August 5, 2015

Is the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) Dead?

Some businesses still don’t know what they are, yet people have already pronounced the MQL dead.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Marketing qualified leads are one of the most important metrics marketers can measure.

Why? Because these leads become customers.

Based on qualifiers such as specific demographics, activities, or behaviors, MQLs are more interested in your product than other prospects. Qualifications can include expressing interest through information or guide requests, having certain job titles, site activity such as viewing your pricing page, or numerous other predetermined factors.

Of course, marketing qualified leads aren’t guaranteed to buy your product, but identifying them early ensures you aren’t sending garbage to your sales team:

  • Marketing Sherpa found that 73 percent of all B2B leads are not sales-ready
  • Gleanster statistics suggest that somewhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of leads represent future opportunities but are not ready to buy yet

All leads cannot go directly to sales.

Sales and marketing must align in order to focus their collective efforts on prospects who meet specific criteria. Prospects who meet sales-ready criteria.

The Secret to Making Marketing Qualified Leads Work

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Treating every inquiry as a lead creates a disconnect between sales and marketing.

In order to ensure only hot leads are passed to sales, you must validate the intent of each inquiry. This is where marketing qualified leads come in. A follow-up email that analyzes a prospect’s actions and interests — or digital body language — is necessary. Only after you’ve confirmed that a lead meets sales’ requirements should you pass it on.  

So how do you know which leads sales reps value?

It comes down to communication. Here’s a four step process to ensure your marketing efforts align with your sales team’s expectations:

  • Talk: If sales and marketing don’t speak the same language, then your MQL strategy will fail. Sit down with sales, find common ground, and agree on the attributes that impact quality. The goal is to find out what leads sales considers high quality.
  • Define: Once you know the traits your sales team deems important, sales and marketing must work together to define both a lead and an MQL for your business. This is where a lot of companies fail. If sales expects apples and marketing delivers oranges, then neither team will be happy. Especially if marketing thought they were handing off apples. To make MQLs meaningful, both teams must agree on what characteristics make a lead worth reaching out to.
  • Measure: After you settle on the definition of an MQL, then it’s time to generate and deliver them. One of the many benefits of marketing automation software is the in-depth analytics. With closed-loop analytics, you can track and analyze the cost of acquiring a lead, nurturing them, converting them, and the speed at which they convert. This insight allows you to pinpoint which efforts are worthwhile and which ones need improvement.
  • Adjust: Lead scoring and nurturing isn’t static. Keep an open dialogue with sales to analyze what is and isn’t working. If they find a high percentage of your MQLs aren’t worthy of a sales follow up, you will need to be more judicious. Adjust accordingly as you gain new insight.

MQL Metrics That Matter

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Though MQLs are important, the amount delivered shouldn’t be the only thing you measure. To ensure you see the big picture, consider tracking the following metrics.

MQL Conversion Rate

If your MQLs don’t lead to closed sales, then it’s tempting to conclude they’re futile. While it’s important for marketers to look at conversion rates along the entire funnel, this metric is especially important. If sales can’t close MQLs, then you’ll need to re-evaluate your definitions and focus them further down the funnel.

MQL Per Channel

To keep the leads flowing, you need to know which channels are the strongest MQL source for your business. Does email marketing create more qualified leads than your blog? Does paid media bring in the most volume? If one channel is particularly lucrative, then you’ll want to focus more of your effort there. Be sure to balance MQL per channel with close rate per channel. If you get a lot of leads from social media, but they don’t convert well, then that’s an opportunity  to fill the top of your funnel with MQLs for nurturing.

MQL Conversion Rate Per Offer

Are your leads more likely to become an MQL after attending a webinar, or downloading a case study? Knowing which content offers have the highest MQL conversion rate will help you focus your marketing efforts on the most effective content. To monitor content performance, compare your conversion rate per offer to the leads generated per offer.

If people are willing to fill out your form to download an ebook, but no one converts to a customer, then you have a content disconnect. Perhaps your target market is hungry to learn about the topic, but your content wasn’t valuable or compelling enough. Knowing what offers generate leads, and which ones convert leads will help you pinpoint room for improvement. It also provides insight about which content to use in your nurturing efforts.  

MQL to Opportunity Conversion

If you want to measure the quality of your MQLs, calculate what percentage of MQLs turn into opportunities. If this metric is low, your MQL criteria may be off. Consider interviewing your sales team to discover the hurdles they run into when turning MQLs into opportunities. Then pinpoint how you can help nurture leads to overcome those obstacles. This will ensure you only pass on truly qualified leads.

Liven Up Your MQLs

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Marketing qualified leads are not the be-all and end-all of marketing metrics, but they’re important because they help map marketing’s contribution to revenue. Imagine being able to correlate closed sales with marketing sourced contributions. Marketing would be viewed as an investment, not a cost center.

With a strong MQL strategy, you can interact and nurture leads until they are sales-ready. You must know how many MQLs are sent to sales, their conversion rates, and how to repeat and improve the process. This will help you shift from reporting on what you did last quarter, to forecasting the revenue marketing will generate next quarter.

MQLs are simply a stage in the funnel. When defined and nurtured correctly, they drive sales and ultimately revenue. If your MQLs are dead ends for sales, then it’s time revamp your strategy to focus on prospects who meet specific criteria. MQLs are simply prospects who meet criteria that drives revenue — let’s not pronounce them dead before you’ve given them a chance to truly live.

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Looking for more advice on lead generation and marketing? Make sure to check out B2B LeadsCon Summit on August 24-26th, where you can learn about the latest B2B lead gen practices from industry experts. Speakers include Ruth Stevens, President of eMarketing Strategy; Brandee Johnson, Sr. Marketing Manager at Lego; and Scott Binker, President of Ion Interactive. Register by August 18th to save $100.

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