Are MQLs Relevant Anymore?

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The concept of relying only on marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to measure effectiveness might be going the way of platform shoes and disco balls.

MQLs are losing favor as a one-size-fits-all measure of marketing’s ability to push sales leads down the pipeline, say B2B industry leaders.

Although marketing automation gave rise to the prospect of MQLs becoming the standard marketing metric for organisations, many believe they are too open to misinterpretation and deception. Some see them as nothing more than a marketing vanity metric.

The MQL measure is certainly unable to take into account the circuitous journey B2B customers make on their way to making a buying decision. Businesses that bombard poorly targeted MQLs with sales and marketing collateral are unlikely to deliver exceptional experiences to potential customers, either. Then there’s the common complaint that so few MQLs convert into actual sales leads.

Joe Hyland, CMO of webinar software company ON24, says MQLs are misleading and not a useful gauge of marketing effectiveness within many B2B businesses.

“You can manipulate MQLs very easily,” Hyland says. “If my boss said ‘Joe, I need to see a 50 per cent increase in MQLs over the next quarter’ I can go into Marketo and change what qualifies as an MQL and immediately double the number.”

Hyland says because marketers can move the threshold of what qualifies as an MQL, it’s open for abuse … especially when incentives are attached to its importance. He thinks marketers should concentrate on what is right for the business and their customers.

“I’m less interested in having 10,000 MQLs a quarter than I am in having 2000 meaningful interactions where I’m helping persuade someone,” Hyland says.

ON24 has now changed its approach to lead generation. In the past, the ON24 marketing team had such a low MQL threshold that its sales team complained about receiving too many leads. The sales team was so awash with opportunities, it could only make one follow-up contact on each lead.

“We redefined our addressable market – what we call our ‘ideal customer profile,’” Hyland says. “Unless a company asked to be contacted by sales, it wouldn’t qualify [as an MQL] if it didn’t match those qualifications.” Hyland says ON24 also decreased its overall level of marketing activity, concentrating instead on making quality connections with prospects.

“We actually saw a massive decrease in MQLs … but we also saw pipeline [activity] go up 75 per cent,” he says. “A sales rep may only get two leads in a week but they are high-quality leads. We’ve decreased the noise and allowed salespeople to really focus.”

The Mercer Experience

MQLs certainly have their limitations in B2B companies with relatively low lead volumes.

Mercer, for instance, is a global consultancy in superannuation, HR and financial services. Its Australian operation gets 30 to 40 leads a month, sales contracts range from $25,000 to $5 million, and sales cycles can be from one week to two years.

Natalie Truong, who is Mercer’s Head of B2B Marketing, Pacific, spoke at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum about how she has thrown away the traditional lead-scoring model.

“In 2016, when I started at Mercer, we had an MQL target of 1060,” Truong said. “The business wasn’t fussed about what was going through the pipeline, or conversions or why leads were rejected, just as long as we were getting MQLs into the pipeline.”

Truong said that despite only achieving an MQL score of 270 that year, the team generated $1 million in marketing-related revenue with a 7 per cent conversion rate.

“So, what would be the logical thing to do in 2017?” Truong asked. “Up the MQL target.” The business set her team a new MQL target of 1364.

Truong decided she wanted to find another way to measure marketing effectiveness. “I said to the global team: ‘How about instead of worrying about the MQLs in the pipeline, I take a slightly different approach and I’ll guarantee you double conversion and double revenue?’ I wasn’t sure if we could do it, but what we were doing wasn’t working anyway so I had nothing to lose.”

Mercer began to filter its 30-40 leads per month manually and stopped its spam engine, which had sent 180,000 emails to about 5000 contacts in the previous 12 months.

“In 2017, we achieved 343 MQLs – nowhere near the 1364 we were set anyway,” Truong said. “But our conversion was 37 per cent and we generated $2.5 million in revenue.”

Truong said Mercer’s change in direction was unlikely to work for every business, especially those with high lead volumes.

How to Use Relevancy to Accelerate the Sales Funnel

Every day we go through it. We all receive the dreaded, unsolicited email. Most are automated, a copy and paste of previous messaging that often has little, if anything, to do with your company or personal needs. It’s volume versus relevancy. The salesperson figures if he/she sends the same terrible email to everyone, at least 3% of the market will want a demo. Right? Wrong.

In 2015 the average person received 122 emails a day and this figure is expected to grow. In a perfect world, these emails would be relevant—they would be timely, personalized, provide value, and even better, make us more productive. Instead, our inboxes are like battlefields and we’re all just trying to survive the constant barrage. As a marketer, if you want to move prospects through the buying cycle, you have to provide custom-tailored value. Here’s how:

Understand Context to Build Trust

Resist the temptation to batch and blast a random message. Who is the person on the other side of that email? What do they care about?

Before someone will respond to you, they need to trust you. To build trust, show them you know them. Spend time reviewing their LinkedIn profile and their Twitter feed, Google them to find any recent news, then reach out with a common interest. Based on what you have learned and their interaction with your content, categorize them into a buying stage. Are they in the early research stage, figuring out their options, or evaluating vendors? Offering a demo is the salesperson’s goal, likely not the buyer’s.

Use Timing to Communicate Effectively

What’s the most important thing in comedy? Timing. Without it, the message fails to come across the way it was intended, and instead of delighting an audience, the punchline falls flat. The same goes for communicating effectively with a prospect. Timely follow-up on an inquiry within five minutes of a request will result in a 100 times better chance of reaching them — and a 21 times greater chance of qualification. But you can’t be relevant if you don’t first contextualize your message.

Relevancy in outbound communication involves the study of implicit and explicit behaviors. An implicit behavior might mean a prospect is reading a case study on your website because they connected with the same challenges. When you reach out, bring up solutions from the case study. Explicit behavior is more straightforward—when a prospect fills out a contact form or downloads an asset. Continue the conversation by addressing the stage they are in, a clue that can be found in the explicit behavior they initially took.

Always Deliver Value

Zig Ziglar once said: “Help enough people get what they want and you will get what you want.” Your success ultimately rides on the value that you can deliver for others. At every stage of the sales funnel, prospects are evaluating you based on the value you could bring to them, so make sure your content addresses this. Buyers take action for two reasons: 1) to achieve an aspiration or 2) to alleviate some pain or problem.

A relevant offer doesn’t feel pushy, because it’s not. If it’s useful, the prospect will welcome it. A good offer strategy involves knowing what stage of the buying cycle they are in, and the common questions they are trying to ask at each stage.

  • Awareness – What problem do I have?
  • Consideration – How can I solve the problem?
  • Transaction – How do I make the best decision?

For example, if someone is in the Consideration stage, give them the in-depth education they’re searching for with a case study or best practice guide. They’re past the need for a basic how-to blog post, but they’re not quite ready for a free trial. It’s imperative to deliver content that meets a prospect’s needs, at the appropriate time. Offering the wrong piece of content, or not having an offer strategy at all, can harm your marketing efforts. Give them what they want… not what you think they want.

Commit to Relevancy

Relevancy takes commitment. If we continually work on building trust, communicating effectively, and delivering value, then we are honoring this commitment that will ultimately help us be better marketers and close more deals. What actions are you taking to make your sales efforts relevant today? Share in the comments.


This is a guest post from our friends at Response Capture.