Marketers are under pressure to deliver MQLs (marketing qualified leads) as expediently as possible. But in the mad scramble to find lead gen vehicles, produce content, and measure results, marketers sometimes become overly focused on the MQL metric, when we know the SQL (sales qualified lead) is just as important. Further, we all know what we really should be measuring is how those leads drive sales and contract deals closed, aka money for our companies.
Having lots of MQLs doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have enough SQLs, or sales deals closed. This points to the idea of quality: quality of the leads, the touchpoints, and how you nurture each. The transition from MQL to SQL is particularly important. Here are five things to avoid when putting together a lead generation program centered around these two metrics.
Buying the Same Leads Over and Over
Look for publishers that cater to the niche you are going after. They should have content that is read by the personas you’ve identified — if you have not identified personas, you should not be spending money on leads.
You’ll want a publisher with a solid reputation, strong engagement metrics, and previous successes with similar campaigns. If you are not sure where to begin (or aren’t satisfied with the publishers you are using), try searching on key terms that you would expect your target audience to use and see what types of websites and publishers turn up.
Many of the best publishers require some form of a login and personal data to engage their site and content. Audiences will gladly give this to them if they have quality content. This allows the publisher to clearly quantify and speak to their audience quality.
When you go to judge the success of a lead gen publisher, look beyond the MQL to how the leads performed through to the SQL stage. With one of my recent clients, we used DZone because of the option to use a zone that was a strong match for its product. Of 1,000 original leads, we got an MQL hit of 14% and an SQL of 4%. Four percent doesn’t sound that high, but given the number of leads, the customer was thrilled. You’ll need to find your own baselines that produce the right yield percentages. In this case, 4% was great because downstream from SQLs, my client had strong conversions to meetings, then demos, then contracts and sales. Combined with a high average deal size, 14%, and 4% were great.
All of this implies one central ingredient: you’ve put in a tracking mechanism, beginning with UTM codes and including a lead nurture system like Marketo or Pardot. This brings us to the second pitfall to avoid.
Don’t Get Lazy about Measurement and Nurturing
If you are reading this, you’ve likely put in some kind of lead nurture system. If you have not, stop reading, go evaluate some, and put one into place. Many clients I have worked with don’t differentiate within channels. They nurture leads with touchpoints labeled “social” or “content syndication” but don’t bother to further track by “DZone” or “Facebook.”
Further, the touches they deploy often don’t have attribution. Most sales conversions are a result of multiple touches. For instance, a prospect or lead originates with one campaign, comes in natively from the direct domain, then maybe responds to a nurture email, then attends an event. Tools like Bizible help you make sense of these touchpoints. However, it takes time to build up the history and come up with the values to assign to each. For speed, use a first touch, last touch formula that assigns the greatest values to these two touches (at least 50% total).
Not Planning for Enough Marketing Touches
In the B2B tech space, leads don’t convert to sales with a finger snap. It typically takes a lot more than a single email and a call from a sales rep. One of the companies I’m currently advising has a sales cycle of six to 18 months. During that time, you’ve got to have multiple strategies in play to rule clients out who aren’t a good fit and nurture likely candidates to the SQL stage. Well-developed scoring systems and time spent on the quality of the nurture emails or other touchpoints (e.g., webinars, ebooks, etc.) are essential.
You want strong signals to categorize leads as an MQL. The stronger the signals (and there should be more than one) that can be categorized and scored, the stronger the sales team can prioritize, and the stronger the conversion to SQL.
Basing Your Entire Scoring System on Personas
If your entire plan for getting a lead to turn into an MQL is to base it off their persona – title and industry, for instance – you are leaving out half of the equation. You need to look at behavior and create streams dedicated to matching personas, profile info, and content with behavior.
For instance, lead sources are different, so don’t treat every lead source the same. If the lead came in from content that was practical, or problem solving, in nature, you’ll nurture them with similar content and pieces that help them make a case for your product or service to someone higher up.
If the lead came from an awareness piece, feed them additional middle of the funnel content to help them rule themselves in or out. This is a complex endeavor that requires a broad-minded and technically savvy marketer. That leads to the next mistake.
Outsourcing Your Nurture Campaigns
Among other services, I often work with companies as a lead gen strategist. But, I don’t recommend companies outsource the marketing job that builds out the post-lead strategy. Someone like me can help you document, workshop, and brainstorm strategy, but you have to be willing to own it. Whether you are retargeting prospects with ads, building out specific email nurture campaigns, developing the scoring systems, or choosing the various paths for engagement, you need a marketer who is fully dedicated to your business, understands the customer journey, and can map those goals to create the necessary touchpoints.
It’s essentially an architecture problem. A lot of people can swing the hammer to create those workflows in your email program, but you need a designer. Someone who can build out the flow. It’s an art. Rather than hiring an agency for this component, invest in a marketing person who is solely focused on getting your messaging correct across the full spectrum of touches.
Spending Too Much Effort on the End User
Developers and IT pros have a lot more say in what gets purchased these days. But if you are creating demand for a tech product, you need to spend a bit more of your time and energy on reaching the person who needs to be convinced to spend on what might be a new and unratified approach.
While you will need distinct content that builds awareness at the C-level, executive, or middle-management personas, it might be equally (if not more) important to fine-tune your sales enablement content – especially if your sales force typically deals with the end user, not the people who pay for the product (or design for its use in the organization). Making sure sales has the right content and training for conversations with higher-level executives is paramount. This, of course, is tied to the lead or touch source; the place and content the user interacted with your product or service.
The biggest takeaway is not get caught up in the “hero metric.” Don’t obsess over a high MQL number for a lead gen product if the SQLs don’t pan out. All too often, we jump for joy over 1,000 MQLs that cost $300 apiece, only to see less than 1% SQL and less than 10% conversions to sales: $200,000 (you lose $100K if you didn’t make the math connection).
Make sure you’ve got a staff member who is dedicated to seeing the big picture of where the MQLs are coming from and then creating original, thoughtful, marketing, and sales touches. Think about where your product sits in the information ecosphere. If you are creating demand for an original product, pay attention to the C-Suite and leaders who green light the purchases.
Developers and IT professionals have more say in buying decisions these days, but a lot of products still require buy-in at the highest levels.