Marketing & Sales Alignment – Is It Time to Stop Measuring MQLs?
Over the past decade, account-based marketing (or general B2B marketing before that term came into favour) has evolved from a largely untracked and unmeasured craft to a highly measured and analyzed discipline.
The stages of the funnel have served as a guiding light for measurability, objective determination of a buyer’s stage, and alignment between sales and marketing teams.
It has worked well to align sales and marketing teams in account-based selling and marketing processes. The rigours of shared metrics and shared revenue targets have guided the right actions in this initial evolution towards greater effectiveness and efficiency.
However, we are now at a stage where we must ask if the initial measurements and metrics have outlived their usefulness.
Modern Marketing and Sales Alignment
The most significant problem comes from the view of a funnel as a clean, linear, uni-directional process. This manifests in metrics as measurements on the number of Marketing Qualified Leads that are handed over to sales. While this was a great first step in driving alignment, it over-simplifies the buying process it attempts to represent.
In any lengthy buying process, the chance of the account being ready to buy at this point is incredibly small. They are more likely to be in the early stages of exploration, learning, and evaluation.
This is a crucial time for sales to begin to build a relationship, assist, educate, and guide, but is too early to close a deal. However, in most organizations, sales is left alone at this point, and must develop the lead from here to close without much marketing assistance.
From Marketing Qualified Leads to Trusted Relationships
Sales is left with a conundrum, the earlier they see the deal, the better the opportunity they have to establish themselves as a trusted advisor, but the earlier it’s qualified and handed over, the earlier they are left on their own to guide the rest of a long process.
Using MQLs as a metric, therefore presents a major problem. The lower the bar, the easier it is for account-based marketing teams to hit their numbers, but the harder it is on sales teams.
The higher the bar, the more of the work is shouldered by marketing, but the higher the chance that a competitor will have found their way into the account before you and established themselves as trusted advisors.
To resolve this challenge, we need to begin to move beyond the use of MQLs as the ultimate metric for sales and marketing alignment. For account-based sales teams, there is no one point in time that an account “starts” – relationships are initiated, trust is built, and advocates are developed across the organization.
Many of these conversations will need to be re-initiated over time by appropriate triggers. A marketing team that initiates more of the right conversations, and re-initiates them over time as needed, is a marketing team that is driving account-based sales success.
Moving from measuring MQLs to measuring the quality conversations generated by marketing is not without challenges. The same debates over what counts as good fit will be rehashed.
New challenges on how to portion credit when Marketing generates a trigger event and sales leverages it to create a conversation will come up. However, the fact that the challenge is difficult does not mean it is not worth doing. Quite the contrary.
It was extremely difficult for the early adopters of marketing automation to align their sales and marketing teams. However, those that did, reaped the benefits for many years.
The same will be said for those who continue to push forward from here and measure their marketing teams not just on a single point of hand-off, but on creating the multiple triggers that it takes for an account-based sales team to build broad and deep relationships throughout a buying organization.