Trailblaze & Grow

Trailblaze & GrowMarketing Insights from the Front Lines

MQL for Marketing Performance

Getting to the Heart of Marketing Performance Measurement

Most executives are familiar with the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) metric that rose to prominence a few years ago. This simple and straightforward form of measurement was applied to the marketing activities of all kinds of companies to quantify the results of marketing activities.

As useful as this metric has been to the broad conversation about marketing, its practical application over the long-term requires a more critical examination. While MQL has certainly helped further the dialogue surrounding marketing operations overall, one more instance of the age-old breakdown between marketing and sales has taken place.  Can this current schism be addressed? Can a different measure of marketing performance benefit both sides?

Identifying Specific Shortcomings

Though qualified leads have certainly helped marketers adopt a scientific, numbers-based approach, this method has proven to be less useful for the sales pipeline. Two specific shortcomings have become evident:

  • Tracking the number of qualified leads does not necessarily reflect or meaningfully predict incoming revenue.
  • The rate of closed deals can fall despite application of the metric.

These two apparent shortcomings are closely connected. The emergence of these complaints actually points to a disconnection between sales and marketing.

What Can We Learn?

Because few companies are selling products within a rapidly expanding market, each team must acknowledge the parameters of the market where your products or services compete. Specifically, your team should quickly react the competition’s actions. The MQL metric as it is commonly applied cannot accomplish this in a direct manner; thus it fails to draw attention to this all-important aspect of revenue generation.

In most circumstances, there are a finite number of customers interested in purchasing your product. It can be reasonably concluded that a company’s industry peers are using lead generation methods of similar sophistication; competition for greater win rates between companies is the natural result. Additionally, there is likely to be an upper limit to the number of units sold within a period of time. Since MQLs cannot grow faster than the current market, the closing rates projected by the metric have logical limits.

Sales professionals will also point out that market influence should take into account customer behavior, another aspect that the qualified lead approach does not account for. In the past, the traditional B2B marketing model did not always recognize the way that customer activity influenced marketing programs. Once a customer buying cycle is applied to current marketing efforts, additional shortcomings of the qualified lead metric become evident.

Improving Metrics, Improving Performance

Though MQLs have been shown to have certain shortcomings, they can still be useful if they are applied correctly. Specifically, it is helpful to tie marketing performance to the conversion rate of closed deals. This is arguably the most important metric since it most clearly demonstrates the success or failure of all related metrics and strategies. If a large number of MQLs nonetheless have a low conversion rate, latter stages of the sales pipeline must be examined.

The emergence of competitive win rates is going to be the real evidence of an improved application of MQLs. Revenue growth never fails to be a strong measure of marketing performance, though customer retention rates should also be considered. Though we will no doubt see the emergence of increasingly nuanced marketing metrics, these two measurements remain valid.

Plan A or Plan B

Why Marketing Plans Fail and How to Avoid it

Even with a solid strategy and careful planning, marketing plans can sometimes fail. A plan may fail to achieve business goals or it may stall out at one stage or another. Either way a marketing team will face some hard questions. These four tips can help your team avoid (or adapt to) an under-performing program.

1. Avoid Over-Reaching

The development of a truly competitive strategy requires an understanding of your customer and competition. Identifying your target market is be a challenge of every marketing strategy. Specifically identifying this group not just by demographics but also considering behavioral and psychographic segmentation provides a highly defined starting point for effective strategizing.
Learn from your competition to avoid costly and time-consuming missteps. Understand how they are positioned and if they have recently pivoted to a new market. Try their offering and identify how your company can effectively compete for you target market’s affections and loyalty. Use this information to keep your team laser focused on what is important.

2. Prioritize and Document

Use your target market and competitive intelligence to help prioritize tactics based on the resources at your disposal. Only then can a targeted plan with appropriate KPIs and an accurate goal-oriented timeline be developed. You will be pivoting and adjusting the plan as you start measuring your performance. To maintain your focus, don’t forget to document everything outlined. Update your strategy documents as you learn more about your customer, the competition and your company’s distinctive talent capital. These documents will keep you grounded and remind you of why certain strategic decisions, as the team changes or the competition heats up.

3. Don’t Forget to Operationalize

Your team should spend as much time planning for the implementation of your strategy as they have developing it. Experience really makes a difference to ensure that the strategies your company develops are being executed in the most effective way. Ensure that each team addresses the following before implementation:

  • Pairs strategies with appropriate tactics
  • Clarify accountability, responsibilities and communication between marketing, sales and operations
  • Recontextualize metrics into useful, relevant information sets. (Think dashboards and reporting.)

Since it is difficult to identify each and every way that marketing plans may fail, you should also develop ways to respond to setbacks before they occur.

4. Measure and Communicate

Begin by clearly defining accountability and responsibilities as well as the reporting cadence for your team. Create a forum for accountable parties to review performance and share information with leadership and other teams. Sharing wins (and challenges) will help solicit ideas, motivate the company and operationalize accountability and flexibility.
Even though we all aim for success, knowing how to learn from failure can make your company stronger. The way that marketers choose to address setbacks, failures, and other fizzles can make the difference between a learning experience and a wasted opportunity.

5 Marketing Myths

Five Myths About Marketing


With the wealth of articles and how-to guides available online, it would seem that almost anyone with a modest budget could run a successful marketing campaign. Unfortunately, many of these resources repeat outdated—and sometimes just plain misguided—information. Familiarize yourself with these five marketing myths to make sure you avoid these common missteps.

#1  “Just make it pretty.”

Visual aesthetics should enhance your marketing efforts, not define them. After all, you can design the world’s most beautiful advertisement—which may capture the attention of potential clients—but if you do not deliver clear information identifying the value of your products and services, customers will be quick to move on to competitors who can demonstrate these benefits.

#2  “We don’t need a marketing plan.”

You wouldn’t drive blindfolded, would you? Launching a marketing campaign without a plan can be just as reckless. Too often, companies invest significant sums of money into campaigns that miss the mark. Perhaps they failed to reach their target demographic or did not realize that the competition was offering comparable products at a fraction of the cost. A solid marketing plan contains all the information you need to understand the factors affecting your business’s ability to operate effectively in the marketplace and to maximize ROI.

#3  Let’s just build the product (or service) first.

If you build it, they will come. Or will they? Startups are prone to the misconception that all they need is a great idea and a consumer base will develop all on its own. Once again, we’re back to driving blind. Market research needs to happen before a product hits the production room floor. The alternative—assuming there is a market for your latest goods and that you already have an innate understanding of this market’s desires—can lead to disappointing returns.

#4  Don’t waste time on messaging.  Let’s just get out there.

Your message is the bridge between your product and your customers. Without it, the two will have a hard time reaching each other. In inbound marketing, your message provides an opportunity to appeal to your target market’s particular wants and needs. It helps potential customers answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

#5  We have to include every feature and benefit in our materials.

Sometimes, less is more. Your customers are busy and already bombarded with a flood of advertisements. If you want to make a lasting impression, you’ll have to be clear and concise. Highlight only the most important features of your product or service. Design your sales pitch so it can be absorbed in a split-second. Chances are, that’s as much time as you’ll have to convince a prospective buyer. You can provide more information after you’ve generated the lead.

Photo credit: schoeband / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND