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Most organizations go through five stages of B2B content marketing maturity. Making the jump from stage three to stage four is often the most difficult – and the most critical – to generate ROI from content marketing.

With the right approach to lead scoring, commercial teams can use content to build pipelines, increase brand awareness, and ultimately grow revenue.

To recap, in stage three of this maturity curve, marketing teams realize their sales teams aren’t getting real value from leads. For example, the sales team might not have the bandwidth to handle the volume of leads generated from content. As a result, leads are often treated the same. And since not all buyer’s journeys are the same, treating leads the same means sales opportunities can and will be missed.

Fast forward to stage four when “Marketing makes a concentrated effort to identify purchase intent so that only the best opportunities are passed to sales.” This process of identifying sales winnable leads can be easier with a hands-on approach to lead scoring that doesn’t rely too heavily on automation.

The Buyer’s Journey Can’t Be Fully Automated

Marketers want to buy some software, upload some spreadsheets, and instantly know which leads are worth sending to the sales team. Yes, it’s important for marketing teams to scale and to operate efficiently. But that doesn’t mean lead scoring should become a set-it-and-forget-it task. Yet marketing automation vendors treat lead scoring as a straightforward process guided by simple yes/no inputs. Those inputs struggle to keep up with the complexity of the B2B buyer’s journey, which is far from black and white.

Gartner reminds us, “B2B buying doesn’t play out in any kind of predictable, linear order. Instead, customers engage in what one might call ‘looping’ across a typical B2B purchase...Buying jobs don’t happen sequentially, but more or less simultaneously.” You can find an insightful graphic to go along with Gartner’s assertion in their research, “The New B2B Buying Journey.”

The complex, non-linear, ever-changing nature of B2B purchasing is why lead scoring can’t be fully automated. Effective lead scoring requires unbiased human intelligence to apply industry expertise and to understand the buyer’s journey.

Without this layer of human intelligence, automated lead scoring systems can lull you into thinking you are "doing marketing." When that happens – when you start thinking of your buyers as basic inputs for a tool or platform – then you run the risk of squandering the valuable data generated from your content.

Applying Industry Expertise To Lead Scoring

Despite the best intentions from the rapidly growing landscape of marketing technology vendors, no lead scoring tool comes hard-wired with industry expertise. Lead scoring tools are designed for all marketers. The same system can often be used by a marketer targeting buyers shopping at a local pet store to evaluate different brands of dog food and by marketers targeting buyers searching for a contract development and manufacturing organization to help their pharmaceutical company bring a new therapy to market. In B2B marketing, it’s important to deliver content to a very specific someone, not to everyone. And lead scoring tools struggle to understand this.

For example, a supplier in the life sciences space might assign, say, 20 points to a content engagement from a contact at a large pharmaceutical company. Conversely, a contact from a small, emerging pharmaceutical company might only earn 10 points. On the surface, that makes sense: the higher the revenue opportunity, the higher the lead score.

But at a large pharmaceutical company, the buyer’s journey involves a much bigger purchasing group. One person from a 5,000-employee company can’t reveal much in terms of purchase intent. Compare that to a small, emerging pharma company with 50 employees. That company might only have one or two key people making outsourcing decisions.

So, for lead scoring to effectively determine when to send a prospect to the sales team, you might need a different threshold of engagement depending on the company size. The minimum threshold for a large pharmaceutical company might be engagement from five different stakeholders, whereas even a single engagement from a small, emerging pharmaceutical company might warrant sales involvement.

How you weight each input will depend more on your understanding of the buyer’s journey in your industry than on your understanding of how to properly configure your lead scoring tool.

Scoring Buyer’s Journey Activity

Lead scoring is inherently biased toward the late stages of the buyer’s journey when buyers willingly interact with suppliers. At least half to two-thirds of the buyer’s journey happens before this, and that activity is key to identifying behavior patterns and understanding purchase intent.

This is a compounding problem for marketers. Obviously, it’s hard to score anonymous activity, much of which happens in the early and middle stages of the purchasing process. And because of that, suppliers don’t give enough weight to that activity in their lead scoring system. So, marketing produces more and more late-stage content instead of investing in helpful early- and middle-stage content. As a result, by the time a buyer is scored high enough to pass to sales, it’s already too late to have any real influence on the final decision.

Proper lead scoring should account for early- and middle-stage buyer’s journey activity and the activity happening outside of your own brand. In an ideal system, marketers would input individual contact-level information and behavioral data such as:

  • When a prospect engages with a piece of non-vendor editorial content on a related topic
  • When a prospect engages with competitor content
  • When a prospect shares a piece of content
  • When a prospect searches for a piece of content versus engaging with a piece of content pushed to them

This point cannot be overstated: Buyers want to remain anonymous to suppliers during most of the buyer’s journey. Fortunately, B2B publishers can help suppliers uncover some of that otherwise anonymous buyer’s journey activity. We wrote about this – what we call “marketing’s biggest blind spot” – in a previous article, “Imagining An Ideal Application Of Behavioral Analytics.”

Your sales team doesn’t care if anonymous buyers from a company are active on your website. A sales rep doesn’t care if it takes a lead 100 points or 1,000 points before being logged in your CRM. What sales teams care about is finding individual people within a decision-making group who are actively looking to buy. But even the best lead scoring platform can’t find those individuals without reliable third-party data.

With a hands-on approach to lead scoring, B2B sales and marketing teams can deliver helpful content to the right buyers at the right time. And that is exactly what it means to follow your buyer.

About the author

Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

You might know me as a writer, coach, content marketer, dog lover, editor, golfer, sales strategist, Diet Coke enthusiast, speaker, Allegheny alum, project manager, feminist, networker, or St. Louis Cardinals fan. 

We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.

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Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset

A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.