Which leads from your last campaign are valuable and which ones aren’t? To determine the sales readiness of leads, marketers increasingly use lead scoring functionality in their marketing automation system. Lead scoring is a way to measure the likeliness of a commercial opportunity for a potential customer. The lead score helps determine the next best step such as transferring a lead to the sales department or triggering a certain nurture flow.
Lead scores on the different conditions of a profile can typically be categorized as “critical,” “important,” “influential” or “negative.” A more positive condition will typically receive a higher score. Negative criteria have a negative score. Critical conditions can also be set as a condition. For instance, when a company is not based in the U.S., it’s not considered a lead at all.
But a flat “overall” score isn’t very intelligent. Although easy to use and better than nothing, a unified score doesn’t say much about interest in specific topics, the type of persona or the phase a lead is in within the buyer journey. How can you determine the real “DNA” of your leads to take the next best content step? Let’s take a look at five key dimensions in lead scoring.
Dimension 1: Individual Explicit Lead Scoring
The most traditional lead criteria are explicit scores. These are based on specific profile characteristics that are generally available. Think of insight about buying authority, position or the presence of social media accounts. Explicit criteria don’t say anything about personal interests or current challenges, but they can be first indications on whether a profile shows parallels with your buyer persona. For instance, content targeted at marketers can have scores like these:
Dimension 2: Company Explicit Lead Scoring
Explicit lead scoring can also be done on a company level. Scoring is based on information like the organization size, industry or region. Together with individual explicit scoring, company explicit scoring makes up the “L=lead grade.”
|Organization Size||1,000+ Full-Time Equivalent Employees||35|
|200+ Full-Time Equivalent Employees||20|
|IT SaaS and Software||30|
The lead grade presents a qualitative rating of all explicit profile information. For example, someone who sells CRM software to retailers and has more than five stores and launches a campaign with e-books, webinars and blogs. It will probably apply a high explicit lead score to download profiles from retail companies. There may be an even higher grading for profiles of larger retailers with multiple locations and profiles with relevant positions. However, a download by a major IT service provider will get a low (or negative) lead score. Thus, the lead grade actually indicates the extent to which a profile meets the ideal customer.
Today, explicit scores are frequently embedded in cost per lead campaigns you create with publishers and marketing agencies. For instance, you can pay $50 per lead when your white paper is downloaded and the “lead” profile meets a certain set of conditional criteria.
Dimension 3: Individual Behavioral Lead Scoring
Lead score techniques in many marketing automation systems use both explicit and implicit information. This is where lead scoring becomes interesting. Implicit scores are based on lead behavior such as website visits, email opens and white paper downloads. Here’s one example of these scores:
|Reads a relevant blog||5|
|Opens an email||10|
|Downloads a white paper or e-book||20|
|Joins a webinar||25|
|Checks pricing information||35|
This singular way of scoring behavior is logical when your company sells one type of product such as a CRM system. But when you sell both CRM and ERP systems it makes more sense to set up a behavioral score per product line or, even better, per area of interest. For this, your content and/or campaign assets (like landing pages, emails and webinars) need to be tagged per topic or proposition. Also, your marketing automations system needs to support multiple lead scores.
Together, implicit and explicit scores can give a good indication of the interests and characteristics of an individual person. This provides a great opportunity to determine your next best step communicating your content.
Dimension 4: Account Scoring
However, in many B2B investment decisions, multiple stakeholders or buyer personas are involved in an organization. They are the decision-making unit. Therefore, it’s relevant to know whether multiple employees from the same organization are captured in your lead database and whether these individuals have interests indicating a certain need. For example, when a marketing manager from a retail company downloads your e-book on the integration of email marketing and CRM and an IT manager from the same organization downloads an article about CRM in the public cloud then that may indicate a CRM project within that organization. Account tracking brings together these signals from one organization into the account score.
Dimension 5: Buyer Stage Scoring
Successful B2B marketing departments have a seamless process to transfer sales-ready leads from the marketing department to the sales organization. MQLs are now SQLs. It’s necessary to define these clearly with a service level agreement. The lead score can provide a solid criterion for this action.
- Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) — These are leads with a low lead and account score because they are in an early phase of the buying process. This pool of leads lends itself to lead-nurturing initiatives. It’s the marketer’s primary responsibility to further develop these leads. When the lead or account score reaches a certain point, the leads are taken over by sales.
- Sales-qualified leads (SQLs) — When there is an actual need, the position is relevant and the lead fulfills the necessary criteria, it becomes a sales-qualified lead. This is the moment the lead is passed to the sales department.
The reconciliation between marketing and sales is crucial for a good conversion. But lead scoring can also be explicitly linked to other phases in the buyer journey. For this, your content must also be related (tagged) to the different phases in the purchase process. For example, when we go into a buyer journey model with simple “discovery,” “consideration” and “decision” stages, the content must also be scored in that way. Here’s an example of a simplified behavioral scoring model:
|Reads a relevant blog||5 points||Discovery phase|
|Opens an email||10 points||Discovery phase|
|Downloads a white paper or e-book||20 points||Consideration phase|
|Joins a webinar||25 points||Consideration phase|
|Checks pricing information||35 points||Decision phase|
Because content is tagged per buyer stage, the lead in the buyer’s journey can be derived from the lead score. Journey stage scoring is progressive, so if a profile scores high on the “consideration” phase but higher on “discovery,” you can assume that “consideration” phase has actually begun since this phase is closer to the moment of purchase. An interesting article and video about this methodology can be found on this ETUMOS blog.
Determine the DNA of Your Leads
Finally, it would, of course, be ideal to develop a lead DNA in which all scoring information is displayed visually. Taking into account the lead score and lead grade dimensions, matched to “proposition” and “buyer internship,” a the DNA of an this lead could look like this:
The lead in the “DNA” visual above is theoretically in the market for CRM software and may eventually be interested in call center solutions. For call center solutions, the “grade” profile has an even better match. Finally, the profile has shown some interest in an ERP system but it is not significant enough to act upon.
Getting Started with Lead Scoring
A DNA profile based on all lead scoring dimensions would be ideal for every marketer, and this ideal gets closer as tools mature. To get started with lead scoring, however, get the basics right first. Current best practice shows us that marketing automation systems in the field of lead tracking functionality still differ widely. But within a well-oiled marketing machine, clear insights into the DNA of your leads should be top priority.
Research shows that content creation is seen as one of the biggest challenges for content marketing. It’s not just authors who suffer from a ‘writers block’, complete organizations face this problem. Creating content in itself is challenging, however, due to the rapid growth of content marketing initiatives, distinctive content is becoming more and more important. When content becomes a repetition of previously published knowledge or facts, the added value is limited. Providing content of high quality, with unique characteristics, increases its appeal. Here is what to create and where to begin.
Which content formats can best be applied, is of course an interesting question. The Content Marketing Institute 2016 carried out relevant research on this subject matter. Approximately 1500 B2B marketers that took part in the survey, were questioned as to the effectiveness and the use of different content marketing tactics. The tactics that are perceived as most effective, are shown in the figure below.
The effectiveness of a format depends very much on the message and the audience, but also, of course, on the quality of the content and reach of the audience. It’s impossible to single out one format or offer advice on the best application thereof. It is possible however, to logically link content formats to the buyer journey. In order to stimulate the discovery process trend analyses, vision and infographics can be suitable. The consideration phase, however, lends itself to formats that can transmit more in-depth messaging, for example, whitepapers, checklists and demos.
Furthermore, the chosen content formats must be suited to the DMU (Decision Making Unit) member they are targeted at. When establishing the framework for the use of online messaging, the DMU members and the phases of the buying process should serve as the starting point. As such, downloadable research reports and vision documentation can be interesting for executive board members, and whitepapers about organizational issues for line managers.
Here, individual content items are not standalone entities, but rather combined in order to reinforce one another. In the example above, research can be combined with roundtable sessions. But that same research, can give rise to, among other things, blogs for blogsites and infographics to be applied on social media. The same basic content is then used in a different context, aimed at different DMU members.
An essential characteristic of B2B content marketing planning, is that it’s always thought of in terms of the buyer perspective. Naturally many organizations are used to communicating from their own context, resulting in messages from themselves or regarding the products or services they offer. This is exactly where content marketing differs from traditional marketing.
In order to give some necessary structure with regard to issues arising from your audience and answers that can help people in forming their ideas, two commonly used marketing concepts can be applied: the buyer journey and the decision making unit consisting of buyer personas.
The buyer journey
Commercial decisions are generally not made overnight. Decision makers undergo a process known as the ‘buyer journey’. Before making investment decisions, people generally first arrive at an idea. The current situation, for example, is no longer sufficient, or external developments create the possibility for new opportunities, or threats, which need to be dealt with. Subsequently the possibilities are examined, for which improvements can be made and implemented. Finally, the various options are assessed and decisions are made. This ‘journey’ can be divided into five stages:
- Discovery: the starting point is recognition or acknowledgement of a problem or challenge. Followed by acceptance that a solution must be found.
- Consideration: subsequently it’s necessary to find solutions. Internally wishes and requirements are reviewed and externally all the possibilities are lined up. This search generally ends with the preference for one, or a limited number of, suppliers.
- Decision: finally you move towards the execution of a choice. Therefore the chosen option must be justifiable and give the ‘feel good’ factor.
- Implement: after the actual purchase the product or service needs to be implemented or taken into use. As supplier it’s key to optimize this process.
- Use: finally the service or product is taken into use. Now it’s essential to turn users into fans!
The phase in which the buyer finds himself within their journey, influences the type of messages he is open to. Someone busy forming ideas, is not necessarily open to the hard sell, or a message pushing your unique selling points. Messages that stimulate the discovery phase, could be more relevant. Think, for example, of content related to trends, developments and possibilities.
The phases that comprise the buyer journey, can be translated to suitable messages as displayed in the diagram below:
Content to raise inspiration is meant to activate the discovery process in a customer at an early stage of the buying process.
Informative content is aimed at supporting companies, or individuals, in the consideration phase. In this phase you can for instance help setting up the right requirements, identifying pitfalls and reviewing all potential solutions to a specific challenge.
Convincing content is used for the actual promotion of your own solution. It can be sensible to distinguish stimulating content from other content. This way, the reader perceives awareness content and informative content independent from each other. Independence is important to retain the reader’s attention.
The purchase or investment, is followed by installation or use. This first confrontation with the product or service is the moment to form the basis of customer satisfaction. Through assisting content, the organization can, at this stage, provide maximum service to the newly acquired customer.
The commissioning signals the start of the ‘permanent’ relationship with the customer. Content can play an important role in increasing customer satisfaction, brand engagement and customer loyalty.
The decision making unit
A smart marketing strategy doesn’t merely look at the buying process, but also considers the various members within the decision making unit (DMU). The DMU includes the group of people with an organization that influences the decision making process surrounding the purchase of products or services. Kotler, inventor of the term DMU, defines six different DMU roles:
- Initiator: The initial problem owner that went in search of the solution to his or her problem.
- Users: The actual users of the products or services, they influence the specifications. Customers’ customers can fall under the category of users.
- Influencers: They influence the buying process by setting preconditions. They are in every layer of an organization.
- Buyer: The person that actually conducts negotiations for contract terms with the supplier.
- Decision maker: The person that eventually decides on the supplier.
- Gatekeeper: The gatekeeper takes care of the information distribution within the DMU and can therefore significantly influence the decision making process.
The DMU members can fulfill any number of roles.
If we combine the buyer journey and the decision making unit, we can establish a framework. This framework provides an overview of the stumbling blocks and the motives involved in the buying process of more complex products and services. By analyzing and examining this framework on each item, we can establish the relevant communication messages. Figure 2.7. provides a basic illustration of a standard overview in such a framework. This framework can be set up for each product-market combination.
This simplified framework, for example, consists of a director, a manager and a user. In terms of discovery at executive level (director), his or her perspective is the starting point for shaping the relevant messaging. At this level, strategic aspects could be relevant. The executive board could question whether or not the organization is ready for the developments in the market. Furthermore, the executive board wants to have an idea of the relevant trends the organization should anticipate. However, if we look at the same phase (discovery) in terms of the user, aspects that could influence them to consider change are, for example, operational issues in the day-to-day functioning of the business.
Your B2B content marketing plan
When it’s clear what messaging the organization will aim at which DMU members, or buyer personas, an important step has been taken. Based on this context, a tactical B2B content marketing plan can be established. The plan will contain a description of how the market will be approached, fed by the knowledge from the buyer journey and DMU.
The tactical B2B content marketing plan makes choices regarding buyer persona’s, messaging, content formats and media. This is not a one-time exercise, but a process that, based on the dynamics of the market and the response of, and interaction with, the target audiences, is continuously adjusted, expanded and developed. Forming the concept is the basis, the starting point of the tactical B2B content marketing plan. In order to further solidify the process and to provide the conversion from concept to market and organization shape and content, the content marketing plan includes:
- starting points and preconditions
- choice in content formats
- production- and editorial planning
- (social) media plan
- conversion mechanisms
- organizational implementation
- technical implementation