Pardot Score Decay: Why We Don’t Set Prospect Score to Zero

By Lydia Fine

Score decay involves decreasing Pardot scores over time as a prospect stays silent, going longer without any activity. Pardot doesn’t come with score decay out-of-the-box. If you want your scores to decrease with inactivity, you need to set up this automation on your own. This why score decay made it on the list of key marketing automation workflows to build in Pardot.

That’s good news, because every org is different. Full freedom means you can decay prospect scores exactly as you need to. For example, if an organization has a shorter sales cycle, they may choose to decay scores after 30 days of inactivity, while longer selling cycles might mean a 12 month delay before any prospect score decay happens. You do you, my friend.

In this post, I’m going to share some good advice I once got about score decay, how to set up prospect score decay, and some ways you could extend the automation to make it your own.

How we Decay Prospect Score

I once got some good advice surrounding decay. Instead of setting the score back to zero, we instead set the score to an arbitrary number that’s close to zero—like 3.
This allows you to distinguish current inactives from prospects who’ve never been active.

Score Decay: What you need to know

You can use automation rules to change overall Pardot score or scoring categories.

There’s a catch! While you can set the overall score to a specific number using automation, you can’t do the same thing with scoring categories. Here are your options:

Pardot Overall Score Automation Actions

  • Adjust prospect’s overall score by a number, + or – (e.g., Adjust prospect score by -10)
  • Adjust prospect’s overall score to a number (e.g., Set prospect score to 3)

Category Scores Automation Actions

  • Adjust prospect category score by a number, + or – (e.g., Adjust category score by -10)

See the catch? You can only increment or decrement a scoring category. You can’t just set it as a specific number. Not my favorite!

Score Decay: What you need to decide

Decision #1: Decay overall score (and leave scoring categories)

Based on this, we decided to use overall score. The upside: Category Scores, because they don’t decay, show sales peak interest the prospect had in a product (i.e., a program—we use a category for each academic program). The overall score tells sales how interested they are right now.

Decision #2: Decay time frame

Next up is deciding your time horizon for decrementing the score. When we reached this step, I thought I’d spend hours calculating the perfect time horizon. That’s probably overkill. Start with your best guess and live with it for a while. Check in with sales—are we reactivating too soon? Too late? Adjust accordingly.

Automate Prospect Score Decay

My score decay automation rule looks for prospects who have gone 30 days without any activity, and sets the overall Pardot score to 3.

At the same time, we apply a tag (#30-days-inactive).

Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!*

It’s all fine and good to lower scores over time, but I gotta be honest – our sales team (we’re a university business school, so sales = recruiting) couldn’t care less about prospects who aren’t currently interested.

Score decay, for us, enables something that’s a lot more impactful: finding prospects who went dark, or inactive, but later returned to your website and reactivated. Now we’re talking.

A separate automation rule listens for activation. In other words, prospects with the tag #30-days-inactive whose overall score has crossed a certain threshold—we use 8 because a single page visit = 1 point, so they need to visit 6 webpages to reactivate.

Pro tip: Add a rule to require that prospect still be opted in, if you want to prevent sales from contacting opted-out prospects.

This Reactivation rule removes the tag (this is important) and notifies the user assigned to that prospect.

Both rules allow repeats. Prospects can match again after 30 days has passed.

Notify assigned user – what if you don’t use contact owners?

Well then, you’re a Pardashian after my own heart! In higher education, a single contact in Salesforce can be a current student in one program, an alumnus of another, and a prospect for a third all at the same time.

Using contact owners doesn’t make sense, so we instead use Opportunity owners to determine which recruiter “owns” that prospect.

Higher ed is always so complicated. *sigh*

Instead of notifying an assigned user, our rule adds the prospect to a Salesforce campaign we created with a status of “New Entry.” The recruiters see newly reactivated prospects on a home screen widget, then reach out directly.

Summary: Customize and personalize

This works for us, but as you can see, there are lots of ways to accomplish something similar. Your org will likely have its own quirks that require designing slightly different solutions.

Have a score decay or reactivation function that’s drool-worthy? Share it in the comments!

*If you don’t know the reference, don’t feel bad. I had to Google it. #GenX-almost-Y

The Author

Lydia Fine

Lydia Fine is a Certified Pardot Specialist, higher-ed marketer, and CRM evangelist. Officially, she's the martech owner at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.


    February 26, 2021 3:35 pm
    Thank you for this information, Lydia. I'm in the process of implementing score decay, but am falling short on the reactivation automation rule. I'm using the same action criteria as what you have in your post, but different rules. The rules I'm using include: 1. Prospect's last activity was less than 1 day(s) ago, and 2. Prospect has opened an email in the past 1 day(s). Trouble is, I'm still seeing instances of a "30-Days-Inactive" tag on prospects who have opened an email in the past week or so. I'm assuming that the issue has something to do with my interpretation of "Prospect Open Emails" rule. Do you have any advice on how to ensure prospects who have interacted with an email in the past 30 days are included in a reactivation automation rule?

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