B-to-b marketers have become very good at generating and qualifying leads. Through the use of nurturing, inbound marketing, lead scoring, marketing automation platforms and other technol-ogies, many have achieved a level of measurable business contribution they couldn't imagine 10 years ago. However, while there is much to celebrate, there is still significant room for improve-ment. In a complex b-to-b buying process, it is rare for a single individual to make a purchase decision. Instead, there are often a variety of roles with different needs and perspectives involved. The more marketers can do to reach, qualify and link these roles, the more likely they are to deliver high-quality opportunities and create significant sales efficiencies.
As nice as the vision of qualifying entire accounts instead of individuals is, there is no easy way to execute it. The business processes, rules and integrated systems necessary to qualify and track individual leads from source to close continue to challenge many organizations; so how could any company effectively manage the complexity of qualifying accounts? While the challenges are significant, many of the building blocks are in place at leading organizations that are actively planning, or currently executing, account-level qualification. These building blocks include:
Focus on the buying process. Leading organizations have acquired a deep understanding of their prospective customers' buying processes and key buyer personas.
Strong data. Clean and normalized data—with a minimum of duplicate contact and account records—is key to account qualification.
Sales and marketing alignment. Companies that have achieved deep alignment have the shared definitions, processes and trust necessary for account-level qualification.
Content strategy. Many organizations are using their deep buyer knowledge to create content that attracts, engages and qualifies a variety of buyer personas.
New approaches. Adopting lead nurturing, scoring, inbound marketing and website conversion-optimization enables marketers to more effectively reach and attract a variety of buyer types.
Technology integration. At a minimum, integrated technologies should include marketing automation, Web content management and sales force automation. The improved analytics, exchange of data and rules-based processes these technologies enable are necessary to eventually achieve comprehensive and automated account qualification.
The primary way leading organizations are beginning to conduct account-level qualification is through account-level activity scoring. In most cases, this is done via monitoring online activity, using explicit profile data that have already been gathered or IP addresses linked to company information. When there is a spike in account-level activity or significant patterns of activity, it is often a sign that the account has entered an active buying state as a result of an internal triggering event, and alerts can be sent to sales reps so they can reach out to contacts and explore possible new opportunities.
Account-level activity scoring adds a compo-nent to the lead scoring mix. The vast majority of scoring models include individual and company demographics, individual activity and BANT (budget, authority, need and time frame) criteria. With account-level activity as a new lead-scoring component, organizations must adjust scoring models in the following ways:
Define what an account is. Define an account the same way it is defined in your SFA system, because doing so will align with how your reps sell.
Define account activity thresholds. Account-level activity should be viewed in terms of recency, frequency and significance—for example, if multiple contacts from a single account visit specific Web pages over the course of a few business days.
Weigh account activity. Proper weighting of account-level activity will require testing and learning; but, over time, most organizations weigh account activity heavily compared to other components.
While some b-to-b organizations continue to struggle with the complexity of qualifying, managing and tracking individual leads, others are moving quickly toward a new level of sophistication that will provide significant competitive advantages. The good news for lagging organizations is that it will likely take time for account qualification to become a critical factor driving success—but that time is certainly coming.
Jay Gaines is group director-demand at SiriusDecisions Inc. (www.siriusdecisions.com), a sales and marketing research and consulting company.