What is lead scoring? A beginner’s guide to prioritising prospects

We all strive for that ideal of “working smarter, not harder”, streamlining our working day to operate at peak efficiency and deal with tasks in order of priority.

But how can your sales team wade through a list of prospects the “smart, not hard” way? One practice stands out (apart from using a great CRM, of course!).. It’s a concept called “lead scoring,” which helps your sales teams focus their efforts on prospects with the most potential rather than chasing after dead opportunities.

What is lead scoring?

Lead scoring is a practice where prospects are ranked or scored on a scale using an objective team—or company-wide methodology. It’s usually used to identify and prioritise valuable prospect opportunities and/or deprioritise less qualified, lower-quality leads, but as we’ll learn, lead scoring can take many different forms.

How does lead scoring work?

There is no definitive, concrete way to score your leads. When you begin to use lead scoring, you first need to decide what you intend to score/rank each prospect on. Perceived likelihood of purchase or interaction with online marketing materials can be incredibly useful scoring metrics as they help your sales team prioritise the keenest buyers.

How your lead scoring scale works is also totally up to you, depending on what means the most to your company and your sales team’s working methods. You can rank leads on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 to 100, A* to F-, Red-Amber-Green, or even a simple Yes/No – whatever works best for the data you’re trying to record.

The process of assigning scores to each lead can be manual or automated. A manual scoring process gives your team the most control, but it’s also the most time-consuming. Leaving the scoring process to humans may remove any intended objectivity from the scoring process, too.

Automated scoring can base a prospect’s ranking on things like how frequently they interact with your website, which of your lead generation assets they registered for, how many times they open your promotional email or a mixture of these factors. This provides a much more objective, even scientific, method of scoring without manually updating records every day, though you may need new tech for the job.

Why use lead scoring?

Prioritise conversion-ready leads

As mentioned above, scoring methods that rate leads on their purchase likeliness or their closeness to an ideal customer profile can help salespeople prioritise their time and effort towards these more conversion-ready individuals.

Think about it this way: If you sat a salesperson down in front of a database of totally unprioritised prospects, they would probably work through the list in, for example, name order. Each customer they call will likely be at a different place in the sales journey, with different needs and queries. It’s not a very efficient way of working.

But if the salesperson did have a way of prioritising their calls towards those who were more likely to buy (for example), they could put together a much more strategic plan of attack. They could tackle the more eager, better-fit prospects first, getting a few sales before working on the leads who need more nurturing.

Strategies around revenue needs

With a new dimension to roll into their plan of attack, your salespeople can flexibly strategise around a business’s needs at any time.

If the business is a bit strapped for cash, the sales teams can set to work prioritising better qualified, more sales-ready prospects for quick and straightforward sales. In times of plenty, the sales teams can set to work prioritising lower-scoring yet high-potential lifetime clients that may be a lifeline when the next fallow period hits.

Cement team collaboration

Prospect scoring methodologies can give your sales, marketing, and management teams common metrics and language to enact surgically precise promotional campaigns. Marketing teams can use lead scores to find common ground between prospects and use that knowledge to target promotional activities in future better. Lead scores also provide a metric for management to make informed decisions and enact realistic strategies.

Types of lead scoring

Explicit scoring

Explicit scoring is when you rate your leads based on static, largely unchanging firmographic or demographic properties—usually information that has been directly shared by the lead in question. This includes industry, job title, company size, revenue bracket, geolocation(s), etc.

These metrics can be quite general, so they aren’t always a surefire way to tell whether a prospect is a good fit on their own. However, if you tend to target a certain level of seniority, a certain department, or a certain organizational size/structure, this may be all the information you need.

Implicit/behavioural scoring

These scoring methods are based on prospect behaviour, such as website or page visits, interactions with email marketing, event attendance, lead magnet interactions, form interactions, and social media engagement.

For example, if someone clicks on a marketing email, downloads your lead magnet, and regularly interacts with you on social media, you can reliably score them as having considerable interest. Those that don’t interact so readily probably aren’t as interested, or they’re prioritising other things at the moment.

These scores are much more useful than static demographic data, as they give a much more actionable picture of prospect interest.

Negative scoring

If you have data that shows that a prospect isn’t interested, this can also be reflected in their score. Negative scores can be indicated by several data points, such as:

  • When someone is in completely the wrong industry for what you sell.
  • When prospective job titles contain terms like “student” or “apprentice,” they imply that the person probably doesn’t have much buying power within their company.
  • If your site collects data on pages with non-sales intent, such as jobs or returns pages, these visitors aren’t looking to buy.
  • When someone opts out of marketing communications.
  • When a prospect has lost interest or is using another solution.
  • … And sometimes form entries are just spam bots!

7 Handy lead scoring ideas

There are countless ways to score or rank leads, but here are 7 ideas for you to consider and maybe create your own.

Likelihood of purchase

This one’s simple – how likely is it that this prospect will turn into a paying customer? How keen are they to buy? How far along are they in the buyer’s journey? What are their alternatives if they don’t choose you?

Note that “likelihood of purchase” isn’t necessarily just the prospect’s place in the sales funnel or buyer’s journey. A lead may seem relatively near the start of the sales funnel but they may need a quick resolution, they may lack other viable options, or they may simply be desperate for someone to take the problem off their hands!

Closeness to an ideal customer avatar

If you use (an) ideal customer profile(s), then it might be handy to score leads based on how much they have in common with that ideal.

Lead “Heatmapping”

We’ve discussed a lead’s likelihood to purchase, their place in the sales journey, and their similarity to an ideal, but why not roll all of these three factors into a “heatmap” of sorts?

You could use a blue-to-red, temperature colour scale to flag how “warm” each lead is so you have an at-a-glance view of their situation.

“Lamb or Spam” Scoring

This methodology serves as a great, initial sense-check before embarking on deeper prospect scoring exercises. The “lamb or spam” approach focuses on hunting down and deprioritising low-quality leads whilst potentially unearthing high-quality ones hidden just below the noise.

“Low-quality” leads can mean whatever is least relevant to your business. For example, B2B organisations may want to scan for free, throwaway email addresses that may imply a spammy, low quality form entry. Similarly, you may consider unshared data points or a lack of interaction with your site an indicator of a less interested lead.

Unless your prospect database is particularly small, the “lamb or spam” method probably isn’t enough of a scoring method on its own. But it can be used as an initial way to filter the wheat from the chaff.

Who needs nurturing?

Though we’ve talked a lot about prioritising high-value, warm leads, delving into the cooler end of the scale can also be enlightening. Inventive prospect scoring methods can help you identify prospects who may have simply been left behind and just need a little nurturing to get them back on the hook.

It may make sense to schedule a quick check-in with these leads, see whether they are still in the market for what you sell, check whether they consent to receiving marketing emails, and discuss any new offerings that may be in play since your last contact. Whether they are still interested or not, at least you’ll know where you stand!

How quickly or how much are they looking to buy?

Lead scoring can be used to isolate prospects that need to act quickly or are likely to make a single, high-value purchase. Akin to “purchase likelihood”, this is another way of identifying which prospects are likely to result in a quick sales win.

Existing or perceived high lifetime value

If you have a customer who you can rely on to come back time and time again, you may want to flag them as someone your sales teams need to pay special care and attention to so they don’t go elsewhere.

You could even analyse new, interested leads to establish their likelihood of becoming repeat customers. What kinds of customers generally give you repeat business and why? Do you have any leads that fit into a similar mould, with similarly recurring needs? Helping your sales teams focus on these leads may pay dividends in the long run.

Getting started with lead scoring

Before you start your prospect scoring journey, there are a few things you need to do.

Spitshine that data!

Lead scoring just isn’t going to work unless your data is accurate, up to date, and appropriately reflects the relationship between you and your prospects. Before you go too far down a particular scoring path, it’s well worth embarking on a campaign of data cleansing and enrichment to purge defunct entries and enhance remaining ones. This way you can make your final scoring decisions with complete, precise data.

Get Sales & Marketing on the same page

Sales and marketing are two disciplines that are often handled completely separately, when in reality they are two halves of the same whole. Marketing helps fill up the sales funnel from the top, and sales makes sure as many people as possible flow through and become customers.

Lead generation and website usage analysis are generally considered the purview of marketing teams, so they need to liaise with sales to make sure they are capturing the right data to support prospect scoring efforts.

Rules, rules, rules!

Set concrete rules, criteria, and thresholds for your lead scoring systems so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind what camp each prospect falls into. The more rules you have and the less subjectivity there is within the process, the more able you may be able to automate your scoring process.

Refine over time

Even after you’ve selected your lead scoring methods, you should regularly review and refine your processes over time. Though it’s an internal exercise, there are numerous external things that can impact your prospect scoring ability.

Market trends may affect demand in a way that renders part of your scoring methods obsolete, or a piece of marketing software used in calculating scores may change to either your detriment or benefit. You may achieve lead-scoring equilibrium at some point but a continual cycle of refining isn’t a bad thing – even though it may seem never-ending!

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