The advent of marketing automation software has provided countless advantages to the marketing processes of companies that use it. One of marketing automation's biggest benefits is lead scoring. Marketers now have a much more precise way to measure the warmth of leads before passing them to Sales, thereby increasing conversion rates.

But lead scoring is still one area of marketing automation implementation that has a lot of marketers stuck. Here are three ways to smooth out the scoring process—and use it to boost conversion rates.

1. Decipher between 'interest' and 'need'

So, what exactly is the purpose of scoring leads?

Lead scoring is designed to first judge the interest level of prospects and then prioritize those leads. But what constitutes being "interested"? That's a harder question to answer; in fact, every person in an organization could answer differently.

"Interest" is not something that can be judged by taking a one-dimensional look at demographics. Interest is a combination of many elements built around another dimension that seems to get left out of the mix: the notion of need.

Need is the hardest element to measure, and it requires that marketers look deeper than the outer, demographic layer of their buyers. For that reason, you should start any lead-scoring exercise with the buyer persona-establishment process.

After all, people are just people... and they buy because of the same basic needs we all have. Those basic needs are supported by our individual personalities.

The absolute best way to build customer personas, therefore, is to survey the people who have previously purchased your products and services, and ask them questions about their decision-making process.

For instance, did they choose to purchase because the product would save them time or enhance their job performance? Are they motivated by advancement in their companies? Are they looking for a vendor to make them look good or a vendor that'll follow their directions implicitly? Are they skeptical? Are they trend followers or are they early adopters?

Once you've worked through the persona process, don't let the information you've obtained slip away for more traditional targeting. That'll get you right back to the old scoring process.

When we push through those basic indicators of potential buyers (e.g., location, job title), and get into their needs (how they make buying decisions), we can begin to score leads to better determine interest. That process does not happen overnight, and it should be re-evaluated multiple times throughout the year.

2. Take it down a notch

Marketers get excited about their elaborate scoring metrics that have quadrants and acronyms that correspond to combinations of titles and behaviors. Those scoring models don't necessarily scale, they're confusing to those outside of marketing, and—if the Marketing has turnover (as it's sure to)—they can get ditched because of a lack of translation from one year to the next.

Simplify. Start with a small baseline of demographic elements that correspond with the few personas you developed. Every new prospect should be categorized in a "likely" persona and then moved up or down (or into a new persona track) based on her behavior and interaction with your content.

For instance, let's say the prospect is categorized as a trend follower who is apprehensive to try something new. If that person were to download a case study, that action would increase her score. Or, let's say you have a prospect who buys strictly based on cost. You would heavily score her completion of a return on investment (ROI) calculator or an RFP template.

Ultimately, different types among your buyers achieve certain scores based on their persona and engagement with certain types of content assigned to that persona. You'll start to identify certain "tells" of each persona, and you'll know when a prospect is showing you intense buying signals. That is when you pass that prospect over to Sales.

The goal is to make lead scoring easy to understand so anyone who becomes part of the process can jump right in. Simplified lead scoring will also help in scaling as your company grows, and it can be flexible to accommodate changed and even new personas.

3. Extend lead scoring beyond the sales cycle and into the customer cycle

The term "lead scoring" is somewhat misleading here. After sales are made, the new customers should move into a "post conversion" activity bucket where you can focus on continually nurturing them. You can then boost revenue in two ways: You can keep customers longer, or you can convince them to buy additional products and services.

The conventional method has been to reduce (or even zero-out) a lead score once the lead has converted. Instead, assign the newly converted customer a new score as a warm prospect, and push her into a new pipeline that's all about continual customer engagement. As she conducts more activity, her score will rise again, and she'll eventually qualify to be handed over to Sales again.

That is one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of marketing automation—the ability to know when customers are interested in buying additional products and services. Extending lead scoring into the customer cycle is how you can capitalize on that ability.

* * *

Once you implement the three steps outlined in this article, you'll notice that fewer leads are sent immediately over to Sales. That shift is a hard thing both for marketers and for sales professionals to embrace, but it's important to get comfortable with it.

Just because someone downloads a whitepaper doesn't mean she's a lead whom Sales should contact. She's just someone who downloaded a whitepaper, and she should be scored and nurtured based on that behavior and on what you know (and don't know) about her.

Every marketer worth his or her salt is playing the content game right now. If you create good content, the right buyers will want it. Via better lead scoring, you can pinpoint those who actually need it, and get them to Sales at the peak of interest.

A stronger lead-scoring process will not only improve your conversion rate but also help you know your buyers better, and you'll organically develop a system that scales easily as your business grows. Your marketing and sales departments will cohesively become revenue-driven, not numbers-driven.

You may not see a rise in actual leads, but you'll certainly see a rise in your bottom line.

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Three Ways to Improve Your Lead-Scoring Process

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image of Justin Gray

Justin Gray is the CEO of LeadMD. He founded the company with a vision to transform marketing via the use of marketing automation and CRM solutions. Reach him via

LinkedIn: Justin Gray

Twitter: @jgraymatter