Why The MQL Is A Shackle

Do you really need to measure marketing qualified leads? Columnist Claudine Bianchi doesn’t think so; she explains why MQLs might be holding you back.


Let me start by saying that measuring MQLs (marketing qualified leads) is important, and, assuming you’re a savvy marketer, I’ll assume you know why.

But nothing would please me more than killing the MQL.

MQLs are a shackle. They are holding marketing back in ways that only someone at “the table” can fully understand, or at least that’s my opinion. In fact, I watch my team cringe every time I bring the subject up. So let me explain.

Way Back When

I’ve been in B2B tech marketing for more than 25 years — not, of course, that you’d be able to tell by my youthful good looks and high energy. Back in the old days, marketing was considered a lot more art than science.

We were the “color” people, walking around with our Pantone books, designing logos and clever tag lines. We manned the booth at trade shows — back in the ’80s we were actually referred to as “booth babes.”

Other than wanting to present a good corporate image, with slick brochures and print ads in the finest PC publications, sales didn’t really give us much credit — certainly not for generating revenue. That was sales’ domain.

The best sales people had a Rolodex or two filled with contacts of the C-level variety. They played golf — a lot of golf — wined, dined and flew first class. They had the ear of the CEO and drove product direction.

Back then, marketing folks were certainly not seen as strategic and almost always were perceived as just a necessary cost of sales.

CFOs never understood what we did or why companies would pour money into something that was barely measurable at best. It was indeed the Dark Ages of tech marketing.

Along Came The Internet…

With the emergence of the internet as a primary communications channel, things began to change. And with the rise of social media, e-commerce, and now the Internet of Things, marketing is in the driver’s seat.

Not sales. Not IT. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2017, the CMO will have more buying authority than the CIO when it comes to tech purchases.

Communicating with customers has never been easier — the internet provides a fluid communication channel that is not reserved for the elite few with budget and buying authority.

Need information on a product? Google it and visit a vendor’s website. Or better yet, go to a community or social site and read what existing customers are saying about it.

Buyers are now in control of the sales process. They dictate how, when and what they will buy. They tell us what our brands mean and stand for.

According to some statistics, many buyers don’t involve sales until they are well on their way to buying a product. They are, however, engaging with content — from what Google refers to as the “Zero Moment of Truth,” or the first impression a customer has with a brand, all the way to entering a credit card number and using the product, and beyond.

The “Buyer’s Journey” doesn’t end with the sale; in fact, the sale is just the beginning of a what is hoped will be a long relationship.

And who’s driving that relationship? Well, not the golfers.

Marketing is increasingly becoming accountable for the entire customer relationship — from that very first impression through to the sale, and then how customers experience our products and services. And through a variety of technologies, we are able to track those customers and see what they respond to (and more importantly, what they don’t).

Every Step Of The Buyer’s Journey

Marketing works hand-in-hand with sales to attract and produce happy customers. We are there through every step of an increasingly complex buyer’s journey.

And, yet, for most marketers, the MQL maintains its strength as our leading KPI. Yes, we are now seen as strategic. We have a seat at the table and are driving product direction in many organizations.

Yet, everyone around the table is looking at monetary results. Sales? The revenue money. Operations? The expense money. The CEO? The bottom-line money. And marketing? The MQL number.

The MQL — which is a top-of-the-funnel metric — keeps marketing positioned at the top of the funnel, even though we are continuing to drive customers through their journey with our brand, as prospects and then as customers.

Many marketers are actually comfortable with this — “We deliver the leads; it’s up to sales to deliver the dollars.” Wrong! Without marketing and sales working together, there are no customers, there is no revenue, there is no brand, and ultimately, there is no company.

Marketing needs to be measured by the same metric every other facet of the business is being measured by: the almighty dollar. Not just the pipeline — I mean sales, upsells and renewals.

The only way to ensure that marketing and sales are working together is to give them the same goals — have them face the challenges together, overcome the hurdles and objections together, and jointly rejoice in their combined success. What better way to guarantee alignment?

But, alas, as I prepare slides for our next board meeting, on my first slide, the first metric captured and communicated is the MQL.

I also report on a bunch of other stuff, as you would expect, even pipeline generated and sales velocity, but there it is — that “top of the funnel” metric that, for some exasperating reason, my board still equates with marketing’s worth, marketing’s contribution to the business.

I hit delete and it vanishes. Will anyone notice? I’ll let you know.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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