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It’s Time to End the MQL

October 21st, 2019 Joe Hyland

This post was originally published on Shared with the author’s permission.

It’s amazing how much technology has evolved in recent years. We’ve seen unprecedented advances in smartphones, IoT, home AI assistants and more. Martech has similarly kept pace: we’ve seen the rise of AR/VR advertising, the continued growth of video, and AI and machine learning that has sharpened personalization and predictive efforts. In B2B marketing, account-based marketing (ABM) and an emphasis on aligning sales and marketing are both white-hot.

Are MQLs relevant anymore? On Nov. 6, we’re sitting down with CMOs from Allocadia, 6Sense, InsightSquared and Hushly to discuss. Register for the event (and its afterparty) by clicking on this link. 

But as marketing and technology has evolved at breakneck speed in both the B2C and B2B worlds, our metrics for measurement have lagged behind. More than ever, I’m asking my team: how are we measuring our impact? Is it connected to our company’s larger goals? And most importantly: if we do better on our marketing metrics, does our company increase revenue?

We must take a revenue mindset in order to gain their seat at the table. When marketers understand how their work impacts a company’s bottom line, that’s when they have the opportunity to advance their own career but also elevate marketing as a profession. No joke: with revenue comes respect. Marketers are frequently guilty of being disconnected from driving revenue. That’s often because we’re working toward outdated metrics, like conversion rates, download numbers, or video views. In other words, we’re tracking our marketing qualified leads (MQLs).

Marketers have become focused on aligning with sales teams, which is a worthy effort. But even as we’re aligning with sales, we haven’t changed how we measure our results. We’re still looking at our marketing KPIs – usually MQLs – instead of how our marketing efforts directly lead to revenue. It’s like measuring how good a football team is by how many home runs they’ve hit.

Instead of focusing on aligning sales and marketing, let’s focus on aligning our marketing metrics to revenue. This makes marketers more vital to a business. Marketers can understand what’s truly moving the needle with prospects and adapt accordingly. If events are driving the most revenue, or whitepapers, or webinars, marketers can move in real-time to double down on these channels and see results. The end result is that marketers own more of the funnel which is an empowering and powerful shift for us.

Let’s dive deeper into the disconnect between MQLs and ROI. Hubspot found that one-third of all marketers say MQLs are the most important metric they measure. And yet, marketers that prove ROI of their efforts on average see 1.6X higher budgets than those who don’t.

MQLs, by their very nature, are internal looking. Most outside of the marketing department don’t understand what makes a lead “marketing qualified.” That’s probably a good thing, as the ones who do understand would say that MQLs are arbitrary at best, entirely irrelevant at worst. They also don’t measure ROI. Let’s say you have 10 people input their information and download a whitepaper. These 10 are MQLs according to your team’s definition. But if all 10 are individual contributors who don’t have purchasing power, they may be an MQL — but they won’t earn your business a nickel.

MQLs were more relevant when we had fewer channels to engage with prospects. But now we tailor our MQLs to the marketing we are pushing on potential customers – so meeting MQL goals becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not all our fault, as marketers have been under immense pressure to get our MQL numbers up. But the result is that a viewer who dropped off after 10 seconds of a webinar is lumped in as an MQL, just like the viewer who stayed for nearly an hour and engaged with polls throughout. Sales becomes overwhelmed with all these MQLs and doesn’t know which leads to pursue. Conversions drop and we wonder why.

Instead of looking at your MQL as a fulfillment of your channels, work back from won deals to see what channels are producing those leads. We should all develop a more nuanced view of our leads. How are they engaged? What’s the quality of engagement? What type of engagement usually signals an imminent purchase decision? This type of engagement data needs to be a part of your measurement. Then you can create your own MQL methodology that’s modern and relevant to your needs.

If you truly want to align your marketing team to revenue, focus on ROI. Revamping or moving away from MQLs is not an easy or simple solution. You could get pushback from those above and below you. After all, a CEO may be used to hearing about MQLs for years or even decades. The people you manage will have to revamp their approach to meet a different set of more revenue-focused metrics. And we marketing leaders need to start from scratch to truly understand what metrics align with ROI and revenue, and develop a new set of KPIs to measure our team’s work. All of this will take time, resources and patience. But it will also be worth it.