Rethinking Metrics: The Shift from MQL to Pipeline in Marketing

Only one month into 2024, we’re already seeing a significant shift in the marketing metrics world. As we step into this new era, we re-evaluate what truly matters in the marketing landscape. Part of this re-evaluation has led many to believe it’s time to bid farewell to the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) as a primary metric and embrace the concept of pipeline as the new kingpin of success in marketing efforts. 

Kevin White (Head of Marketing) of Common Room explains why replacing MQL with pipeline is the way to go.

A Shift from MQL to Pipeline

So, why exactly are we seeing this shift from MQL to pipeline? 

1. MQLs aren’t created equal

Depending on the channel or entry point, MQLs convert to pipeline at vastly different rates. The disparity between conversion rates is staggering when you compare MQLs generated from a demo request versus those from a simple content download. Similarly, direct traffic and paid social channels yield significantly different outcomes. This variance casts a shadow of doubt on the reliability of MQLs as a key performance indicator.

It’s worth noting this shift away from MQLs isn’t necessarily a new concept. Check out this article published back in 2017: Marketing Qualified Leads Are Cool, But I’ll Take Product Qualified Leads Any Day.

2. They are a vanity metric

While MQLs may provide a sense of accomplishment, they often fall short of translating into actual revenue. On the other hand, pipeline represents genuine prospects with a vested interest in your offerings. It is a superior predictor of revenue, making it the true North Star for any marketing team. MQLs can be easily manipulated, and their correlation with revenue is far from consistent.

3. Pipeline better aligns with sales

Tell your sales team you plan to double the number of MQLs, and you’ll likely be met with eye rolls. However, mention doubling the pipeline, and you’ll notice the buzz of excitement and motivation among them. Aligning marketing efforts with pipeline generation ensures both teams work toward a common goal, fostering a more cooperative and productive atmosphere.

Speaking of sales, don’t miss this article next: 7 Successful Sales Pitch Examples and Why They Work.

4. Efficiency

Every MQL handed over to a sales representative requires a human review. Even if this review takes only a minute or two, it chips away at the time available for activities that directly contribute to pipeline growth. In today’s fiercely competitive market, time is an invaluable resource that should be used wisely.

5. User preferences

In an age where information is abundant, users are becoming increasingly savvy about the consequences of opting in. Many individuals avoid becoming MQLs because they know it often results in a barrage of emails, direct messages, calls, and texts. Instead, they seek recommendations from peers and evaluate products on platforms like Slack, Reddit, LinkedIn, and YouTube, commonly called the “dark funnel.” This means some of your most promising leads remain hidden and cannot be captured as MQLs.

On that note, let’s talk a little bit more about some of the most notable challenges of MQLs to further highlight why it’s time for a change.

Challenges with MQLs

As mentioned, MQLs are not always the most reliable indicator of potential customers.

Several challenges contribute to this issue, including:

  • Subjective nature: One of the biggest challenges with MQLs is their subjective nature. What one marketing team considers an MQL might not necessarily be regarded as such by another team. Often, this leads to discrepancies in the lead scoring process and ultimately impacts the quality of leads being passed on to sales.
  • Limited information: MQLs are often captured through forms or landing pages—these only gather limited information from potential customers. Understandably, this makes it tricky for marketing teams to properly qualify leads and understand their specific pain points and needs.
  • Inaccurate timing: MQLs are typically scored based on a combination of user actions, such as downloading a whitepaper or attending a webinar. However, these actions don’t always accurately reflect when a potential customer is ready to make a purchase.
  • Lack of personalization: Since MQLs are often captured through forms and landing pages, they lack personalization. Often, they make potential customers feel like just another number in the sales funnel. The result? A lack of engagement and interest from these leads.

The Need for a Change

The shift towards pipeline as the primary metric is not merely theoretical. Technologies like Common Room can surface leads from the dark funnel – and from product usage and intent data – to your sales representatives and integrate them seamlessly into your marketing automation platform/CRM. This innovative approach bridges the gap between marketing and sales, ensuring no potential customer goes unnoticed.

Kevin reminds us of the relevant words of the late Charlie Munger, “Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome.” 

Ultimately, pipeline is a better-suited incentive for marketing to deliver superior outcomes. It aligns marketing and sales, focuses on quality over quantity, and acknowledges the changing landscape of user preferences. 2024 is the time to shift from MQL to pipeline and set the stage for a more effective and fruitful marketing journey.

To stay current on the latest trends in marketing and sales, check the GTMnow blog regularly for informative and insightful content. 

Kevin White is the Head of Marketing at Common Room, the modern buyer journey platform for SaaS leaders like Airtable, Figma, Notion, and Snowflake. Previously, Kevin led growth and marketing teams at Segment and Retool. You can find Kevin and his most recent takes on the intersection of go-to-market, open-source, and business growth strategies on LinkedIn.

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