Goodbye MQLs, Hello Opportunities
A dispatch from Forrester's B2B Summit 2022 in Austin, Texas
A delegation of LeadFabric team members recently traveled to Austin, Texas for Forrester’s B2B Summit 2022. We had a great time meeting in person with our partners and vendors and we enjoyed the sun, the tacos and steaks, and most of all, attending insightful sessions about the latest and greatest in B2B marketing. We were able to deep-dive into Forrester’s research and reports and hear directly from their analysts. We learned a lot and heard new ideas, and we also had some of our own theories and predictions validated by the experts. We’re excited to work our takeaways from the conference into our existing framework and use our learnings to better serve our clients.
One session we found particularly interesting was called “Goodbye MQLs, Hello Opportunities: A Phased Approach to Transformation. Read on for a recap of what was presented and LeadFabric’s take on what that means for the future of B2B marketing.
Saying Farewell to MQLs: A Phased Approach to Transformation
The death of the MQL has been a hot topic in the B2B arena lately as ABM’s meteoric rise in popularity continues. And though many marketers may find it difficult to let go of the metric they’ve held near and dear for so long, Forrester Decisions has made a compelling case for doing so and embracing opportunity-based marketing as an alternative. They've also laid out a phased transition that can make the change less painful.
What’s so bad about the MQL?
The biggest problem with using MQLs to measure success is that they are based on the behavior of individuals. But research has proven time and again that most B2B purchasing decisions are not being made by one single person. Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study found that over 80% of B2B buying decisions are made by buying groups of three or more people. When we focus on individual leads, we are missing the bigger picture.
Instead, we need to reframe our processes around the buying group. When a new lead comes in, we should ask ourselves what that action means for the rest of the group. A form fill or content download is not a sign of buying readiness – it’s just one signal from one member. What are the other members of the buying group doing at that moment and how can their needs be addressed?
Buying Group Blindness
By focusing on a single MQL, we are most likely ignoring the signals coming from other group members, a phenomenon known as Buying Group Blindness. Consider a traditional lead-centric follow-up process: An inquiry from a prospect company comes in through a Marketing-managed channel. Marketing evaluates the inquiry and deems the lead an MQL, then passes it along to the Sales Development team. If another inquiry from a different person at the same company comes in later, it’s likely to be marked as disqualified, because the SDRs are already prospecting that account. And therefore, an account showing high buying intent gets completely overlooked.
This blindness causes Marketing and Sales teams to miss valuable insights that could have been gathered through those additional interactions with other members of the buying group. It’s also a missed chance to understand how the buying group works together, and understanding each group member’s role and speaking to their needs is a great way to accelerate the deal through the pipeline. It’s also potentially a loss of an additional opportunity.
An Opportunity-Based Approach
Account-based marketing may seem like a logical antidote to Buying Group Blindness. But while a lead-based approach may be too granular, an account-based approach is often too broad. Though ABM has clear advantages compared to person/lead-based marketing, accounts can be large, monolithic objects, and can sometimes be too big to gather enough data around the opportunities in the market. Plus, ABM is a broad term that can mean different things to different organizations, and while it’s often touted as a best practice, it’s not necessarily the best strategy for everyone.
A more practical approach, that just about everyone can agree on, is to focus instead on detected opportunities. As opposed to a traditional lead-centric process, an opportunity-based approach does take into account the fact that more than one person is making a purchasing decision. The biggest change, however, is the fact when both Sales and Marketing are focused on opportunities, they are working in the same currency. When Sales trades in opportunities and Marketing deals with leads, they will never be aligned. But if Marketing also works with opportunities (especially when SLAs are pre-defined), while there is still a handover, what Marketing is handing over is the goal Sales is already working towards.
Because at the end of the day, the goal of Sales is deals. They don’t want MQLs – some might even argue that by handing over leads rather than opportunities, Marketing is not pulling its own weight, leaving Sales to do all the heavy lifting. This can lead Sales to lose confidence in Marketing’s ability to bring value to the table, which can cause larger organizational issues like a lack of trust between departments. And worse, resources on both sides are wasted – Marketing spends budget acquiring leads that aren’t followed up on (whether they are worth pursuing or not) and Sales goes after buyers and buying groups in a non-scalable way. But when both sides are working on the same team toward the shared goal, they become truly aligned, which also optimizes the use of their resources.
A Shift in Mindset
Marketing is not the only department that needs to change approach, though. Sales teams tend to keep opportunities under the radar until they are sure they can win them, which means typically lots of time passes between when a lead comes in and when an opportunity is created. But while this practice may be beneficial for a sales rep’s close rate, it can be detrimental to Marketing and the rest of the revenue development team. During the time that Sales is keeping opportunities to themselves, buying signals are going unnoticed, and the opportunity to discover who else is in the buying committee (which can often help accelerate the deal) is lost.
Change is hard, especially when it comes to processes that have been in place for years. But the good news is that B2B organizations don’t have to change their approach to revenue generation overnight. Forrester outlined a phased Crawl-Walk-Run plan easing the transition from lead-centric to opportunity-based marketing. We’ll explore Forrester’s proposal in detail in the next blog in this series and offer our own analysis on what this means for EMEA B2B marketing organizations – stay tuned!
If you’d like to learn more about how your business can begin to shift from lead- to opportunity-based marketing, LeadFabric can help. Contact us for more information today!
And to gather foundational knowledge about getting started with ABM, check out our free eBook below: