What is Lead Scoring? How to Build a Data-Backed Scoring Model

Most marketers operate under one primary directive: to generate leads for their business. But not all leads convert into paying customers, which raises a few questions:

1. How do you determine which leads are most likely to become buyers?

2. How can you optimize campaigns to generate better leads?

The answer? Lead scoring.

What is Lead Scoring?

Lead scoring is the process of ranking the sales readiness of a lead. It goes like this:

  • Determine which criteria or data points indicate a sales-qualified lead
  • Assign point values to each criterion
  • Finalize a score for each lead, shaping how sales handles them 

A lead scoring system allows you to reduce subjectivity in the process and understand which leads have the best chance of converting. Lead scoring systems can be done in a number of ways, from relatively manual (think spreadsheets) to much more advanced, automated scoring systems.

Among the most advanced are predictive lead scoring systems, which use machine learning (ML) — a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) — to build algorithms that automatically analyze data from customers and prospects. 

Using this information, predictive lead scoring programs forecast the quality and likelihood of winning business from a lead, and assigns them a corresponding score. 

Salesforce’s Pardot is an example of marketing automation software that uses predictive lead scoring to keep up with all leads. Backed by technology with the ability to “learn,” predictive lead scoring makes the lead scoring process faster and more accurate. 

Why Score Your Leads?

Lead scoring is much more than just a marketing strategy. 

It can make your entire business more effective and align many teams in your company. If implemented correctly, lead scoring can have the following positive effects:

Lead scoring creates a 77% uptick in the ROI of lead generation efforts.

Faster Lead Follow-Up

With lead scoring in place, the sales department better prioritizes which leads to follow up with first. Why does that matter? Speedy follow-up with qualified leads is highly correlated with better sales performance.

Create More Effective Marketing Campaigns

Lead scoring identifies the campaigns and channels that result in high-quality leads. 

When you pay attention to lead actions, in addition to which materials and channels captivate users, you can determine how many and what kind of interactions take place in the journey from lead to customer. 

Using this information, you can tailor your marketing strategy to generate more qualified leads.

Better Align Sales and Marketing

An ineffective lead scoring system is the largest contributor to misalignment between sales and marketing.

Without alignment between these core revenue teams, it’s much harder to hit sales goals, plug leaks in the pipeline, and get return on investment (ROI) on your go-to-market (GTM) strategy

But when you have distinct rules for scoring leads, every lead you pass on to sales is qualified and worthwhile, which strengthens sales and marketing alignment, GTM effectiveness, and morale. 

These benefits are only the tip of the iceberg.

Lead scoring streamlines, simplifies, and improves many processes in your business. And the best part? It’s not a difficult system to implement when you have the right process to build on.

Lead Scoring Examples

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to lead scoring. Each company should have its own scoring system that reflects their goals, objectives, and targets.

To get you started, here are a few things to consider when designing your own scoring model — a.k.a. the rubric you use to evaluate leads and assign points for sales prioritization. 

Create Buyer Personas

Before you can score your leads, you need a clear understanding of which characteristics make a prospect an ideal fit for your products and services. That’s where buyer personas come in.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer profile. Each buyer persona is made up of criteria gleaned from quantitative research, anecdotal observations, and existing customer data.

The more buyer personas you have, the more holistic your understanding of your customers will be. As a result, your lead scoring efforts will be more precise.

Determine Which Data Points to Score

After you know what your ideal buyers look like, it’s time to decide which attributes you want to highlight by assigning point values. Lead scoring criteria are split into two main categories: demographic information and behavioral information.

Some examples of demographic information for a B2B lead:

  • Location
  • Company size
  • Department
  • Industry
  • Job title and seniority

Behavioral criteria refers to the actions that a lead takes, or how they interact with your company. Examples include:

  • Email opens
  • Email subscription
  • Web page visits
  • Free trial requests
  • Form submissions
  • Content download
  • Social media engagement
  • Webinar registration

Assign Point Values

Remember, your goal is to define which traits and actions eventually lead to a closed deal. Build a lead scoring model that assigns numerical values to each data point accordingly.

For example, let’s say leads who subscribe to your blog updates haven’t historically converted to paying customers very frequently, but leads who download a whitepaper tend to have a very high conversion rate. So blog subscribers might get five points, while those who download whitepapers get 25 points.

An example using demographic and firmographic data points: Say your best customers often come from companies of 2,000-plus people who work in the financial industry, while individual financial advisors rarely convert.

In this instance, you assign 50 points to someone from a finance company of 2,000 or more people, but you subtract 50 points for anyone who submits a form with a free-mail and lists their job title as “financial advisor.” Again, the exact numbers and data points depend on your lead scoring system.

In addition to traditional lead scoring, this example includes something called negative scoring. This is the process of assigning a negative point value to actions or characteristics that correlate with spam or lead types who rarely convert.

You may also consider score degradation to monitor and manage stagnant leads. When a lead hasn’t engaged for a certain period of time, you could choose to degrade their score to indicate an evident lack of interest. Score degradation weeds out leads who have become less promising over time so sales can redistribute their efforts.

Scoring leads based on demographic and behavioral criteria.

How to Build a Data-Backed Lead Scoring Model

Here’s how to gather the right information to develop a data-rich lead scoring system.

1. Talk to Your Sales Team 

Sales reps interact directly with customers every day, which gives them important insight into what makes leads likely to become customers. They might recognize buying indicators that you failed to incorporate into your buyer personas.

If you don’t want to take up too much of your reps’ time, check out the data in your customer relationship management (CRM) platform. You can glean a lot of information from the leads your reps do and don’t follow up with.

2. Communicate with Customers

Your customers can tell you about their buying journey in greater detail than your reps can. 

Speak to some of your top buyers and ask them what early steps they took before deciding to make a purchase. As you speak to more customers, you’ll see trends that will assist with lead scoring.

3. Examine Your Marketing Analytics

Analyze data relating to all of your past marketing campaigns. Which ones generated the most leads? More importantly, which campaigns generated the most buyers?

If you find that a certain piece of content has a high conversion rate, for example, then you might assign a high point value to leads who download it or similar content types.

4. Determine the Threshold Where a Lead Becomes Sales-Qualified

Once you assign each data point a score, total all points amassed by a single lead. That’s their final lead score.

Simple, right? Not so fast.

The tricky part is determining what range represents “sales-readiness.” This will likely require testing and analysis when you start lead scoring.

We recommend implementing lead scores with no minimum value to start. Request that sales follow up with leads equally, no matter their score, for a predetermined test period. After that period is complete, analyze sales follow-up and lead score. Try to identify a clear cut-off where leads stop turning into customers.

Once this number is determined, sales and marketing teams must work together to develop the appropriate outreach processes for leads of certain scores.

For example, if, after careful analysis, you find most leads that have a score below 30 never turn into customers, you can come up with an agreement. Sales will follow up with all leads with a score of 30 or higher. Those who fall below that threshold will be placed into a lead nurture program until they’re ready to buy.

5. Use Sales and Marketing Automation Tools

If you think lead scoring sounds great, but nearly impossible to get right manually — you’re right.

Scoring leads well, especially if you have thousands of them, is extremely time-consuming. Add to that the fact that lead scores change as leads are nurtured through the sales funnel and you’ve got a recipe for poor productivity, data inaccuracies, and big lead-routing issues.

Marketing automation takes over mundane, repetitive marketing processes and eliminates the need for human intervention. You’ll often see it applied to marketing and sales workflows, like triggering campaigns, personalizing ads, and, of course, prioritizing leads. 

Most marketing automation tools have lead scoring software built in that handles lead scoring for you. All you have to do is enter your scoring criteria, and it will score leads as they come in and update their scores as they change.

For example, ZoomInfo Marketing automates manual activities and assists throughout the lead scoring and management process, including: 

  • Automatically creating and feeding your CRM, campaigns, and routing workflows important data segment information
  • Creating multiple, highly customized scoring models
  • Identifying the most high-priority leads via data-powered account scoring
  • Routing high-scoring leads and accounts to the best reps for faster closing

Find Lead Scoring Success Through Alignment 

While lead scoring might sound like a big project to take on, after you implement a lead scoring system, your company will become better aligned, more productive, and increasingly efficient.

Companies with aligned sales and marketing are 67% more efficient at closing deals.

Lead scoring is simply the best way to turn bushels of lookalike leads into well-organized, actionable data that your company can prioritize productively. Sit down with your leadership and start creating your lead scoring strategy today — your entire team will thank you for it.