In the ideal flow, marketers nurture prospects into marketing-qualified leads, transporting people from the top of the funnel to its middle – when they are handed off to sales to be more directly engaged with your brand. But how does a business move someone from cold to sold? What is the literal mechanism that drives progress through the funnel? That mechanism is lead scoring, and it helps organizations define, in quantitative terms, how close someone is to becoming a customer.
The 3 Questions You Have to Answer
A lead scoring model establishes point values for every meaningful action someone can take as they interact with your brand. These actions involve emails, landing pages, forms, and calls-to-action, sharpened (at times) by factors like when and how often these actions were performed. In truth, everyone in the funnel – top, middle, and bottom – should receive points for how they engage with your assets, but it’s at the top of the funnel where the magic happens.
Why? Because, bluntly, modern marketers are often measured in terms of how many high-quality MQLs they bring to sales, and high-quality MQLs are most reliably generated when leads are qualified by stacking points on points on points, until they reach the number that qualifies them.
The goal of lead scoring is to measure how engaged a lead is with your messaging and content, which in turn reflects how well your marketing is nudging them toward the point value – 50 points, 100 points, whatever it is – that triggers them to become qualified. I’ve heard many names for this point value: the “golden number,” the point of “baton pass” (between marketing and sales), the “threshold” from the top of the funnel to middle.
Call it what you want. The important thing, whether you’re implementing your first lead score system or revising an existing one, is to establish three items:
- The golden number for your organization
- Which actions can move someone toward that number
- How those actions are weighted against each other
To answer those questions, a business has to look inward, inspecting personnel, processes, goals, value propositions, and expectations. Many brands choose a nice round number, like the aforementioned 50 or 100, as their golden number, and score interactions with digital assets – email opens, form fills, link clicks – in increments of 5 or 10. But the system can and should be different for every brand.
However the system shakes out, one key is to make sure that marketing and sales are aligned. After all, what’s the point of concretely scoring how people move through your funnel if the gatekeepers on both sides don’t agree on what constitutes a sales-ready lead?
Another key is to establish a golden number that isn’t too high or too low. Too high, and MQLs will be readier to buy when passed to sales, but leads will convert slowly. Too low, and MQLs will generate faster but likely be of lower quality, since less action was required.
Choosing the “Golden Number”
Goldilocks would be proud: We’ve established that it can’t be too easy or too hard for a prospect to score points and become an MQL. But why? What are the ramifications of leaning too much one way or the other?
If it is too easy to become marketing-qualified, sales will find itself flooded with people who, even though marked as ready for a sale, are anything but. The danger is these people can be so put off by being contacted as if they are ready to buy, when they’re still high in the funnel – researching, understanding their basic problem – that they will entirely disengage from your brand.
However, if it requires too much to convert a prospect to a marketing-qualified lead, your business risks losing out on meetings, new clients, and revenue. This is why every brand must find its own happy medium when it comes to scoring leads’ actions. This is why there is no single, universal golden number. Instead, the better move is to ensure sales and marketing are aligned in choosing that number, the scoring scale, and the actions that will be evaluated.
How to Assign Point Values
Let’s say, for example, that your sales and marketing teams agree that leads should become MQLs once they reach a score of 100 points. In my time at Oracle, I’ve seen this number commonly used as a starting point.
Is 100 a good golden number? Well, it depends: How are you scoring email opens? What about landing page visits? How about multiple visits to the same landing page? What is the point value when someone signs up for blog updates, or fills out a form to download a white paper?
One point for each of these actions would be too low. For starters, it shouldn’t take 100 actions to become marketing-qualified. Second, these actions are so different from each other that it would be unwise to assume they signal the same level of interest: Giving up personal information by filling out a form indicates more curiosity in your brand than opening an email – especially given that 51% of emails are deleted within 2 seconds of being opened.
Now, to dig deeper: How much more valuable is a form submission than an email open? An email open isn’t chopped liver – it is worth something, since many emails are deleted without even being opened.
What if you were to ascribe an email open 10 points? That’s as fine a place as any to start, but again – the point designations are only as powerful as the logic that weights them against each other.
Is a form fill twice as valuable as an email open? Yes, many marketers would say. Some would say it’s 3 or 4 times more valuable. Even so, there are others who would argue (perhaps justifiably) that all form fills indicate a sufficient level of interest to immediately convert a prospect to an MQL and pass it to sales. In that system, all form fills would be worth the same number of points as the golden number.
And this is to say nothing of the fact that if the golden number is 100 points and an email open is worth 10 points, then if someone were to open 9 emails and do nothing else, they still would not be passed to sales. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? You’d probably want to consider a rule that auto-MQLs someone (regardless of their score) the moment they open their fifth email in a given timeframe.
Moreover, all content is not the same, even if it is the same type of content. A form submission for a report, for instance, is much more meaningful than a submission for a blog subscription. So, a good scoring model should assign points not only based on content type, but also on value proposition.
Does all of this sound as if it comes with a high level of tedium and complexity? You’re right; it does! Managing a lead scoring system is not easy, and it requires a lot of teamwork and forethought.
But it’s worth it. It enables brands to numerically measure how people are engaging with their assets, and it crystallizes the point of conversion from lead to MQL. It shines a light on one of the grayest areas in the funnel – the hand-off between marketing and sales – and helps both teams agree: “This is the moment that someone becomes sales-ready.”