How to identify a likely buyer with lead scoring


Janelle Johnson, Director of Demand Generation at Act-On demystifies the complexities of lead scoring with a simple three-step action plan for effective lead tracking and management.

According to the Acquity Group’s 2014 State of B2B Procurement, 94% of B2B buyers start the buying process by researching online. This gives you the opportunity to begin your company’s relationship with the buyer early in the process, while they’re still open to fresh ideas.

The powerful combination of content marketing and lead scoring can help you not only identify likely buyers, but also assess their ability and intent to buy. It is a potent mix of attraction and evaluation that can help you generate leads, educate them, and identify those who are becoming ready for a conversation with your sales team.

Content marketing

Content marketing is just a new name for a very old marketing practice: offering educational, informative, or entertaining content (papers, books, brochures, advertising, graphics, videos, etc.) to potential customers. But the difference is how it is distributed: through digital channels. Your website and other online assets offer buyers the easiest, fastest way to get to know your company, your philosophy, and your products. You can use content marketing to attract new prospects. And content can be used to to nurture your relationship with leads as they mature into buyers, as well as maintain customer loyalty.

Arguably, any content you can imagine that will benefit your (potential) customer can probably be used or repurposed in some form of content marketing.

Lead scoring

Lead scoring is a method for assessing how likely (and ready) your leads are to buy, based on who they are and how they engage with you. It uses a numerical rating system, assigning points to a lead for key criteria, characteristics, and actions – such as demographics, firmographics, website visits, campaign clickthroughs, event attendance, content downloads and form completions. Points accrue over time, and the sum of these points is the lead score.

Lead scoring can help you to categorise leads, making it easier to assess where leads are in the buying cycle, what they’re interested in, and how best to continue a meaningful conversation that keeps the momentum going and closes a sale.

MarketingSherpa notes that a whopping 79% of B2B companies aren’t using lead scoring as a tactic yet – which means the sooner you adopt it, the greater your competitive advantage will be.

The value of combining lead scoring with content marketing is this: with well-crafted content, you attract likely buyers, and begin interacting with them online. With lead scoring you can evaluate the depth and range of that engagement, and watch it ripen.

Manual lead management doesn’t scale

Manual lead scoring is possible, and it’s a good exercise for thoroughly understanding how to do it, and which attributes and actions indicate a likely buyer. But it doesn’t scale. Your increased success could be your undoing because, at some point, your finite time and resources won’t be able to keep up with demand. And don’t forget that your competition is only a click away for any potential buyer.

So how can you keep your arms around where each prospect is in the buying process and, more important, immediately identify hot prospects, reach out to them with the right talk track, and learn which content works best to sustain (even increase) pipeline velocity?

This is where automated lead scoring comes in. And yes, we admit that getting started is a bit of an exercise, but it’s not difficult and it is definitely worth it.

Three steps for successful lead scoring

1. Determine your scoring criteria

It’s a good idea to investigate the attributes and actions displayed by your existing best customers in order to identify the criteria that typify a buyer. You are looking for the clear indicators, not the outliers.

There are three basic types of criteria: explicit, implicit, and negative.

Explicit criteria

Explicit data (such as name and email address) is directly and intentionally provided by an individual and taken at face value to be true (e.g., information typed into an opt-in registration form). It requires no additional analysis or interpretation.

Examples of explicit data:

  • Physical address
  • Company name
  • Business type/industry/size
  • Revenue
  • Lead source
  • Title/job role
  • Level of responsibility
  • Purchase authority
  • Past purchases

 Implicit criteria

Implicit data is information that’s not directly and intentionally provided. It can be derived from analysis of explicit data or from observation. For example, a website visitor tracking application might show you that a particular visitor is investigating one specific product on your website. You can infer keen interest by observing many visits to pages devoted to that product.

Examples of implicit data:

  • Website visits – Number and category of pages visited, frequency, referral sites
  • Phone calls – If your automation platform is integrated with your CRM system, custom fields can be created to categorise different types of phone calls and assign points to them
  • Content interactions/media downloads – Views and/or downloads of articles, press releases, eBooks, videos, podcasts, infographics, pricing sheets, etc.
  • Subscriptions – Requests for newsletters, RSS feeds, other digital notifications for ongoing content
  • Webinar attendance – Number of webinars registered for, attended, topics
  • Form completions – For demos, contact, surveys, questionnaires
  • Offline/custom events – Trade shows attended, other physical events

Negative criteria

Negative criteria adjusts a lead score in response to factors that reveal a lead as less desirable.

Examples of negative criteria:

  • Lack of response to marketing messages
  • Unsubscribing from an email list
  • Defined periods of inactivity
  • Titles that indicate no purchase authority


2. Assign scores and determine thresholds

A lead scoring matrix is a table – a graphical way to define, create, visualise, and explain your lead scoring process. Here’s an example of what one might look like:


You can assemble one of these in any way that suits your purposes, using the criteria identified in step 1.

As you can see in the lead scoring matrix above, you will need to assign each scoring criterion a points score. The number of points you choose depends on your perceived value of the criterion for your business (and for negative criteria use a negative scale).

Then, determine the highest score someone can get if they do everything that can be scored. For example, if you’re running a nurture campaign with email messages, content, and calls to action, add up all possible points to determine the maximum possible score.

Since it’s unlikely anyone will get the maximum score, choose a few scenarios of potential interactions. Add up those points to determine a relative baseline.

This will help you determine where the lines are drawn (score-wise) that separate sales-ready leads from those that need more nurturing.

Once you have decided what you are measuring, how much it is worth to you and where your thresholds are, you can start thinking about creating different segments of your marketing data using lead score ranges. Subsequently, you can use these segments to create a marketing funnel as per the example illustration below.


Over time you’ll probably adjust the thresholds, or what you score and how you score it, as you learn more about your prospects and which actions indicate sales-readiness.

Here’s an example of one buyer’s journey toward becoming a qualified lead with a score of over 50, and how it was scored:


3. Automate the Process

In our example above, a marketing automation system does the heavy lifting. It runs the email nurturing program designed to educate John. It manages the webinar registration, stores John’s data, sends the follow-up email, and tracks John’s actions on the website. It gives scores to his title, company size, and actions.

Once the score passes the 50-point threshold, the system automatically sends an alert to Lillian, the sales rep whose territory John is in.

Lillian can see John’s profile, which shows:

  • Title, company, company size, and industry
  • Which emails he opened
  • The webinar he attended
  • The content he downloaded
  • The web pages he visited

When Lillian phones John, she knows what he’s interested in, and that he cares enough to be evaluating different solutions and associated costs. She can make a warm call, beginning the conversation at the right level on the right topic.

Marketing automation lets the marketing department deal with the mass of prospects, bringing them along each at an individual rate – without individual attention. As such, prospects self-identify as sales-ready through their actions, giving sales the opportunity to focus on the most likely buyers.

This allows businesses to:

  • Eliminate cold calling. Marketing can automatically nurture and score leads, get automated alerts when thresholds are met, then pass them to sales. Sales can see the prospect’s full engagement history immediately, allowing them to reach out warmly and effectively.
  • Decrease resource time spent on repetitive tasks. This improves productivity without having to add headcount, and lowers costs.
  • Shorten the sales cycle by effectively nurturing leads with content that resonates with their needs and interests.
  • Integrate with CRM tools, allowing sales to use what they’re familiar with whilst having even more information at their fingertips.
  • Align sales and marketing, which makes for better targeted and more effective campaigns that close more sales.

When it comes to the realities of today’s business competition, efficiency and speed are as essential as targeted accuracy. Lead scoring gives you the ability to put both in balanced play: it’s the science that perfectly complements the art of content marketing.

Automated lead scoring takes lead management to a new level. The results? Vastly improved workflows, optimised customer engagement that scales, and increased revenues from new and repeat sales.

Janelle Johnson is Director of Demand Generation at Act-On, our partner for anything and everything marketing automation related. If you want to learn more about lead scoring best practices, check out Act-On’s eBook Prioritize Your Leads now. 

If you would like to find out how lead scoring and automation can be integrated into your marketing strategy, feel free to drop us a line.

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