By Caroline Graham

It should come as no surprise that your prospects are online researching your products and services long before they’re ready to buy. By the time they are ready, they’ve seen your website, your competitors’ websites, attended a webinar, watched a YouTube video, been on all the review and social media sites, and downloaded applicable thought leadership content. You know this, we know this—heck, the guy across the street drinking a cup of coffee at Starbucks knows this. 

We also know that, as marketers and salespeople, we need to understand where our prospects are in the sales process in order to utilize appropriate strategies, and lead scoring helps you make that a reality.

Below, we provide the definitive guide to Marketo Lead Scoring—which will help you grow your business by understanding your prospects and where they are at in the marketing funnel.

What Is Lead Scoring?

Lead scoring is what it sounds like: ranking your leads in order to quantify the level of interest they have in your business—and their current place in the Buyer’s Journey. Basically, lead scoring is a formula designed to give you insight on who is ready to buy and who needs a bit more nurturing.

Lead scoring technology, such as Marketo Lead Scoring, allows you to capture information on the quality of various leads, ensure their validity, assign appropriate scores and classifications for leads, learn what leads need nurturing (and not sales attention), and identify metrics that designate the marketing team’s desired contribution to the sales pipeline and closed deals.  

There are a multitude of ways to score leads that range from numerical systems and letter-grading systems to defined terms like hot, cold, and warm. (There are also demographic and firmographic factors that go into these scores—such as company size, job title, and behavioral factors—but more on that later.)

With lead scoring, both sales and marketing teams are able to increase their combined efficiency and productivity based on a clearer picture of who their sales-ready leads are, what prospects are ready to be fast-tracked to sales, and which prospects need a bit of lead nurturing.

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Lead Scoring Disclaimer

Lead scoring is not a process that can be done by marketing alone. It needs the input of the sales team to define a qualified lead. Lead scoring doesn’t exist to start cherry-picking leads that are ready to buy so you can ignore the rest. Instead, it’s a process to determine where in the sales cycle each lead is and how to treat all leads.

How Does Lead Scoring Work?

Scores are based on information prospects give to you directly, such as the information you receive when they complete an online form. This can include things like job title, role, company size, industry, and location.

Scores also include information that you can infer about the prospect based on their online/offline behavior such as: revisiting the website/blog/product page, downloading a white paper/product spec/manual, opening an email, clicking a link in an email, registering for a webinar, or attending a webinar. If you are incorporating video into your marketing strategy, you also have the opportunity to score leads based on their video-watching behavior. Learn about video lead scoring with Marketo in this article by Vidyard.


Of course, different actions should have a heavier weighted score based on stronger buying signals (such as opening an email versus attending a webinar). This can be classified as latent buying behavior and active buying behavior.

Scores can also be either positive or negative. Examples of negative scores include: a student (versus an employee at Fortune 500 company), a person not living in a country served by your company, and someone using a common email domain (such as versus a corporate domain name.

Do You Need Lead Scoring?

You may be saying to yourself, “This seems too time intensive and mundane—a lead is a lead, and they’ll all lead to a sale, eventually.” 

Unfortunately, that’s not actually true. In fact, according to Marketo, 25 percent of all leads will never buy your product or service. However, lead scoring enables you to effectively identify which leads are sales ready and which will never, ever buy your product or service.

Although it’s not difficult to implement, lead scoring requires a basic level of commitment and routine review, along with an in-depth understanding of exactly who your target market is.

To see if you really need a lead scoring platform like Marketo, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Do I have a ton of leads in my pipeline?

If you don’t have enough leads in your pipeline to make qualifying an issue, then focus on lead generation instead.

2. Is my sales team reaching out to the leads that my marketing team generates?

Lead scoring only works effectively when there is good alignment between the sales and marketing teams, because it is the information provided by both that creates an effectively qualified lead. 

If your teams are not aligned, introducing lead scoring will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, focus on creating a service-level agreement (SLA) between your two departments that outlines how many leads marketing must provide to sales and how many leads sales must follow up with in a given time frame.

3. Do I have a way to capture the data I need for effective lead scoring?

You’ll need to be able to capture both explicit (captured by online forms) and implicit (captured by analytics on a lead management platform) data. It should be obvious that without accurate data, your lead scoring system will be completely ineffectual. 

If you don’t have systems in place to capture the proper data, focus on creating and/or improving the ways you can capture data.

Learn how SmartBug generated a 6,800% increase in email marketing traffic using  Marketo and inbound marketing tactics.

How to Get Started with Lead Scoring

If you answered yes to all of the above questions then you’re ready to rock and roll. There’s an exciting new world out there for you!

How do you get started? Here are a few quick and fast tips:

Keep your goals top of mind: You want to maximize the efficiency of your sales and marketing teams by identifying which leads are sales ready and serving content designed for each stage of the Buyer’s Journey.

Define criteria for a qualified marketing lead: Sales and marketing must be in agreement on the parameters for a qualified lead, which should include both explicit and implicit scoring factors.

Create your ranking system: Once you’ve identified what a qualified lead looks like, you’ll want to decide what points system you’ll use and what the threshold for a qualified lead will be. These can include points, letter grades, or terms like hot, warm, and cold.

Benefits of Lead Scoring

A mere 10 percent increase in the quality of your leads translates into a 40 percent increase in sales productivity, making for a vastly improved return on investment. In addition, lead scoring aligns the marketing and sales teams and results in not only a clearer picture of the needs at the bottom of the funnel, but it also ensures that the sales teams only focus on the most qualified leads.

Amplify Your Marketo Investment

Want to amplify your Marketo investment? Schedule a consultation with one of our Marketo Certified experts to discuss your goals and how SmartBug® can help you achieve them.


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Caroline Graham

About the author

Caroline Graham was formerly a Marketing Automation Manager based in Indianapolis. She is a Marketo Certified Expert focused on understanding how the digital age impacts consumer behaviors. Read more articles by Caroline Graham.

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