Do you miss the good old days back when a potential customer would patiently let you make your case, you could get a "feel" for them, and happily sell 'em an yellow Oldsmobile? For better or worse, those days are over.
The scenario today is far more complex. By the time a potential buyer is talking to you, she has probably done plenty of research and might even be leaning towards a particular vendor. Whether you're "the one" or just column fodder depends on whether you're able to get real answers to questions like, "What's your budget?" or "When will I make a decision?" But, without a strong relationship in place, the buyer might just tell you whatever.
In this paradigm the "opportunity stage" is a little stale. If you can't get honest answers, how do you know where to put a lead in the pipeline? By examining who they are and what they do, rather than what they say.
Let's start with someone who is really going to buy. The title on her business card is probably similar to others who have bought from you in the past. In fact, you will probably find the same handful of titles coming over and over. She's not a graduate student.
Additionally, she probably works for a company that is of a size that can afford your product. There are plenty of reasonable metrics publicly available you can look at to assess her fit (e.g. minimum sales, the number of production facilities, the number of employees, etc.). In short, your future buyers will look and act a lot like your past buyers.
A buyer is useless to you, of course, if they are not going to buy. To identify serious buyers, you need to understand a lead's behavior. For one, he doesn’t ignore you. He reads your emails, learns about your company through webinars and the website. Most tellingly, he takes the extra steps: fills out your forms, studies your pricing pages, stays to the end of your webinars.
In short, he prepares himself to move forward to a contract and a customer relationship. He makes himself comfortable with a decision and a commitment.
Keeping track of a buyer's fit and behavior can be overwhelming. That's where lead scoring comes in. With a lead score you can get an honest representation of a lead's intentions, whether they're actually ready to buy, and prioritize those that sales most needs to speak with. You want to listen more than you want ask. Put another way, lead scoring is the new the opportunity stage.