Qualifying Leads: why lead scoring is inadequate

Here are some numbers I’ve recently read: through marketing automation we are closing between 2-8% of leads (as per Jeff Lenskold), 70% of leads buy something (as per Steve Gershik) but not necessarily during the time we are scoring and nurturing them, and 90% of leads ‘fall out the bottom‘.

Here is what these fascinating numbers tell me: 1. we are closing approximately the same number of sales through automation as we closed without it (and spending gazillions to do it); 2. the automation process ignores the bulk of the behind-the-scenes buying decision issues that happen before, during, and after any digital behavior.


When someone visits a site, listens to a webinar, or dowloads a white paper, we are merely hoping s/he  is a prospect. I’m reminded of the days when I just did conventional sales and had a shoe box filled with business cards of folks who hadn’t bought anything from me: I was saving them to use the names/numbers at SOME point to sell SOMETHING. Have Name Will Sell….. Something. And dammit, I was going to close them! I kept that box for decades.

When buyers show up, marketers have no way of really knowing who is a relevant lead (and, in IMHO, sellers don’t eitheror they’d close a lot more).

Currently, using the sorting categories for Explicit and Implicit buying criteria, there is no way to

  1. understand  who else is on the Buying Decision Team, the weight of the site visitor on the Buying Decision Team, and where they are in their internal environment re making a change to do something different;
  2. enter the buyer’s buying decision journey early enough to influence anything more than the final solution or provider;
  3. help manage the behind-the-scenes decisions about when, or if, or how, or politics, or inclusion, or or or that actually determines how and when or if they buy.


Through current technology, we are merely guessing as to why a visitor attends a webinar or copies a white paper; we have no control of earlier, private, and idiosyncratic decisions that affect a decision to purchase.

By adding simple decision facilitation technology to the front end of current marketing automation technology, and using the ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ sorting criteria now being used, let’s see what’s possible  in re lead scoring:

Explicit: likely buyers (as determined by an industry or product’s historic purchasers) can actually be lead through their off-line, non-need-related decision issues, and self-select into viable/unlikely buyers;

Implicit: by focusing on the Buying Decision Team, it’s possible to influence the buying decision steps earlier, and offer a highly viable lead to a seller or a nurturing program.

I think we could be doing more than we are. Currently, we are actually following people who may not be prospects, who show up before they’ve chosen their full Buying Decision Team, or discovered the full set of internal, non-needs-based issues (such as change management problems, company politics, etc.) they’d need to address before they could buy. The current process is merely addressing the tip of the same iceburg that sale addresses — with the same sorts of horrid closing results (7%).

I understand that there has been a whole marketplace of people, technology, conferences, blogs, on the subject of lead scoring, and converting the leads to closed sales. But it’s not working anywhere near as well as it can work once we focus on developing technology to actually help the buyers take the necessary internal, off-line steps toward making a purchase.

They must take these steps and manage these issues with us or without us. Now we are losing most of our closable sales, wasting our seller’s time, and net/net, not giving our prospects all of the support they deserve.

Stop thinking about placing your solution. Start thinking about the change issues buyers must address before they can buy. Right now we are focusing on the wrong end of the decision journey last. I don’t want you to take that part away. I just want you to use a front end first. Then you can score the real factors and use the right marketing solutions and close a lot more sales.


To learn more about the decision factors and behind-the-scenes buying process, read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it or Buying Facilitation™: the new way to sell that influences and expands decisions. Or buy the bundle with both books and an illustrated booklet:

Listen to Sharon-Drew use Buying Facilitation™: MP3

8 thoughts on “Qualifying Leads: why lead scoring is inadequate”

  1. You summed up misuse of automation in this golden nugget, “we are merely guessing” as to why a visitor attends a webinar or copies a white paper; we have no control of earlier, private, and idiosyncratic decisions that affect a decision to purchase.”

    The current activity based sales and marketing paradigm contradicts customer centric selling. Salespeople should be in the game long before the buying process. That’s called farming, which most organizations believe to be ineffective, but salespeople must be both hunters and farmers. My career was very successful with a presales entry that eliminated guessing, shortened the sales cycle, and increased closing ratios.

    Economic pressure to generate revenue has corrupted the sales process with shortsighted-me-centric behavior. One way or another, this breed of selling is doomed to disappear. Some sales organizations will change and others will die.

    1. One comment on your post, Gary. You say “… long before the buying procoss.’
      I call the entire series of decision issues buyers must address (most of them off-line) the buying decision process, or the buying journey. I’ve been talking about this for over 20 years. Unfortunately, ‘buying process’ has come to mean the solution choice bit. But in fact, there is a long series of issues that must be managed along the route of the buying journey. Sales has never, ever managed that part and there are no sales tools to do it.

      Buying Facilitation(tm) actually teaches a model that acts like a GPS system to lead the buying decision journey from start to finish, all based on systems thinking and change management, and nothing whatsoever to do with sales.

      Take a look at http://www.facilitatingbuyin.com and listen to some of the Making Change Work podcasts i did with someone from Deloitte – my stuff is all about change management and servant leadership …. nothing whatsoever to do with buying, or selling.

  2. I just keep getting the feeling that much of what we get sold as marketing automation is really built for a relatively small-ticket consumer market, but doesn’t port well to the big-ticket B2B market. What’s someone’s criteria for buying a book? Who cares — stick a picture of it up there with some stars, get people to the site and let them read the reviews and decide. That’s not going to work for 4, 5 and 6-figure service engagements or enterprise software.

    We don’t expect to completely automate the buying process for the big-ticket sales. On the other hand, it’s both terribly inefficient and personally frustrating for our salespeople to be spending a lot of time with people who are neither qualified nor ready to make the big-ticket purchases. We want to serve those people, and we have offerings appropriate for them, but we want to automate that process, and our current “here’s a menu — what do you want?” approach doesn’t do that as effectively as we’d like.

    So how do we do that? What’s the process to change that?

    1. Believe it or not, the way we buy books and the way we buy a company, or a training program, or a house, are all the same at the systems level. There are a handful of points we have to address before even considering change (and every purchase is a change management problem of sorts), and until or unless we address each one of them, we won’t buy.

      The largest of these points (and they are all written up in my book Dirty Little Secrets), is the buy-in piece. Until or unless there is agreement from every aspect of whatever will touch the solution, there will be no purchase. With a book, if there is no more room for books, or you’re moving, or your friend is getting you a gift, it’s much simpler but still must be done. With a training program, for example, the folks in the training department, the people to be trained, the other departments, the old vendors, the old training content, all must work together to bring in something new.

      Sales forgets that end of the buying journey. And no, we cannot automate these private discussions and negotiations, but we can easily design software automation that addresses each step, points buyers in the direction of what completion looks like or what choices will do to their status quo – it all depends on the outcome or software.

      With my own patented software tool Hobbes, I can help site visitors discover that exact criteria they need to meet from the site, and then lead them there. With marketing automation, it’s possible to direct buyers through their activities and capture their data along the way… but the off-line activities that are not related to the solution.

      The very first thing necessary is to start to realize that there actually is a codifiable process to the beyind-the-scenes buying decision journey, and THEN be willing to add it to the current marketing automation software.

    1. We all have internal criteria that need to be met prior to making any decision. And all decisions – even to do something relatively simple as buying a book – must meet our criteria and values. Whether a book or a training program, if something goes against our values, we won’t buy it. Once there are several people involved with the decision, the process gets complicated in unknowable ways, and buy-in is necessary

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