October 2, 2015

Lead Scoring Best Practices: Simplified

The increasing amount of low quality leads marketing automation software passes to sales is a trend companies can’t ignore. Properly scoring leads can fight low quality and keep your sales team closing deals.

Sixty-seven percent of the buyer’s journey is now digital, according to B2B marketing experts SiriusDecisions. This means by the time you speak with a lead, they usually have a general understanding of your product, are familiar with your competitors, have already heard several sales pitches, and are relatively close to a purchase decision.

Conversely, marketing could pass a lead to sales that isn’t anywhere near sales-ready. Even worse, marketing may not even be fully aware they have a lead quality problem — much less what sort of solution would be needed for a fix. This is the case nearly 73 percent of the time, according to David Kirkpatrick at MarketingSherpa.

Increasing the former and decreasing the latter is the mission of today’s marketers, which is where lead scoring comes in. 

Use the Five Ws to Remember Lead Scoring Best Practices

Lead scoring is simply a tool to help you deliver higher-quality leads to sales. In order to do it properly, you’ll need to follow lead scoring best practices that determine the right criteria and assign proper scores.

But don’t worry — it’s as simple as the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who 

image of an unidentified project manager

When setting up lead scoring, your first priority is to determine who your ideal sales lead is.

Idealized profiles of potential sales targets — or buyer personas — are essential to determine how to not only score a lead, but also how you can best sell to each person. Buyer personas frame a lead’s actions with intentions. Without them, marketers may as well be feeling around in the dark when trying to determine which leads are a priority.

Good buyer personas should be based on your existing customers. Use their industries, job titles, wants, needs, and — most importantly — how they learned about your solution to help you determine where and how to market to potential new customers.

Scoring criteria relevant to who:

    1. Job Title
    2. Company Size
    3. Company Industry

What

marketing funnel

Monitoring what actions the lead has taken is perhaps the single most important best practice for lead scoring, as each action is another opportunity to determine their intention.

Actionable data is absolutely essential to developing lead scoring best practices for your company. Finding this data shouldn’t be hard if you’re using a modern marketing automation tool like Hubspot, Pardot, or Act-On. But if you don’t have enough data (or aren’t using a marketing automation system), your sales agents should be able to give you an idea of the actions past sales-ready leads have taken: what content they read, what forms they filled out, and what emails they opened before they converted.

A lead that downloads a whitepaper about an issue only tangential to buying your product should be scored lower than a lead that fills out a contact form to receive a demo of your product. And both should likely be scored lower than a lead asking about your support structure, warranty, or essential post-purchase information that indicates they’re highly interested in your solution — and are now picking between you and your competitors. Assign point values to each action or piece of content accordingly.

Scoring criteria relevant to what:

    1. Downloaded a whitepaper (extra points for topics deemed ‘bottom of the funnel’)
    2. Filled out a contact form (extra points for a ‘Contact Sales’ or ‘How to Buy’ form)
    3. Inquired about a product demonstration

When

data-analysis-tools-01

When your lead plans to make a purchase is an important factor of which all sales and marketing professionals should be aware.

When is already part of the industry standard Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline (BANT) guidelines. However, ‘when’ is important in ways beyond the timeframe for a purchase.

“Warm” or “hot” leads — leads that have taken actions more recently — convert at a much higher rate than cold leads. Knowing when a lead last interacted with a piece of content on your site, filled out a form, or read an email can mean the difference between making a sale and losing it to a competitor that reached out more quickly.

Also relevant to when: multiple persons from the same company interacting with your content, filling out forms, or otherwise engaging with your organization within a short time period. When this activity occurs, it indicates a firm is nearing a purchase decision.

In the advertising business, this is known as reach: the number of people — and frequency — of interactions. Both are important, but if 15 people from the same firm read a whitepaper about your product, you should probably call them sooner rather than later.

Several marketing automation vendors give you the opportunity to assign a company score within the “custom rules” or “manual lead scoring” interface that allows you to track company-wide engagement — if not, your marketing department should manually connect the dots at the very least.

One person interacting with 15 pieces of content in a short time period is also worthy of note, but might not indicate that they’re sales-ready. Consider assigning points to different interaction thresholds — say 5 points for opening 1-5 emails and 10 points for opening 6-10 emails, etc.

Scoring criteria relevant to when:

    1. Interacted with your company in the last 12, 24, or 36 hours
    2. Number of interactions within the last 12, 24, or 36 hours
    3. Number of interactions with your content
    4. Number of times an email was forwarded

Where

marketing-automation-kapost

Lead scoring helps determine where within the buyer’s journey your lead resides. They may be close to making a decision, or they could still be months away.

As alluded to in the section on what, actions that indicate a lead is at the bottom of the sales funnel should score more highly than those regarded as nearer the top. For example, if your company develops project management software and a website visitor fills out a form and downloads a whitepaper about the benefits of project management software, that’s great. They’re definitely a candidate for a nurturing campaign — but they’re nearer the top of the funnel than the bottom.

Contrast that with a website visitor who fills out a form for a quote from your sales department, or requests access to a demo of your product — they’re demonstrating behavior that indicates there’s a high likelihood they’re ready to buy with a short timeframe. The second case should be scored much more highly than the first.

Where can be important in other ways besides the funnel; where a lead lives or does business can be highly relevant, especially if your company does business internationally. Sure, if you only do business in one country or state it’s easy to eliminate out-of-state or foreign leads. But if you’re selling across countries or continents, leads from certain areas will likely convert at a higher rate than others.

Depending upon international trade restrictions, you may not even be able to sell to some leads, so it’s always important to record geolocation data from the user’s IP address (when available). Consider adding a negative value on any leads that come from low-quality areas, or from a certain block of IP addresses. (Yes, an IP address can be faked or spoofed using a VPN or proxy server, but it’s rare enough that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.)

Once again, mine your CRM or marketing automation data (if available) to determine where your leads are coming from and score accordingly.

Scoring criteria relevant to where:

    1. Physical location
    2. Where in the funnel the lead resides
    3. Where they went on your site
    4. Where they went after leaving your site (available via web analytics software)

Why

check list for benefits of project management software

Last but not least, the all-important why.  

Why did the user visit your website? Why did they download that white paper? Why are they shopping for a solution — if they even are at all.

Why is the holy grail of marketing and sales, and is typically only truly revealed in human-to-human interaction. We can infer why from actions that a user takes, but as good as today’s marketers and data analysts are, they aren’t infallible.

Your lead scoring system, no matter how well you tweak it, will occasionally push through false positives. Perhaps that website visitor that’s combing your product descriptions, feature lists, and other media isn’t a highly motivated buyer, but one of your competitors. Maybe the user who requested a price quote is a middleman — a solutions consultant that you aren’t interested in working with.

For every assumption marketers make, there’s always the chance they’re wrong.

Always consider the why when undertaking any lead scoring initiative. You’ll likely need to manually check leads for awhile to work out the kinks in your scoring — knowing why the lead came through and why they are or aren’t qualified is the difference between an effective lead scoring program and a waste of time and money. Asking why can be difficult to do digitally, but any low-friction questions you can ask — with a website visitor survey, for example — can help.

Scoring criteria relevant to why:

    1. Survey question responses
    2. Potential reasons for user actions
    3. Lead sources

A 10 percent increase in lead quality will increase sales productivity by 40 percent. It’s no wonder, then, that companies are increasingly researching lead scoring.

While we’ve covered some lead scoring best practices here, every company and selling proposition is unique. As such, you’ll need to develop your own lead scoring best practices that are best suited to your products, marketing assets, and sales process. Once you get it tweaked, you’ll be able to deliver more high-quality leads to your sales team.

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