Lead Scoring & Routing: How to Drive Real Sales & Marketing Alignment

Ask any go-to-market leader about the obstacles they’re facing, and the chances are pretty good they’ll mention sales and marketing alignment.

Research from LinkedIn reveals that, for the vast majority of sales and marketing professionals, better alignment is their single largest area of opportunity. Just as many sales and marketing leaders believe greater alignment between sales and marketing is critical for sustained business growth.

It’s easy to see why. Competition for new business has rarely been more intense, and new investments at many companies are under immense scrutiny. To achieve ambitious growth goals, sales and marketing teams really should be working in closer collaboration than ever before.

The problem, however, is a surprising lack of guidance on precisely what true sales and marketing alignment looks like.

What’s the ideal state look like from a sales professional’s side of the street? ZoomInfo’s approach to lead-routing offers a real-world example of what can happen when sales and marketing teams are in true alignment.

Not All Leads Are Created Equal

One of the greatest challenges facing any sales leader is balancing the quality of incoming leads with their sales team’s ability to execute on and close them.

During a company’s crucial early growth periods, many sales leaders route their strongest leads to their best salespeople. At face value, the logic makes sense: strong leads mean greater revenue potential, and skilled, experienced reps are more likely to close those deals.

The situation becomes more complicated, however, when you factor in new hires and ramp times. Not every salesperson is of equal ability, and less-experienced reps still need sufficient opportunities to develop their skills — not to mention the quotas they’re expected to attain. 

The solution, for us, was to rethink how the warmest leads were routed. How do you determine which reps should be assigned which leads?

Form fills: Behind the scenes

Like many companies with a well-developed sales motion, ZoomInfo relies on form submissions from our website as a vital source of leads. 

In line with industry best practices, we ask for as little information as possible from our site visitors. Fewer form fields means a higher likely conversion rate, and much of the data we need to route those leads effectively is derived after the fact by cross-referencing submitted information with data in ZoomInfo’s platform.

Although ZoomInfo’s proprietary data enriches form submissions with more than 200 additional data points, we typically focus on just half a dozen or so when determining how that lead should be routed. 

“Every business tends to know the types of companies they are able to sell to easiest, and the people who buy from them most often,” says Will Frattini, head of enterprise growth strategy at ZoomInfo. “We’re no different, and by understanding data attributes about the companies and people who tend to sign off with us, we were able to build out a clear model on what would be our ‘hottest’ leads. 

“We started to see a trend that our sellers would win or lose more often with businesses of a certain size, certain firmographic, industry, and so on, as well as certain titles and buyer personas. Once we got that profile dialed in, we took it a step deeper and saw that certain salespeople on our team are better equipped and able and willing to close business faster with certain personas.”

With this data in hand, we set out to evaluate which leads were closing at higher rates, and referenced that with how we assess our reps’ performance.

Playing to reps’ strengths

Before we examine the performance of specific salespeople, we evaluate the strength of an inbound lead via our website — specifically, requests for demos — by three criteria:

  1. Win-rate projection
  2. Channel
  3. Segment

Some leads inevitably score higher than others. Businesses within certain industries, of a certain headcount, with certain technologies in their stacks are significantly more valuable and are therefore scored higher.

“What’s our projected win rate? Where did this lead come from? Based on historical data, what are the better performing channels?” Frattini says. “Segment typically determines whether a lead goes to a commercial sales rep or a corporate rep. This is what’s scored on a trailing 90-day basis, for every individual salesperson on our team.”

This rigorous approach allows ZoomInfo’s sales leaders to ensure that only quality leads are being routed to their teams, and that reps are assigned leads fairly based on their performance. 

Today, only between 32-34% of form-fill submissions are routed to our frontline sales teams. The remaining 66-68% of those submissions are routed elsewhere, such as nurture programs, as they don’t yet meet our qualification criteria. 

This offers a high degree of confidence in the quality of incoming leads for our sales teams, but it also poses unique challenges for sales leaders and their reps.

“If I’m a sales rep, I’m scored on my three-month dollars booked, relative to how many meetings I said were a good fit,” Frattini says. “So if I complete a bunch of meetings from marketing and I’m getting one of the 32% of ‘hot’ leads that were routed, and I say it was a good meeting — if I don’t close that business, that’s a significant missed opportunity.

“In the same vein, if I don’t say it was a good meeting, my leadership wants to ensure that lead gets routed again to another sales person to ensure we don’t miss out on a win for the business.”

From click to call in 90 seconds

To ensure the right leads are routed to the best reps at the correct moment, incoming leads are enriched and scored across several different criteria at the moment data is submitted to us via a form. 

However, that is only the beginning. Once leads have been scored and routed appropriately, and requests for a demo identified, those leads are then scored once again to ensure they are routed to the reps with a keen understanding of the prospect’s industry. 

All this happens within just 90 seconds.

“Somebody could be on our website, filling out a form, and in a half-hour, they’ve already moved to a different meeting,” says Deeksha Taneja, ZoomInfo’s vice president of growth and optimization. “After 30 minutes, the likelihood of booking a demo with them drops by roughly half. If you don’t get to them that same day, your chances drop to around 20%.”

While timing is arguably the most important factor in successfully booking demos and closing deals, it’s far from the only factor. Other signals, such as the channel of incoming leads, also tell us a great deal about our prospects. Inbound leads from pricing pages, for example, demonstrate significantly higher intent than a request for more information, and are scored and routed accordingly.

Not all leads are created equal. In some cases, it’s simply not cost-effective to give certain leads to frontline salespeople. 

This is the group of leads that are typically routed into ongoing outreach and nurture programs, which are also monitored over time to identify spikes in intent that could indicate a stronger likelihood of conversion.

“You can think of intent as a cumulative score,” Taneja says. “A lead may have lower scores in terms of firmographics or demographics, but if intent is getting higher, even though the overall score is lower, that’s when we might consider putting that lead in front of an SDR.”

As complex as lead routing and scoring can be, it’s just one side of the equation. Even the most carefully vetted leads are of little use if frontline sales teams lack the resources to work those leads. Our sales and marketing teams work closely and meet frequently to ensure that individual reps have sufficient capacity to work and close leads effectively.

“Once we’ve figured out the volume of leads we’re working with, we then determine SDR capacity,” Taneja says. “I meet with my sales team almost daily, so we generally know how much capacity they have. If I’m getting 100 leads, and our SDRs only have capacity to take 60, that’s when we work with our sales teams to identify how they can better align their resources in different areas.”

Sales and Marketing Alignment: From Concept to Closing

One of the problems facing sales and marketing leaders is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to achieve better alignment between sales and marketing teams. Even two companies of similar headcount in the same industry may have significantly different needs and obstacles. 

As a result, many GTM leaders end up pursuing “alignment” as an aspirational concept rather than viewing it through the lens of actionable processes. This can result in misguided internal initiatives, wasted spend, and frustrated sales and marketing teams.

“A lot of businesses overestimate how sophisticated their alignment strategy needs to be,” Frattini says. “There is so much value in tools that have AI built into their data warehouse and in their CRM that can help them build a scoring propensity model. That said, what made our early model so successful is that it was scalable.”

Our sales leaders have been refining this model over the past eight years or so with great success. The process may be faster today, but the core data points we look for and the criteria we use to evaluate our salespeople have remained virtually unchanged as this system has rolled out across our sales organization. 

Sales and marketing alignment is often spoken of as a goal unto itself. In fact, true alignment is nothing more than identifying and implementing predictable, replicable systems that ensure business goals are being met. 

“Sales and marketing alignment strives for better outcomes, but it’s a little ethereal to say, ‘Let’s align these two disciplines,’” Frattini says. “It was much more tangible for us to identify the fact that almost 70% of form submissions didn’t meet our criteria to be a good-fit account or person yet, and would have been more expensive for us to put those leads in front of an SDR or salesperson until they were more qualified or ready.”