All leads are not created equal. Sure, every white paper download or email list subscription sends a little thrill through your heart, but we all know that some—or maybe most—of them won’t end up being the kind of potential customers that you really want. This is why your sales and marketing apparatus shouldn’t treat all prospects alike.

How do you know which prospects to cultivate, which will probably never buy from you, and which are ready to purchase the moment they pass along their information? One solution is through lead qualification and scoring. Let’s dig into what that means for your business.

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Why lead scoring?

Lead scoring is the process by which a marketer can quantify the presumed value of a customer based on trackable interactions between individuals and brand assets. They download a piece of content—10 points. They visit your careers page over 5 times—minus 20 points. You get the idea.

Once a potential customer reaches a certain point they can be considered “qualified” to buy. The ability to score leads requires an intimate understanding of your organization, the products and services that you’re trying to sell, the customers you’re trying to sell to, and which interactions and consumable content move users through your marketing funnel. If you know customers are more likely to buy if they’ve downloaded a brochure, then that interaction is worth more points than something further up the funnel—like a blog post.

It’s an important task because scattershot marketing at everyone all at once in the same ways is, frankly, a waste of time. Your customers are unique—or, at least, they fit into a grouping of personas, all of which have important differences. Some may come to you already knowing exactly what they want, begging to buy. Others need time to be convinced. But lead scoring can help move these differing visitors to appropriate workflows and lifecycle stages—and eventually on to your sales team—all at the right time.

Lead scoring can also be used to determine generally what makes a good customer and what doesn’t. Big data, once collected, can be analyzed wholesale to create a dossier on the ideal candidate for any purchase for an organization. You can do this on a small scale, for an individual making a single purchase, or for business-to-business sales involving larger purchases. Either way, it gives you crucial information on the customers you’re looking for.

Do they like you? Or do they actually want to buy?

It’s important for you to differentiate between interest and intent when you’re assessing your leads. When you’re initially introducing a new lead to your marketing funnel—that is, when you’re putting them through a lead nurturing process—you’re communicating to them based on their level of interest in a product or a service. They like your previous work or your brand, so they’re interested in seeing what you have to say.

But any seasoned marketer will tell you that every person who likes your brand isn’t necessarily going to buy from you. Lamborghini’s social media has a lot of followers who will never be able to afford one of their cars. They’re just interested in them, they’ll never be ready to buy.

Lead scoring helps your organization—specifically your sales team—understand who is ready to buy, who you should be communicating to a little differently, and with negative attribution, who will probably never buy from you. You can track how individual users are engaging with your content over time and use that information to build a historical record of their interests and—most importantly—product alignment. As you users’ engagement evolves, content can be automated and delivered accordingly.

This way you aren’t just pushing everyone in the same direction. You’re cultivating interest from your entire audience, but guiding your best possible customers toward the purchase.

Aligning sales and marketing

Everyone needs to be on the same page when they’re working towards a common goal. This obviously applies to your sales and marketing teams. If marketing is just driving in mass quantities of unfiltered leads to sales, or sales is ignoring marketing’s stratification of the leads that are coming in, not only is that a huge waste of everyone’s time, it’s also going to lead to fewer sales actually being made. And the customers that do come in are less likely to be the ones you really want.

This is particularly important because, while it’s critical to maximizing your marketing investment, lead scoring can get expensive. That only means you need to do everything you can to make sure you get the return on investment you’re looking for. And that means optimizing the alignment of marketing and sales.

One of the most critical parts of that alignment is managing the handoff from marketing to sales. Getting that transition right can be the difference between making the sale and losing it. The right information at the exact right time—the apex of a lead’s interest—can turn a “no” into a “yes,” and it can close a deal that otherwise would have failed.

You need to ask two questions of your transition. First, are you passing a lead from marketing to sales too early? You can determine a lead’s level of readiness to buy based on the qualification and scoring work you’ve done. But it can be tempting to simply shift prospects on to the sales team as soon as they look interested and let them do the work. Don’t do it. Wait until they’re ready before making the handoff.

How do you know they’re ready? That leads to the second question you should be asking: do you have set requirements before passing leads to sales? With lead scoring, this should be simple. Just establish a threshold score that a lead must achieve before it can be passed from marketing to sales, and—most importantly—stick to that threshold. No exceptions just because you have a good feeling about this one. Only move qualified leads on to your sales team. Period.

Build your dungeon, find your hero

Many of the leads you get are not going to buy. So you need to know which ones are most likely to do so, and concentrate your efforts on them—and make sure you’re catering to them intelligently.

To get the details of how to create an advanced lead scoring and qualification system that turns your hottest leads into loyal customers, check out our upcoming webinar, Lead Qualification and Scoring: Designing Your Dungeon Experience. Element Three Digital Marketing Manager Grady Neff will help you determine who’s the best hero to take on the dungeon of your marketing funnel and come out a customer. You won’t want to miss it, so click here for more info.

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Thomas Wachtel

When things get written here, whether it’s a blog post, a print ad or a comprehensive brand plan, Thomas is the one who makes sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Because nothing ruins written work like a typo.