Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) have been the focal point of B2B marketing for years, but how effective are they really? Just because most B2B organizations use the MQL to SQL model, doesn’t necessarily make it the right approach. If MQLs really worked, then digitizing the process using marketing technology to make it quicker and slicker should translate into better results for B2B marketers. But has that happened?
Well …if you’re counting sheer output, then digital technologies have certainly helped increase the volume of marketing messages. But better results? Probably not. Let’s consider email marketing as an example. I think we are all tired of deleting email after email from strangers desperately trying to get our attention for a “quick meeting next Tuesday” because “they saw our profile on LinkedIn”.
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This sort of activity is what happens when you visualize the world as a marketing funnel. You try to put as many leads into the top of the funnel, believing that a small percentage of them will convert and lead to revenue for your company.
As marketers, we have access to cutting edge automations, integrations, predictive analysis, AI and a wealth of channels. But if we’re applying outdated thinking, are we really going to deliver any new benefit? It’s like a caveman thinking he is modernizing by ditching the rock he was using to smash open a nut and instead hitting the nut with an iPhone 12 Pro.
Quit cold-calling via email
From my standpoint in B2B technology marketing, a single meaningful conversation with a potential customer is worth ten times more than a bunch of MQLs resulting from a ‘spray and pray’ mass marketing campaign. I suspect that this is the case for many other B2B marketers as well.
When we get caught up in counting MQLs — comparing data to last quarter, setting goals for next quarter and determining our success or failure solely based on that number — we are missing the forest for the trees. Perhaps there was a time when marketers saw significant conversion from MQLs, but that era has passed. Persisting with this outdated marketing model is a prime example of Groupthink: “Everyone else is doing so it must be the right thing to do … right?”
Get real about sales
As the analyst firm, Gartner, spotted quite some time ago, when you take a close look at the sales qualified lead (SQL) funnel, you can see that a linear MQL to SQL approach does not represent what typically happens in the real world. This is particularly true in the B2B realm where the sales process has become increasingly fragmented. In reality, most B2B purchases extend well beyond one individual, involving a team of influencers participating in research, evaluation and the purchasing process. It takes a village!
Conversations, not clicks
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we can change quickly when we need to. We need more authentic methods to engage customer prospects, creating stronger relationships that not only convert to sales, but also that build trust and loyalty. MarTech has an important role to play in enabling us to meet prospects wherever they are, when they are ready to hear what we have to say, with engaging, useful content.
In my opinion, meaningful conversations would be a more useful and effective metric.
A digital blueprint for driving conversions from conversations
At first glance, it can be hard to see how something old-fashioned like a conversation stacks up in the digital world. Perhaps that’s where marketers have been going wrong. If the tools we use actually create distance between B2B marketing and prospects, then it’s time to re-examine the methodology.
Since B2B selling resembles a network of connections and influences more than a linear process, the MarTech tools we use need to map to this model. Data analysis is a key component in making sure each point of connection in any give network is well understood. Not only do we need to choose network nodes intelligently, in order to engage in authentic, meaningful conversations, we need to understand them: who they are, what they are interested in, how they want to be contacted and what their likely role is in influencing the decision to buy.
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Enabling such conversations at scale is a human + machine job. Automate too much too soon, and you lose authenticity. Automate too little, and you stifle your potential growth. A hybrid approach, by contrast, harnesses technologies such as AI, chatbots or augmented reality to create a powerful 24/7 always-on customer engagement machine capable of both personalization and scale.
For example, digital assistants and bots allow you to qualify leads by asking questions about business needs, gaining insight into the intent of visitors to your website or mobile app so you know just the right follow-up action to take. Digital technology is now primed and ready to not only help you qualify leads, but nurture them as well, opening the door to a human conversation that is ultimately more productive.
What do you think, have MQLs outlived their usefulness? And can we replace them with meaningful conversations? Comment below and let’s have a real conversation!