If you’re a sales, marketing, or revenue leader, marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are stymying your growth. When running a go-to-market function, many teams break the client journey into three pieces:
- Marketing retrieves information on people in the market and pursues them, classifying these leads as MQLs if they engage.
- When an MQL exhibits some characteristics, they are often scored and passed to Sales. Sales qualifies the leads, dubbing them sales-qualified leads (SQLs).
- Sales accepts some leads, classifying them as sales accepted leads (SALs) or Sales Qualified Opportunities (SQOs)
In the meantime, simply replacing MQL in your vocabulary with “targets”, selected and refined by sales, marketing, and customer success, will improve your marketing and sales effectiveness while reducing churn.
GTM Revolves around Revenue
A go-to-market team’s goal is revenue, so these are the metrics that matter:
- How much revenue are we aiming to acquire?
- How much revenue do we earn per customer? This is where churn factors in.
- How much does it cost to acquire a new customer?
If your company can spend less money to acquire customers than those customers bring in revenue, you can grow the business by spending more on acquisition. Chasing ghosts like MQLs, however, will not help: it will only increase your acquisition costs.
MQLs are typically people who had some touchpoint with your business—arrived at your website, for instance. Since GTM leaders were able to measure this metric, they gave it a name and assumed it had a meaningful relationship to conversions. This common-but-incorrect strategy is akin to someone in search of a life partner saying “I’m going to count everyone who arrives at my neighborhood bar as a prospect”:
- How frequently is the love of your life actually in that bar?
- What if bars in general are the wrong place to look, or this bar in particular is a poor fit?
- Even if we assume your proper partner is in the bar, why are you also calling everyone else “prospects,” including people who would very clearly be a poor fit?
I recently reviewed a sales agency’s strategy that proposed “We need 265,000 visitors to the website (MQLs) in order to get 26,000 SQLs to arrive at 2,600 SALs.” The problem: the world contains no more than 7,500 people who would ever even be interested in their solution. This market shape doesn’t mean the company will fail; just that they operate in a targeted industry. How is this agency planning to arrive at 265,000 visitors – bots?
To find a fitting life partner, you don’t need to meet 1000 people so you can go on 100 dates to arrive at 10 dates and find 1 partner. You’re far better off with a targeted approach. Only those MQLs that are within your target buying profile matter – gross number of MQLs never do.
Even though MQL is a nonsense number, you’ll still find it in many companies. Why?
- Some people’s jobs exist to gather more MQLs, so the metric is entrenched (regardless of the fact that they don’t actually improve revenue)
- MQLs are countable and enable finger-pointing which is mistaken for accountability
- In an area where metrics are scarce, MQLs enable stakeholders to latch on to a number, regardless of its utility
Improving your GTM Results
Instead of counting MQLs, marketing and sales should consider visitors prospects only if they fit your target buyer persona and the company has learned enough to know there’s real interest. Then, the GTM function can take hold to guide the prospect through a sales funnel.
The value of each touchpoint or piece of content should still be metrics-based to drive impact. These metrics, however, should be based on the simple algebra:
- Desired revenue
- Average sale price
- Number of qualified leads
- Close rate
Each of these metrics can be improved and actually take you closer to your goal. Instead of simply accepting MQLs, a well-run GTM team should therefore debate:
- Target accounts & target people
- The priority of those targets
- How to follow-up with those targets
Effective sales and marketing requires alignment on the target prospect and measurement of the efficacy with which you can reach, engage, close and satisfy that target.
When you operate a holistic sales team based on these simple metrics and questions, you enable your team to experiment. If your enterprise GTM team is run holistically, stop tracking MQLs. If your org is more distinct by function, ensure sales doesn’t accept marketing’s trash. Counting MQLs may feel like doing a favor for the marketing team but it doesn’t enable your company’s growth. Instead, define your targets ahead of time and only accept real offerings:
- Who’s the target?
- What urgent need do they have that we solve?
- How much can we spend to reach them?
When I recently stepped away from supporting a company’s GTM, their numbers were trending positive: the number of qualified leads was rising and the cost-to-acquire was falling. This company’s next head of marketing loved MQLs. They started spending money on Google AdWords to acquire more MQLs, but their number of closed opportunities fell. What happened? Simple: If you shovel trash at the sales team, they have to pick through it to get to the good stuff.
MQLs are antithetical to targeted selling. The average buyer has a buying group of 7 to 11 people, each of whom you will touch 11 to 13 times. If you’re using an MQL-based strategy, does each count as a new MQL? Should the initial entry point really be weighted the same as the ultimate decision-maker? Don’t these simple questions illuminate how MQL is a bunk metric?
When running a holistic go-to-market function, consider breaking the client journey into these pieces:
- Sales and marketing identify target accounts and people. If you have a broad market applicable to many accounts, then agree on the characteristics of your ideal client profile – number of employees, industry, revenues, growth trends, leadership changes, technology buying habits (Adobe vs. Canva, Teams vs. Slack, GSuite vs. Office 365, Salesforce vs. Zoho, Redshift vs. Snowflake, Eloqua vs. Hubspot) – all of these tell you something about their enterprise technology strategy. You can pre-score known targets and people. And you can and should set up automated scoring for inbound visitors known and unknown based on their profile match to target and how they are engaging with you.Marketing should be measuring their penetration of the target market by the number of engagements from individuals within those targets. This is also an effective way of measuring the efficacy of different channels, programs and content – how many target prospects does it reach at what expense.If your target market is wrong because they don’t really have a problem, or they don’t value how you solve the problem, or they simply have no interest in spending money to solve the problem, your marketing will be inefficient and your sales will not be productive. Target definition is the most important GTM alignment to reach and test and refine.
- Based on the contact score and likely a conversation – which could be a digital chat, phone call, Zoom, meeting at an event, etc. – sales or marketing qualifies the leads using an agreed rubric, converting those contacts into Stage 0 Opportunities. These are not in the forecast or pipeline. Stage 0 opportunities simply start the “clock” to understand how long that individual has been engaging with our sales team. When ultimately you analyze your pipeline, target segments and churn by opportunity age, you will need alignment on what constitutes the “start” of the opportunity.
- Considering moving the opportunity to stage 1 based on further discovery and metrics of more interest and engagement. These are Sales Qualified Opportunities (SQO) because – unless your product can be bought by a single person – the GTM team will need to engage the buying TEAM to ultimately be their choice to solve their problem.
High-quality chief revenue officers and chief marketing officers will drive every activity toward revenue, a process that starts with throwing the concept of MQLs in the trash.