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6 Lead Scoring Techniques You Should Use With Marketing Automation

7 min

Understand the intent of your prospects and deliver more relevant communications to convert them.

Lead scoring is an essential marketing technique if your business is selling high value products and services, particularly where the decision is complex leading to a long average time between initial interest and purchase. The lead score gives a measure of how likely an individual prospect is to convert to a customer based on their characteristics indicated by information they give a business via forms or conversations and their behavior like interactions with your website and emails.

Read more: What is Marketing Automation?

Lead scoring involves increasing or decreasing a score for an individual prospect based on criteria and rules around the information they give the actions they complete. So if someone indicates that they are interested to buy a service within 3 months, by selecting that option on a form, it means that they have a high interest level, so their score can be increased accordingly.

Not all collected leads are equally interesting and certainly not all are ready to buy. Research by MarketingSherpa showed that at the time of original lead conversion when a new contact is added to a database, an average of just 27% of those leads will be qualified to the point where they’re ready and willing to engage with sales. The remaining 73% aren’t there yet and have to be qualified and nurtured further.

For this reason, lead scoring has traditionally been important for B2B products where marketing generate demand and interest around a product to generate leads and then pass them onto sales as a marketing qualified leads who can be contacted with a view to gaining a sale. It’s also relevant in some high-value consumer products too like purchasing a holiday, car or financial services products.

Regardless of which sector you’re in, marketing automation gives new options for business to introduce or improve lead scoring after new contacts are added to your list. To step you through the options, I’ll cover 6 lead scoring techniques use can use from basic to more advanced. The first two cover the two essentials of understanding interest vs fit.

This lead scoring visual from Smart Selling Tools show how interest and fit work together to better identify which of your prospects are more or less relevant.

The chart shows that you should be looking for that combination of high interest and confirmed fit. If the quality of the leads handed over to sales is too low (not sales-ready), their work becomes much more inefficient and frustrating. So, the aim is to avoid sales spending time on leads that are actually “Unworthy” or “Dubious” caused by a bad product fit or the combination of “Unknown Fit” and “Low Interest” in your offerings.

As we run through the options you can use, bear in mind that as your prospects interact with your web pages or emails, there are essentially two ways you can find out more about the preferences of your subscribers. Either you ask directly through a question on a web form, email or phone call or you automatically infer from seeing the actions they are taking. Marketing Automation helps you do both, but watching can be more intelligent and get a higher response than asking, so your mantra should be: Watch, don’t ask!

All that said, let’s dig into the 6 lead scoring techniques.

Technique 1. Increase lead score based on interactions.

High interest is shown when a prospect takes several actions like downloading multiple whitepapers or clicking or on several emails.

You can increment the lead score by different amounts. So, if someone downloads TOFU content (top-of-funnel), such as a general industry whitepaper, they could be scored +10 points. If someone downloads a resource more specific to buying from you, such as a buyers guide or price list they could be scored as +30 points.

A lead scoring system may involve incrementing lead scores like this:

  • +1 point – Visit website
  • +5 points – click on Email
  • +10 points – download free guide
  • +20 – complete free capability assessment
  • +30 – view paid member content
  • +40 – view payment form

Technique 2. Decrease lead score based on expressed interest level.

Although lead-scoring most typically involves increasing lead score, it is also best practice to decrease lead score when a prospect isn’t regularly interacting since, generally that will suggest they have less interest over. So, after a period of one month of inactivity you could decrease lead score by 10 points. Of course, if they re-engage by making further interactions, their score will increase again.

Technique 3. Increase lead score based on disclosed preferences.

As we said in the introduction, you can only tell so much based on interactions alone, so it’s also useful to ask people directly about their propensity to buy. To help understand this, it’s common to ask on a form, “are you interested in buying within the next 0–3 months, 3–6 months?”, etc. You can also ask them about their product interests to see that they are interested in a product that you offer.

Although you could ask prospects whether they are interested in doing business with you when they first subscribe, for example on a landing page form, but many would say this is way too pushy. In the early days of web marketing, Seth Godin talked about this form of permission marketing being like ‘dating the customer’. Asking ‘do you want to do business with us?’ straightaway before the site visitor has got to know you is like asking ‘Will you sleep with me?’ on the first date. Of course you can do this, you may have done, but it can cause offense in my experience.

This is where our next technique can help.

Technique 4. Progressive profiling.

Progressive profiling involves additional questions to get to know your prospect a little better, just like on a date. You can then add to the lead score based on the response.

The usual model for this is that, after initial subscribing, you offer the prospect more relevant content you think they may be interested in. This time they don’t have to enter all of their details since these will be stored, for example based on a cookie recognizing the prospect as a return visitor to the website. Instead you can ask one or more pieces of information before they can download the next piece of content. This has the benefit that it’s much quicker for your subscriber to get to the next step.

This example from insight provider comScore shows how, when they already know a subscriber’s details, they can ask for just a little additional information before accessing more free content.

Technique 5. Lead grading based on profile fit.

Lead grading isn’t necessary in all cases, but can be really helpful in B2B marketing scenarios. Through the previous techniques we will have learned about level of interest or intent based on the number of interactions. But this won’t tell us anything about the fit and it makes sense to separate assessment of interest from fit.

To create a separate lead grading, a separate letter-based grading is also commonly applied, although profile fit can simply be used to increase the lead score only. Level A would indicate a great fit. For example, for a business selling services to marketers, a director or marketing manager would have more budgetary control than a student. Level E would be a student who is using our free resources to support their studies, but doesn’t have the budget for a paid subscription. Combining the lead scores and grades together can help prioritize sales calls. Example combinations include:

  • A1 – High fit, High interest
  • E2 – Low fit, high interest
  • A4 – High fit, lower interest

In this case, prospects with category A1 can be prioritized for follow-up by a salesperson, whereas A4 can be nurtured by email, but don’t yet warrant a sales call unless they interact more.

Technique 6. Interactive content marketing.

The final technique is the most innovative of the techniques we cover. It’s part of what Scott Brinker has called the ‘4th wave of Content Marketing’. If you offer B2B subscribers the option to download content in the traditional PDF whitepaper format, you’ll only get to know that they have downloaded the whitepaper, but nothing else.

We have developed an interactive tool for businesses to assess their ‘digital readiness’.

As members answer the questions within this interactive tool, we provide value by making recommendations on the actions they should take to go to the next level in their digital marketing. At the same time, we’re able to conduct some simple market research and assess the need for members to upgrade.


In Conclusion

So, these are the 6 core techniques of lead scoring. Although, you can grow into some aspects of marketing automation and evolve your approach, it makes sense with lead scoring to use a planned approach based on someone who has previous experience of setting up lead scoring. You may need to change threshold scores for taking actions like when you pass on to sales as a marketing qualified lead, but it will work best if you score for all common prospect actions.

What do you think of these lead scoring techniques? What do you think will be most effective for your business? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Dave Chaffey
Dave Chaffey
Dr Dave Chaffey is CEO and co-founder of digital marketing advice site Smart Insights. He has been recognised as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and in 2015 was rated as the top UK influencer on social media for Marketing and Advertising in a top 50 compilation by