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The art and science of scoring leads

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There are two trends that put the practice of sound lead scoring front and center today: marketing's accountability for providing more convertible leads and the startling reality that low lead quality and high attrition rates still persist, especially in long-lead sales. Knowing when a given lead is sales-ready can possibly mean a difference of millions of dollars of revenue for your company. Marketers must remember that the sales team's job is to close leads, not develop and nurture them. This is a new era for marketers, who must blend art and science perfectly to send sales teams quality, ready leads. To help, marketers must be aware of how prospects collect information on a company and the point at which they are confident and ready to spend. Marketers need to follow best practices of today's lead-scoring methods. Lead scoring is the systematic process of monitoring, evaluating and assigning scores to buyer behavior to measure activity, interest, engagement and urgency of action. It also allows marketers to prove their value to sales and dispel myths and complaints about the quality of marketing leads. Here are some approaches to ensure good lead scoring and help marketing align with sales to form a revenue-driving machine:
  • Grow scores through lead nurturing. Lead nurturing enables marketers to stay in touch with the 99% of prospects who aren't initially purchase-ready and influence their buying decisions over time. Today, marketing contact needs to be highly personal and customized, yet deployed in high volume. This is directly related to scoring, since nurturing helps inform scoring benchmarks. So as you track a lead's score and follow how it leads to a sales-ready qualifier, you will be receiving feedback that allows you to see what nurturing methods are most effective. Out the gate, make sure all leads opt in to your marketing communications; there's no quicker way to turn a potential customer off than to send them spam. A good rule of thumb for early-stage content is: Make sure it's useful information they can use, even if they don't eventually purchase.
  • Identify the hottest leads and opportunities. Start small. For example, website visits, webinar attendance and email open rates are all trackable and objective metrics to which you can assign points. So are a prospect's job title and company size. Work on moving these scores into sales-ready leads with regular outreach, perhaps once every two to three weeks.
  • Pass the baton from marketing to sales. The score threshold will be unique to each company. Sometimes it also depends on what the market can bear. In tight times, only the highest scores deserve sales' attention. Alternatively, if your sales organization is quite large, you may send a higher percentage of leads to them. Either way, improving the quality of leads and providing sales with context and measurement means you're helping sales be more productive and successful.
  • Get noticed for revenue. Really focusing on improving your marketing organization's lead-scoring efforts isn't just for improving good will with your sales team, although that's always important. More important is that transparent, effective lead scoring proves your marketing efforts' value in overall revenue generation of your company. If you can continually improve the scores of leads you're sending to sales, you are powering your own company's growth. And with today's marketing automation and revenue performance management technologies, it's easy to see what sales you have driven through to closed deals.
Coming up with these criteria and a scoring plan will be unique to each company and industry, and will likely change over time. Lead scoring isn't something you do once; it's a continual, organic and evolving process that empowers you to determine which activities lead to sales, and which require further nurturing. Phil Fernandez is CEO of marketing automation company Marketo Inc. (www.marketo.com), and author of "Revenue Disruption." He can be reached at phil@marketo.com, and on Twitter at @philf1217.
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