Why Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) Create Confusion

, Why Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) Create Confusion

SiriusDecisions made a brilliant contribution to B2B marketing several years ago when they created their Demand Waterfall. That “waterfall” is a metaphor for key funnel stages. It seems like everyone I talk to who works in the technology industry, which is an early adopter of marketing innovations, uses the Demand Waterfall framework. The concept is useful for any B2B industry with complex sales.

Part of the beauty of the demand waterfall vernacular is that it added descriptive language to the word “lead.” All too often, sales and marketing have very different definitions of what a “lead” is. With its Demand Waterfall, SiriusDecisions created a common language between sales and marketing by labeling key funnel stages. By benchmarking industry funnel conversion rates, SiriusDecisions provided B2B marketers with a powerful framework for evaluating their own conversion rates from one funnel stage to the next, identifying funnel leakage and best practices, and forecasting results.

The problem with the SiriusDecisions model is one of language.

 What Does “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Mean to You?

To apply benchmarks to funnel stages, you need an apples-to-apples comparison. The problem is that “marketing-qualified leads” has two distinct meanings. For some marketers, “marketing-qualified” includes sales devlelopment. For others, it doesn’t. In fact, the same marketer might very well route some leads to a telequalification function and other smaller, transactional leads directly to sales. This problem is further compounded because, as revealed in the B2B Benchmark Report, sometimes sales owns the inside sales function and sometimes marketing does.

Obviously, filtering leads through a telequalification process greatly reduces the number of marketing-qualified leads and improves the downstream conversion rates. So what are you really benchmarking?

That’s why I break “marketing-qualified leads” into two funnel stages: “phone-ready leads” and “sales-ready leads.”

  • Phone-Ready Lead:  Marketing has done whatever it can to suppress duplicates and enhance, score and nurture the lead until the lead is ready for a phone call – that call may come from an inside sales rep or a telequalification professional.
  • Sales-Ready Lead:  The lead has been qualified via a phone conversation. In such cases, the teleprospecting rep has typically confirmed that the person participates in the decision process, has a relevant pain, and wants to talk to a sales person.  In short, the lead is ready for sales engagement.

Getting clarity on the lead definition

Lack of clarity around funnel stages will lead to misunderstanding, muddled benchmarks, funnel leakage, and the adoption of sub-optimal practices. Do you think the terms “phone-ready” and “sales-ready lead” are an improvement?  Do you have a suggestion for more precise language? I welcome your feedback and will share additional thoughts in future posts on a new funnel paradigm for the complex sale.

Often, funnels leak the most during the handoff between sales and marketing. Invariably, marketing blames sales and sales blames marketing. A lack of clarity around the term “sales-accepted lead” is the real culprit.

Marketing doesn’t need sales to “accept” the leads. Marketing needs sales to confirm whether the lead met the Universal Lead Definition that was agreed to between sales and marketing. This is a yes/no answer. Salespeople should be able to tell on the first sales call, whether by phone or in person if the lead met the criteria they set with marketing. If the lead didn’t meet the criteria, then marketing needs to know why. There are usually just a handful of reasons.

Such feedback need not wait until the lead is converted to an opportunity later. Instead, marketing can take immediate actions to improve lead-qualification practices. And sales leadership can identify salespeople who do not understand the agreed-upon criteria, which can lead to an improvement in the Universal Lead Definition.

That’s why I like the phrase “sales-validated leads.” That’s what sales should be doing: validating whether the lead is really a lead, per the definition agreed to by sales and marketing. For most marketing organizations, this small change in funnel focus can make a huge difference in plugging funnel leaks.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments. At MECLABS, we don’t want to “own” the funnel taxonomy. We want to create a new, universal language that is useful for everyone and share our knowledge freely. That objective is best accomplished through a community effort via social media. So please, share this post with other funnel mavens and share your opinion. Together, we can create a new, more useful set of funnel definitions.

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J. David Green

J. David Green is the CEO of PipeAlign, a company that helps B2B companies tell a winning story, scale that story across sales and marketing, and measure and improve what matters most. Among other accomplishments, Dave generated a billion dollar sales pipeline in 20 months for Avaya, increased SMB revenue for Symantec from $2MM a year to $25M a year in twelve months, wrote a book on scalable lead generation, and has spoken at the DMA, MarketingSherpa, the BMA, the AMA, and many other events.

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