How can brands optimize the customer’s journey through the funnel?


And how can brands leverage contact scoring to increase sales?


Stephen Cuccio is here to share his digital marketing expertise.


Stephen is the Vice President of Business Development at AirTank, a full-service design, development, and marketing consultancy with a track record of increasing sales for their clients.


In this episode, he’ll cover:

  • What is lead nurturing
  • Top questions to ask a new prospect
  • Building long-term partnerships with clients
  • How to approach lead scoring
  • And more


Mentioned in this episode:



Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.


Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is funnel journeys and contact scoring. Here to speak with me is Stephen Cuccio, who’s the Vice President of Business Development at AirTank, a full service design, development and marketing consultancy with a track record of increasing sales for their clients. 


Stephen is an accomplished Business Development Executive with over 10 years of experience in digital marketing, and the Software as a Service industry. He has successfully led sales and marketing initiatives at multiple growth based companies to exceed year over a year revenue goals. His success comes from a strong knowledge of the digital marketing space and the ability to build long term partnerships with each client that his team onboards. Stephen, welcome to the show.


Stephen Cuccio: Thanks for having me, Steffen. Super excited to be here.


Steffen: Before we start talking about funnel journeys, and contact scoring, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career, and what led you to leading the Business Development at AirTank?


Stephen: Sure, yeah, happy to start there. So I grew up outside of New York, went to school in Pennsylvania. And I always like to start with a little background. I ended up in North Carolina, which is where I’m at currently. And the reason being was kind of the age old fell in love with a girl in college and followed her. But, it worked out. So we’re married now and everything’s good. 


But came down in North Carolina right after school, bounced around a little bit. And then started with a company called 97 Display, which is a SaaS company that specializes in front end lead generation for martial arts and fitness hyperlocal businesses. So they had a pretty good track record. I joined a very basic kind of lead generation salesperson making a lot of outbound phone calls, and had the ability to learn very quickly. 


We were a small business, I entered at number 11, or 12, in the company. And I was able to kind of get my hands dirty right off the bat. Figured out how to build out some journey mapping, figured out how to put in some email marketing campaigns and nurturing campaigns to warm up some of those cold call lists that we were working through. And we saw some pretty rapid success based on both partnerships we’ve established and some of these campaigns that we put in place. 


So through that worked my way up into developing what we called an outbound sales and business development team. Was leading that team while still helping with our inbound leads, then eventually took over both the inbound and outbound as well as the marketing department and really put an emphasis on high close rates through outbound lead generation. And these long term partnerships that we established were a really, really good referral track record for us. So was there for a good part of my career, we saw a lot of success. 


And then like a lot of folks out there COVID hit and that was a huge kind of turn on our business, especially being in the leisure business. A lot of fitness gyms were closed, a lot of martial arts gyms were closed around the world for good reason. And we just, we weren’t able to pivot in a way that I was looking to pivot as quickly. We were corporately owned, that comes with a lot of other challenges out there. 


So I jumped to a true lead generation firm out of Raleigh, a great company called Three Ships. And what we did there as we focused preliminary on home services, and it was through owned and operated sites, and all organic lead generation. So we would write an article, what time of year should I be starting to mow my lawn? That article would rank really well from an SEO standpoint. 


We would generate a ton of traffic through high value domains and partnerships, like Better Homes and Gardens and this old house, some of these really cool publications that are out there. We would take those leads, throw a lead form in there, generate contact information, and then be able to sell off that contact information to some of the largest brands in the home service space. 


We were working with True Green and Terminix and Orkin and some large roofing companies like Mr Roof and all that kind of stuff. And it was a lot of fun. I got to work with a lot of fortune 100 companies, we grew the business super quickly. We were triple digit year over year growth company. And I had the ability to implement some of the same strategies that I learned at 97 into that business. 


And we saw a lot of success there. So long story short, I was introduced to our current CEO at AirTank. He said, hey, there’s an opportunity for a vice president kind of leadership role within the business. We’re really looking to grow this thing pretty rapidly. And he thought that I was good fit and I agreed. 


So I was able to jump over into AirTank and started implementing a lot of the business development and marketing strategies that I’ve used throughout my career, both on the services side, which is our AirTank digital marketing service business. And then on our care cart software side, which kind of dovetails from our services business, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. Definitely challenging, but it’s what I signed up for, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,


Steffen: That’s a great journey so far. Now, lead nurturing obviously, is important. I mean, you know, obviously, there are people that have an immediate need, and then when they express it, and then you can fulfill that need, you know, like this high that they sign up with you. But you know, some leads need some time to, you know, till they mature, till they actually are ready to talk. Till they’re ready to sign on. So, talk about, from your point of view, what is lead nurturing? And where does it fit?


Stephen: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree with you. I think it’s people lose sight of where folks are in the funnel and the decision making process. And really more people than not are in the data gathering stage than we think they are, right. And what we’ve seen throughout the teams that I’ve led and worked in, you almost you talk to somebody and you’re like, hey, they’re ready to purchase, they want to partner with me right now. 


And that’s where the quote unquote, kind of salesy think of like the old school car salesman mentality comes in. And that’s something that we really want to get away of. So with the lead nurturing aspect, really relies around thought leadership in the space, identifying a true partnership for the long term with that potential partner that you’re working with, and then continuing to nurture them throughout the process of, hey, what’s friction? 


What’s the friction points in your business currently? And how can you alleviate them? Both from a paid partnership opportunity, and then an unpaid partnership opportunity through your expertise and your thought leadership to be able to kind of get them to where they need to go in the process.


Steffen: Yeah, what I’m hearing you saying is basically, I think, a lot has to do with getting to know your prospect, and getting to know what are the pain points of your prospect? What can you do to alleviate them? Right? And then where are they in their journey? Right, as you said, I mean, someone might be just, you know, checking in on companies, and then kind of do a preliminary list. 


Who they’re like to, who they gel with, you know, who does really have the expertise that they’re looking for, compared to others who have done that without contacting you. You know, there are obviously for every company, enough sources out there that one can use. And they might be already done with that. 


And they might be down to two or three companies. And now they really want to talk exactly what you can deliver. How do you approach that? How do you get them all to talk because not many, although people are looking, it doesn’t necessarily mean, they’re kind of laying all the information out in front of you?


Stephen: I think that’s a great question. And I think you hit on a really important point, which are, everybody talks about marketing qualified leads, and sales qualified leads. Really, the marketing qualified lead aspect of things is true automation, with customization in thought leadership. So here’s why we’re really good at what we do. Here’s why we do what we do, and aligning some of those folks that haven’t really been able to connect with a salesperson or business development person yet to establish our personal relationship. 


But identifying the needs kind of at a high level, right? That’s super important. There’s a lot of really important strategies that go into it. And we can certainly dive into that right from leveraging email lists to contact scoring with software like Active Campaign and HubSpot. And identifying those in there. 


The second part of this, which is really where I think a lot of people fall off, on the sales side, is that taking that sales qualified lead, and really building your own nurture within that. So identifying a true good discovery process, identifying friction points, bringing in partners from in the business, to identify, hey, I need a more technical person to speak to the friction alleviation on this aspect. Or I want this person to talk to our in-house SEO specialists. 


Because when I know what at an SEO level, they appreciate, but they really want to get into the details of maybe kind of the meta descriptions that are involved within this specific page opportunity. And that’s really what we’ve been able to see work better than not is the sense of allowing to show, hey, we’re an open book. And we’re here not only to help you, but and partner with you long term, but we’re here to kind of like, give you these nuggets right off the bat that you can start seeing success based on the value of our phone call right off the bat. 


And that’s where you establish true partnership, you care about your prospect right off the bat. And that’s where what we’re calling lead nurturing really turns into partnership nurturing, and then at some point, when if, even if in the sales cycle, they say, hey, I’m not able to step in and spend $100,000 on a brand new website design, you’re in the forefront of their mind. 


Anytime they have questions regarding the space of digital marketing and web design, they’re gonna call you first. And whether you’re able to help them or not, you might refer them to a partner and you might give them a little nugget here, but you’re going to be first on their list when they have that big project and it’s because all the work you’ve put into the front end.


Steffen: Yeah, before we focus more on the lead nurturing side, what are the top, I don’t know, three, five questions that you always ask in your first call with a prospect where it’s like, I need answers to these questions in order to know what to do and how to move forward.


Stephen: Yeah, great question. So it really stems from high level motivation. So depending on this specific task, right, whether it’s paid, organic, web dev, whether we’re talking about software. What I really want to boil it down to is, what’s the motivation and what’s the true friction that you’re dealing with right now? Is it a monetary motivation? Is it a time motivation? Are you looking to eliminate headcount on your staff or not have to hire more folks by implementing some sort of automation that we can help you with? 


And through those questions, it’s stuff like, what’s your goal over the next year within developing a new website, right? Are you looking to inform your clients? Is it more back to base sales method? Are you looking to go and generate new leads or sales? Identifying some of those high level tactics will allow us to kind of peel back the layers, and it doesn’t turn into more of a well, everybody needs SEO, so we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. 


We really want to make sure that we’re bringing in conversation and saying, hey, SEO is super important. But what’s important within your brand, what do you want to talk about? How are you going to take this thought leadership mentality, and put it out into the market to generate more leads and sales, because that’s ultimately the goal of everything you do in digital marketing. 


But because it’s so noisy, we really need to differentiate. And the only way we’re able to do that is to identify brand mission, vision, values, and almost separate it from, hey, here’s the action item. Here’s the motivation behind the action item. How do we get there? And why is it important to get there?


Steffen: Interesting. Now, as I said, going back to nurturing. What’s the correct mix of touches within nurturing? I mean, there are the obviously, several ways you can reach out to people. You can send them text message, emails, you can give them a call, you can send them snail mail, etc. So from your perspective, what do you do, but what is also the right mixture of touches?


Stephen: Sure. Yeah. So I’ll start kind of high level, right. When we’re thinking about marketing qualified leads, that can be from any channel, it could be from a trade show, it could be from SEO, from paid work, both social and PPC. Let’s say somebody dumps into the top of the funnel. Hey, they’ve heard about Steffen’s digital marketing agency, they specialize in SEO, I might want to learn more, here’s my email, you can now contact me. 


First thing we’re going to do is we’re going to put them into an educational nurture drip, that’s going to encourage thought leadership that we’re putting into the market through our blog, through different features and partnerships. One of the things that we do at AirTank that’s been super value for us, is work with, to be able to collaborate and post thought leadership articles there to provide a little value. 


So we’re going to continue to pepper that. Hey, we’re really good at what we do. And hopefully you’re taking some of these tidbits and implementing them on your end as you continue to go through that journey we’re then going to establish a score. And we use HubSpot as our contact scoring mechanism. There’s a lot of really great software out there. I’ve used Active Campaign in the past, MailChimp has something like that, you know, the list goes on and on. 


But you’re going to establish a specific score for open rates, click through rates, engagement within that email. And then depending on where you’re at, and what your ability is from a sales cycle, once they exceed a certain score, it’s going to move into what we call a sales qualified lead. And the actual touches within the marketing aspect really is going to be more email driven, right. And social engagement. The direct avenue is going to be email, but we want to push them to follow us on social, LinkedIn, Twitter, all that good stuff. 


We’re going to push them to specific webinars that are again, not sales webinars, they’re thought leadership, hey, we have this case study. And we’re going to bring on this client to talk about their stuff that we worked on and see if there’s some synergy there. It’s really, we take more of an informational passive approach in the marketing qualified aspect, right really want to establish that we’re experts in the space, we want to provide as much, I hate to use the word free insight, right. 


But we want to establish as much content and as much insight as possible to get that prospect kind of warming up to the ability to work with us on a paid engagement. Once they exceed a contact score, they’re going to jump over to the sales qualified lead. And that’s really where the human element comes in. That’s where our sales team is going to email, call, text message, follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever the avenue is that makes sense for that specific channel. 


And it’s going to be very much similar aspects, maybe sprinkled in with a little bit more personal touch. And the call to action is always, let’s jump on a phone call. How can I help you with this? How can I help you with that? What we’ve seen is on the sales qualified lead, it’s going to take anywhere between seven and 15 what we call touches, which is exactly what you said right? Email, phone call, social media, text message, all that stuff. 


And those number of touches, only turns into what we call conversion if they’re able to book a phone call, right. And that’s really where once we get them on the phone, that’s where the sales mentality and the true thought leader partnership aspect starts to kick in, we’re talking about pulling back the discovery lines. But it’s a long cycle. 


And I think people sometimes lose track of putting in all of that front end work. In order to get to the point where the goal here is not, you’re always going to have those quick referral sales, or if you’re doing things right in your business, those are going to trickle through, right. Those are, what I like to call icing on top of the cake. 


Where we really build and grow our business is through this lead nurturing journey, that’s consistent. We know we’re gonna get X number of people that come through this funnel on a given month. And we can base our Predictable Revenue Model off of that, to be able to kind of say, alright, it’s March now, by June, we’re expecting X, Y, and Z. 


Let’s go ahead and hire for that specific person there, and we can start becoming a little bit more predictable, in that sense. And that’s kind of where I think people lose track is, you have to put in all that good work in order to get these really good prospects out. And that’s where you establish those partnerships and that referral waterfall continues to open up.


Steffen: I love what you said, or the way how your approach is kind of breaking up between the marketing part and the sales part. I think a lot of times, I don’t probably have to include ourselves. It’s like, we see a lead and we immediately are in sales mode, right. And then the information we send is way too pushy, way too salesy. And I think thinking more or breaking up in a face that is really marketing focused where it’s not sales focused, it’s really about education. 


And being seen as that thought leader, as that company that knows the problems that prospect potentially have. That has answers to that and shares them without asking for anything, kind of establish the relationship. And then once they’re really ready to move to the next level, that’s when you start to be a little bit more salesy. You know, when you do a little bit more to push towards, let’s chat, let’s put a time on my calendar kind of thing, you know. 


But it’s kind of nicely separated. Because the first part is the warm up part, I always give the example is like, when you go on a first date, I mean, if you go down on a knee, even if you completely, you know, like in love with the person after the first date, in 99 out of 100 cases, that person will say no, and you will never see that person again, right. 


And it’s the same thing. It takes time. It needs to kind of marinate to get them to the next point, to make them, or get them ready to take the sales call or to come on a call with you and talk shop, so to speak.


Stephen: And the best part of that is if you do all the legwork up front, and you establish the thought leadership and you provide true value, you get to the sales part, the value is already established. And more times than not those folks that you spend more time on the marketing side to really warm up and lead are your top paying, most valuable clients because they respect what you do. And they’re willing to pay at a premium for your expertise. Those are the folks that stay with you long term.


Steffen: And it’s much easier to convert them. A lot of the things that you usually would have to do on a sales conversation, you don’t have to, you don’t have to convince them that you are the right person, they already went through that, you know from the information you shared. Now, let’s talk about scoring. You kind of mentioned it with your answer. Talk about what that allows us to do. And then how do you approach lead scoring?


Stephen: Sure, yeah. So lead scoring allows us to kind of pare down our targeted lists, to a sense that we don’t have a sales team that’s calling on lists of 1000s and 1000s and 1000s. It takes kind of that needle in the haystack, and eliminates really 75% of the haystack. I’m not gonna say it’s not challenging to get these folks on the call. 


But if you can kind of pare back and pull back the mountain a little bit more, it becomes a little bit more targeted of an approach. So the way that we go at it is we leverage an intent data software platform out there. It’s called deal signal. They’re a competitor to zoom infos. There’s a million other platforms out there, right. 


There’s certainly ways that you can establish and build your tech stack that makes sense, both from a value standpoint and a monetary standpoint. But we leverage that intent data that they’re able to scrub and clean up for us. And then we drop them into our marketing qualified nurture trip, right, which is automated. Your HubSpot like I mentioned. The nice thing about the intent data software is we’re able to plug in specific keywords that make sense for that specific drip that we’re establishing. 


And it’s not necessarily a drip that is all of AirTank, right? There’s a drip that’s associated with AirTank SEO, AirTank PPC, AirTank paid social, AirTank web development. So then it’s really catered on a high level to what data it might depend on. That’s where we’re able to establish and identify the folks that are engaging right off the bat. The contact score is gonna go way through the roof. That’s somebody that’s hot, we want to get them on the phone right now. 


Now let’s say they’re not as engaged right off the bat, what we’ve been able to do because we’ve established these different funnels is kind of cross pollinate the funnels, and continue to establish, hey, we’re experts, not only in this channel, but this channel and this channel. And that’s where the scoring becomes really important. Because if we see up to a system of 15. So 15 is our cap to be able to start saying, hey, all right, let’s get people on the phone. 


And the way that we score is an email open is one, an email engagement, an engagement means clicking on the link to us is three, and an email response automatically pushes them over the threshold to 15. The call to action within all of our emails, and our engagement is always hey, book a call, book a call, book a call. Use Calendly, you can use HubSpot meetings to do that. But a lot more times than you would think folks want to just correspond via email before, they’re just going to book a call with a stranger, right. 


So we need to make sure that we have capacity for that, that’s going to alleviate some of the ability for our sales reps, our business development folks to you know, just cold call through, right. They’re doing a lot more engagement through chat features, whether it’s email or LinkedIn, or text message than they are on a phone call. 


A lot of the phone call meetings or pre established zoom meetings, that are like, hey, we’re gonna do discovery for this specific topic on this call. And that also eliminates a lot of no show rates, right? Being able to engage and warm these people up and say, hey, I’m a real person, I really care about you, I don’t want to just get you on the phone and sell you. 


It eliminates a lot of kind of the, what I call turnover from the business development side where you jump on a call and somebody doesn’t show up after minutes, you’re like, should I stay for five more? Should I leave and do something else? You know, that dance going on.


Steffen: That makes a lot of sense. It sounds like a pretty easy scoring approach, right? 1 point for, you know, opening the email, three points for clicking on it. Now software these days also allows you to measure once you have people in your system. So for example, we use Active Campaign. When someone comes to our website, they’re being recognized. How do you deal with that information? How does that play a role in your scoring?


Stephen: Sure, yeah, that’s a great establishment. We haven’t necessarily gotten to that level of scoring in AirTank, but I did that at 97 Display with our specific scoring system. We again, used HubSpot and created a pixel campaign in order to establish where they’re at within the funnel. We added half a point per page, and leveraged it based on pages that we thought were more intent pages, right. 


So homepage, we didn’t really count as a score, because they could click on a home page accidentally, right? I do that on my phone all the time, I’ll click on a link on Instagram, and I’m not meant to be there. Where we really find interest is the contact page is number one, that’s a full point to us. Landing pages are half a point, if they’re specific landing pages with a call to action of let’s book a meeting about X, Y, and Z. 


And then what we called our services pages. So those were, what does the software do? How can it help you? As well as our case study pages. We really wanted to establish a scoring mechanism with folks that are looking for referrals, testimonials, case studies, because now they’ve taken the next step of, oh, I know 97 Display’s brand, or I know AirTank as a brand. 


Who are they? Who works with them? Why are they important? Do they have folks that like them? That’s when you start to peel back the layers and it becomes a little bit more intent around hey, I want to learn more about this. So we always establish and we use decimal points just because we didn’t find a full engagement to be necessary. 


You can play around with whatever point system based on your team’s capacity. But really the intent pages turn into the landing pages that you’re running your campaigns to. Your case studies, your contact us page, your services page.


Steffen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Now we already started talking about software. You mentioned obviously HubSpot a few times. I just mentioned Active Campaign. You mentioned deal signal. What software should a company use to kind of put it all together, right? I mean, there are some people out there that say well, you know, get the best systems and cobble them together. 


You know when you have HubSpot. HubSpot does a huge amount of things obviously. Comes at a price obviously too. Where’s your thought? What systems are required? Or what system would you say a company should definitely have? And then what are your thoughts on one system versus several systems?


Stephen: Sure. And I’ve been in situations where we’ve done both. We’ve done the here’s a tech stack of 10 different software’s and we’re going to create a giant zap and it’s going to be stuff moving around the world. And we’re currently using HubSpot. That’s our ecosystem for everything. I would say at a minimum level, we need a marketing software, which is just an email software that may or may not have contact scoring, right, depending on the sophistication of what you’re trying to do right off the bat. 


And we need a sales software. That can be super linear. That could be something like, I’ve used Pipedrive in the past. It’s excellent or inexpensive. You can leverage something like Also inexpensive. Might be a little bit more task related, but you can build out. I’ve seen folks that use Asana boards that set up both tasks from a sales standpoint, and then an automation standpoint in there. 


So at base level is going to be one marketing for email and outbound messaging, one sales for just logging communication with your business development side. Now, my opinion, let’s say money’s not an object, we have an unlimited bank account, which everybody would love, right? I’m a firm believer in keep everything under one ecosystem. 


Because I’ll use HubSpot, for example, because it’s a real time software that we’re using, I have the ability to roll up an executive level dashboard that we’re able to show to our board of directors and say, here are the four KPIs that are really driving the business. And this is what you really care about. 


You don’t care about anything else. Right? Then I’m able to peel back the layers from a reporting standpoint to show our C suite, which, you know, our VPs and our CEO sit on our weekly leadership meeting, and I can show them a second level KPIs. I can get KPIs rolled up from my marketing director and my business development director, I can pull exactly what I need and establish kind of the friction points within there. 


Hey, I’m noticing this context score isn’t equating to the conversion percentage that it should be. Why is that? And I don’t have to go into different softwares. I know exactly where the points are under one roof, right. I don’t think it’s necessary right off the bat. 


But if you can get to that level of sophistication with Salesforce or HubSpot, there’s a bunch of them out there now. But it allows you to kind of keep everything a little bit more organized from a transparency standpoint within your organization.


Steffen: That’s a great point. Now, listen, unfortunately, Stephen, we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast episode. That went by fast I have to say. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on full journey, contact scoring, in all the things that we talked about. If people want to find out more about you, about AirTank, how can they get in touch?


Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. You can always reach me on LinkedIn. It’s just Stephen Cuccio. C u c c i o. Feel free to add me, connect with me, send me a message on LinkedIn, I love stuff like that. I love answering questions, networking, all that good stuff. If you want to find me via AirTank, it’s just A i r t a n Actually, stay tuned, we’re launching a new website, which I’m really excited about. 


So hopefully, that’s something that will be coming shortly. And if you want to always email me directly, my direct email which again, happy to answer any questions, is scuccio, c u c c i o And this is a topic that I really enjoyed. I wish we had unlimited time, because I can sit here and talk with you for hours, Steffen. This has really been enjoyable. I really appreciate it.


Steffen: Perfect. Yeah, I agree. We probably could have kind of gone and dove a little bit deeper on some of the topics we talked about before. Now listen, everyone, as always, the information you will find in the show notes. Thanks for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.


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