Retooling B2B Sales Force for Digital Leadscoring
By Shashank Vaid
University of Houston
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Marketing literature has been rather scanty on leadscoring models that use marketing automation technologies and score potential buyers on the basis of a set of weighted parameters that capture the digital behavior of the incoming customers. The goal of leadscoring models is to determine which leads can be handed over to sales teams. Given B2B’s focus on high-value customer relationships, such lead prequalification and digital tracking are crucial for B2B sales reps’ pursuit of leads. However, my research finds that in practice marketing relies heavily on a recipe of mostly digital factors that score the customer’s online behavior through the buying process. Due to marketing’s bias towards a recipe of factors that map user behavior only digitally, non-digital, customer specific factors embedded in salesperson’s knowledge on a given lead tend to get underestimated. For instance, marketing’s automated leadscoring algorithm is biased in favor of inbound customers’ digital behaviors (e.g., visiting undesirable pages, clicking links, unsubscribing, filling out forms etc.). Nevertheless, marketing’s digitally sourced leadscoring algorithm appears to ignore non-digital customer characteristics (including expected sales revenue, number of employees, industry, geographic location etc.), or salesperson knowledge on a given lead (e.g., chance of success, lost opportunities, days to opportunity etc.).
Given this context, I leverage Akerlof’s (1970) information asymmetry perspective to arrive at guiding principles (or propositions) that show that a digital interconnection between marketing and sales force has the potential to rebalance the information asymmetry from the digitally active buyer back to the seller. Using data from two B2B firms with customers across multiple industries, I empirically test my propositions leveraging a mix of hierarchical Bayesian models and randomized field-experiments.
First, I show that a leadscoring mechanism that accounts for not just marketing’s current digital heavy recipe but also salesperson’s knowledge of customer opportunities results in better customer outcomes. Furthermore, I show that as a buyer engages with the salesforce late in the buying process, crucial benefits expected to accrue to the firm may have already been lost. Once in the late stage of the buying process, the window of opportunity tightens for the B2B seller who lacks awareness of buyer’s digital behavior early in the buying process. Finally, I propose that sharing information from marketing’s digital heavy recipe with the field salesforce enables better customer outcomes as it minimizes sales reps digital resistance to adopt salesforce related digital and automation technologies.