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What is Lead Scoring for Marketing and What Are the Benefits?

Lead scoring helps organizations move prospects along their buying journey in a structured, strategic way — which is especially helpful considering how complex buying journeys have become. 
Article Outline

Imagine going on a blind date. All you know about the person sitting across from you is their name, maybe what they do for a living, and that your cousin Helen thinks you might get along. 

But before you have a chance to ask any questions or get to know them better, they give you a big smile and say, “It’s so nice to meet you. I’d love to show you around my apartment. When’s a good time for you to come by this week?” 

How inappropriate! But not entirely unlike when a colleague sends you a link to a gated ebook, you give your contact info to download it, and then get a phone call from a sales rep the same day. You don’t want a demo of their software — you haven’t even had time to read their content yet.

Luckily for marketers, lead scoring exists. Lead scoring helps organizations move prospects along their buying journey in a structured, strategic way — which is especially helpful considering how complex buying journeys have become. 

According to research from Gartner, B2B buyers are spending more time researching online, and less time interacting directly with sales — as little as 5-6% of their total buying journey. And it takes an average of 20 touches with a brand before a prospect becomes a potentially successful lead for the sales team. 

For marketing and sales teams, that handoff is a potential minefield. Too early, and everyone wastes time. Too late, and potential deals may slip through the cracks. 

Lead scoring helps sales and marketing teams navigate handoffs by providing a quantitative approach to qualifying leads: assigning a predetermined number of points to a lead based on certain characteristics or behaviors. Marketing and sales teams can look at a prospect’s lead score and determine whether they’re ready for a sales conversation or need to be nurtured. For example:

  • Junior employee downloaded an introductory guide to your general area of expertise? Keep them engaged with more content, and add a few points to their score every time they engage.
  • Senior manager visited your pricing page, downloaded a product comparison sheet, and watched a video demo? Score those strong purchase indicators highly and send these white-hot leads to sales. 

No guesswork, no gut instinct — it’s all in the numbers. 

In this guide, we’ll dive into how lead scoring works, how to build a framework, and the marketing and sales superpowers it can unlock. 

How does lead scoring work?

Lead scoring helps organizations avoid the potential headaches of passing leads from marketing to sales — but that only scratches the surface of what a strategic lead scoring framework can deliver. 

First, a very quick overview of how lead scoring works. (We’ll give a step-by-step guide to building a lead scoring framework in the next chapter). 

Marketing and sales teams usually manage lead scoring within their marketing automation and CRM software, and lead metrics are divided into two categories: implicit and explicit. 

  • Explicit data is provided intentionally by your lead, such as company, location, industry, and job title. 
  • Implicit data is observed behavioral information, such as webpages visited, email engagement, content downloads, or form completions. Smart marketers can use these behaviors to deduce what topics a prospect may be interested in, and how close they might be to purchasing.

Every piece of data your team gathers about a lead “earns” a certain number of points. Once a lead crosses a predetermined threshold, they become a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) and your automation software hands them off to sales for one-on-one conversations. The points you assign will depend entirely on your business and your audience. 

Lead scoring examples

For example, at Act-On, we sell marketing automation software to SMBs and enterprise organizations. Our leads might look something like this:

  • Debbie is the Director of Marketing at a 2,000-person manufacturing company. She entered our funnel through a partner, visited our homepage and about page, downloaded a guide to implementing automation software, and signed up for a webinar about comparing marketing automation providers. 
  • Tyson is a small business owner. He wants to improve marketing for his local food cart, and entered our funnel through a Google search for “how to do email marketing”. He downloaded our “Introduction to Email Marketing” guide, but never interacted with any of our subsequent nurture programs.

As you can imagine, Debbie the Director of Marketing racked up quite a few points in our lead scoring system, and an Act-On sales rep is primed to reach out to her with some personalized information about our platform. 

And while we wish Tyson the small business owner well, his lead score is quite low — and our sales team will never waste a moment of anyone’s time trying to sell him advanced marketing tools he doesn’t need.

(Keep Debbie and Tyson in mind. We’ll use them as examples again.)

The benefits of lead scoring

Now, let’s explore the host of benefits lead scoring delivers — for everyone involved. 

A better experience for your leads

Just like overeager blind dates, it’s a big turnoff for prospective customers when a brand comes on too strong or too fast. 

For leads at the very beginning of their buyer’s journey, premature sales conversations are intrusive and unwelcome. Lead scoring helps give your prospects the time they need to get to know your brand. This creates a positive experience and builds trust over time, rather than rushing into a sales conversation with a skeptical prospect who has no understanding of what your brand stands for and the value you can deliver. 

Less wasted time for your sales team

Qualifying leads takes time. Lead scoring helps your sales team spend their valuable hours more efficiently.

“Having no lead scoring in place is really damaging to a sales team,” says our own Suzy Balk, Sr. Marketing Campaigns Manager. “A good sales rep is going to spend at least three minutes digging into every lead that comes in: what the company does, confirming an individual’s role, and understanding what pain points may exist that resonate with your solution. If your company has a lot of leads coming in, that multiplies out to a lot of time.”

Better follow-up on MQLs

Usually, marketing’s biggest beef with their counterparts in sales is failing to follow up (or follow up fast enough) with their leads. 

Now, not to take sides, but if your sales team is swamped with unqualified leads…unsatisfactory follow-up is going to happen. Busy sales reps aren’t going to prioritize marketing-”qualified” leads if you’re actually sending them marketing-”questionable” leads. 

With lead scoring, the sales team can have confidence that marketing is handing over leads who are relevant and ready for a conversation. A survey from Gartner reports that 64% of sales reps are more likely to follow up on marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) if the qualification criteria is agreed on in advance. 

Which brings us to…

Improved sales and marketing alignment

Sales and marketing alignment isn’t easy to achieve. But lead scoring is a team sport. 

Marketing and sales leaders have to work together to agree on the overall framework and specific scoring criteria used to move a prospect along their buying journey. Getting these teams in the same room and on the same page about what makes a qualified lead helps improve communication, collaboration, and accountability.

Better nurturing for marketing

Lead scoring isn’t just about reaching a certain threshold and transitioning ownership from marketing to sales. It also helps marketing teams improve their lead nurturing programs by using lead scores as a layer of segmentation. (More on this below.) 

Higher conversion rates for everyone

All these benefits add up to one clear outcome that everyone will celebrate: higher conversion rates for MQLs.

When the sales team talks to a prospect who’s already visited multiple pages across your company’s website, engaged with emails, and interacted with content at different stages of the buyer’s journey, they’re talking to warm leads who are much more receptive to a conversation and closer to making a purchase.

That means a shorter, smoother journey along the sales cycle, a higher likelihood of that lead becoming an opportunity and – eventually – more closed deals. 

Now that we know why lead scoring is important and what it can deliver, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty: how to make it happen by building a lead scoring marketing framework. You can also jump ahead to the third part in this series, all about which lead scoring tools can help you improve your marketing.

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