on your website.

What you want to measure is:

  • ad click throughs as a percentage of ad impressions
  • landing page conversions as a percentage of landing page views.

Paid ad platforms provide analytics to allow these things to be known, and that data is within the analytics platform of the ad service.

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Social Media

Social media serves two broad functions: branding, and lead generation. I’ve read social media is quite poor at generating leads, but it is easy to argue branding is part of lead generation. That being the case, it is important to capture social media activity in general, and not focus exclusively on lead generation.

What you want to measure is:

  • Branding
    • Social media updates
    • Social media engagement (likes, shares, comments, etc)
  • Lead Generation
    • Landing page visits per updates
    • Landing page conversions per visit

Social media platforms provide analytics, and there are software packages that capture analytics across multiple social media platforms.


SEO is attracting website visitors through organic search traffic. Generating leads through SEO is done in one of two ways:

  • In the blog post they came to read, you suggest they visit your landing page.
  • You run ads on YOUR website, promoting your products and services, and these ads take visitors to your landing page.

What you want to measure is:

  • Numbers of visitors through organic search traffic.
  • Numbers of click throughs from blog posts to landing pages.
  • Numbers of click throughs from ads to landing pages.
  • Numbers of landing page visitors who become leads (fill out the form).

For the “pure” SEO aspects of this, the data you need is in the analytics package, such as Google Analytics.

For the running of ads on your website, the data you need is in the ad services package.

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Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing is the process of sending periodic messages to your leads and walking them to the next step of yours sales funnel (which needs to be their buyer’s journey).

While email is the most popular form of lead nurturing messaging, retargeting is a form, and I see no reason why lead nurturing software doesn’t make more use of social media messaging.

Social Media

The basic idea here, is when you know the social media profile for a person, why not “connect” with them on social media and send them messages through that social media channel? Twitter allows Direct Messages, as does Facebook. Google Plus allows for private updates that only the person can see. For some reason, social media messaging is not common with Marketing Automation software, but I expect this to become more common in the future.

The analytics data for this would be in your marketing automation system. It would send a message to the lead, then wait X days for a response, and take another action based on whether the lead did or did not take action on the message.


Retargeting is when you go online to shop for something, then see ads for that same thing on other sites on the Internet. It’s done by retargeting services that multiple website sign up for, and the delivery of “a cookie” to your browser. As you go from site to site, the sites ask your browser “Do you have a retargeting cookie?”. If the answer is yes, your browser provides it, and you are again shown ads for whatever the cookie indicates you’re interested in.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never purchased or managed retargeting services, so I’m not certain where the analytics are, but I’m guessing the retargeting service provides analytics you as a merchant have access to.

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There are three forms of email marketing: newsletters, drip campaigns, and marketing automation. A newsletter is when everyone gets the same email at the same time. A drip campaign is where a predefined sequence of emails are sent when some trigger is activated (such as downloading an eBook). Marketing automation is the most sophisticated form of email marketing, can be expanded to include messages above and beyond email (for example: messaging through social media platforms), and provides the greatest flexibility.

Marketing automation is sufficiently “beyond” email that it gets its own section, below.

With email marketing, you’re interested to know:

  • What percentage of recipients opened the email?
  • What percentage of people who opened the email took the suggested action?

That detail is within the analytics provided by the email marketing company.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is email marketing on steroids. What distinguishes it from “email marketing” are the “if-then” decisions that determine what message is sent when.

Every message that goes out is either opened or not. If it’s opened, it either prompts the reader either takes the desired action or it doesn’t.

If message #1 is not opened, the next message to go out is 1B. If message #1 was opened and not acted on, the next message to go out is 1C. If message #1 was both opened and acted upon, the next message to out is 2.

This branching (or if-then) aspect of marketing automation makes it both the most complex to implement, and the most effective.

Every lead gets a customized experience as a result of their next message being determined by what they did or did not do with the last one.

The detailed you need from this system is:

  • What percentage of messages are opened?
  • For messages that are opened, what percentage are acted upon?

The analytics data for this is found within the marketing automation platform you’re using.

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Salesperson Follow Up

Depending on the nature of the item you’re selling, lead nurturing may occur with a person making contact, which might include phone calls, personal emails, or stuff you send through the mail (from cards to humorous promotional stuff).

These activities must be captured by the salesperson in some form of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

As the activities were captured in the CRM system, that is where the data is.

Closing the Sale

If you’re selling online, the sale occurs on your website and there is analytics data relative to the sale within the eCommerce component of your site.

If the sale occurs offline, then the salesperson who closes the sale records the sales activity and data in the CRM system.

Marketing Pipeline Attribution

As you can see from the summaries above, the data needed for marketing pipeline attributions is not necessarily in one system, yet for meaningful attribution reporting, it needs to be.

How difficult is this?

At first glance I would say it’s pretty difficult, and I have an extensive background in IT working with large scale systems and data aggregation.

Having said that, tools are emerging that make it easier.

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Two Examples of Marketing Attribution Tools


The phrase Pipeline Marketing was coined by a company named Bizable. They were founded in 2011 by former Microsoft employees exclusively to solve this problem.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the sales funnel image used in this article came from a Bizible eBook.

They market themselves as a B2B Marketing Attribution company, and I’m guessing they focus on B2B because they’re expensive. They’re going where the money is.

This marketing is small, but growing. An article published on Aug 9th, 2017, makes two interesting statements:

  • Bizible has 300 customers.
  • Bizible has 50% market share.

If I thought the total market for pipeline marketing attribution was only 600 customers, I wouldn’t bother to even bring it up.



Google just announced Google Attribution, an extension to Google Analytics. It’s described by Google as being inside AdWords, but I see no reason why it could not also be seen as being part of SEO. After all, SEO and paid ads both bring visitors to your website and your landing pages.

In Closing

For small businesses I have no specific recommendations other than “stay tuned”. Over time this is going to get cheaper and easier.

The main point I want to make is Pipeline Marketing truly is an idea whose time has come, and while right now it’s the exclusive domain of big businesses with big budgets, that’s starting to change.

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Kevin Carney
Kevin Carney

Kevin "fell into" SEO by accident, like many others. The SaaS platform to help writers boost their topical authority came years later after various SEOs said it was something they would like to see.

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