This post was originally published on November 30, 2016, and was updated on April 6, 2020.
“Ugh, I’ve got too many leads!” said no salesperson…ever! True, but many sales teams do struggle to manage and prioritize their leads.
Overwhelmed with a list of leads at various lifecycle stages, a salesperson can quickly end up in a reactionary mode — playing catch-up with lead follow-up. Following some lead scoring best practices can improve the efficiency of both marketing and sales, and ultimately create a cohesive conversion program for your organization.
Lead scoring is directly linked to an increase in conversions. In fact, 38% of businesses experienced higher lead to opportunity conversion rates because of it. Despite that, 79% of B2B marketers have not established a lead scoring strategy.
What is Lead Scoring?
Lead scoring is the process of determining the sales-readiness of a lead by ranking explicit information and implicit actions agreed upon by marketing and sales. By following lead scoring best practices, an organization can:
- Improve the lead’s overall buyer journey
- Improve efficiency and bring focus to marketing activities
- Improve sales efficiency and effectiveness to close deals more quickly
Marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot come with lead scoring tools, but the methodology comes from the brains within your marketing and sales team. If you have a simple buyer journey without a lot of marketing points of contact, then lead scoring can simply be done with a spreadsheet.
Your leads’ readiness to speak to a salesperson should be defined on a scale of 0-100. Aligning sales vernacular (cold, warm, hot) with marketing vernacular (lead, MQL, SQL) can often be the key to bringing sales and marketing teams to a consensus on lead scoring. Make sure you’re speaking the same language to define:
|Recommended Score||Sales Speak||Marketing Speak|
|0-25 points||Cold leads||Leads|
|26-50 points||Warm Leads||Marketing Qualified Leads|
|51-75 points||Hot Leads||Sales Qualified Leads|
|76-100 points||Burning Hot Leads||For Immediate Follow-up|
Aligned Sales and Marketing vernacular defined on a scale of 0-100.
In this model, the marketing team only passes a lead to sales after it surpasses a score of 51 points. From 0 to 50 points, Marketing activity will guide the buyer along their journey to becoming a Hot Lead or SQL.
Are You Ready for Lead Scoring?
Red flags you can look for to determine whether your organization is ready for lead scoring include:
|Marketing Red Flags||Sales Red Flags|
|The sales team hasn’t been following up with all the Sales Qualified Leads.||There are too many leads — the sales team can’t follow up with all of them.|
|Leads passed to the sales team are taking longer to close than expected.||Leads coming from the marketing team require more nurturing than expected.|
|Too many leads are being disqualified by the sales team.||Too many leads are not qualified.|
If you’re not getting enough leads, you might want to put off lead scoring for now. Focus on lead generation activities and use demographic and firmographic data to drive campaign development.
If you’re getting too many leads, adjust your lead scoring so leads spend longer in the nurture funnel as MQLs to help sales teams prioritize the leads with highest potential.
Lead Scoring Best Practices: Fit and Interest
A lead’s sales-readiness can be determined by:
- Discovering buyer fit using explicit data, and
- Defining buyer intent through implicit activity
Discovering Buyer Fit — Explicit Data for Lead Scoring
For most sales and marketing teams, there are specific demographic, firmographic and/or psychographic details that can be deal-breakers for determining buyer fit. Data for fit gathered through years of industry experience and “gut feel” from closing hundreds of deals will ultimately direct the first iteration of lead scoring.
Following lead scoring best practices, the most explicit details for defining a sales-ready lead will be demographic, firmographic and attributes for budget, authority, need, and timeline (BANT).
- Budget: Does the organization have sufficient budget to buy your solution? Gross profit and company size will often help to determine this number, but you can always just ask.
- Authority: Is this lead the person who will ultimately make the purchase decision, are you talking to someone researching a solution, or are they an advocate?
- Need: Your solution offers a breadth of benefits, but they need to be offset by the negative impact of not purchasing a solution. It is important to determine the consequences of inaction by uncovering pains and current status.
- Timeline: Timeline will help to put need into context with respect to how quickly a solution will need to be considered. Often outside pressure will determine timeline, and it is important to understand what those pressures are.
Defining Buyer Interest — Implicit Activity for Lead Scoring
Tracking the implicit activity of your leads — whether it’s digital or analog — can often provide insight into a buyer’s intent. Pay attention to:
- Page views
- Landing page conversions
- Email engagement
- Social engagement
- App engagement
- Phone communication
- Tradeshow interaction
- Event participation
Use a combination of implicit and explicit actions to determine how sales-ready your leads are.
Sales and Marketing Put Their Heads Together
The goal is to determine what criteria indicates a good lead. Front-line salespeople will often provide firmographic and demographic information for which leads are cold, warm, or hot. Start there. Gather information from their valuable experience talking to hundreds of leads in the past.
Ask Your Sales Team Questions Like:
- What does the ideal lead look like?
- Why did certain leads end up being disqualified?
- What makes one lead “easier to close” than others?
- What characteristics caused roadblocks or challenges for closing?
- What journey do the “best deals” go through?
- What are some of the most common questions asked by leads?
List All Explicit and Implicit Criteria Relevant to a Lead
Prioritize implicit and explicit criteria and group them into levels of importance:
- Critical (10-15 points)
- Important (5-9 points)
- Influencing (1-4 points)
- Negative (- points)
Based on the answers collected from sales and marketing, do some math to determine whether the sum of a typical lead’s lifecycle points will produce an expected lead score. If it doesn’t, don’t worry — this is an iterative process, and it’s unlikely you’ll nail lead scoring best practices on your first stab.
If you have a marketing automation tool that has lead scoring to automate the collection of implicit or explicit actions, it’s just a matter of implementing your methodology. The technology will handle the rest. If you don’t have a marketing automation tool, open up a new spreadsheet and start listing the attributes and assigning them positive or negative scores.
Collecting Lead Scoring Criteria and Alerting the Sales Team
When your lead scoring is set up, your work has only just begun! Now you’ll want to develop a process of handing off leads from marketing to sales. Communicate those valuable Sales Qualified Leads through:
- CRM tasks and alerts
- Automated emails (from your marketing automation)
- Manual communication through email or chat
What is the lead lifecycle expectation? Since both sales and marketing have been involved in the development of your lead scoring engine, both sides will be more engaged in this process. How well has marketing nurtured the lead? How well has sales managed the close? If both marketing and sales have met the lead lifecycle expectations, then conversion rates should rise, as well as close rates — and isn’t that what every organization wants?
Post Lead Scoring Best Practices
Once several leads have gone through the lead scoring process and deals have fallen through, gone stagnant, or simply been disqualified, extrapolate what possible criteria may have led to these failed deals. Perhaps some criteria need to be weighted more heavily, or other criteria added. Often there are negative attributes we fail to identify without some hindsight.
Another issue that commonly arises is that the sales team laments the lack of leads. Ensure your marketing team is providing sales with a healthy supply of leads. After several months of data collection, look at close rates of SQLs and determine whether the sales team can handle more or less leads.
Creating a Lead Scoring Strategy — Key Takeaways
- Discover buyer fit and sales-ready leads using demographic, firmographic and attributes for budget, authority, need, and timeline (BANT).
- Define buyer interest by looking at key actions like page views, landing page conversions, email engagement, social engagement, app engagement, phone communication, tradeshow interaction, and event participation.
- Use a combination of implicit and explicit actions to determine how sales-ready your leads are.
- Develop a process of handing off leads from marketing to sales. Communicate those valuable Sales Qualified Leads through CRM tasks and alerts, automated emails (from your marketing automation, and manual communication through email or chat.
- Measure your results, and revisit your data after a few months to ensure your lead scoring strategy is functioning optimally.