Marketing automation helped marketers gain a deeper understanding of their target buyer and develop the right messaging, calls to actions and campaigns. But the real big win to come from marketing automation was supposed to be lead scoring.

Lead scoring promised an end to sales’ perennial complaint that marketing wastes their time with leads that weren’t ready to buy. Finally, there would be a system that measured what prospects did and determined when leads were ready for sales. Savvy marketers involved sales in defining how a lead was measured and when to pass it along. The promise was that only those leads that met a predefined threshold were passed on to sales. Eureka! Finally, a definitive way of measuring marketing’s impact on the pipeline.

Or so we thought.

Marketing automation has had a significant impact on marketing’s efficiency and productivity. But lead scoring has not delivered on its promise. Scoring leads is complicated, confusing and produces inconsistent results. In the quest for accuracy, scoring has evolved from arbitrarily assigning points to buyer activity to predictive lead scoring. Vendors like Salesfusion and Lattice Engines use algorithms to learn the attributes and patterns of leads that resulted in closed -- as well as lost -- sales opportunities.

It's the Journey That Counts

According to Christian Nahas, CEO of Salesfusion, “Our algorithm learns from every deal and identifies both the attributes as well as the path of won and lost leads.” Salesfusion enables marketers to predictably score leads, identify which ones should be nurtured and which ones to ignore completely and gives sales the ability to rank the leads they received. “Sales can be very specific in rating if the lead was right on, off or needed more nurturing,” says Nahas. 

By combining internal prospect, customer, lead and sales information with external information on target accounts, predictive lead scoring vendors believe they can identify the attributes of good leads as well as model the path these leads take in the purchase journey. Armed with this knowledge, marketers can optimize segmentation and behavior based nurturing and invest in programs that trigger the right emotional responses at key moments for the right buyer. 

Salesfusion’s vision is to not score leads based on their behaviors, but to score target accounts based on the paths they take. “For every account, their touch points determine if their path matches a won or lost lead and the strength of that match. Once the path is identified, prescriptive lead scoring can then prescribe how to best personalize campaigns, assets, content and calls-to-action to pull the target account along their own journey,” Nahas said. “People are hungry for easy to digest, humanized content and clear, actionable advice on how to design and nurture campaigns that work for each micro segment.”

Working With a Complete Picture 

The prescriptive lead scoring vision is compelling, but the industry’s approach to understanding the journey is flawed.

Too much effort is being spent on trying to decipher what the customers’ journey is by analyzing incomplete data. All this "inside out" analysis is not only faulty but requires a lot of time. The results still require cycles of trial-and-error and fine tuning. By the time the user has figured out buyer patterns and attributes, customers have changed their behaviors.

Lead scoring must be based on a complete understanding of the buyers’ journey. It’s not enough to know what the buyer does at certain points in the journey. The total picture is needed. Why? Because without it vendors cannot accurately determine a potential client's intentions, emotions (yes, even B2B buyers have these) or how their physical actions relate to their digital actions (because nothing is 100 percent digital).

The Customer Knows Best

The best, and quickest, way to get a detailed, holistic understanding is by asking the buyer. That’s right -- it requires a face to face conversation.

Every company has between three to five journey maps depending upon the number and type of segments they are pursuing. These are detailed, step by step descriptions of what buyers do, what content they seek, what internal processes they navigate, who they talk to and what milestones they need to overcome. That map -- which I affectionately call the “decoder ring” -- is the blueprint against which lead scoring should be done.

For lead scoring to be consistently correct it must score the actions and sequence that buyers take. Let’s not forget that what the buyer does, and the opinions they form before they raise their hand to any vendor, determines lead quality. The buyers’ actions in the 70 percent of the journey that occurs before they engage with a vendor is where you win or lose the opportunity. That means you need to know and capture buyer behavior long before the marketing automation system registers the visitor as a potential lead. The key is to know what the buyer does and the actual sequence of their actions in these early stages.

A Brief Case Study 

Let’s take an example.

Every buyer has an event that triggers recognition of a problem or an opportunity. They use Google to understand more about the situation, how others like them have addressed the situation, and the types of outcomes gained. Next, most B2B buyers tap into their social graph to understand the various approaches (not necessarily products) to solving the problem. They might go to a trade show, talk to an industry analyst or a trade group. They’ll start a business case and seek permission to launch a formal project.

More investigation will be done online, including accessing third party studies, reading vendor white papers and viewing videos. Once the buyer has settled on an approach that they feel is right for them -- for instance, lead scoring as part of their marketing automation system versus a standalone app -- they will tap into their social graph for vendor recommendations. The buyer will visit the vendor’s website multiple times, view videos and attend a webinar or two in addition to scouring the web for customer feedback and citations of good and bad customer experiences. The business case will get updated and the buyer will short list the vendors. They will then contact the vendors."

This above example is an actual journey map from the buyer's perspective, developed by interviewing customers. You may be saying,  “there is no way a buyer will tell me this." But, in fact, they will -- and they will do it gladly, because it shows that you actually “get it.” It is as much in their interest as it is in yours for vendors to have a deeper understanding of customers’ actions, needs and perspectives. This approach is also faster, and can help you fast track the development of very detailed journey maps. 

Taking the Next Step

Once you have a detailed journey map, how do you define lead scoring? It is a combination of the actions and the sequence of those actions taken on and off your digital properties. By knowing where to look for early stage actions you can record the date and score. You’re now in a position to score the lead with a higher degree of confidence because you can match the buyer’s actual path with the segment’s journey map. The greater the degree of fit, the stronger the lead.

With this data in hand, you’re able to execute on Nahas’ vision of prescriptive scoring. If you know where the buyer is in their journey, you’re able to recommend to marketing and sales the best next step actions to enable that lead to move to the next milestone in their journey. That includes contextually relevant offers, personalized content, which channel to engage the buyer in and even what price to quote.

Nahas summed it up well: “journey based lead scoring is a much smarter approach.” By embedding journeys into marketing automation, you can shed new light on buyers and enable marketers to drive real revenue and move out of fix and fix mindsets. The result is more revenue, because you’re pursuing the right deals -- all the time.