Content Marketing from the Pulitzer Perspective

Content marketing is often the only truly unique, differentiated marketing deliverable. Marketing changes fast – as soon as a marketer figures out a channel, a message or an audience, technology has made it effortless for competitors to replicate it. While imitation is flattery, it also makes the job of breaking through the noise harder and harder.

Except with great content. Not good content. Not above average content. I’m talking about great content. The type of content that you want to immediately copy the link and share with people (not because they asked you to but because it’s that good). The type of content that teaches you something without you realizing you were learning. And I’ve had the honor of working with multiple Pulitzer Prize winning and nominated journalists who became content marketers. Mark Emmons is one of those gems and his medium post of what every content marketer should know is the latest addition to my required reading list for new team members.

The Accidental Content Marketer

The Growth Puzzle – Your company is missing its forecasts

Is your B2B company missing its forecasts? Is that derailing strategic planning, board meetings and fundraising? My colleague, Philippe Bouissou, applied his 4 alignment axis model to the question of forecast accuracy, marketing attribution and the role of revops.

His answer is misunderstanding of revops, false specificity in attribution and misalignment. The misalignment is between the levers that drive the forecast and the forecast itself. I recommend reading his detailed article.

Want to know why most B2B companies are not making their numbers?

It was a pleasure to be a thought partner, editor and provacateur for this blog (originally posted on BlueDotsPartners.com).

5 Steps to make your Executive Sponsorship Program Soar

Clarify the purpose of the program

Clarify the purpose of the program

Executive Sponsors should:

  • Build sustaining relationships with prospects & customers
  • Help buyers and customers solve problems
  • Represent the buyer’s perspective in strategic planning

Executive Sponsors should NOT:

  • Lean on executive sponsors to hit quota or bonus numbers
  • Burn relationships for short-term results (i.e. hard sell)
  • Swoop in as a hero to “rescue a deal” by undermining pricing or terms

Establish customer candidate criteria

Establish candidate customer criteria

Which accounts and executives should you invest in?  Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams can recommend an account and individual for executive sponsorship. Each candidate should be assessed using a known, objective criteria.

Create and continuously improve a sponsee brief about the individual and the account.  The brief should include:

  • Why sponsor this person and account,
  • Unique interests,
  • Potential things in common,
  • Account business conditions and strategic considerations
  • ideal outcome of the executive relationship.

Briefs should be updated quarterly by the account team to ensure the executive is always current and insightful on their sponsee.

Establish criteria such as:

  • Potential lifetime account value
  • Account influence or impact on market
  • Individual influence or impact on market
  • Interest or commitment to you
  • Near term capacity for growth

Create a weighted scoring system to assess candidates

  • Create bands of “hard data” to inform scores for consistent scoring
  • Marketing program manager can score candidates and existing sponsorees – some sponsorees may need to transitioned out of the program
  • Every quarter, the GTM Leadership team should assess candidates, score and outcomes
  • Evaluate the list – is the weighting of the criteria generating a list of candidates that matches intuitive priority? Don’t be afraid to re-weight the criteria and re-score if not. It’s an iterative process.
  • Eliminate candidates that do not qualify at this time – your executive cannot only serve a few executive sponsorees

Understand who makes a good executive sponsor

Understand who could be a good sponsor

Executive sponsors should be:

  • Comfortable building relationships with strangers
  • Willing to work hard, both internally (going to bat for customers) and externally (through difficult customer conversations)
  • Willing to spend 20% of their time on buyer enablement and sponsee engagement – at least 8 hours per week.

Create a executive sponsorship capacity plan

  • Number of sponsee (individuals) per executive
  • Number of executives who would be good sponsors
  • Multiply the two and that’s the maximum number of customer sponsee

Match sponsees to executives

  • Cut off at the number of candidates that equal the capacity number
  • Review the score of the candidates
  • Try to match personalities and interests

Templetize!

Create templates

Not only do templates make engaging as an executive sponsor much easier for your busy executives, but using templates provides better data to improve upon your program and sponsorship communications.  Additionally, templates allow marketing to provide very high-quality, polished communications and events to create an on-brand executive experience.

Create templates for:

  • Introducing the executive to the sponsee
  • Creating interest in meeting or talking
  • Sharing thought leadership materials such as slides or videos
  • Establishing a regular opportunity to talk about their business and challenges
  • Inviting the sponsee to a private event

Create a cadence and playbook

  • Create a playbook for the cadence of executive sponsor relationships and events (dinners, luncheons, meetings at major industry events) to create consistency
  • Consider using a sales cadence management system such as Salesloft or Outreach.io to ensure regular contact, visibility into contact, metrics for the program
  • Assign a sales or business development representative to partner with the executive on starting, stopping and improving the sequence through personalization
  • The executive can and should engage outside of the sequence as needed but ensure that such communications are noted in the CRM so that the account and customer success teams are informed.

Report and Review – generate monthly and quarterly reports on the executive sponsorship program – filtered by executive, region, account team, industry, customer size or other segmentation criteria in use.

  • Number of executives and sponsees
  • Number of engagements
  • Duration of sponsee relationships
  • Growth or change in accounts during relationship
  • NPS for sponsees and their accounts
  • Direct or influenced revenue from executive sponsorship program

Enable executives to be excellent sponsors

Enable executives to be excellent sponsors

The Account Executive is the quarterback of the account. Working with Marketing (see Templetize), the AE can either using an automated outreach system or create a cadence of ticklers for the executive to touch base.  Make it easy for them to do so:

  • Provide detailed updates on the state of the sale/account prior to executive outreach
  • Shortcut executives from having to remember key actions – keep it on your calendar, don’t expect it on theirs.
  • Facilitate executives’ action with draft emails and personal touches for the relationship
  • Correlate directly to activity on an account – make the timing make sense and not be self-serving.
  • Measure and monitor so you can iterate from experience to improve your future processes

Four Things the Best Marketing Leaders Know about Sales

The most important partnership driving growth for B2B enterprises is the one between sales and marketing. Partnerships with Customer Success and Product are critical as well for a subscription business (SAAS for example).  But if sales and marketing do not align, the friction can torpedo a company’s growth trajectory.

Part two of this series, I’m focused on what marketers need to understand about sales to better align and execute. Part one was for sales leaders to understand common misconceptions about marketing.

#1 – Sales is laser focused on closing business. Speak their language.

Sales speaks pipeline and forecast

Marketing creates and manages many  programs, campaigns, and details. The shared questions for sales and marketing are:

#2 – Closing deals is challenging. Be empathetic and helpful.

Buyers drive the process. Help sellers help buyers.

  • You need buyer attention around an urgent need without aggravating them.
  • You need to navigate their legal and security processes.
  • Sellers need to help their customers make the case, internally, to buy your offering.

The future of buying is the empathetic sell. Marketers are experts in emotional language and can support sellers with useful resources for buyers to synthesize information and solve the problems the buyers face in the buying process.

#3 – Territory and comp plans are complicated and emotionally charged:

 

  • It’s not enough to understand the math.
  • You need to know the sellers and strategy to effectively navigate people puzzles.
  • Provide objective data and clear analysis to inform sales operations, revops and sales leaders

#4 – Titles don’t equal alignment

Head of sales + head of marketing = Chief Revenue Officer (“CRO”).  Or maybe Head of sales + head of customer success = Chief Revenue Officer.  Or sometimes Head of sales = Chief Revenue Officer.

  • Currently 85% of “CROs” are heads of sales with bigger titles.
  • It’s not enough. A good CRO should understand both areas.
  • As most companies will have a Head of Sales and a Head of Marketing, prioritizing communication and alignment is paramount. These two leaders need a weekly 1:1 reviewing people, data and trends.

After sales & marketing achieve initial alignment, it will take at least a month before you start to see go-to-market flow. Do the work to ensure sales, marketing and customer success are focused on the same customers and goals.

Check out what Sales Leaders need to know about Marketing.

 

Six Things the Best Sales Leaders Know about Marketing

There is no more important partnership for a B2B company than the one between sales and marketing. These two functions drive much of the growth of the company in tandem with the product team. Their alignment must be exact and often, it just isn’t. The friction from misaligned sales and marketing slows the company, frustrates everyone and wastes precious resources.

Having spent 25 years as both a sales and marketing executive, I’ve noticed a few common causes of misalignment and in this two part series, I hope to make it easier for Sales Leaders to understand their Marketing counterparts and then for Marketing Leaders to understand their Sales partners.

#1 – Single-point attribution is nonsense for enterprise B2B

Single point attribution is nonsense

  • Unless you’re selling something cheap, people don’t buy the first time they hear about it.
  • It’s impossible to measure the impact of each marketing touchpoint.
  • Single-point attribution makes you undervalue key campaign elements.
  • INSTEAD OF ATTRIBUTION, marketers should correlate experiments with increases in win rates, sales velocity, and prices.

#2 – Attribution is used best for making directional adjustments

Measure impact of marketing content and programs on wins and revenue over time

In B2B enterprise software, attribution is not for pinpointing precise strategies. To use attribution properly:

  1. Learn whether we acquired the customers we wanted
  2. A/B test each variable (target, offer, form, timing) to see how much the desired market engages
  3. Double down on the strategies that improve customer acquisition costs and acquisition rate with acceptable spend

#3 – Creating simple and compelling content takes time

  • Long or short? Pictures or not? These choices require experimentation.
  • Each audience has its own preferences.
  • Expect research, analysis, and iteration.

#4 – “Marketing” is really more than a half-dozen functions with different skills

  1. Demand Gen (or Growth Marketing) uses analytical tools to increase sales qualified opportunities by iterating on campaigns, technologies, and ads.
  2. Product Marketing informs your sales stories and audience-facing content through messaging, packaging, pricing and differentiation.
  3. Content Managers ensure the right content in the right form reaches the right audience.
  4. Marketing Communications pushes your messaging and stories to the press.
  5. Customer Marketing keeps customers aware of innovation and momentum in ways that provide them value.
  6. Event coordinators juggle thousands of details (from shipping and logistics to team appearance) to ensure an experience is exciting, professional, and on-brand.
  7. RevOps (the merger of Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, CS Ops) – the masters of the data and systems ensuring that you use automation effectively, your data is accurate and useful, and that you leverage your people for work only they can do.

#5 – Modern Marketers are data masters

  • Their insights and trends can help sales close.
  • But they need a “ closed loop” – all the information must be in the CRM.
  • My rule: if it’s not in the CRM, it doesn’t exist.  Marketing leverages technology to understand the customer.

#6 – Marketing data is for direction, not determination

When you hear a statistic, always understand what was asked:

  • Was that the right target, offer, and time?
  • Was the content compelling to customers?
  • Does it help clients with their purchasing decision?

If all the answers are YES and they still didn’t engage, you’re deluding yourself. There’s a product market-fit problem, a lack of differentiation or you are off in your targeting. Fix those problems in partnership with marketing and product – and your marketing will produce.

Next up – what do MARKETERS need to know about SALES!

How to Master Empathetic Selling

The short answer – be a human.  Be genuine. Be open. Be curious about another person. Empathetic selling starts with seeing the other person in the conversation without expectation or obligation.

The long answer…

2022 (and beyond) will be the dawn of empathetic selling.  The most successful go-to-market teams (sales and marketing) will be known for their authenticity, insight and empathy.

The foundation of long term relationships which underlie every subscription business is mutual understanding. Effective understanding requires empathy — understanding another person’s emotional state. Empathy in sellers stems from authentic vulnerability and emotional awareness. After all, if a seller is unaware what’s happening with their own emotions, how can they help the buyer process their emotional needs?

How to Empathize as a Seller or Marketer

Listen to engage in Empathetic Selling

The most effective responses to questions and objections don’t merely solve a client’s surface-level needs: they fix the root cause. The core of a customer question or concern is typically a human need:

  • Who is this person?
  • What are their hopes, dreams, and fears?

Whether they recognize it or not, most buyers prioritize their human needs ahead of their professional preferences, so sellers should seek to understand their buyer’s personally.

For sellers today, the best connect as a person first. They’re not diving into a value proposition and a demo – they’re being real. Occasionally, I’ll hop on Zoom calls with people who seem clearly uncomfortable and I’ll ask “Would you like to do this off-camera — just on our phones?” And they’ll say “Absolutely: I’m just so tired of being on-screen!” After sharing our mutual exasperation, I’ve found prospects connect more deeply thanks to our mutual acknowledgement of our shared discomfort.

Sales scripts cannot capture the richness of authentic empathy, so incorporating human honesty and vulnerability into your sales conversations will rapidly lead to the cornerstones of a comfortable connection.

The simple script, from the Dawn of Empathetic Selling, is:

  • Why did you take this call?
  • Here’s what I heard (summarize – here’s what I heard)
    • Why the buyer has this problem
    • The urgency to solve this problem seems to be … (is this right?)
    • The other stakeholders you’ll need to align likely are (confirm or inform depending on what they know)
    • Where are you right now in solving this problem (ask and confirm)
    • The next steps seem to be (confirm or suggest)

Assist – Empathetic Selling is about being helpful

Top sales people of today are ones who recognize “My job isn’t to sell you something; my job is to help you solve a problem.” Therefore:

  • If a customer doesn’t have a problem, the seller should tell them
  • If the customer does have a problem, and they’re overwhelmed with too much information, the seller should organize that information

Success requires being honest with somebody about what’s best for them. Sellers should honestly tell prospective clients what their solution does and doesn’t do. Regardless of whether a prospective customer adopts your solution, helping them leaves a positive impression and  increases the likelihood that they recommend peers and minimizes churn.

Simplify – Empathetic Selling makes buyers’ jobs easier

Buyers are overwhelmed with options and demands on their time. The easier you make it for them to both work with you AND to engage the other stakeholders, the more valuable you are as a partner. For example, it’s best practice to send a follow up email after a meeting.  Too often, those emails are long, with multiple action items, and require effort to digest. That effort slows the process and undermines the seller’s utility to the buyer.

Short emails that can be read in 30 seconds with one action item are ideal. Including content the buyer can copy or forward to their colleagues simplifies the consensus building activities required of enterprises. Using technology like Outreach or Salesloft, sellers can craft multiple emails following the meeting and schedule them to be sent every 2-3 days so that the buyer stays engaged, but not overwhelmed. Most of these follow up emails don’t make any demands of the buyer – they are simply helpful reminders of the discussion and offer tools to help them navigate their own organizations.

The Impact of Empathetic Sales

In the long term, empathetic sales tactics enable strong, recurring relationships. If you’ve formed a strong relationship with a buyer, you can leverage that honesty to create more mutually-beneficial deals than would usually be possible.

Sometimes, for instance, an empathetic sale will allow your team to unlock a multi-year deal structure. While a customer might have been wary of such a commitment if your relationship lacked trust, after you’ve guided them through all the options, they’re more likely to be open to the idea that an implementation will take time. Imagine the power of being able to say, “Now that you’ve done your research and are pretty confident our product is the right fit, how about we commit to a specific period to enable everyone to adjust and the integrations to get up-and-running?”

Fast sales, such as ones that promise to dazzle customers with quick fixes and instantaneous results, may lead to more revenue today but quick churn tomorrow. In addition to increased client satisfaction, deep, empathetic relationships provide sellers with more reasonable clocks to prove themselves.

Looking forward, as the empathetic sale takes hold, be on the lookout for top sales teams to change their compensation structure. Buyers can tell when sellers are making a suggestion for their own self-interest. A few companies have experimented with higher base salaries for sellers and no variable other than a bonus contingent upon revenue generated and buyer feedback. Perhaps the most successful companies will weigh the buyer’s feedback on their sales experience as highly as we currently weigh compensation based on closed business. To change the behavior, we must change the incentives. 

As companies are increasingly willing to compensate people in manners other than based heavily on a percentage of their in quarter sales, they will increasingly align with a customer’s lifecycle and flow, establishing stronger, longer relationships. We’ll see increased honesty from sellers that aligns with the increasingly public world of social media and online reviews. Sales teams that previously shoved deals down client throats will increasingly find themselves involved in renewal cycles, recognizing the diminishing value of hunting and the increased value of land-and-expand. Honesty, trust, and empathy will power the sales of the future.

The Empathetic Sale is the Secret Superpower for 2022 Growth

  • Today, 70% of B2B buyers do most, if not all, of their buying process before they talk to you, and
  • 43% of B2B buyers don’t ever want to talk to you
  • That number rises to 54% for millennials and younger
    Data from Gartner 2021

Has your sales and marketing adapted to the way companies are buying?

Over the last few decades, the world of sales has moved through: the solution sale, the consultative sale, the challenger sale, and the relationship sale. The secret superpower for 2022 growth is empathetic selling.  Want to learn more? Let’s talk.

These shifts force everyone in sales and marketing to adapt to a different way of thinking about sales and marketing: the empathetic sale. Sales today isn’t about acquiring pipeline or moving people through stages: it’s about maximizing your empathy and helpfulness to the buyer on their journey.

The Evolution of Sales

Before the internet and increases in venture capital investment proliferated new SaaS solutions, sellers had the power in the information exchange. Buyers had to physically meet with or call up dozens of vendors to compare options on their own. Sellers could focus on their proof points to close sales for one-off implementations. Now, buyers have the power. They have unlimited, high-quality information from reviews, peer networks, and aggregation sites they can seamlessly move between. Often buyers expect and prefer to explore the product itself without a seller through free trials, freemium offers or video demos. Historical sales techniques are far less compelling because buyers divide their attention and (appropriately) discount the information that a seller provides to them.

The COVID-19 pandemic expanded the importance of empathy even further. After a year of limited human contact, social fear, and worldwide distrust, people are especially hungry for community and connection. Even when buying software, the need to be seen and respected as people is at the forefront. Truthfully, one wonders how we succeeded any other way!

Unleash the Empathetic Sale

Customers buy from sellers and companies they trust, and humans trust people we believe to be competent, honest and aligned with us. Buyers appreciate assistance in synthesizing and organizing information as they are often overwhelmed with the high quality content they receive or find – content that often disagrees with each other. One of the fastest ways to undermine trust is to tell buyers something that is incompatible with something they find on your website. Sales and marketing message alignment is crucial in this new world so that you don’t confuse your buyer. A confused buyer likely is one moving on to another problem and solution.

Are your sellers and marketing saying the same thing?

Many sellers confuse relationship selling with empathetic selling. Relationship sellers invest in building a personal connection with the buyer and through that connection, drive forward their sale. Relationship selling is a precursor to the empathetic sale – necessary and insufficient. In addition to genuinely committing to know another person, empathetic sellers are confident experts in their solutions as well as their customers’ challenges and success stories. With that expert knowledge, empathetic sellers can confidently explore what their prospect is experiencing and help their prospect build confidence in the prospect’s own knowledge and decision.

If a customer believes that you have their interests at heart and you are helping them confidently solve their problem, they will be increasingly open to your ideas and suggestions. They will consider your disagreements as suggestions from an ally, not manipulation from an adversary. In short, they will be more inclined to consider your suggestions as they move their position. This consideration is at the core of arriving at an agreement that includes them incorporating your offering as long as your offering genuinely can help them. An early assessment of lack of fit is welcomed by buyers as well as sales managers: If you start your conversations by seeking to understand the prospect’s needs and follow up with an honest account of what you can’t do, the prospect will trust and implement your advice. This strategy requires authenticity and vulnerability, so it’s no wonder those traits are increasingly prized.

On the other hand, historical sales strategies like combatively emphasizing proof points and aggressively driving to your next step are plummeting in value. Pushing people usually hardens their position just as debates mainly cause people to dig in their heels.

Going forward, instead of hammering home proof points, successful sellers will listen & clarify, empathize, and assist.

Listen & Clarify

Ask why did you take this meeting?

A few years ago, a seller asked me to reach out to a 2nd level connection in my network who was an executive at a strategic prospect account. The executive agreed to take an exploratory call with me. With the seller in the room we did a telephone call (not Zoom), following introductions, I asked my favorite question: “Why did you take this call?”. The executive spoke for 15 minutes, filling me in on the entirety of their problem, their aspiration for their company and giving us invaluable insight into how important this might be to her. Only by understanding their problem can I offer a helpful solution – my own or otherwise. A customer will ultimately choose the solution they believe fits them best so learn what the customer is trying to do! About 9 months after that telephone call, the executive’s company became the largest new customer for the quarter.

While customer personas and modeling are helpful guidelines, the most effective way to learn someone’s desires is to ask them one open ended question, listen, summarize and confirm (Ask, Listen, and Confirm — ALC):

How to authentically learn someone’s desires…

  • Why did you take this call?
  • Here’s what I heard (summarize – here’s what I heard)
    • Why the buyer has this problem
    • The urgency to solve this problem seems to be … (is this right?)
    • The other stakeholders you’ll need to align likely are (confirm or inform depending on what they know)
    • Where are you right now in solving this problem (ask and confirm)
    • The next steps seem to be (confirm or suggest)

Empathy is the only way to be truly helpful

Comprehending the customer’s need isn’t merely about articulating why your offering is great: it’s about understanding why the buyer has the problem in the first place. Notice that the conversation flow doesn’t include a discussion of the product features or competitive advantage. If you empathize with your buyer, you can quickly qualify and help them shape the requirements of the solution they need leveraging your expert understanding of your strengths and your customers.

Ultimately, your sales process requires fitting the customer’s flow — both in purchasing and implementation. The most important seller doesn’t work for the sales organization: they work at the buyer’s org. The meetings that will determine if you have a sale happen without any vendors in the room.

The most important meetings for a sale happen without any sellers

If you can understand a person’s precise needs, you can later equip them with the power to advocate in their internal meetings, where the actual decisions are made. 

The optimal process is one of active listening without pressure — it requires confirming understanding and interest, not trying to funnel the prospect to your next stage. This process can be tricky because you want to manage the journey, but a buyer has their own internal needs. You’ll have to send more follow-up notes confirming understanding and check-in more when the prospect’s journey slows, but they’ll reward this hand-holding with greater trust. These truths might always have been true, but are even more profound today as buying committees have expanded, spread out, and now access more information. Sales and marketing must therefore work together to equip the customer. The foundation of this equipment is empathy.

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.