Marketing Qualified Leads are Worse than Meaningless

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:

  1. Marketing retrieves information on people in the market and pursues them, classifying these leads as MQLs if they engage.
  2. When an MQL exhibits some characteristics, they are often scored and passed to Sales. Sales qualifies the leads, dubbing them sales-qualified leads (SQLs).
  3. Sales accepts some leads, classifying them as sales accepted leads (SALs) or Sales Qualified Opportunities (SQOs)

These separations add complexity and friction where it’s not necessary or helpful. Going forward, the best GTM teams will stop measuring them and start viewing GTM as a more holistic function.

Replace MQL with target

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:

  1. How much revenue are we aiming to acquire?
  2. How much revenue do we earn per customer? This is where churn factors in.
  3. How much does it cost to acquire a new customer?

Cost of acquisition matters more than MQLs

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”:

  1. How frequently is the love of your life actually in that bar?
  2. What if bars in general are the wrong place to look, or this bar in particular is a poor fit?
  3. 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?

Only MQLs from target persona and accounts matter

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

MQLs matter because they are measured

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

Important go to market metrics

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:

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.

Flooding sales with poor MQLs undermines focus and costs time and money

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:

  1. 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. Automate and use target scoringYou 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.
    Target definition is the most important go to market alignment decision
  2. 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. Use Stage 0 opportunities to start the velocity clockStage 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.
  3. 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.

How to Create Effective Accountability

How do you hold people accountable to repeatably deliver business results? Every sales and marketing team I’ve led is characterized by camaraderie, energy, and results. They are highly accountable to each other, to me, and to the business. They take risks and implement innovative ideas, resulting in significant success over time. Many colleagues have asked how to create a comparable culture within their own teams. Business articles, books and courses emphasize the importance of the mantra of accountability, but how does one practically accomplish this goal?

It sounds simple: embrace objective metrics. “We’ve set a target for 100 new opportunities this quarter. You had $100,000 in the budget to spend. It’s the end of the quarter and we only have 60 new qualified opportunities. You did not deliver on your results.” This factual analysis with incontrovertible proof misses the point. Once you have your metrics, how do you maximize your team’s results? Do you respond to failure by penalizing the team or individual? Do you embarrass, cajole, salute, or shame them? What method will unlock the ideas and energy that will win you 120 new opportunities next quarter? Creativity and innovation are crucial to success and inherently risky. Accountability must also provide psychological safety to generate sustained results.

Adam Grant, Tom Geraghty, and Amy C. Edmondson each detailed extensive research extolling the benefits of psychological safety at work. Adam and Amy’s definition: “Psychological safety is not relaxing your standards, feeling comfortable, being nice and agreeable, or giving unconditional praise. Psychological safety is a culture of respect, trust, and openness where it’s not risky to raise ideas and concerns.”

In a psychologically safe environment, people are able to try something new and fail on their way to learning. Without psychological safety, people won’t take risks. There’s extensive evidence of the superior and sustained performance of organizations that fundamentally value learning and adapting (e.g. 3M, Google) versus organizations that didn’t (Blackberry and Polaroid). Listen to Adam Grant’s Ted Talk “Is it Safe to Speak up at Work”, to learn from case studies of Boeing and NASA where speaking up can mean literal life or death.

The balancing act of management

Managers face a balancing act – they need to create a culture of accountability while creating authentic psychological safety. The key lever: time.

Incorporating Time

Using time strategically in the accountability practice

The results-versus-safety balancing act requires incorporating time into the equation. While results are the long-term focus, optimal timelines for feedback and results may not always be obvious. I have found a year to be the right temporal length for most B2B businesses to achieve results and set new goals (although Boeing and NASA timelines are much longer while Amazon’s timeline might be much shorter – the proper length depends on the speed of your sales cycle). Setting a proper interval enables shareholders to expect results accurately while your team still feels like they can engage in learning that will ultimately achieve everyone’s goals.

Quarterly intervals are good to make adjustments

Quarterly (interim) team results are an indication of direction and momentum. They provide an opportunity to coach your team members to adjust in order to achieve the long term goal.

Balance Accountability Toward Learning Rather than Results

Accountability with psychological safety

To achieve your long-term goal, break it into intervals (e.g. quarters) during which team members must be accountable for:

  • making and fulfilling commitments,
  • understanding the impact of their work, and
  • analyzing and recommending changes to improve outcomes.

If a team member consistently doesn’t deliver on their commitments, they need coaching, redeployment or removal. If a team member can, however, articulate their hypotheses, evidence, and learning, they will eventually deliver superior results, both individually and through their impact on the team.

The Key Conclusion: Separate Learning from Outcome

Holding people accountable solely for attaining interim outcomes creates a culture of fear that inhibits ambition (under-promise and over-deliver), reduces intelligent risk taking and undermines psychological safety.

Holding your team  accountable for learning from interim outcomes creates a culture of trust that promotes ambition, risk taking, openness, psychological safety and team camaraderie.

Considers errors as crucial on the path to success

The route to long-term results is peppered with mistakes and adjustments. To achieve results over the very long term, require your team to reach its year-long goals but use its interim results for continual re-adjustment and learning. 

Interrogate Your Pipeline; Coach Your People

During pipeline reviews, it’s not enough to perform a brief circuit around the room and ask each seller about their current deals. Instead, the best sales leaders truly interrogate their pipeline to ensure they effectively coach their people. Here’s how:

The Power of Interrogating Your Pipeline

Sales give your company oxygen. If you know precisely how much oxygen you’ll have, you can tailor the rest of your company’s activity around that knowledge. 

Interrogation of my pipeline was surprisingly a solitary activity – analyzing our data, reviewing seller and sales manager’s insights plus personal experience/instinct – to determine with confidence how much revenue was going to close. Overestimate and the company can experience excessive cash burn possibly leading to layoffs and capital crunch.  Underestimate and the company can underinvest, forgoing growth, opportunity and ceding share to a competitor. Every revenue leader is expected to deliver the number but, even more so, is expected to accurately forecast what number they will deliver.

Often, after interrogating my pipeline, I would call the CEO or tell the board “We will make this much money this quarter.” Properly interrogating my pipeline has placed me within $50k of my incoming revenue on millions of dollars of sales. Even if the CEO didn’t like the number, with a nine-month sales cycle there was little we could do to change the forecast in the quarter and an inaccurate number would have led to far worse decisions.

How to Interrogate Your Pipeline

Data – not emotion or optimism, enables accurate predictions. When getting a sales interrogation practice up and running, I recommend truly diving deep into your pipeline every month – well beyond the stages and the numbers in your CRM and the instinct of your sellers and sales managers. Here’s how to get that revops practice up to speed:

1. Gather Good Data

Data powers your knowledge. On the customer side, all your engagement points should feed into one data warehouse. (This process requires cookies or pixels on your website, integration with your marketing automation system, advertising analytics, webinar analytics and any other touchpoints – video, SMS – through which your buyer is engaging with your business). Then, combine that customer-side data with data from your team.

You can gather this data by hand or use software to help. If your GTM function uses a customer data platform like Segment, you’ll already have everything in one place. Some enterprises integrate the data into dashboards where you can see each channel’s performance but that requires extensive custom integrations into your CRM to align the channel data with individual contacts, accounts and opportunities. Historically I’ve combined a spreadsheet from Salesforce with my marketing data and legal documents. While this compiling process can be done manually, it can feel tedious. I’m excited to be using Segment to expedite this part of pipeline interrogation.

Not all the data is quantitative. Listening objectively in a buying conversation will unveil other insights – what is the seller worried about in the deal? Is the buyer an actual champion or a coach? Does the buyer have an urgency driver that is propelling momentum for the deal? Can the buyer articulate the value the buyer will realize from the deal? Using Gong or Chorus, sales managers, CROs and CEOs can quickly assess the texture of an opportunity and add that to the interrogation and ensuring coaching. These sales coaching platforms will often provide recommendations for the coaching action to help improve the pipeline’s potential. If you don’t have a system, sales team meetings where sales managers ask open ended questions to unlock those insights makes the pipeline development and coaching process more productive.

You’ve completed the data-gathering when your process has radically reduced its blind spots. This means you have data on most every point of customer engagement, even information on SMS conversations.

Ramping up this habit can take a while, but it’s invaluable once it’s complete. Many of my pipeline interrogations have forecasted better than AI prediction systems like Clari, largely because I incorporated more information and I could adjust for the swings of large deals on a forecast. Clari is still a favorite of mine as it captures the development of the pipeline and forecast over time and can be configured to make Deal Desk a breeze.

2. Analysis

You shouldn’t have to ask the prospect if they’re interested. You can see it through their activities. 

Activities prove interest

Is the prospect:

  • Taking calls?
  • Sending emails?
  • Replying to SMS?
  • Coming to your website?
  • Reading your information?
  • Watching your videos?
  • Sharing your information inside their team?

If you have a single hub capturing every client conversation, you should easily be able to note every action that the customer is taking toward your deal. Ideally, you should expect to see multiple contacts within an account engaging with your business digitally with increasing frequency as the opportunity matures.  This pattern lessens once the opportunity is in the final stages of contract negotiations.

In addition to those more-narrative pieces, there also exist a few key data points that imply interest:

  • Proof from multiple people at the customer. No high-priced software is bought by a soloist, so you should be on the lookout for multiple stakeholders demonstrating tangible interest. That’s your buying team.
  • Negotiation. Very few customers buy without requesting a discount. Big companies have procurement officers incentivized to get the best deal from you. In smaller companies, a controller or CFO will play that role. If they haven’t queried you about a discount, implementation services, support packages, they’re less likely to be serious.
  • Deal necessities, specifically around legal and security. Are their lawyers reading your contract? Have they asked for your SOC 2 report? No major company buys software without reading your contract and reviewing your security and privacy. If they aren’t doing their due diligence, they aren’t really moving the deal forward. Sellers need to proactively coach their buyers through the conversations and gates that are likely to be required to advance their opportunity.

3. Feed-Forward Into Action through Coaching

Not only does this analysis inform you about your current state; it enables you to accelerate your deals. If the customer has expressed interest, for example, but isn’t reviewing your contract or SOC 2 report, prompt them to! They will need to run these legal and security reviews before signing. Inexperienced buyers may not prioritize these activities, but realizing they cannot execute without them will slow or torpedo your deal.

If a prospect hasn’t started legal or security review, nudge them as soon as possible. These sorts of tactics help avoid later delays, especially with large companies, where reviews can take a while.

If an account shows only a single contact engaging with your business, that’s a red flag. Coach your seller to map the account, identify the likely other stakeholders and be unafraid to reach out to those senior stakeholders directly or through an executive at your own company.

When engagement accelerates or decelerates for an account (not just a contact), the sales team should adjust their strategy and tone for how to support their champion.  This is often an opportunity to determine if your champion is actually a coach and ensure that the economic buyer is getting the information needed to support your opportunity.

Get to know what engagement opportunities (particularly content, tools, videos, webinars, events) correlate to opportunities that you win, faster sales cycles and higher prices. While precise attribution is impossible for a complex sale where there are 11-13 touch points per opportunity for each of 5-11 contacts, over time patterns emerge for what content correlates with won opportunities. That information can lead to higher return on investment for sales and marketing resources.

More Accurate Predictions → More Deals

Many revenue operations teams fail to recognize and realize the massive value of comprehensive and accurate pipeline knowledge. They simply perform a perfunctory review that notes which deals are moving from state to stage. They waste time on poor prospects and mis-state their upcoming earnings.

When you truly interrogate your pipeline and use it to coach your people, the precise understanding more than pays for itself, providing accurate information you can use to reorganize your resources and power your company’s growth.

Savants vs Students: How to Hire a Great Chief Revenue Officer

Companies are increasingly organizing with a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) role, recognizing that someone should be responsible for every aspect of revenue, including sales, marketing, and customer success.

While one could argue this area is the CEO’s job, that structure implies the CEO isn’t focusing on product, strategy, hiring, or managing investors. Keeping the revenue organization harmonious and aligned turns out to be a full-time job, so a CRO is quickly becoming a necessity.

The Need for a Chief Revenue Officer

Throughout history, product-oriented CEOs have succeeded most when they partner with a revenue leader. For Microsoft’s Bill Gates, this partner was Steve Balmer; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had Sheryl Sandberg; and Google’s Larry Page & Sergey Brin partnered with Eric Schmidt.

When seeking a CRO leader, companies typically tap successful sales leaders for the CRO role. Unfortunately, these leaders have never run marketing, nor are they familiar with customer success. Both of these areas contain thousands of details, and marketing/customer success employees aren’t as financially driven as many sellers are. Most of the time, it takes these companies a few months to realize their new CRO is in over their head and split the role again.

A high quality CRO needs to view the organization holistically. They must both ask the right questions and execute on topics ranging from internal talent to growth to customer issues. Clearly top-quality CROs exist, but how do you find them?

Hire a Student CRO, Not a Savant to Lead

Like great athletes, sales savants are beautiful to watch. They improve incredibly rapidly, never a clumsy move. Absolutely hire them as incredible individual contributors – they’re especially gifted at figuring out how to penetrate a new market or introduce a new product.

However, these savants are often not effective teachers and managers. Because the process comes naturally to them, they can’t tell others how they knew what move to make: they simply knew because they’re a savant. Your team should absolutely hire sales savants: give them a quota and watch them work their magic. You should not, however, hire them to lead your revenue team.

Instead, your CRO should be a student – someone who seeks and understands the why. In contrast to a savant, a student learns through conscious analysis, making mistakes and reflection. They are empathetic listeners, secure and comfortable saying things like:

  • “Why does this work?”
  • “How does this work?”
  • “Teach me.”  

Because they learned consciously and intentionally, they can therefore explain: 

  • Why one process works while another does not
  • How others can learn most effectively
  • Complicated topics to non-savants

These abilities enable them to make a reliable, humming organization rather than one tailored around their skills. For example, a student will deeply understand what new hires need to get up-to-speed and close their first deal within 90 days.

There is the possibility of finding a savant who has become a deft student – one who has unpacked their instincts and can teach and coach others effectively. Asking probing questions about specific coaching successes in both interviews and references can help identify a savant who has become a student.

Finding a CRO

While every CEO would benefit from a talented CRO, the market currently contains too few high-quality CROs. Businesses encourage people to specialize early in their career, then economic forces keep them in their specialty: 

  • How many sellers spend time working in marketing or customer success? 
  • How many marketers spend time in sales carrying a quota? 
  • Once an employee becomes proficient at a particular skill, how likely are they to take the necessary pay cut to move elsewhere?

A true CRO has a huge amount of responsibility. Many don’t know how much they need to learn about the areas outside their expertise until they start. I’ve seen multiple sales-backgrounded CROs for whom marketing made them so crazy that they gave marketing back to the CEO. (Of course, the same applies to CROs with limited backgrounds in the other areas too.)

The best CROs have great intellects and strong emotional intelligence that they use to learn from varied experiences. Just as training programs for entrepreneurs have boomed over the last few decades, perhaps the world is increasingly in need of training programs for CROs to teach sales-oriented CROs about marketing, marketing-oriented CROs about sales, and both about customer success.

Going forward, savants will continue to be great individual contributors. They will remain so disproportionally good at their domain that their magnetism pulls them that way. But as the CRO function grows, expect to see its top performers be excellent students, not savants.

How to Guide Prospects along their Buyer’s Journey

If your website demands prospective customers sign up for a call or demo before you answer their key questions, you’re pushing buyers away.

Buyers don’t arrive at a website asking themselves, “Should I buy this product?” They arrive asking, “Does this solve one of my pressing problems?”

Too often, websites push prospects toward a call or demo when they should instead fit the customer’s psychology and journey. And the website pages and tools are what buyers share with the expanded buying team – it’s important to make it easy to share and collaborate along the buyer’s journey.  

Reorient your website and content

A company’s website is its most visible asset and a shockingly low amount of it is constructed to enable the buyer. The future of growth marketing is using the website to guide the buyer toward a desirable conclusion – and that includes the buyer determining they’re not a fit for your solution before you spend valuable sales resources chasing them. The end of a buyer’s journey is a decision – not merely a demo – so your site should meet the buyer where they are, then guide them along each step to accelerate decision-making. In fact, prospects “who engage with buyer enablement are three times (3x) more likely to make a high quality purchase” – Gartner.

Over 70% of the buying process is concluded before a customer ever talks to a person, and 43% of buyers would prefer never talking to a person at all. Rather than forcing them toward your sales team, help them identify if their symptoms match the problem you solve and then examine potential solutions – only after those two steps are complete will a customer be interested in buying. 

  1. Identify the Problem

The first step of a sale is consensus on the problem definition. If the customer doesn’t recognize their problem in your description, they’re not going to proceed. If a customer doesn’t believe that you understand their problem, they won’t believe you can solve it. Fortunately, almost all B2B customer problems fall into three buckets:

  • How do I retain and expand my current customers?
  • How do I acquire new customers?
  • How do I grow more efficiently?

For a customer to purchase your solution, they must understand how you solve a pressing problem in one of those three areas that they feel is urgent. This is an emotional reaction and your experience must speak to their emotional needs. Your website should very clearly allow them to discover if their challenges map to the problem you solve and begin assessing if you solve it dramatically better than their next best viable alternative. Tools and interactions to help include:

  • Diagnostics – symptoms and fit to problem
  • Calculators – simple and use their numbers.
  • Simulators – what is life like after the solution is in place
  1. Examine Solutions

Once a buyer understands their problem, they can start identifying potential solutions. For a buyer, any software solution will have two parts: 

  • “What does it do?” (Features and traits) 
  • “How would it fit my business?” (Implementation requirements, including cost and resources)
  • “Who else is a stakeholder for this solution?” (security, IT, procurement, finance plus other business units)

For a purchase of any meaningful size, customers will always compare options. These comparisons may even prompt them to return to the problem definition. 

Poor marketing strategies pretend that competitors don’t exist. High-quality marketing strategies help the customer understand the real trade-offs. To help the buyer on this journey, organize the information that they need to know, both about your product offering and competitors. Mailchimp, for instance, presents an entire webpage on the different options in their industry. If you’re seeking a marketing solution, wouldn’t you rather read all of those than try to make the lists for yourself? 

Remember that the examination of solutions will likely involve other people – people who need to align on the problem and weigh in on the viability of your solution.  You can help your buyer with these conversations as well by providing conversation guides. Tools and interactions:

  • Conversation guides for common questions by role – What your Security Team needs?  What your CFO wants to know? If you prefer, write a blog article for each key audience that your buyer (or your sales team) can easily share – like Clari did for CFOs.
  • Video references – short clips about why a customer bought and their time to value.  Snowflake even offers an opportunity to talk with a Snowflake customer live using their Office Hours.
  • Pricing and offering – how can you get started with the solution and what will it cost.  Segment makes this easy to visualize

More Sales & Fewer Dead Ends 

A well-designed site satisfies well-fitting prospects while filtering out unqualified leads. While more prospects will bounce up front, either because they disagree with your problem definition or elect against your solution, this bouncing is actually a net benefit to your company: 

  • For unqualified leads, a call or demo simply costs your sales team time and resources that could have been spent on better leads
  • Thanks to your helpfulness, qualified leads will be more ready to buy when they ultimately speak with your sales team
  • You can learn quickly what is the persona that does resonate with your value proposition and channel your sales and marketing toward these more amenable buyers

Give the buyer control over how they interact with you. Make it easy to interact on the website through a conversational marketing bot. Provide DM addresses for Twitter and LinkedIn so people can message you. Provide them with a phone number to call – sometimes that’s what they prefer.  And let them schedule when they want to meet with you using an automatic scheduling option – with a phone number if they’d prefer to talk to someone. 

If you’re curious to understand your buyer’s journey more specifically, call current prospects, current customers, and potential customers who turned you down. Ask them “What problem were you trying to solve?”, “Why do you have to solve it now?” and “How did you make your decision?” You’ll find that most of them followed this precise process, and many who bounced should really have bounced earlier. 

Buyer Enablement is Empathetic, Precision Marketing

Customers are drowning in high quality information: they’re not looking for more;  they’re looking for help making sense of it. By guiding them through the process digitally, and enabling your sales team to do so as well, you can help them arrive at a decision with confidence. Plus buyers can reach a high confidence decision more quickly when guided through the process. Think of it like meeting a new person: would you rather learn more about a person who just spewed everything about themselves or someone who discussed your interests and helped you achieve your goals? 

Starting a relationship with a customer is no different. Start by understanding their problems, then help them assess solutions. After all, if you’re the one who walks them through the process, aren’t they more likely to ultimately select you?

5 Signals of Optimized Growth Potential…That Light Up Your Team

If your company is only measuring growth in ARR, it isn’t effectively measuring its growth. Revenue growth is the cornerstone of business success. Your revenue growth rate is your momentum, powering your perception in the market, including your ability to raise money and attract employees. If your growth is suboptimal, people and money are more expensive. When your growth is accelerating, everyone wants to work with you.

Unfortunately, leaders often track too many metrics or only one – ARR growth. To monitor for sustained growth, your entire company should see and track these five signals of optimized growth potential every month:

Increasing Number of Net Customers

Growth Signal #1 – Increasing Net New Customers

If your marketing team is attracting interest and current customers are telling their friends, you’re well-positioned to grow your revenue. Customers-in-hand are worth up to twenty five times as much as prospects, as they enable subscription sales, upselling, and cross-selling. Once a customer has bought from you, they’re much more likely to continue, so keep an eye on your number of net customers quarter-over-quarter.

Current Customers Expanding without Incentives

#2 – Expansions without incentives

When current customers expand their purchases, you can spend more money on customer acquisition because their lifetime value compensates for your sales and marketing efforts.

These customers must expand on their own: if you prompt their growth through discounts or coupons, they may not actually be satisfied and will retreat when you remove those incentives.

If current customers aren’t expanding, ask yourself:

  • Are they satisfied by your product?
  • Are they using your product more than they did the prior month?
  • Are you providing them easy opportunities to expand?

Accelerating Number of New Qualified Opportunities

#3 – Increasing volume of Sales Accepted Opportunities

Today’s qualified opportunities are tomorrow’s revenue. The relevant metric here is not your total number of qualified opportunities, but your number of new qualified opportunities. A qualified opportunity is an opportunity that sellers have added to their pipeline because after discovery, that prospect meets the criteria for a viable customer. When a company is growing organically, the number of interested customers should increase, a proxy for public perception of you. During a growth stage, that momentum itself should be increasing.  There is a close cousin which is a false signal – read more about the problem with Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).

New Sellers Close their First Deal within 90 Days

#4 – Speed at which new seller independently sources and closes a deal

When a product is easy to understand, high-quality sellers can sell it quickly. Expecting a closed deal in the first month is a bit fast, but 90 days is more than enough time for them to learn which prospects are most likely to buy and guide those prospects to the finish line. If new sellers are consistently taking longer to ramp up, it’s not their fault, but either you don’t have product-market fit or your marketing, positioning and sales process is to blame.

At Least 70% of Salespeople are Reaching Quota

Of course, not every seller will succeed every quarter, but effective momentum and growing leads should enable the vast majority of them to succeed. When salespeople aren’t reaching quota, it’s time to ask whether they themselves are performing poorly or are receiving a low-quality product or the target market isn’t strongly interested in the product or your sellers aren’t properly enabled to succeed.  The Revenue Flow Score is a highly efficient mechanism to determine which issue is likely slowing your growth.

…and 3 Signals that are Easy to Mistake for Growth

Instead of focusing on a small number of highly informative signals, go-to-market leadership often complicates their growth analysis with vanity metrics. If you’re aiming to grow, watch out for these mistakes:

Improving Win Rates

#1 Improving Win Rates

Win rate is an easily-hackable metric: You can increase your win rate simply by decreasing the number of opportunities you create or accept. While the company wants more opportunities and customers, win rates incentivize salespeople not to stretch. High win rates are often not a sign that you’re growing at your maximal capacity, but that you aren’t pushing hard enough. Of course, increasing net new customers, increasing ARR and increasing win rates are hallmarks of a company with GTM Flow.

If your company measures win rates, replace that measurement with net customers and accelted opportunities. You’ll encourage more growth.

More Marketing Qualified Leads

#2 More Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

By their very definition, marketing qualified leads (MQLs) have not bought yet. MQLs are often people who are being targeted by marketing and may have responded to a marketing outreach – but they are unqualified. While MQLs may turn into something valuable in the future, they aren’t worth anything today. You can’t pay salaries with MQLs. Unfortunately, if you incentivize your marketing team to acquire more MQLs, you’ll simply increase the number of poor leads added to the pile. In fact, excess MQLs create overhead to store, review, score and nurture for very little value.  It’s easy for marketing to generate more MQLs – simply spend more money to get more clicks and actions. It’s a cash bonfire!

Low-quality MQLs do not turn into sales. Instead, they form the foundation of friction between sales and marketing: marketing complains, “We generated thousands of MQLs. Why aren’t you closing them?” while sales retorts “The MQLs are garbage.” As with any system, more garbage in doesn’t create more dollars out.

Instead of encouraging your team to produce more MQLs, incentivize them to produce more qualified opportunities interested in buying today. This will closely align sales and marketing, improve your ability to learn and drive growth.

More Employees

Countless entrepreneurs proudly share that their company has grown by 100% in employees as a proxy for growth. Unfortunately, employees are a (mostly) fixed cost that dramatically increases the burn rate unless revenues are already growing per the 5 growth signals. But adding employees isn’t itself a signal of revenue growth – it’s just a signal of growth and maybe bloat.  Growth of expense. Growth in complexity. Growth in conflict. Scaling up employees while accelerating growth is exceptionally challenging. The healthy company should monitor it’s revenue per employee and aim to keep it level or improving as the company grows.

Go Forth and Grow

Properly-executed growth can have incredible results. Twilio, for instance, has enjoyed year-over-year revenue growth of 61.99%, more than triple the S&P 500 and nearly quadruple their industry average. It’s no coincidence that the company is enjoying positive press and high employee ratings. Your team should execute well when you’re aligned without micromanaging.

If your company wants to unlock money, talent, and customer interest, the key to all of these is growth. Pay attention to the right signals and disregard the noise from the rest.

Win More Easily – Stop Drowning Customers in Complexity

In go-to-market messaging, complexity is bad. During a sales meeting, the statement “our product is complex” should raise red flags. You shouldn’t buy from a complex business nor should you sell a complex product. Complexity requires time and effort to understand and incorporate, drastically diminishing a product’s value. 

Companies arrive at complexity when they fail to make choices about their target market and differentiators. Successful products are sold with simple messaging. Here’s how:

Be as Simple as Slack

Most unicorns are surprisingly simple. Slack and Salesforce can be explained in mere sentences. Even intricate offerings like Tableau can be communicated simply. “Simplicity masking complexity – putting the power of data in the hands of mere mortals.” – Barry Sowerwine, former SVP Enterprise Sales – Americas, Tableau

These companies made conscious decisions about:

  1. Who their target buyer is and what that buyer cares about
  2. What makes their business unique
  3. What internal forces within the buyer’s context will drive success

Success in B2B sales comes from a customer repeating your message internally. Describing Slack, for instance, a customer could say, “It’s a platform for real-time, asynchronous communication among and between teams.”

To make your messaging as simple as Slack:

  1. Define your audience. Who loves your product?
  2. Model their understanding. What do they know? How do they think?
  3. Speak to them specifically. Incorporate the industry factors that influence them and articulate solutions to their urgent problems.
  4. Start with what matters. Begin with your value proposition to ensure customers pay attention to the impactful elements of your product.

Find the Middle Ground

Differentiation is the point between complexity and over-simplification.

Your messaging is too complex if it takes more than 30 seconds for a customer to understand your product. The customer is key. You don’t need understanding from an average person, nor a luddite. Instead, you need memorability only with your target market.

Coinbase, for instance, can be explained very simply to anyone with knowledge about cryptocurrency but might take longer to explain to those with no crypto knowledge.

Your messaging is too simple if it sounds generic. Coca-Cola and McDonalds can share slogans about happiness and smiles because their product appeals to everyone on earth. If your product has a more precise audience – and it does – your messaging should precisely appeal to them.

Avoid the Complexity Pitfalls

Complexity is both a psychological and structural challenge. In your organization, watch out for these causes:

Prior habit

Many companies run their prior playbook, even if that playbook is outdated. Continuous alignment will help your team communicate your product’s most important elements.

On a more personal level, the more technical a person is, the more accustomed they are to specificity and depth. There’s a time and place for complexity, such as in technical papers. Sales materials, however, should be at the level that’s memorable for your customers. Remember – your buyer has to explain what you are to lots of people. You need to enable your buyer.

Focusing on internal stakeholders instead of customers

A company’s communication quickly becomes complex when it fails to prioritize teammate preferences. Each simplification is a loss of specificity, some of which will be unappealing to teammates. These choices may cost precision but benefit through increased sales. By asking “Which aspects of my product are most compelling to customers?”, you’ll eliminate extraneous elements to close more deals.

Influential actors

Key people can pull you in different directions, including customers with unique use cases, partners or investors with money and founders with diverging opinions. In all these cases, seek alignment at the right level of abstraction: How will this choice make it easier to buy our product?

Overcoming Complexity

Alignment is a verb. Simplicity arises from clear decisions – alignment.

In customer communication, it’s okay to fail fast and adapt. Precision is often less important than constant movement and re-adjustment. By finding what resonates, you’ll sell more simply.

Alignment is a Verb – The Most Important Work for Leaders

Alignment is the most important work of leaders. The moment when a team is aligned, all its members work in tandem. Well-aligned teams free up time for leaders to focus on company growth and individual development instead of putting out internal fires. Change is constant and so is the effort to align – well aligned teams continuously practice alignment. It is the work of leaders.

An Invaluable Investment

All sorts of changes can knock a company out of alignment, including new teammates, customers, competitors, investments, and information.

While the act of alignment can first be uncomfortable, dedicated time to align is far less uncomfortable than ignoring issues:

  • Alignment checks take very little time – one person states an understanding and everyone else gives the thumbs-up.
  • Misaligned teams can work at cross-purposes for months, costing time, money and often talent – a large price avoidable by a single hour-long discussion.

Top-performing teams hold casual alignment conversations at least every month and deep dives at least quarterly. They also align on an ad hoc basis whenever uncertainty arises. These simple alignment conversations ensure everyone is going in the same direction.

aligned teams move in the same direction

Tactics for Achieving Alignment

To achieve alignment, look at every step of its lifecycle:

1. Enable everyone to flag alignment issues

Everyone works in groups, so every person needs to feel aligned. It should be reasonable for any teammate to call an alignm

ent meeting simply by saying “I’m getting different messages on this topic. I think we need to be aligned.” Even if you feel like your team is aligned,

listen to team mates when they offer alternate experiences. Welcome new opportunities to align!

Welcome alignment conversations

2. Permit preparation

Alignment should be a normal part of internal operations. Scheduled alignment conversations enable your teammates to gather any necessary data or perspectives that might facilitate a conclusion.If the topic isn’t particularly fraught, share this information in advance of the meeting to save time. If emotions are likely to run high, consider sharing this information together, when human presence can cause cooler heads to prevail.

3. Facilitate with empathy

At the outset of an alignment conversation, create a conducive environment that prioritizes:

  • Listening rather than speaking
  • Understanding and aligning rather than winning

If the topic is tense or hotly-debated, you can avoid tension by recruiting a third-party facilitator to lead the conversation. These facilitators are most effective when they want the team to succeed but are outcome-agnostic about the issue in question. (As you improve at alignment, you can increasingly act as your own facilitator, ensuring everyone is heard without unfairly biasing any viewpoint.)

4. Find common denominators

When cross-functional individuals or teams are feuding, an underlying agreement may help them realign. Sales and marketing are a demonstrative example: a focus on revenue can enable agreement while misalignment may abound if each simply aims at its own metrics.

5. Pause and choose

If an alignment conversation raises lots of new information, consider delaying a decision for a few days. This time can enable teammates to digest and reflect:

  • Introverts may need reflection time to process the information
  • Cooler emotions can expedite agreement

Once you have all the data and everyone’s been heard, alignment means making choices. These choices come in the form of “We’re doing X (not Y or Z)”. In this context, it’s important for teammates to understand what this new alignment means for their piece. Encourage questions like, “Now that we’re aligned on X, what does that mean for A?”

Steps to successful alignment

If you don’t reach a consensus, don’t worry. Intelligent people will disagree. Ultimately, however, even dissenting voices must align behind the plan. Just as dissenting voices on the US Supreme Court must still abide by the majority-interpreted law, so too must each teammate align toward the agreed-upon conclusion (or find a different team).

A Worthwhile Endeavor

Alignment takes more energy than dictating orders but it keeps your team in tandem and drastically improves company culture. As the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone;

if you want to go far, go together.” Continual re-alignment may require additional investment in the short term for your company to adjust, but it enables much more long-term growth.

Alignment enables every decision to be organic and faster rather than come from a top-down mandate. 

Learn more – The Power of Alignment

Urgency: The Difference between a Sale and a Fail

Among prospective customers, urgency is the difference between a sale and a fail. Many people incorrectly assume selling requires creating urgency in the prospective client’s mind. This mindset is both hubristic and harmful: Manipulating someone into altered priorities is a speedy way to make them resent you. In subscription sales, especially, it’s a recipe for churn.

You can’t create a new priority for someone. You can uncover someone’s current priorities and find ways that your product helps. 

Buying software is a high-risk activity. Customers don’t buy because of your product’s efficiency, intuitiveness, or simplicity. They buy because it solves a problem that they need solved right now. 

Seeking Urgency Triggers

After decades of experience leading go-to-market teams, I’ve noticed that customers only feel urgency for one of three reasons:

  1. an authority shift,
  2. a mandate, or
  3. personal drive

Closing a sale quickly requires one of these three. You have to find potential buyers experiencing a trigger moment – you cannot invent the trigger.

Authority Shifts

Authority shifts are changes to an organization’s power structure. They bring the need to work differently. Typically, these come in the form of a new boss or key hire – sometimes when your prospect becomes the new boss. They can also arise after a merger or acquisition when the “dust settles”.


Mandates are required changes on a timeline. They can be external (such as a new governmental regulation with a deadline) or internal (products that must be shipped, formerly-active teams laid off, or leadership planting a stake in the ground to address a public problem or opportunity). While mandates are less common than authority shifts, they can be even more powerful because they make change a necessity.

Personal Drive

Ambitious employees identify opportunities to improve the organization and incite change. Not all employees have sufficient ambition to risk driving change, but those who do might use product purchases to accelerate that growth. This urgency trigger is a buyer thinking, “This product can launch my career.” 

If you’re aiming to harness someone’s personal drive for your sale, be honest with yourself: can your product really accelerate their career? The first Salesforce administrators, for instance, launched their careers through the platform (LinkedIn has 4,497 open Salesforce Administrator jobs posted). The first people who used product management software did not.

A personal drive is the rarest urgency trigger, as it combines precise buyer psychology with powerful potential in your product. When found, however, it naturally turns your buyer into a motivated champion for your product.

Using Urgency Triggers

If a prospective client isn’t experiencing one of those urgency triggers, your product is a “nice to have” for them, not a necessity. Time is the most precious resource and your sales team cannot waste it chasing people who do not have both the problem and urgency to solve it. These clients should generally be kept at a comfortable simmer until an urgency trigger erupts.

To leverage urgency triggers to focus your sales and marketing, start by noting the triggers that typically power your sales. While every urgency trigger will likely be an authority shift, a mandate, or a personal drive, your company will have its own commonalities and sub-types. For example:

  • If your industry is highly regulated, shifting government mandates may power your growth
  • If you sell to early-stage startups, you may find personal drives abound
  • If most of your customers are large enterprises, authority shifts may be your best bet (and easier to research)

You can find your most-effective urgency triggers by interviewing current and lost clients. Ask, “What was happening in your company that made buying our product such a high priority?” or “What are the most pressing priorities that outranked the problem solved with our solution?”.  Listen. Don’t sell – the buyer will talk if you respect their choice. The answers become a list of triggers to close new opportunities and inform questions to ask during discovery. You want to identify buyers without urgency triggers as early as possible – to focus your sales and marketing time on the most probable buyers.

Ask Directly

When talking to new prospects, ask directly about urgency. Some salespeople avoid asking, “Why is our product important to you right now?” because they’re afraid of hearing that it’s not. Salespeople are incentivized to believe each opportunity is closable, so they are often hesitant to ask questions that will disqualify customers.

Simply fantasizing that a prospect will become a customer doesn’t mean they ever will and wastes precious time.

By asking every prospect what urgent need your product solves, you’ll either learn that you’re a helpful fit or that you should pursue them later. Learning “not now” is not a disappointment: it’s a liberation. The less time you spend on non-urgent leads, the more time you can spend on leads that close fast.

Beware False Triggers

Not every company transition creates urgency for your product. In the middle of a merger or acquisition, for instance, nobody has the authority to make new buying decisions. Immediately after the acquisition settles, urgency often abounds.

To avoid false triggers, ask yourself “Does the person with urgency have the authority and influence to buy?” and “Is it extremely clear that our solution will address their actual urgent issue?” Be willing to conclude that those answers aren’t sufficient, and that you should learn more or circle back at a later date.

Rigorously Disqualify Leads

In sales, focus is the key to success. Focus means pursuing the opportunities that have the highest likelihood of success while spending minimal resources on those that fizzle.

I recently advised a sales team with a top-performing salesman who had burned out and was considering leaving the company. After looking at his numbers, I proposed he should take fewer meetings, not more. Over the previous quarter, he had met with 81 new prospects, from which he had created 37 opportunities. The seller with the second-highest number of meetings on his team held 47, which had resulted in 35 opportunities. The first seller had taken 34 unnecessary new meetings, each of which required prep, research, and follow-up. This salesman had been tilting at windmills, driving himself to burnout. He would have performed better by disqualifying more leads. 

A customer’s urgency changes over time. Buying a product requires budget, authority, confidence, consensus and urgent need. Some prospects simply won’t be ready. In these circumstances, consider telling them honestly. Especially if your product is a subscription, they will appreciate the small cost savings and significant avoidance of headache thanks to delaying the purchase for a few months. Instead of earning a few months of revenue from a dissatisfied client who may feel disgruntled and churn, you’ve found a trusting relationship with a client eager to recommend you to peers and who will become a buyer when the urgency trigger inevitably hits.

The best sellers are curious. They are maniacal about forming relationships. In many cases, this priority means leaving some leads on a simmer, and following up later when the need is more urgent.

Looking Forward

Every sale happens in an instant. At that instant, the customer must need your product enough that the financial and time is more important to spend with you than on their dozens of other priorities.

Urgency enables you to use your sales resources more efficiently.

When you meet a new customer, find out why they need a solution now. If you can’t answer that question, ask them directly and be willing to circle back if the need is not urgent enough. The customers who need you now will happily buy, while those who don’t are costing you too much time.

Top Four Reasons Revenue Leaders Fail to Achieve GTM Flow

While GTM Flow certainly sounds like a desirable state, achieving it may sound challenging. For the subscription businesses I help, the most common concerns are:

  • “We don’t have time.”
  • “We don’t have to fix our entire process. All we have to do is…”
  • “We already understand our success based on [x] metric.”
  • “Even if we wanted to achieve GTM Flow, we don’t know how to get there.”

Fortunately, the effort is generally worth it. If you operate a subscription business, flow is the single most valuable state for your company. If you’re hesitating about moving toward flow due to one of those concerns, perhaps these perspective shifts can help:

1 – No Time

Many business leaders believe themselves to be too busy to optimize their revenue operations. In the short term, they may be right. In the long term, however, they’re costing themselves success. 

Fearful business leaders may be correct that aligning toward GTM flow will slow down some operations to enable future growth. They may also be right in prioritizing other issues instead. However, people often overestimate the costs of changing and underestimate the value of compounding improvements. In these cases, it’s important to ask: How long are you willing to have multiple teams sprinting in different or wrong directions before correcting course? 

2 – Seeking a White Knight

Subscription businesses require many pieces working in tandem. In addition to exceptional leaders in product, marketing, sales, and customer success, they require high-quality interfacing. If your company isn’t achieving flow, no single fix or new hire will solve it. I call this belief the “white knight hypothesis” because companies often find themselves saying “All we need is a great leader in [product/sales/marketing/customer success]” instead of recognizing the real, systemic issues that pervade their company.

In a subscription business, there is no shortcut. No single marketing campaign, product feature, or team leader will solve your problems. Your organization is ever-changing and adapting, so it must continuously align all its elements.

3 – Legacy Approaches

Some business leaders may say “I don’t need to know my Revenue Flow Score. I can tell how well the company is doing by our [sales productivity/pipeline growth/other metric].”

While legacy metrics are meaningful  measures, they’re trailing indicators. They don’t tell you if your system is about to break, nor do they tell you where it’s being held back and how to fix it. A quarterly assessment of alignment may uncover opportunities for growth or problem-solving where you least expect them.

Typically, people find themselves more willing to invest in new approaches like RFS when growth slows. This strategy only patches problems instead of maximizing your overall success. Even if sales numbers are good, your company could still be falling significantly short of its potential.

In some cases, companies need to exhaust every other answer in order to realize there’s truly no substitute for flow. They always do, however… or else find themselves replaced by a company that does.

4- But How?

Some functional leaders are reluctant to shift toward a flow mentality because the change is frightening. They may fear the change as a threat to their career or be skeptical of their ability to impact every aspect of their organization. These are real, human concerns that need to be addressed through effective human resources strategies.

A cohesive team works very differently from a siloed workforce. The first step is recognizing and realizing the importance of making a shift toward flow for the business as a whole. The second is instilling that recognition in every leader. Only then can you align all those leading individuals toward a single, cohesive state of flow.

Interested in overcoming the blockers between you and a flow state? Learn more today.