Most small business owners don’t bother with scoring their sales leads based on a set of predefined criteria. But that may be passing up an opportunity to make follow-up efforts more effective by targeting, nurturing (or perhaps even ignoring) leads in different ways based on their score.

Lead scoring is basically a way of objectively ranking your sales leads according to a variety of factors such as expected time to purchase, level of interest, potential lifetime value of the customer and “fit” with your overall business goals. It’s about trying to determine the quality of your leads and allocate your immediate efforts toward the ones that have the best chance of converting, while others go into the nurture track.

Lead scoring is becoming increasingly important today for small businesses that are strapped for resources and always need to do more, with less. In that environment, it’s a perfect fit. Not all leads are created equal. For example, some may fall into the long-term bucket, while others are just plain hot.

Not only does lead scoring help you hone in on the most promising prospects, it also gives you an objective way to calculate and schedule the right types of follow-up for each ranking level. 

The old “BANT” approach to lead scoring – does the lead have the right Budget? Authority? Need? Timeline? – is a good start. But today’s buyers – both consumers and businesses – start their information gathering process much earlier than in the past and rely much more heavily on the Internet.

Here are six lead-ranking tactics that can really pay off for any size business:

  1. Start by clearly defining what constitutes a “priority lead” for your business. Once you communicate this to your sales people it gives you a handy way to measure how good they are at engaging these prospects and closing sales.
     
  2. Create a system to capture information on leads, score it and measure it. Key information you will want to understand is whether the lead is the right person to purchase your product or service, and whether they have the right level of interest.
     
  3. Consider information from the digital and social “graph.”  While you still want traditional demographic or business information on prospects such as age, income level and job title, the real key to discerning true purchasing intent is found in “behavioral” type information. In other words, it’s not who they are that defines them, it’s what they actually do. And since this can be found online, today’s term for this is “digital body language.” Tracking what prospects do online to consume information about your business and interact with you in some way is far more powerful ammunition than information you might get, say, by telephone.
     
  4. Pick your proof points. There’s no single way to define a lead score, as it differs business to business. But generally you’ll want to assign a number (1-5 for example) and/or weighting (such as 10-30%) for each factor. In a B2B setting, for example, factors might include the level of pain (that is, how badly they need a solution to a problem), the prospect’s job role, business or industry and the source of the lead.
     
  5. Map your prospects’ variations. Spell out the type of lead that each score represents, the follow-up action that’s needed and level of higher-touch personalization that should accompany it. For example, the right person at the right time with the right amount of interest is top priority and gets immediate 1-to-1 attention. Likewise, the right prospect at the wrong time is flagged with nurturing and follow-up. A lead that’s ranked as a wrong fit with no interest can be eliminated.
     
  6. Keep it simple to start. Don’t try to use too many scoring criteria or create complex follow-up plans. Start with a simple approach and carefully measure your results. You can always expand from there.