9 Ways to Score with Lead Scoring

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A rundown of what lead scoring is, what it's not, and how marketing can build consensus with sales.

Lead scoring may seem like marketing 101, but its imperfections often create contention between marketers and their sales colleagues. Fortunately, there's always more the two departments can learn to refine their approach. From establishing common definitions to understanding its full capabilities, here are nine tactics organizations can adopt to improve their lead scoring results.

1. Establish the ground rules. Sales' happiness is often the key benchmark for lead scoring effectiveness, says SiriusDecisions' Laura Cross. It's not until sales reps start complaining that marketing's lead scoring model comes into question. But just because sales isn't making its numbers, doesn't mean that the lead scoring model itself is broken. As the B2B advisory firm's research director notes, a lack of collaborative processes can cause the system to crumble. That's why Cross advises marketers to meet with their sales counterparts and establish common qualified lead definitions, goals, and metrics. She also encourages the two teams to draft a service-level agreement to outline each department's responsibilities.

“You have to define what it is [and] discuss and document measurable outcomes at the beginning of [an] initiative,” Cross says. “Otherwise, the two teams have really missed expectations.”

2. Have a middle man. Acquiring input from marketing and sales is important.  However, Marketo's Renaud Bizet, director of global marketing operations for the marketing automation provider, encourages organizations to take it one step further and have their scoring framework managed by an unbiased party—specifically, marketing operations. Not only does that department understand the ins and outs of the lead scoring technology, Bizet notes, but it also views both marketing and sales as clients and, therefore, has no motivations for easing up on the scoring or lowering thresholds.

3. Know what lead scoring is and what it's not. Despite vendors' promises, rule-based lead scoring is not a guaranteed way to provide sales with “contract-ready opportunities,” Cross says. All it does, she notes, is help marketers prioritize leads based on an established definition; it doesn't generate leads or indicate a propensity to buy. “Unfortunately, sometimes people believe that lead scoring is going to solve all of [their] lead management issues within the organization, and it's not,” Cross says.

Nipul Chokshi, head of product marketing for lead scoring and predictive analytics provider Lattice Engines, points out  that incorporating predictive analytics can help marketers validate their lead score and better prioritize their leads by removing human bias associated with rules-based lead scoring.

4. Consider the trifecta. According to Bizet, there are three data categories marketers should consider when scoring their leads: demographics (do their leads align with their target personas?), intent (do their behaviors suggest a future conversion?), and velocity (how far down the purchase path are their activities taking place and how should marketers' adjust their scores accordingly?).

However, he says, some data points may carry more weight than others and serve as initial filters. For example, if a student downloads a whitepaper, Marketo's marketers know that she isn't going to purchase a solution, Bizet explains. So, while the company may send that student educational materials, he notes, she'll never be passed along to sales.

5. Look beyond customer acquisition. Lead scoring is often considered a customer acquisition tool, but marketers can apply the prioritization tactic to existing customers, as well, Chokshi says. He cites Dell as one example. The technology behemoth uses Lattice Engines' solutions to score which existing customers are likely to buy more. A financial services company that works with Lattice analyzes customers' product usage data to calculate a lead score and then upsell similar products to customers who meet particular thresholds.

The secret to scoring existing customers, Chokshi says, is relying on data that marketers and salespeople already have in-house. “I would say that a key part to success...is being able to use the wealth of data that you have internally, inside of the four walls of your enterprise,” he says.

6. Think big. When it comes to purchasing new platforms, C-level executives rarely do the legwork. They'll often have a particular problem in mind and delegate a team to research possible solutions—forcing vendors to try and win over the whole team involved in a purchase, notes Scott Benedetti, VP of sales for marketing consulting agency The Pedowitz Group.

 Instead of scoring each lead as an individual, marketers and salespeople should track how many leads come from the same company and assign them an account score (a.k.a. account-based marketing). After all, receiving multiple leads from the same organization suggests that there's significant interest, Benedetti say. As he puts it, “A lead score is an inquiry, and account score is an opportunity.”

7. Be open to optimization and experimentation. Lead scoring isn't a set-it-and-forget-it tactic. Benedetti considers it a competency that marketing and sales need to refine through continuous review and improvement. He suggests starting out with a weekly or bimonthly review and then shifting to a quarterly examination once the approach seems to deliver results and receive sales' acceptance.

Of course, marketing and sales aren't going to develop this competency right away; it requires a great deal of testing. As Cross says, “Lead scoring is the ultimate experiment.” However, Bizet discourages organizations from changing their approach too frequently and recommends giving it time to mature and show trends.

“If you change it every two weeks, you won't have really an idea of what's working and what's not,” he says.

8. Don't show all your cards. Sales may be tempted to know which leads received an A1 ranking and which ones received an A2. But as long as marketing clearly indicates which leads need to be followed up on, sales doesn't need to know the exact score, Cross says. Providing this information, she notes, only encourages cherry picking.

“That's not really appropriate because [both leads] met the threshold that [sales and marketing] agreed to—so they both should be called,” she says.

9. Let lead scoring identify your ideal outreach channels. Let's face it: Marketing can be expensive. Fortunately, marketers can use lead scores to identify the best channels for prospect outreach.

“Certain channels are going to be more expensive than others,” Chokshi says. “You obviously don't want to use an expensive direct mail campaign...on leads that are not as likely to convert.”

Remember, though: A high lead score doesn't give marketers the right to override prospects' preferences. “You don't have license to be creepy; you don't have license to be intrusive,” Chokshi says. “Those common sense steps still apply.”

*Correction 2/18/16: The original article said that Dell uses Lattice Engines to identify which existing customers are likely to buy again; however, Dell actually uses the technology to identify which existing customers are likely to buy more, according to Chokshi.


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