It’s time to shift how you use lead scoring : Episode 13

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In this episode, we delve into the nuances of lead scoring, highlighting the shortcomings of relying solely on engagement levels to gauge buying intent. We also discuss how to streamline the lead qualification process to optimize your lead scoring practices to drive higher conversion rates from the leads passed from marketing to sales.

[00:00] Show intro
[00:23] Why lead scoring needs to evolve
[00:55] How does lead scoring traditionally work
[02:12] Example lead scoring model
[07:49] Is lead scoring really a good measure of lead readiness?
[09:41] Challenges with the traditional model used for lead scoring
[15:01] Some leads fall through the cracks of lead scoring
[17:07] Aligning sales and marketing is a critical step
[22:25] Episode summary
[24:10] Key takeaway
[24:23] Outro

The Demand Gen Fix is hosted by GrowthMode Marketing. Visit to learn more about us.


Hey everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You are listening to The Demand Gen Fix the podcast were our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation and why we believe it’s the key to long-term sustainable growth, especially in HR tech industry.


Hey everyone, welcome to this week’s episode of The Demand Gen Fix. Today Erica and Deanna and I are going to discuss GrowthMode Marketing’s take on why lead scoring doesn’t necessarily work the way it used to. Lead scores have been touted as the key to uncovering the best prospects to pass on to your sales team. But when you really analyze it, high engagement levels don’t necessarily mean that somebody is ready to make a purchase. We think that marketers need to rethink how they use the lead score. We should probably start with an overview on lead scoring for folks who may not be familiar with the practice.


Many marketers are well aware of what lead scoring is, but I think there’s a lot of people out there who it’s kind of nebulous for them. In layman’s terms, lead scoring is a model for ranking and prioritizing the prospects to determine which are most likely to turn into customers. The intention with lead scoring and prioritizing the leads is so that there was some kind of ranking of leads to hand over to the sales team for them to follow up with, rather than them just doing cold outreach to everybody. The thought with lead scoring is that these are the contacts that are most engaged with our content and our website. These are the ones we should be talking to versus someone that never opens your emails, never visits your website, never attends your webinars.


So essentially, it’s a set of rules that you build into your marketing automation system that is in place to track these different activities and engagements and some customer data demographics or firmographics that are going to help your sales team understand who is more likely to become a customer.


What are some of the things that might trigger a customer to rank up their score? I am not from this part of the marketing world, so I’m interested to hear exactly what kinds of things a customer might interact with. Is it just going to the website? Is it opening an email? What kinds of things can drive the score up?


Lead scoring is based on the activities that are happen, there are different things that lead scores actually rank. So a contact is typically given a demographic score based on key characteristics. When you get a marketing automation system that has lead scoring capabilities built in, what you’re going to do is go into the system and you’re going to think about from a demographic standpoint, what are things that we’re really interested in? It could be specific job titles, it could be geographic locations, it could be industry, just things that are characteristics, think ideal customer profile. Those are the things that if someone fits into, from a characteristic standpoint or a company characteristic standpoint, you’d want to put a score on.


I could already have a score before I even ever interact with your content.


You sure could. So there’s that demographic score. Then there’s also scoring for engagement with content and actions such as filling out a form because somebody can run up that form, they can be really engaged for a while with your content and then suddenly they disappear and three months later they have not engaged with a single thing. They just go cold on you. You don’t want them to stay at the top of the prioritization list. There are also ways to set it up, so the score is deducted over time to bring them back down the priority list. It could be the non-activity over a set period of time. It could also be specific actions that you can identify as non-relevant activity, such as visiting the careers page of a website.


We don’t want the sales team to waste their time on somebody who is just basically browsing around, has no intention to make a purchase.


On the flip side, there are other actions or engagements that you might score different things higher or prioritize these people higher. Let’s say they went to a pricing page or maybe they went into a page on your website or find a distributor page or things like that where you are going to identify some of those actions within their engagement that are higher priority.


Different things are going to have different scores. When you think about building that lead scoring model, traditionally it’s going to be like, this feels like a higher engagement level. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say as an HR technology company, you’re sending out an email to Chief People Officers in organizations that you want to sell into, and a person opens your email, and they click on the link to learn more. You’re now able to track that activity. You can see they opened the email. Let’s say opening an email, your lead score is one point. They click on that link, they visit your webinar landing page that you’re promoting, you give them five points for that. Let’s say they register for the webinar. Well that’s a pretty high intent type of action. They’re pretty engaged with us. I’m going to give them 10 more points. Let’s say they actually show up to the webinar in person. There’s another 20 points. So, you’re looking at it and here’s 36 points that they’ve just racked up based on activity. Certain activities or scores can be set as a trigger and then you traditionally would alert a sales rep or an SDR that, hey, this contact is ready for sales to follow up.


So basically there’s a number that the company sets that they decide is the time that this person is ready to go to sales.


That is exactly what lead scoring is set up for. Between marketing and sales, you determine what you think this threshold is going to be. As you start to track and score someone’s activity, their demographics and those different things that you call out as important triggers, you determine what that threshold is. You build out this system or model within your marketing automation system. And then as you implement that traditional model of lead scoring, you’ll find that the model continues to evolve. It’s never, you set this up and it’s perfect and every lead you hand over to sales is perfect handoff and they’re qualified, and it turns into a sale and it’s hunky dory. It’s not necessarily done. It’s something that you always have to go back to and continue to evolve and refine that model and how you’re scoring and how you’re watching some of that activity.


I can see why we need to start thinking differently about it and I don’t think it should go away. I think it’s a really good tool. But I also see what you’re saying as far as things are just different these days. The way that people buy and the way that consumers and B2B buyers are making choices. I can see why we would want to change the way that we think about this.


It begs the question, is lead scoring really a good indicator of a qualified lead? My answer to that is it depends how you build out and use your lead score.


I agree with that. I think it really does depend on how you build that out. And then also ultimately, what are you using it for? Is it your threshold for handing over a lead to sales or is it ways from a marketing perspective to start to engage some of that activity and interest in engagement and help that drive your marketing efforts with different groups of prospects that you prioritize?


If your trigger to hand a lead over to sales is someone filled out a form regardless of the type of form filled, meaning they downloaded an e-book, your model probably needs to be reassessed because you’re not actually handing over leads that are high quality necessarily, because it’s not indicating buyer intent. When we think about lead scoring and how you’re using it, the question that you need to step back and think about is, do we have a clear indication that someone is in market to buy when that lead score triggers the alert for sales follow up? Because the way people are buying today, they don’t want to talk to a sales rep. 95% of companies are not in market right now. It ends up being a lot of time, a lot of resources for those salespeople to chase after those opportunities that were never actually opportunities. And so, the whole debate around lead scoring is how do we improve the quality? There are a lot of challenges that we should dig with lead scoring in the traditional way that people have used it.


What are some of the typical challenges with that standard lead scoring model that you guys see?


It assumes everyone is a lead. I just had a conversation with one of our team members here at GrowthMode Marketing about lead scoring and they’re like, but that’s not a lead, that’s a contact. And I thought, you know what, that’s a fair point. We’re following everybody. We’re saying we’re scoring every lead that we have just because they’re engaging with our content, but that doesn’t make them a lead. It depends how you want to define leads, but to me a lead is someone who’s in market ready to buy.


We’ve been talking a lot in this podcast about content and how your content is out there for every different part of the sales funnel. There’s a lot of people that are engaging with your content that are not ready to make a purchase. Obviously, you wouldn’t send those prospects to sales yet because they’re still doing their research, they’re still learning, they’re still nibbling at your content. So you don’t want to just push them over to sales. Sales will get frustrated because they’re not going to be making a sale.


They’re going to get frustrated. Marketing’s going to be frustrated because what happens, and I think this is where sales and marketing misalignment happens a lot, is sales is saying we need leads. Marketing is saying, we gave you leads. Sales is saying they’re not leads. Marketing is saying, well you guys need to do your job better. And there’s so much more to it than that. But who hasn’t been in an organization where you have sales reps who are like, I don’t care if they don’t have buyer intent. It is my job to sell them. Just give me the name. Erica, your experience at your last company was that sales wanted the leads much sooner than marketing felt comfortable passing them over.


I think that’s common. It’s a common issue between marketing and sales as to when or what leads “marketing owns” and what leads “sales owns”. What lead scoring should be built and used for is for marketing to be able to better focus on their efforts but also to really help align that marketing and sales process. At some point in time this has been an issue on your teams, but sales wants those leads as soon as they come in. Regardless, if they filled out a form saying they wanted to subscribe to our newsletter, sales wants to follow up with that person. From a marketing perspective, what lead scoring should start to do is help us to identify where and how we can market to these prospects better and more targeted in order to actually qualify leads before they’re handed off to sales. That’s a huge challenge and I don’t necessarily see that going away. I think that can help us to redefine what lead scoring means.


Another issue that happens if you cave in and start sending leads when there is no identified buying intent with those opportunities to sales is that they’re going to follow up with them. And when those leads go dark on them, most of the time the sales reps, no matter how much you promoted and how many great programs you put in place for those leads to be recycled and continue to be nurtured, they forget to take the step to check the box in your CRM to say, send this back to marketing. And so suddenly not only did they follow up with somebody who didn’t want to talk to them because they’re not in market to buy right now, they’ve also left a bad taste in their mouth. We’re not even doing any brand awareness and trust building with them through nurture campaigns. And so it’s a total missed opportunity, not only wasted time on the team’s effort, but creating that bad experience and not moving them further in the funnel.


That makes me think about another issue. So those leads are kind of set aside, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. All that marketing that was done, that’s a waste of their time. Sales could very well make a sale with those people. If they just went back into the system and were able to be nurtured or be able to go into a different campaign or something like that. It’s a waste of their time too. If marketing and sales could just somehow work together and understand that these prospects actually need to be nurtured and we can use these lead scores as a way to find where they are in that journey and give them what they need to eventually get to sales. I think everybody would be a lot happier.


I think sales and marketing alignment, what a concept.


That’s half the battle. Getting to a point where you feel like you have aligned your processes in order to use something like lead scoring or build a process around this type of thing within your organization. I think sales and marketing alignment is oftentimes the issue.


I also think about all of those leads out there that we aren’t able to track with the lead scoring. This traditional way of lead scoring, you talked about somebody needs to go to your website or click on a link. They have to go through these certain processes to actually get into the system where you know that they’re interacting with your content. But nowadays people are blocking cookies all the time. They don’t want to be tracked; they don’t want anyone to know what they’re looking at online. Or you think about something like LinkedIn where I would say most people in the business world are looking at content and interacting with content on LinkedIn. A huge percentage and yet there’s no way to really track unless they click on something. There’s no good way to track what they’re looking at, what they’re sharing, what they’re commenting on. You could have a really good, qualified lead out there that you don’t even know exists because it’s just really hard to track these days. Looking at the traditional lead scoring, there’s a lot of things that you have to think about when you’re trying to figure out who are the most qualified leads.


I think from a tracking standpoint, you’ve got to recognize you’re not going to be able to track every activity and every piece of engagement that a prospect is doing. There’s this whole movement called dark social which is all about hey, you listened to our podcast today, we have no way of knowing that or tracking that unless one day you come to us and tell us that you listen to the podcast. But there are things that can be measured. What I love about it is how you can actually see things that people are engaging with. There are certainly indicators that you can look at to figure out whether your podcast or your webinars are effective if you don’t have these tracking capabilities with all of those activities.


When thinking about lead scoring and going back to that whole sales and marketing need to be aligned on it, I think it starts with looking at the marketing qualified lead. As marketers we love our acronyms. We’ll call it MQL and making sure that the marketing team and the sales team leadership are in full agreement on what constitutes an MQL. If you’re going to make it a marketing qualified lead to pass to sales, you want to see strong buying intent. For example, they filled out a contact form saying, I’m interested in talking to a sales rep. Or they filled out a form saying I want to see a live demo. Those are things in my book that demonstrate a high likelihood of buying intent because why are you doing that if you don’t actually have some level of interest right now? I don’t recommend to people putting a form on an article or report. Why gate the content that you want those people to read, listen to, watch, engage with? You’re putting an obstacle in the way that prevents a lot of people from actually looking at it.


You don’t just send a prospect to sales because they signed up for your newsletter or they downloaded an e-book. They’re still in the process of learning and doing their research. You can tell which kinds of interactions are getting closer and closer to buying intent.


Working with sales to define what an MQL means is something a lot of times people miss. Marketing and sales should align on what that means and what constitutes an MQL or a marketing qualified lead. Sometimes it’s easier said than done because marketing might think one thing and sales doesn’t necessarily agree because maybe they want the lead sooner. But I think that’s something that really needs to be baked into the process upfront when you’re building out what this newly defined lead scoring model looks. Make sure that that marketing and sales alignment is there and that everyone agrees as far as what an MQL means and what types of activities are really what’s showing that high likelihood of buying intent.


It’s important to have a clearly defined process for how you’re qualifying and passing leads from marketing to sales. Also, marketing and sales leadership need to agree on that because that’s where some of the contention comes into play when it comes back to, we gave you lots of leads and the response is, well they were shit leads, excuse my French. But if you agree on what that threshold is, then they know at which point they’re accepting that lead. And it’s okay to adjust that after you’ve tested it out for a couple of months. If you’re finding, okay, we don’t have enough quality coming through these leads. Let’s take a step back, look at different ways to define an MQL and different criteria or more stringent criteria for passing it over to sales.


Truly build out a demand gen strategy and you really have marketing automation in place and you’re building out a demand gen engine and figuring out these different campaigns that I need in place in order to take these prospects through a journey and really nurture these prospects. You really can start to use this lead scoring model to level up your nurture programs and to really start to let some of that scoring actually help in marketing efforts and help to drive some more targeted marketing efforts before you ever pass anything over to sales. And rather than saying MQL, go straight to sales. Maybe an MQL is part of the marketing process and that’s really when marketing starts to evaluate and really feeds those prioritized prospects more focused or engaged or personalized content. I think really just putting that spin on it and again, redefining what a marketing qualified lead looks like and what you do with them.


Taking those people when they start to nibble at your content, you don’t just throw them straight to sales. You say, they’re interested in this content, let’s give them some more. And you can lead them on that journey until they’re ready to bite.


I know some organizations have actually gone beyond MQs and SQLs and they started creating marketing accepted leads, then MQs, then sales accepted leads, then sales qualified leads. And I think that’s kind of like going back to what you were just saying, Erica, the okay, your MQL is actually not passed to sales. I think that’s why many organizations have adopted that broader model. Because they’re like, wait, there’s more steps that probably should be involved between, they engaged with our content, and we thought it was ready to hand to sales.


I know we’ve said this quite a bit throughout the episode, but sales and marketing alignment is critical to this process and especially if you’re going start to move in the direction of redefining what lead scoring looks like for your organization, understanding that sales and marketing alignment is huge, and this is never going to go away. It’s something that needs to continue to evolve and that organizations need to continue to work on as they build out these models and evolve what this means for you. You’ve got to work together. Marketing cannot define all of this on their own and think it’s going to work. And sales cannot define what this all means and how marketing’s going to use it. It really needs to be a joint effort from both of the teams determining the types of activities that truly are demonstrating a buyer’s intent, but he’s far enough along that, yes, maybe it’s time to engage with sales.


You need to agree on the definition of what a marketing qualified lead means to you, what you do with those leads. And then also not to mention also agreeing on what the definition of a sales qualified lead looks like and truly what that means to the sales team. And then really just having a clear process to find for qualifying and passing these leads over. So you might rethink what you do with a marketing qualified lead, but that doesn’t rid you of the process that you need to have in place. You still need to have that process defined as far as if marketing qualified leads aren’t going sales, what is, and when does that handoff process need to happen and how are you going to go about it as an organization?


I think the key takeaway away from GrowthMode Marketing’s perspective is lead scoring really can be helpful in prioritizing leads, but we need to rethink the way that scoring is done and how it’s used because quality of leads really does matter.


Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe from more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.

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