Marketing Qualified Leads: x-ratedAccording to folklore, the famous quote “You will know it when you see it” referring to pornography,was provided to Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart by his law clerk, Alan Novak, in 1964.  Fifty years later, you can safely replace pornography with Marketing Qualified Leads.

Searching for the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) on Google returns 800K hits.  Most revolve around Hubspot’s version that defines a marketing qualified lead (MQL) as “a lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence…”.

Do you see the issue here?  A lead judged more likely to become a customer….If you are like me expecting a more concrete definition, you have just been sorely disappointed. A Marketing Qualified Lead is something so unique to your industry, company, marketing tactics, etc. that nobody else can define for you. Discovering what is a Marketing Qualified Lead for your business is something you will only discover after experimentation.

Modern marketers use a marketing automation platform to ‘score’ leads using a combination of demographic and behavioral parameters. Demographic information typically includes information such as title, function, company size, industry and location. Behavioral information includes the actions they have taken. Did they attend one of your events? Clicked on your call-to-action in your last email? Which pages did they visit on your website and for how long? Once a lead crosses a pre-defined threshold, they magically become a Marketing Qualified Lead.

It turns out that modern marketers are unfortunately still the minority; a recent Sirius Decisions study found adoption of marketing automation platforms to be at an astonishingly low 16% at B2B companies.

To make matters worse, while implementing a marketing automation platform is a prerequisite, it is not a guarantee for success.  So what is a modern marketer to do? Here is what I ‘ve learned the hard way over the years:

Focus your marketing programs on content and context

First and foremost, start by building the right marketing programs to attract new buyers. I have been a proponent of content marketing for years; it is only lately however, that I have grown to appreciate the importance of context even more.  As Michael Krigsman, a well-respected enterprise tech analyst wrote last September, “Content is king but context is God”. How mature is your market? Is it an emerging category where you have to invest more in educating the market? What about your buyers? What are their key pain points and how do you solve them? Which channels are most important to them? I can go on, but I think you get the point.

Don’t fixate on your scoring methodology

You will initially most definitely get it wrong. Remember, you have no basis to determine what the right values and thresholds should be. Take your best guess and monitor the conversions. Most marketing automation platforms provide you with a template. Don’t overthink it. Take what they suggest as a basis and learn from it.

Align with Sales

I cannot overemphasize this point enough. Work hand-in-hand with your sales team to calibrate your definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead. Make sure you understand how the leads are converting.  Initially, you will most certainly be either handing these over to Sales too pre-maturely or too late.  Striking the fine balance is key. Focus on revenues and not Marketing Qualified Leads, which are a leading indicator at best. What has served me well in the past is to start conservatively and manually control which leads get handed off to Sales. While this obviously does not scale, it will provide you with valuable data points early on.

Be patient

Remember that nurturing potential customers to trust you enough to buy from you is a journey.  You have to be committed and not think that whatever nurturing program you put in place will yield immediate results .  If you are just starting out, plan your marketing nurturing cycle to be 2x of your sales cycle. If your funnel is very wide at the top because of your marketing strategy and content, plan on much longer cycles. I recently heard Jon Miller, one of the co-founders of Marketo, speak at an event. During his talk, he mentioned Marketo’s nurturing cycle is 320 days because of their emphasis on top-of-the-funnel content.

What has been your experience? If there is one thing I ‘ve learned over the years, it is to be persistent but maniacal about experimenting and measuring. And above all, don’t be afraid to fail!, Sam Walton, the legendary founder of Wal-Mart, wasn’t either.