Someone Said ‘MQLs Are Bullsh*t’ and It Made Me Rethink Everything

By Ashley McAlpin

It’s only natural to want to shake things up, and it’s important to challenge the status quo with controversial, “think-outside-the-box” ideas. Routine questioning always results in more courage, creativity, and combined brainpower. So, when faced with a concept that was seemingly foreign to me as a marketer, I had to take a step back and think about my position. If our MQLs don’t matter, then what are we doing here? Are MQLs really bullsh*t?

If your gut reaction is one of surprise, confusion, or disagreement, I don’t blame you. Mine was too. But, a little controversy can be a good thing, and it can ultimately take your sales and marketing efforts to a whole new level. So, let’s start from the top. What is an MQL, why should it matter, and how can we improve our data integrity?

Measuring an MQL

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is any prospect who has actively interacted with your company and expressed interest in your marketing materials. Traditionally, MQLs are viewed positively by sales and marketing teams because they represent the potential, the ones who’ve “taken the bait.” They’re interested, hot, and ready.

…but are they? Theoretically, you’d expect your MQLs to adhere to the following types of behaviors:

  • They submit a form for a free eBook or whitepaper
  • They sign up for a product demo
  • They join one of your mailing lists
  • They repeatedly come back to your website or spend time on key pages
  • They check in with you at a virtual booth or in-person event

Not bad, right? Of course, we can’t expect to do good business without these kinds of activities, but the important question is—why does it matter?

Why use MQL at all?

Have you ever stopped to answer the “why” that fuels routine activities? Whether it’s in business or in your personal life, you have to get introspective about the reasons why you do certain things. If you don’t know why your company is using MQLs (apart from the fact that XYZ Company has always used MQLs), then you’re forfeiting the true value.

We implement MQLs because they speak to the quality of different prospects. You’d probably prefer going out to dinner with someone who has talked to you, learned something about you, and expressed interest in your life, than with someone who hasn’t, right? The same is true in a sales conversation. You’d rather open that door for someone who has raised their hand to show they have a need.

Additionally, using MQLs saves time. There’s no more going up to strange prospects who could care less about your offer or your angle. The use of MQLs signals readiness based on strict criteria. This begs the question—are MQLs actually bullsh*t?

The real beneficiaries of an MQL model

When the system works, MQLs can be a serendipitous metric enjoyed by both marketing and sales teams. Marketers get immediate feedback on the type of content that buyers want, and sales team members receive prospects who are clearly interested in starting a conversation.

But the truth is that MQLs can be inflated. They can be bought, swayed, and tricked. And if that’s the way your organization does business, let’s be clear—no one wins, least of all your future customer.

Is the MQL already dead?

Some experts will tell you that the MQL is already dead. In fact, SaaS companies like Drift have released content with titles like “The MQL is Dead.” Subtle, right?

You see, it’s 2021, and the MQL is in deep trouble. It’s fighting and hollering and defending itself as relevant, while more beneficial metrics and ideas are rising up to change the conversation (especially as the conversation relates to revenue).

Fortunately, if you’re ready to forge a new path, you might be able to save yourself and your organization from the sinking ship that is the MQL.

The real deal: MQL to SQL

Rather than focusing on empty metrics, a beneficial shift is to place more emphasis on the conversion from MQL to SQL (Sales Qualified Lead). This MQL to SQL conversion talks about two things. First, it talks about the qualification of a lead. Second, it also talks about what needs to happen in order for SDRs and AEs to actually convert those leads to buyers.

The MQL to SQL process is not just about getting the fish to bite. Let’s be honest—you can entice people with a lot of shiny things that aren’t connected to your sales process in the slightest. Yes, a prospect might want a virtual gift card or an especially helpful freebie, but if they’re not the right person for your offer, then your SDRs and AEs are dead in the water.

The actual quality of an MQL is what fuels MQL to SQL conversion. If you have thousands of MQLs but low conversion rates and slow sales cycles, the problem isn’t in the number; it’s in the substance. Quality over quantity matters when you’re measuring MQL to SQL conversion.

Convert, convert, convert

Ultimately, you can’t rely on this one metric by itself. To survive, you have to have a plan for conversion. MQL to SQL has to happen.

MQL without conversion is useless.

Sales and marketing teams must be aligned on that truth in order to see real results and drive sustainable, growing revenue. When each team is only focused on the metric to which they’re held accountable by executives and stakeholders, there’s a whole lot of dancing and shuffling without any forward progress. If you really want to scale your business, you have to kiss that kind of thinking goodbye.

Sales + marketing alignment = conversion

To put it simply, sales and marketing leads must be aligned. You cannot expect to generate substantial business if these two teams are operating in separate silos. It’s time to get on the same page, work for a common goal, and understand the real quality of prospects.

Additionally, while marketing leaders can be compensated on MQLs, earned revenue is a clearer measurement of impact. Thus, it’s important to shine your compensation spotlight as much on the big picture as it is on the granular KPIs.

Data integrity matters

The MQL to SQL process relies on solid data integrity, and data integrity includes many different aspects of customer and prospect data that your teams have access to. Strong data integrity implies several important truths about your business processes:

  • Your company’s data is usable
  • The available customer data is free from errors
  • Your people can take specific actions from that data
  • Your teams are unified as a result of the data

Within the context of MQLs, data integrity means that your sales and marketing teams can trust that the MQL data is actionable, relevant, and trustworthy.

If that’s not the case, then perhaps you need to take a closer look at your data integrity (just like we’ve done at FormAssembly).

Do more of this

Improving your data integrity is possible, and it can even be simple to accomplish with everyone in alignment. Here are several actions to incorporate into your strategy:

  • Always score your leads. Prospects aren’t created equal, and that means you must understand which actions yield the highest results. Get granular with your behavioral data, and automate the lead scoring process to save time and effort.
  • Use a conversational approach. Conversation-based marketing and instant response messaging services keep your MQLs engaged. If you don’t have a solution for closing the gap between the first point of interest and the first interaction, it’s time to make some changes.
  • Say “no” to distorted KPIs. So you’ve generated a huge contact list of potential MQLs. So what? Ditch the bloated metrics and get hyper-focused on the people who are actually ready, eager, and willing to hear from you. You may need to shift priorities in order to spend more energy and resources on the conversion process.

Do less of this

If you’re serious about making sure that MQL actually means something, then you’ve got to stop doing some of the things that create the most serious problems. Try to put an end to these habits:

  • Throwing around terms with loose definitions. Anyone can toss around acronyms like MQL and SQL. Do your team members know what those phrases actually represent? Have you established clear and transparent benchmarks that everyone understands? If not, you’ve got a foundational problem that no amount of leads will solve.
  • Evaluating progress whenever you feel like it. Are you asking your team members to meet KPIs without following up? If you want to redeem the MQL and data integrity, you’ve got to look at the data more often. No questions asked.
  • Allowing process failures to impact your prospects. Does your team know how to use the tech stack you’ve provided? Do they know the process to follow to leverage it? If not, your breakdown in process management is creating a hassle. Your MQLs and SQLs will pick up on this failure, and they will move on.


Align your people, generate revenue

Bottom line? MQLs are only bullsh*t if we make them that way. Yes, it’s a metric that’s been overused, abused, and inflated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t receive value from it. In fact, when our teams are aligned, it’s just one more tool we can use to create an organizational ripple effect.

When you steer your team members away from vanity metrics and get to the nitty gritty of customer connection, you’ll start to win. And when your team players are in alignment with the overarching goal, you’ll be able to define the customer journey clearly and start using your talent in the right places.

At the end of the day, when the members of your team are serving the mission instead of focusing on empty metrics, your revenue potential soars.

Keep the conversation going

FormAssembly is committed to helping our customers and partners become better stewards of the data they collect. To continue the conversation, connect with our team on LinkedIn.

The Author

Ashley McAlpin

Ashley is the VP of Marketing & Sales Development at FormAssembly.

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