By Dmitri Lisitski
The arrival of the digital age gave B2B organizations the ability to assess marketing effectiveness in a new way. Marketers began using interaction with digital content as an indicator that a prospect had morphed into a marketing-qualified lead (MQL), ready to be handed off to the sales team.
It was a real step forward insofar as it provided the first data-based metric for measuring marketing performance, and it continues to be an important tool for many B2Bs. But now it’s time for marketers to refine their approach to performance measurement in ways that better reflect the challenges and opportunities of today’s environment.
Initially, just filling out a lead form was treated as an MQL, but the conversion rate to sales-qualified leads (SQLs) was not particularly strong. As martech evolved and data-driven strategies like demand gen became more common, marketers gained the ability to apply behavioral scoring models covering more interactions, including content downloads and clicks on ads.
Better conversion, but problems remain
MQLs based on holistic behavioral scores reflect higher levels of engagement, so conversion rates improved, but B2B marketing and sales teams still struggle to connect with top accounts. There are four main challenges with the approach many B2B organizations currently take with MQLs:
- First, too many B2Bs, especially smaller ones, consider a filled-out lead form to be an MQL. Just because someone downloads an eBook from your website does not mean they are ready to talk to a salesperson. You must go deeper.
- Second, any demand gen strategy is fundamentally an “excitement journey.” Of the millions of people who see your ad, perhaps tens of thousands might signal excitement by clicking on it. At the next stage, just tens or dozens of people might download content, fill out a lead form, or even sign up for a product demo. You lose a lot of people at every stage, and those lost never come back.
- Third, handing off a lead to the sales team once it is marketing-qualified is a flawed concept. In the traditional funnel model, marketing is responsible for the top two sections: awareness and demand gen. The hand off as an MQL then takes place, and sales takes it from there, with no further marketing involvement. In truth, additional marketing support is needed through the middle and lower stages of the funnel, from sales development to loyalty. Unlike in the upper areas, where marketing performance is easy to measure using MQLs, there is no easy way to do it after the hand off, so marketers have no incentive to get involved.
- Fourth, individuals don’t make B2B buying decisions, groups do. Gartner reports that the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6 to 10 decision makers, each armed with 4 or 5 pieces of information they have gathered independently. Traditional lead-centric processes, technologies and culture simply don’t cut it anymore. Marketing and sales must work together, aligning their systems and processes throughout the funnel in order to reach, engage and convert buying groups.
Farther-reaching metric needed
Measuring marketing performance and maximizing sales opportunities in this new environment requires a metric that captures relationships with the entire buying group, focuses on the building of strategic relationships rather than tactical excitement and captures marketing impact beyond the hand off to the sales team. Let’s call it the buying group engagement metric, or BGE.
The BGE would measure the sum of engagements with all buying group members, increasing with every engagement marketing creates and declining when engagements are not created. It is premised on the elimination of the bifurcated funnel, where marketing involvement is only at the top, and it must include incentivization for marketing to be involved.
Isolating marketing’s impact in a fully shared funnel presents some challenges, but it can be done with a 2D grid approach using the BGE as the horizontal axis and the account relationship stage as the vertical axis. As marketing pushes individual conversations with buying group members, successful conversations result in the account being moved to the next stage in the relationship. This approach enables visualization of marketing and sales results together while still maintaining visibility of each element individually.
Dmitri Lisitski is the CEO & Cofounder of Influ2