data & analytics

Stop chasing rainbows and unicorns: take the time to get lead scoring right

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One of the biggest complaints we hear when we meet new clients is “my lead scoring isn’t working”.

Those who have attempted to build, and likely re-build, a lead scoring program in a marketing automation platform might agree that it sometimes feels like an impossible dream.

I blame marketing technology vendors who convince marketers there are “easy buttons”, when what they have done is turn something really quite simple into a mythical creature, like the ones you might find in the recent J.K Rowling film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”.

For those that want to remove themselves from the insanity of doing the same thing again and again, hoping for a different outcome, I have compiled some ideas to consider before opening that next purchase order to “optimize” your MAP-based lead scoring program.

B2B buyers have more information. We have more data.

B2B buyers have always sought out information when researching products – long before the term digital body language emerged. They just used more analog means like trade magazines, product catalogs, in-person events and user groups before taking meetings with sales reps to get up-to-date specifications and pricing.

Thanks to the internet and connected devices, buyers now have easier access to more information – both peer opinions and product details. Thanks to marketing technology, sellers have easier access to more data about what those buyers are viewing and doing. But so far the only ones extracting value from this data are the tech vendors whose license fees rise as more data is captured and stored.

The primary reason automated lead scoring programs are not making it rain qualified leads is that the email clicks and web visits we track and capture only provide a limited understanding of the buyer’s current mindset and motivations, and rarely take into consideration engagement from other influencers and decision makers within that account. In most cases these ‘high scoring’ leads convert at a much lower rate than leads entering the queue from other channels like events, live chat and website contact forms. Why is this?

Supporting millions of telequalification calls a year, MarketOne sees conversion rates from “traditional responder channels” outperform digitally scored leads by a factor of 10 or more.

Guesswork without rigour.

Some of my old consulting frameworks were heavily influenced by the automation vendors. But hey, it was new territory for all of us and they were offering a way of designing and building a scoring program quickly and relatively cheaply. But if you really think about it, we were mostly configuring what we thought was a viable solution based on a combination of intuition and sales anecdotes:

VP title + 2 email clicks + website visit in last 30 days + a whitepaper download = Qualified Lead

In most cases these “educated guesses” were not backed up with a rigorous process to validate them. Who knows, the above equation might be onto something! But too often, when scoring was checked off the to-do list, attention and investment shifted to creating more digital content and automated programs for an infinite number of hypothetical buyer journeys.

The net result of all this hard work: a theory-based lead scoring program being fed by hypothetical buyer journeys and a frustrated sales team refusing to call on any marketing sourced “high scoring” leads. Sound familiar?

Return to the bad old days or clutch at straws?

We see a marked trend towards more investment in inside sales and business development resources. Of the 100+ active clients we work with today, almost every single one is reverting back to traditional account-based cold calling and response management in order to deliver quota. Some have abandoned the practice of sending scored leads to inside sales altogether.

Others are turning to another ‘quick fix’ – this time offered by the plethora of predictive vendors who promise to solve the pipeline quality problem. Six figure sums are being invested. Sometimes it works, but oftentimes it doesn’t. Either way, it takes a concerted outbound calling effort to find out.

But even the best-targeted cold calling will still likely only yield a relatively low lead-to-sales opportunity conversion rate. And that rate will typically decline as an increasing proportion of the ‘responders’ or hot accounts are found to be existing contacts, already in the funnel.

Besides declining conversion rates, the risk is that companies revert to the old approach of telemarketing teams being directed, managed, trained and enabled separately from the team responsible for crafting digital customer experiences and automated nurture programs. Before long, they will once again be working to conflicting KPIs and delivering a disjointed customer experience.

Invest in validation, not just design and creation.

There are no short cuts or quick fixes. Solving the lead scoring question involves a long journey of test, measure and learn. One client who in my view is “doing it right”, has been operating in this cycle for over four years and is only now starting to emerge with a model worth scaling globally. Most others are still scratching their heads wondering why scoring has not helped them generate more quality sales funnel.

The answer is to make a company-wide commitment to building a lead scoring model using a complete set of buyer data – digital activity, contact history, company profile, purchase behaviour – the lot. This model then needs to be validated by a telequalification team equipped to provide constructive and actionable feedback – not a sales team that simply complains about lead quality. We find that understanding what doesn’t work is just as valuable as seeing what does work. And finally, there needs to be a willingness to iterate learnings over many test, measure and learn cycles.

In B2B this takes time. There’s no way around it. We need to build a body of evidence over a long buying cycle from first interaction to revenue – which can be months, quarters or years depending on the products or services sold. As marketers, we should be ashamed of the fact that we have let over a decade of potential learnings pass us by.

So my recommendation for this year is to take any funding you might have allocated to re-build a MAP scoring program or buy an off-the-shelf predictive model, and work with a partner, like MarketOne, that can staff intelligent callers backed by a rigorous analytics methodology to truly learn from and validate your current model. The right partner will be able to gain quick wins by identifying ready-to-engage buyers, but at the same time help you win at the long game so that you will be talking about 3x improvements in pipeline conversion two to three years from now. Are you ready to commit?