Is your business using HubSpot's Lead Scoring tool to help your sales reps focus on the best leads? Is your marketing team efficiently qualifying leads as they come through the digital door? Every person who visits your website is different. Some visitors will comb through your blog or resources for information, looking but never intending to buy. Others are ready to buy, and they're on the lookout for the right deal. And then there are the ones who will be ready to buy at a future date but still need more time to think the decision through.
If only there were a way to categorize visitors so you could best tailor your interactions with them based on how hot, warm, or cold they are as potential buyers…
Well, you’re in luck. There is a way!
With lead scoring, you can rank how sales-ready a potential customer is by analyzing their behavior.
Think of it as getting under the hood of a car to see what makes it run. You’ll look at what visitors are doing, and based on their actions, determine your best course of action in communicating with them and moving them toward a sale.
HubSpot's lead scoring components may be intuitive, but coming up with a fool-proof lead scoring strategy is NOT. This comprehensive guide sets out to explain what lead scoring is, why it matters, and how to seamlessly plan, map, and execute it from start to finish. Let's turn you into a lead scoring pro, shall we?
According to SiriusDecisions, the textbook definition would go something like this:
“Lead scoring is a methodology used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead represents to the organization. The resulting score is used to determine which leads [sales and marketing teams] will engage, in order of priority.”
But if you want to break it down into layman’s lingo, lead scoring is simply a more automated way to qualify leads based on who they are and how they engage with your brand.
Lead scoring has played a substantial role in helping companies prioritize and qualify the best leads for sales teams to pursue. To accomplish this, lead scoring processes use a point system through which point values are assigned to key sets of criteria, properties, and behavioral actions associated with a contact in a company's system. Points accrue over time (or they’re subtracted), and the sum of these points is called the lead score.
Note: for those of us using HubSpot’s marketing automation platform, this total point value is referred to as the HubSpot Score in a lead’s contact record.
Let’s say someone visits your website and fills out a form to download a white paper. You might assign a score of 10 points. Say someone else requests to demo one of your products. That might be worth 70 points.
Lead scoring is a great way to determine interest versus intent.
For instance, if someone comes to your site multiple times and reads several blogs, you can assume they are likely interested in your products or services. Bottom-of-the-funnel behaviors, such as looking at a Pricing or Contact page or requesting a demo or consultation, should be scored higher because those show intent.
Actions that show a readiness to buy should be weighted more heavily than those that simply show interest. As a lead accumulates points, their lifecycle stage in your sales cycle transitions from marketing qualified lead (MQL) to sales qualified lead (SQL). This takes collaboration, of course, between your sales and marketing personnel; scoring leads is most successful when these two departments work together to determine the weight of each item and communicate as leads are passed back and forth.
If you determine, through lead scoring, that someone is interested but not yet ready to buy, you can add them to a lead nurturing campaign. Or, if a visitor is hot to trot, move them right over to your sales reps to work on closing the deal.
Depending on your website’s volume of visit-to-lead conversions, it’s not very easy to sort through all the new contacts you accumulate over time and manually determine the value of each one. Add in the time required to analyze the actions of returning website visitors, and the challenge is compounded. How do you know which leads to spend more time on? A well-built lead scoring system helps answer these two questions:
Is the lead a good fit? Does the lead exemplify the qualities of an ideal prospect with whom you’d like to do business? In other words, is the information you’ve collected about the lead aligned with the criteria you’ve established for your target buyer personas?
Is the lead interested? Has this person demonstrated behavior that indicates your content, products, or services appeal to them? As a marketer or salesperson, it’s important to capitalize on engaged prospects who are showing they’re interested in buyin’ what you’re sellin’ – by following up with relevant content as soon as possible. Optimally, lead scoring will enable you to pinpoint prospects that demonstrate a ‘yes’ to both questions – a mutually good fit! And when you use the HubSpot Lead Scoring tool, it’s a heck of a lot easier to determine the answers.
When you adopt a lead scoring strategy, you implement a system that defines marketing qualified leads (MQLs), and sales qualified leads (SQLs) quantitatively. This is important because it makes lead quality tangible and measurable – not only helping marketers with reporting hard numbers to the C-Suite and provides an easier way for them to calculate ROI.
Lead scoring not only enables a business to automatically assign these types of contact “lifecycle stages” through a workflow, but it also allows marketers to enter leads into specific nurturing campaigns based on their lifecycle stages to deliver tailored content to them. For instance, you might set up a personalized sequence of emails for a marketing qualified lead, or you could handpick a couple of relevant case studies from a sales kit to deliver to a sales qualified lead.
Either way, a solid scoring process makes it significantly quicker and 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.
Perhaps most importantly, lead scoring offers Sales and Marketing a way to jointly come up with a definition for what MQL and SQL mean for their company. Suppose these two departments have a documented mutual understanding of these lifecycle stages. In that case, both parties are held more accountable, and in turn, are less likely to complain that the other isn’t doing its job (which, to this day, is a gap many companies have yet to bridge).
However, if there does happen to be a lead delivery or follow-up issue expressed from either side, the two teams can meet to work on redefining the process together. When there is no process in place, it’s anybody’s guess whether or not Marketing is delivering enough SQLs or Sales is effectively working the opportunities they’re given.
Lead scoring also increases the effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts by giving them the same point of reference when discussing both the quality and quantity of leads. Think of it this way: the shared terminology and real-time data comprise a common lead scoring language!
Alright, it’s time to get to the real meat of this post: how to plan, map, and set up your Manual Lead Scoring process in HubSpot.
First things first, Marketing (and ideally, someone from the Sales team) needs to sit down and come up with some preliminary lead scoring criteria from which to build your process. What are the attributes often seen in the prospects that become customers?
You’ll be giving consideration to two types of data: explicit data, which is created from information collected via an online form (job title, industry, etc.), and implicit data, created from various actions taken by a lead from which you can draw inferences about engagement, interest and buying intent (page views, email opens, CTA clicks, etc.).
Each criterion from each set of data can have a positive or negative impact on the lead’s score, depending on the way your contact properties are set up, as well as your business's goals and needs.
Let’s go down the list of what data could be involved in this initial criteria.
Which of your leads’ HubSpot contact properties found in their contact records are most important from a sales perspective? First, identify which properties you’ve used to help crystallize the definitions of your buyer personas. Then consider which additional custom properties you’ve created that will help you make more informed decisions about lead quality.
For instance, you may want to award a contact whose “Job Title” value indicates they have purchase decision-making power or influence. Similarly, you could also rank the options a contact can self-select in the “Industry” drop-down form field in order of importance – with your target industries receiving more points.
Building on the idea of ranking, it’s important to remember that some contact properties may yield positively and negatively scored responses, depending on the information a lead provides in a form field. “Number of Employees” or “Annual Revenue” are prime examples. Perhaps your company only works with organizations of a specific size. A contact who answers on one end of this spectrum could receive points while another might deduct points. Rest assured, this is all doable in the Lead Scoring tool.
A word to the wise: There may also be values in specific form fields—or entire fields for that matter—that remain neutral; there is no need to assign a value to every single contact property in your HubSpot portal. What you should do, however, is use (or create) form fields that offer pre-populated options to a lead: drop-down menus, checkboxes, radio select fields, and so on. Your ability to score leads and segment them for email campaigns based on contact property values will be dramatically hindered if contacts are typing in their own custom responses into single-line text fields on your forms.
Next, export a list of all the forms you have on your website. Rate the value of each form’s respective offer in terms of the buyer’s journey – either on a 1-10 scale or using terms like low, medium, and high.
High-value forms would be contact forms and demo, assessment, or pricing requests, medium-value forms might be webinar registrations or technical guides, and low-value forms might include checklists or introductory white papers geared towards prospects at the top of your sales funnel. In most cases, it’s obvious to your team which forms are better indicators of sales readiness than others. So use your best judgment!
When brainstorming your lead scoring criteria, give some thought to which website pages you think are the most important. Of course, this is partially common sense. If someone is looking at a pricing or demo page, they are likely farther down the funnel – and those pages should be worth more points. But there are other pages, like case studies and customer stories, a portfolio of work, or industry-specific pages that shouldn’t be left out of the scoring process.
If you have the data available to you in your CRM, take a look at the timelines from the HubSpot contact records corresponding with your top customers – or at least those who converted as a result of your inbound marketing efforts. Do you notice any trends? Which pages did your customers view before the deal was sealed? Are there any pages or posts that have popped up in sales conversations? Give this content a little lead scoring weight, as well.
With respect to HubSpot’s contact property, “Original Source,” take a moment to figure out which channels have historically performed the best for your business. Which sources have consistently delivered the most qualified leads over time? If there is a clear pattern, you know where to allocate those points. If the data is relatively inconclusive, the source “Direct Traffic” typically indicates that the potential buyer is explicitly searching for YOUR company by typing in the URL, which is enough reason to award these contacts a couple more points.
If you have some robust referral websites working in your favor, you can also specify which ones should receive points. For example, Precision Marketing Group gets a fair amount of referrals from our HubSpot Agency Partner listing, and many of those referrals have become sales opportunities and customers. Therefore, any lead coming from a URL containing that site is awarded a good amount of points in our lead scoring system. If your business partners with another company or has a popular industry website listing, rate those referrals accordingly.
Engagement ties into examining the implicit behavioral data you’ve collected about a contact. When coming up with engagement-based lead scoring criteria, it’s best to include as much you can: email opens and clicks, blog comments, the number of visits to the site, the number of pages viewed while on the site, social post interactions, and the list goes on. These attributes will often help you prioritize one lead over another, all other things being equal.
One crucial piece of data to incorporate is the age of the last email touch. It’s safe to assume contacts regularly opening and clicking emails from you are more engaged than those who are not doing this. Account for this in your lead scoring by setting up some parameters that represent the amount of time it’s been since the last open or click.
A word to the wise: Know that points given for meeting specific criteria can be taken away as soon as the contact no longer meets that criteria. In many circumstances, like for form submissions, this tip won't be relevant. However, if you allocate +3 points to a lead who has visited your website 2-5 times, and you'd like to give them another +3 points if they visit your website six or more times, you must assign +6 points to the latter. Why? Because as soon as a lead's "Number of Visits" data value leaves the 2-5 range, they lose the original +3 points they had received for meeting that criteria. The points would not be cumulative.
There are all kinds of ways to formulate your lead scoring criteria – and if you do it right, it should take a good amount of time (though not to the point where you’re pulling your hair out). Once you’ve got all your preliminary criteria outlined, it’s time to support it with some additional research. Here are a few tactics you can deploy to strengthen the reliability of your lead scoring.
1. Have an in-depth conversation with sales.
If you haven’t already done so, talk to your sales team about the things that help them quickly assess the quality of a lead. What do they think are their most important website pages, documents, and questions asked on forms? Do they ever say something like, “Every time I send prospects this certain piece of collateral, it's a lot easier to close them.” Those are the lead scoring gems that you want to find and add to your process. And on the flip side, which contact properties imply that the contact is not worth pursuing? Those are your negative scoring attributes.
You also should discuss with Sales their current definitions of MQL and SQL. Most importantly, what do they consider sales qualified? Is it someone who reaches out and essentially asks to be contacted? Is it someone downloading a particular piece of content or viewing the demo or pricing page more than once? Or even just once? It’s essential to get their take on what SQL means to them so that you can create the right point ranges for your scoring process. (More on that later...)
Finally, make sure you have a clear picture about who you’re targeting – and how this translates into the data you can collect on your forms. If your forms need to start presenting more specific questions, then create new custom contact properties that you can queue up in smart forms for returning visitors. It’s important to know who you're already raking into the database. Still, it’s just as important to know who you and your sales team WANT to attract and then to award more points to contact properties and behaviors that reflect that ideal buyer.
2. Talk to your best customers.
Switching gears, one of the most critical things you can do to build an accurate lead scoring system is to talk to a few of your favorite customers who you know will be honest with you. Ask them about what sold them on your business, particularly regarding the website and any content marketing material they were exposed to.
You could also analyze four or five of the most recently closed deals. Who was the point person? Look at that contact’s history in their contact record and check out how they arrived at the site, what they downloaded to become a lead, and any other noticeable patterns about their page views, engagement, and form submissions. Looking at the buyer’s journey can help you decide what materials have the most significant impact on lead-to-customer conversion.
3. Consult your analytics.
Digging into your website analytics may also help you with your lead scoring endeavors – particularly page performance and attribution reports. If there is a particular blog, site page, or landing page generating a lot of views and conversion assists, you should probably give that page some extra lead scoring love. Is there a Call-to-Action button that’s continually driving people to convert on bottom-of-the-funnel forms? Albeit a small component of your website, adding a click of that CTA into your criteria makes sense.
Now it’s time to score your positive and negative attributes. Determine which content is associated with the top, middle, and bottom of your funnel and assign point values accordingly. Here’s a simple rubric you can use to get started with rating your form submissions:
It’s also important that when you negatively score your attributes, you subtract a hefty amount of points when a contact indicates they are not interested in your business – like when they opt-out of all email communication or they’ve revealed they’re a competitor.
Here comes the part that can be a little difficult to understand: determining the right HubSpot Score ranges that correlate with identifying a lead as marketing qualified or sales qualified.
First, let’s quickly dispel a couple of common lead scoring myths.
Here’s what you should do to assign lifecycle stages through lead scoring:
Combine the properties and actions that best represent an MQL and an SQL. To do this, keep these definitions in mind.
MQL = A marketing qualified lead is a lead who is more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on their demographic information and their activity on your site before they become a customer.
SQL = A sales qualified lead is a lead that has somehow indicated they have an intent to purchase. They have likely left the consideration stage, knowing they want and need a solution at least similar to the one your company offers.
More importantly, think back to the conversation you had with your sales team about MQLs and SQLs. What would it take for a lead to become an MQL in terms of what you can record and measure in HubSpot? There will be multiple scenarios, but take a few of them and add up the points that correlate with those attributes. Skew towards what you consider to be a minimum set of MQL requirements. Then do the same for SQLs (though don’t be so lenient here).
The point total you have for each is your lifecycle stage qualification threshold. It could be that 35-64 points is your MQL score and 65+ points is your SQL score. With that said, it’s important to recognize that the first few months’ worth of MQLs and SQLs will require some attention and extra vetting, primarily to see if your lifecycle stage assignments are accurate. Lead scoring is always a work in progress, and you might need to do some fine-tuning as time goes on.
An alternate approach:
The actual lead score (or HubSpot score) reaching a specific threshold doesn’t have to trigger the lifecycle stage assignment. An approach one of our clients (this client happens to have a lot of downloadable content offers available on their site) has found effective is basing the lifecycle stage on some basic qualification criteria and single form submission.
If the content downloaded is specific to their target industries—and the lead isn’t disqualified due to a negative contact property value—the lead is considered an MQL. If the contact fills out a form that requires some kind of follow-up from Sales, the lead is regarded as an SQL.
In this case, the lead scoring points are solely used to prioritize one lead over another, helping Sales to determine who they should target with personalized lead nurturing sequences that we’ve created for them. The points are not used to assign the lifecycle stage contact property.
After allocating your point values to your scoring criteria outline, now it’s time to input these values into the HubSpot Lead Scoring tool. How much information you have and how many criteria you’ve laid out will impact the amount of time you spend doing this.
The tool is relatively intuitive, but here’s a screenshot to give you an idea of what sets a few criteria in your portal looks like:
You’re almost done! The last step is to create the smart lists and workflows that work harmoniously to assign a value to your contacts’ “Lifecycle Stage” property in HubSpot.
Creating Your Lists
First, create a smart list for your marketing qualified leads, and name it something like HubSpot Lead Scoring: MQLs. The two criteria in the list—separated by an AND, not an OR—should specify that the lead has a HubSpot Score greater than or equal to the lower number in your criteria.
Building Your Workflows
Workflows are specifically used to automate the change in the lifecycle stage contact property. Again, you need two separate workflows: one for the MQL lifecycle stage change and one for the SQL lifecycle stage change. Once you finish the MQL workflow, you can clone it and replace the MQL pieces with those for SQLs. Here are the steps for carrying this out:
Note: You need to clear the contact property before setting it because HubSpot will not allow you to go backward in terms of lifecycle stages unless you manually make the change in the contact record yourself or automate it in a workflow like so.
It’s important to acknowledge that lead scoring should be continually refined and honed over time. On a regular basis, monitor how it’s working and ask for feedback from Sales to find out if it’s delivering the right kinds of leads to them. Do not simply “set it and forget it” – that approach won’t work. The goal is to make lead scoring a legitimately valuable tool for Sales and Marketing so that both teams are empowered to reach their goals and report on their achievements.
Have lead scoring tips of your own? Different techniques that have brought you success in the past? Let us know in the comments below. We'd love to get your take on lead scoring!
Oren Smith—our resident Marketing Manager and data geek... *ahem* expert—has been heading up PMG's marketing for 5+ years. Between stretches of content writing and inbound strategy, you might find him planning his next adventure abroad or enjoying a good, old-fashioned lobster roll.