Jane needs a project management tool for her team.
First, she reviews a few articles on well-known blogs about the benefits of certain types of project management tools. She browses around some PM app websites.
A little later, she sees a targeted Facebook ad from one of them and clicks through to a lead magnet – a drip campaign showing her how her team can use project management to shorten their workdays and ship more. She reads every email.
Sometime during the drip campaign, she decides to try out the freemium product for a while. After she’s created a few mock projects, someone from the company contacts her through email and asks if she has any questions.
Jane does have a few, so she books a call with the company rep. They chat about what Jane might use the product for. Jane asks about pricing for her team size. Later that week, the company sends Jane an email incentivizing her upgrade to the pro paid version. Jane decides she likes the product for her team and hits “buy.”
OK, so that’s sort of the fantasy of how it’s all supposed to work, but here’s the question we’re trying to answer: How did the marketing team know at every stage when Jane was ready for the next step?
Answer: Through an effective lead scoring model.
What is Lead Scoring or Lead Qualification?
According to the Spear Marketing “State of Marketing Automation Maturity” report, 68% of marketers use a form of lead scoring or lead qualification to move prospects from one stage of the funnel to the next.
At its basic level, lead scoring awards points to prospect characteristics or activities that indicate improving fit for and interest in the product.
We talked recently about the idea of customer success, and focusing on the types of prospects and customers who have a chance to succeed with your product.
Lead scoring takes that a step further – it’s the framework for how to focus on those people and companies.
Marketers who combine things they know about their prospects (demographic and firmographic info) with things they can see their prospects doing (behavioral info) automatically create a more sophisticated marketing and sales funnel.
Imagine not only using marketing automation to trigger the next step of your marketing or sales process, but knowing your prospect is ready to hear the message at that next stage. It could be the difference between getting your message to land or losing out on a potential customer.
Creating an Effective Lead Scoring Model
So now that we understand its usefulness, let’s talk about creating your scoring model.
It may seem a little unscientific at first, especially if you’re starting without a lot of data to back up your educated guesses about behavior, demographics, and scoring weights. But as you continue to define and refine your marketing and sales metrics, you’ll be able to adjust your lead scoring model to reflect (and predict!) which prospects matter most.
Here are 10 elements you’ll need for an effective lead qualification model:
1. Aligned Marketing and Sales Objectives
The number one thing you need for lead scoring success? Marketing and sales teams who speak the same language oriented toward the same goals.
Marketing and sales need to be in lockstep when it comes to:
- What makes a great prospect (“great” meaning, “ready to be nurtured to the next step”)
- What makes a great customer (“great” meaning, “no chance of churning, lots of lifetime value, probably a good bet for upgrades/upsells over time”)
- When a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) becomes a sales-qualified lead (SQL) and passes to sales
Getting that kind of alignment should be a top priority for any organization. It creates more opportunities for leak-proof funnels, and when marketing can deliver the right kind of qualified leads and sales can close them, everyone wins.
2. Implicit Scoring
There’s two different kinds of scoring information you get from prospects: implicit and explicit. An effective program will have both, since both sets of data have a lot to tell you and complement each other.
Implicit scoring means:
- Looking at behavioral actions to infer a level of interest in your product
- Looking at data points about the prospect to infer the level of fit for your product
For instance, if you’re awarding points based on completing a lead magnet form or inferring a certain level of prospect sophistication based on years of experience, that’s implicit scoring.
3. Explicit Scoring
Explicit scoring means:
- Using information a prospect shared with you directly to infer level of interest
- Looking at firmographic or demographic information to infer level of interest
For instance, if your ideal audience persona is a chief marketing officer (CMO) from a company of 50-100 people in IT, and one of your prospects fills out a form and volunteers that they’re all three of those things, you would award points for each of them. That’s explicit scoring.
4. Behavioral Scoring Criteria
What are you scoring?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s so many answers to this question it can make your head spin.
We go into this a little more in-depth in our free resource (scroll up or down and grab it from the colorful box if you’re interested!), but the best way to get started is to ask a simple question:
How can someone interact with us?
And yes, that includes a lot of things. For starters, that includes:
- Downloaded (or Viewed, if it’s hosted online)
- Viewed any page
- Viewed multiple pages
- Returned after X period of time
- Viewed a landing page
- Interacted with chat
- Registered for
- Attended/Viewed in entirety
- Asked a question during
- Viewed recording
- Opened follow-up email
- Filled out webinar survey
And much more – anything your company does that’s outward-facing.
5. Demographic Scoring Criteria
The second question to ask to determine “What are we scoring” is:
What common factors do we see in our target customer persona and best customers?
Since you’d like to qualify and move along prospects that seem likely to become your best customers, you can look at some of their defining characteristics and award points to those.
This can include things like:
- Company size
- Time in role
- Experience in industry
- Personal interests
- And more
“The State of Marketing Automation Maturity” report showed that most marketers use both, though more than a quarter do not.
There are a few risks in not using both – you can over-qualify someone who may not be a good fit, or you can over-rely on behavioral data when human behavior can be a tough nut to crack. As Charlotte Dillon writes in Mattermark:
6. The Right Scoring Weights
Now that you know what actions and characteristics you’re looking at, you need to figure out how much those are worth to you. Or:
What does that action indicate about the prospect’s readiness for the next marketing or sales touch?
Not everything someone can do related to your company means the same thing.
Consider someone who:
- Ticks three demographic “yeses”
- Repeatedly views middle-of-the-funnel articles (all your content should be mapped to your funnel)
- Attends your product-related webinars
- Asks questions via chat on your homepage
They have six high-value things going for them – demonstrating a lot of interest and fit.
Compare that to someone who:
- Ticks two demographic “yeses”
- Retweeted a couple of your company tweets
- Listened to your company podcast for a few episodes
- Read a blog post in your resource section.
Those are five pretty low-interest and low-fit indicators.
Come up with a weighting system that awards “points” for each behavioral activity and demographic alignment. The points can be anything as long as they’re weighted in favor of the items that mean more interest and better fit.
For instance, Marketo awards Critical behaviors 10 to 15 points, Important behaviors 5 to 9, and merely Influencing behavior 1 to 4 points.
7. A Single Scoring System
You need one scoring system for everything. Don’t score at the campaign level. Since you want your lead scoring to apply across all leads and all marketing and sales activities, maintaining a single scoring system makes sense.
If you’re creating a new system for every campaign or activity, not only are you diluting your numbers, you’re wasting a lot of time creating scoring systems.
For instance, if you create a scoring system for your spring marketing push where a 20 means “Go for it, Sales!” but a 20 over your winter marketing activities means “This one isn’t quite ready yet,” it’ll lead to a lot of confusion.
8. Negative Scoring
Your leads’ scores should be changing constantly as they interact more with your marketing and sales assets. This means you should account for actions that show you a bad fit or lack of interest in the product.
Some activities that should result in removing points include:
- Unsubscribing from email lists
- Reporting a company post as spam
- Negative comments or complaints on a company channel
9. Score Degradation
In the same vein, scores should be designed to degrade if no actions are taken. If your prospect isn’t interacting with your company, you need a signal that it’s time for a prospect recovery campaign of some kind, and their lead score should fall accordingly.
For example, if they’re not visiting your website or stop engaging with your email marketing, their lead score should fall over time.
“The State of Marketing Automation Maturity” report showed that only half of respondents knew for sure they had a score degradation process in place:
10. A Dose of Common Sense
Here’s where you’ll want to put that marketing automation hat aside for a minute and give your scoring model a critical human eye. A prospect may take actions that add up to a high lead score on the surface, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see it’s an illusion.
For instance, if you’re adding up behavioral and demographic indicators, you might end up with a prospect who hits on every demographic value, but hasn’t interacted with your company very much at all. You’ll need to apply common sense and know that you can’t pitch that prospect yet, even though purely by the numbers they’re “qualified.”
Or, you might end up with a prospect who opens every single email you send…but does nothing else. If you’re awarding points with every email open, you’re probably giving that lead too much credit in the “interested in our product” department.
Here are a few fixes that control for this kind of false positive:
- Award points for a combination of actions. If a prospect opens an email, clicks, and then reads 50 percent of the article they land on, award points.
- Incorporate an element of lead grading. Instead of relying solely on your lead score, you can use your marketing insights to “grade” prospects. Someone with a high demographic score and low behavioral score might result in a prospect with a high overall lead score but very low intent-to-buy grade, for example. You can adjust your follow-up tactics accordingly.
- Talk to sales. Find out where your lead scoring system might be breaking down. Your sales team will know if highly-rated prospects keep getting referred with inflated scores.
Remember: Test Constantly and Be a Human
Lead scoring is not a “set it and forget it” activity – let’s be honest, nothing in marketing or sales is!
You need to look at what’s happening in your funnel all the time to know if it’s working.
If you’re sending people a drip campaign after they download their first lead magnet and hardly anyone is opening your emails, then maybe downloading a checklist isn’t as weighty a scoring indicator as you thought. Adjust all the time based on what the behavior and data tell you.
And speaking of behavior, that’s one last lead-scoring related lesson: Lead scoring may help us to parse prospects’ behavior and apply a system to the marketing funnel, but always remember that you’re a human dealing with humans.
The danger of reducing prospects to numbers is forgetting that they’re your potential customers, with pains and needs that you’re trying to help them solve.
Not every insight you need for success can be found in data. Lead scoring should be a tool in your hands, not a crutch.
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