Generating a bounty of leads doesn't mean your work is done. What's much more important is whether those leads will ultimately convert—and predictive lead scoring is one way B2B marketers can determine if a lead is good or if it belongs on the trash heap.
Predictive intelligence platforms can help B2B marketers prioritize existing prospects or identify unknown prospects through lead scoring. Basically, the technique uses data from both CRM and marketing automation solutions and unites it with data from third-party sources to detect a usable pattern. Lead scoring can boost sales productivity, improve marketing effectiveness and encourage sales/marketing alignment.
"Predictive lead scoring offers a more accurate outcome that B2B marketers and sales reps can rely on and gives you a competitive edge," said Jill Stanek, research analyst for the technology practice at B2B research firm SiriusDecisions.
Predictive lead scoring technology is in its infancy—just a handful of companies offers tools that can be used in the B2B market and the standards for crunching that data are not consistent across the field of providers. But there is a hunger for this capability among B2B marketers. According to SiriusDecisions, there are almost 14 times more B2B organizations with predictive lead scoring today than there were in 2011.
"Using predictive analytics to model the propensity of prospects to buy has been something that's been an important part of B2B marketing for many years now, but we simply didn't have enough data in B2B in prospects and in sales results to take advantage of this [lead scoring] technology," said Kerry Cunningham, research director of demand creation strategies at SiriusDecisions. "But now that we have so much data in B2B, and it's growing all the time, I think the adoption cycle is going to be pretty rapid."
With so few companies offering predictive scoring capabilities, how can B2B marketers go about choosing the right one?
One of the first things to do, Cunningham suggested, is to run trials with several vendors. Have those companies provide you with a set of set of scored leads to test. "There are a couple of ways to do a trial," he said. "One is actually to run a small pilot and test those leads in the field. If you don't have the resources to actually send your salespeople out to try to sell those leads, then at least have salespeople look at them to assess whether or not the leads that this model is saying are good make sense and are leads that they would also agree are good."
Stanek said the next critical thing to consider is the vendor's design and deployment of a scoring system that has been specifically tailored to your needs. "Some of them actually can do it within twenty-four hours and for some it can take up to four weeks." She also said to make sure to ask if a lead scoring vendor actually sources net new contacts; some vendors only score existing contacts. Securing customer references is also a must.
Another important factor for B2B marketers looking to hire a predictive lead scoring vendor is how well that vendor is able to support delivering the leads in a format and in a way that it's going to work well for the ultimate lead recipient. For example, since predictive lead scoring vendors are ultimately going to be providing sales leads that go to either teleprospectors or salespeople, it's important to understand how the scores will be presented to those folks. What's the format? How much info will they get explaining to them why it's a good lead?
"There's not yet a right answer for what's the best way to present it back or what are the best pieces of information to present back to those teleprospectors or salespeople," Cunningham said, "but for each organization there will be some ways of doing it that are better than others. It's going to be pretty individual to the company, but it's extremely important, maybe more important than how good the model is itself."
To help its clients properly evaluate the lead scoring vendor marketplace, SiriusDecisions recently released a guide detailing the pros and cons of several vendors. The report focused on seven vendors—6Sense, Fliptop, Infer, Lattice, Leadspace, Mintigo and Salesfusion.
According to the report, 6Sense may be the platform of choice for high-tech, manufacturing and other B2B enterprises focused on identifying new leads in the early stages of the buying cycle; the company tracks content consumption across thousands of B2B publisher sites, blogs, communities, forums and business directories to help it source leads. In contrast, Fliptop aims its platform at SMBs and larger organizations that use Salesforce.com and examines a company's existing database to identify leads. Infer may also be a good fit for rapidly growing SMBs that require a lead scoring platform that can be easily hooked up to a database of existing prospects.
For B2B marketers with strict security requirements that need multiple scoring models across different business units, or that are focused on account-based marketing, Lattice should be considered. For those organizations, large or small, that leverage multiple buyer personas, have multiple products and need new leads outside an existing database, Leadspace should be on the short list.
If data hygiene is not the best, Mintigo provides data remediation during onboarding; the company also offers insights to marketers interested in using lead scoring to drive content delivery. However, Mintigo requires more work than other similar vendors during initial setup. And, finally, Salesfusion is an affordable option for SMBs that do not currently have a marketing automation platform and are looking for standard marketing automation functionality and predictive lead scoring based on their own data.
Both Stanek and Cunningham emphasized that their recommendations may change due to a vendor landscape that is in flux. For example, since this report was released a few weeks ago, a couple of new vendors are now on the research firm's radar. But change is now here, and both analysts predicted that more and more B2B companies will use predictive lead scoring as new vendors pop up and older ones are acquired by large marketing automation vendors and integrated into their solutions.
"SiriusDecisions estimates that fewer than five hundred B2B organizations are actually using [predictive lead scoring] technology today," Stanek said. "And as a developing market that's rapidly growing, the reality is that not that many companies are actually implementing it. But we definitely estimate significant growth because most organizations that buy predictive lead scoring platforms already have a marketing automation platform in place."