Marketing Needs to Stop Focusing on BS

While new tracking and reporting technologies have given marketing organizations an incredible opportunity to access and monitor online customer activity, many marketers have yet to grasp what this information means and how to use it properly. Instead they tend to focus on more superfluous data points to drive decision making, or as I like to call them Bad Signals (BS).

Bad Signals are buyer attributes and activities that may be valuable in the measurement of marketing campaigns, but without context, don’t actually help to identify who is more likely to convert into a customer.

According to the Sirius Demand waterfall, the industry average MQL to SAL conversion rate is between 53%-68%; meaning that a little more than half of the leads marketing sends to sales are even accepted. For many companies, the conversion rate is significantly less. I believe this is mainly due to our overemphasizing BS in our lead qualification / ranking / scoring models.

The context of an activity is how it aligns to the buyer role, buying stage, and organizational structure. Concentrating primarily on the activity type or even number of activities runs the risk of our misinterpreting the customer’s actual interest in purchasing, i.e. a Bad Signal. Activities like page views, email opens, social media likes, and click through rates, while all important in our marketing reporting, can all become examples of Bad Signals when they are used without understanding the meaning / context behind those activities. Without having this context, none of them truly provide an accurate depiction of which contacts are more likely to purchase and how soon that purchase will take place. Unfortunately, we continue to use these signals as some of the primary ways to determine when a lead is qualified to be passed to sales, or when sales should reach out to an account.

Now don’t mistake my saying that certain activities are Bad Signals means they are negative or that marketers should devalue them. All activities, no matter how big or small are important to our driving customer engagement. However, we simply cannot continue to rely upon these signals alone, at least without understanding their meaning/context, otherwise we will continue to make it more difficult for marketing to align with sales and the direction of the business.

But don’t worry, there is hope! Here are some tips to help battle against BS:

Judge a Book by Its Cover

Every interaction you have with a customer tells you something about them, but to effectively use that information we need to account for the meaning of the activity in relation to who the customer is.

Let’s say you are offering your customers two different whitepapers. The first whitepaper covers future trends in B2B marketing. The second whitepaper highlights the top 10 factors marketers need to know when making the case for purchasing marketing automation. Both assets are promoted the same way, and to the same prospect list. Typically, most marketers consider the download of these two assets as being equivalent, when in actuality they each tell you something very different about the mindset of the customer.

The first whitepaper aligns with the early stage of the purchase process, and demonstrates how the prospect is probably only researching. While the second whitepaper is much farther down the purchase process, indicating the prospect is much closer to purchasing. Same activity, but the meaning behind the activity is significantly different.

The best thing marketers can do in this case is to categorize their assets by type and buying stage. This will dictate what you do with that customer next. For example, a content asset that outlines your product features and benefits would align with the preference stage. If a customer downloads that asset, he or she is probably more likely to want to engage with sales. However, if a customer downloads an early stage content asset that outlines high level market trends, he or she is probably in the beginning stages of the journey. Your next step with them would be to deliver them a mid-stage content asset. Marketers should also consider creating negative scores for certain activities like visiting a career webpage.

Balance the What With the Who

Who I am in relation to my activity is also a key factor in being able to determine the qualification of a lead. For example, I love the research and best practice guides Marketo and HubSpot publish and I read them all the time. They provide valuable insights into how the market is using technology and ways I can improve my own marketing performance. I think I must have downloaded at least 20 of their reports in the last few months. So what does my activity tell you about my intent to purchase? Well if we looked solely at my number of activities, then I meet the criteria of being a hot lead and am a prime target for a sales follow up. However, if you consider my activity in the context of what my role is, marketing consulting, and the buying stage the assets align to, awareness/early, then it becomes clear that I am just an avid researcher, not a good prospect for sales – a perfect example of a Bad Signal.

Marketers should consider creating negative lead scores assigned to certain roles, thereby reducing the likelihood of passing leads over to sales that don’t have the ability to purchase.

Balance the Why With the Who

It’s very difficult for marketers to accurately identify a customer’s role in the decision making process. We tend to rely upon job title because it is easy, but this is another example of a Bad Signal because job titles tell you very little about a person’s role in decision making. I’ve also seen a lot of organizations try to ask customers what their role is in purchasing but this tends to yield less than optimal results. Most of the time the customer either doesn’t want to tell you the truth or purchasing simply isn’t that simple. Pain points, on the other hand, are the easiest and most accurate way to identify someone’s role; and your customers are more than willing to tell you what’s wrong. The key is to develop a set of responses a customer might have, and align those responses with specific roles. For example, if you asked a customer what their greatest challenges are when it comes to marketing automation. An economic buyer would probably answer with something like “making the ROI case.” While a more technical buyer would probably respond with “how the system integrates with my existing CRM.”

In my experience, the most effective ways to elicit pain point information is to do one or more of the following:

  1. Ask your lead generation vendors to include custom pain point questions in their registration forms
  2. Embed these questions into your own registration forms or do progressive profiling
  3. Include these questions in your webinars

The Popular Vote vs. Electoral College

In the past 20-years, we’ve witnessed two presidents lose the popular vote, but win the Electoral College. The Electoral College is supposed to be a representation of the people, yet these two occurrences contradict that idea. We tend to do something very similar in marketing when we make a decision based upon data that may not be an accurate representation of our customers’ interest levels. I believe we run into this issue frequently with our intent-based marketing programs.

Without going too deep into the technical side of IP tracking and its use in ABM programs, IP tracking is the foundation of intent-based marketing. At a high level, intent-based marketing engines track organizations’ IP address activities, match those activities to specific keywords, and based upon the number of keyword specific activities, draws conclusions regarding an organization’s interest in purchasing specific solution types.

Tracking activity on an overall account level assumes that the actions of one part of the organization are representative of the whole. This fails to take into account the complexities of organizations and their purchasing processes, and drastically increases the likelihood of having BS by misinterpreting prospects’ interest in purchasing or ability to purchase. The larger an organization is, the more likely it is that they have multiple different divisions each with very different functions, buying processes and technology infrastructure.

While you may not get a completely accurate representation of an organization’s intent, if you consider these activity levels in the context of how an organization is structured and makes decisions, you can decrease the severity of BS in your marketing campaigns.

Customers’ Purchase Process:

You may find one of your customers has main branch offices that purchase your type of solution for all of the branches in a particular region. For that customer it makes sense for you to focus your tracking and ABM targeting efforts on those main branch locations, and not on all of the smaller branches. Ask your sales team for guidance on how each of your customers makes purchases. They may not know all of the answers, but they’ll certainly know a few.

Customers’ Organizational Structure:

Organizations frequently concentrate specific departments in individual locations. For example, GE’s IT department might be in building 2 in their NY offices, while their HR department is in building 1 of their Boston offices. Each of these locations maintains different IP addresses. To figure out which location is associated with which department, try doing some role specific ad testing, for example IT or Finance or HR, and see which one gets better traction at which location. Then focus your promotional campaigns targeting those specific locations.

What Next?

Take a step back from your marketing programs for a moment, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and think about what the information you are collecting truly tells you about them. I’ll bet you find that a lot of the things you thought are buying indicators are actually Bad Signals. Next, develop a strategy that seeks to understand not just what your customers do, or who your customers are, but why they do what they do. Having a better understanding of the why will not only help improve the success of your marketing programs, but improve your relationships with your customers as well.

If you want to learn more about Bad Signals and how to avoid them, send me a note at