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Improve Your Pipeline: Let Sales Control the Flow of MQLs (Why It Matters and How to Do It)

sales marketing qualified leads
Sales Management

When MQL flow is insufficient, Sales takes matters into their own hands. Lead flow process gets ignored, leads don’t get properly qualified, and the frustrations and divide between Sales and Marketing grow.

So, how do you solve this frustration and improve the lead flow process? Sure, a bigger pipeline would solve the problem. I’d love to win the lottery too!

Here’s a proposal that’s sure to give a lot of marketers a heart attack: let sales leadership control the MQL threshold. That may sound crazy, but let’s dive deeper into this problem and see why letting Sales steer the ship is the best solution. Then let’s talk about how to implement this change.

The Problem

The tried and true lead-flow model is that Marketing generates new leads and nurtures existing leads. They score them, and then when those leads cross a certain score threshold, of say, 100 points, the leads become Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). MQLs are then sent off to the sales team, and the sales team may do a further level of qualification.

MQL is essentially Marketing’s way of saying that a lead is of good enough quality for Sales to work on. Pretty straightforward. In fact, many demand gen professionals’ bonuses are tied directly to MQL count.

However, this system isn’t always perfect.

Imagine the following scene — one that may be familiar to you.

Beginning of the Quarter

Everything is calm and quiet. Sales is running their quarterly business review and planning how they’ll hit their number for the quarter.

The Sales VP comes to the marketing team and says they’ll probably be able to make their number for the quarter and could certainly use more leads. The Marketing VP says they’ll get right on that.

Mid-Quarter

It’s now the beginning of the second month of the quarter. The first month’s sales number was good but not great, and it fell a bit short of the plan.

Now the rumbling from Sales is starting to get louder. “We need more leads!” The pressure is on, and the Sales VP tells the sales team to crank up their own prospecting efforts because they’re not getting enough MQL flow from Marketing.

End of Quarter

We’re now at the beginning of the third month of the quarter. The sales team is at risk of not making its number for the quarter. The rumbling from Sales that there aren’t enough MQLs is now deafening.

Sales has begun picking from leads in the database and through other sources, regardless of lead status, and they’re completely ignoring the lead’s score. Marketing grumbles that Sales is sending out too many prospecting emails and ruining Marketing’s finely crafted nurturing campaigns.

The next quarter arrives and it’s time to rinse and repeat.

This scenario is, unfortunately, a common scene in most companies.

Solving the Problem

So, how do we work with what we’ve got? Given that the lead flow is what it is, is there a better lead flow model to enable Sales to react better? Is there a way to improve how Marketing supports Sales? How can we avoid Sales completely shoving Marketing aside and hot-wiring the lead nurturing process?

The answer is to let Sales control the MQL threshold.

Building a Better MQL Model: Putting Sales in Control

Putting Sales in control runs contrary to everything marketers have been taught about designing a proper demand waterfall model.

However, if you think about it, it actually makes total sense. The purpose of the MQL threshold is to ensure Marketing delivers quality leads to Sales and to help Sales prioritize the leads. The definition of quality and sales priority can and does change over time.

Why are we using a funnel model that’s based on a theoretical MQL threshold instead of actual need?

When Sales controls the MQL threshold, they control their definition of lead quality and can adjust the volume of lead flow based on their needs.

For example:

A sales team that has all the leads it can handle likely wants to be very picky and only work on highly qualified leads.

A sales team that’s beginning to run short of target likely prefers to have a larger number of lower quality leads.

A sales team that’s desperate wants to talk to any warm body, whether marketing likes it or not.

Implementing a Sales-Controlled MQL Process

Here are 6 tips on how to deploy this type of Sales-run MQL process.

1. Marketing Still Owns Scoring

Under this new model, Marketing is still responsible for scoring. Whether it’s demographic or behavior scoring, the scoring model you have today doesn’t have to change.

Regardless of the MQL threshold, scoring still provides a valuable measure of quality to the sales team and helps Sales prioritize.

2. Decide Who in Sales Should Have the Control

Decide who in the sales organization gets the privilege, and/or burden, of controlling the flow of leads.

I don’t recommend giving this level of control to individual salespeople. This is a job for first or second-line management, such as an SDR team manager or regional sales VP.

RELATED: Hiring Sales Reps: How to Recognize Top Performers BEFORE You Hire

Your sales team can determine the best way to manage this. For example, the level of control may vary by region. In the North America region, it may be given to the SDR manager, while in EMEA it may be given to the regional level sales VP.

3. Provide a “Knob” to Turn Outside of Your Marketing Automation Platform

Now that you know who’s going to have their hands on the lead flow control, you’ll need to give them a “knob” they can turn to control the MQL threshold for their specific parts of the funnel.

It’s not a good idea to give your sales managers access to a marketing automation platform like Marketo. They don’t know how to use it and you don’t want them to muck things up. You need to externalize that control to an application that’s more convenient for your sales managers, and perhaps more importantly, more secure for your marketing team.

Since most sales folks live inside the CRM all day long, a great way to implement the MQL threshold is as a custom object in your CRM — or if you have some type of territory carve custom object already, you can easily add it to that.

Using a CRM allows you to strictly control access and also gives you an audit trail. Another benefit of using a CRM custom object is that you can customize the user interface to include additional information, like lead flow metrics and historical threshold levels.

For more advanced implementations, you can let sales managers schedule future threshold levels to accommodate for seasonality, team staffing levels, holidays and vacations, and the like.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use a CRM, you can use a shared online spreadsheet like Google Sheets to manage these MQL threshold inputs.

4. Automate and Externalize MQL Logic

Once you’ve dealt with the MQL threshold input, you’ll need to modify your MQL automation to make use of the dynamic input.

The simplest way to do this is to enable your marketing automation platform to fetch the MQL thresholds you’ve set up from another system (like a CRM). This may require you to add webhooks and custom objects inside your marketing automation platform.

If your marketing automation platform lacks this ability, look for third-party automation technologies that can either take over this specific part of the process or the entire lead flow status management.

To implement more advanced scoring models, like time-decay, demand-unit waterfall, or account scoring. An external solution like a data orchestration platform can make more sense, since most marketing automation platforms are limited in their scoring capabilities.

5. Provide Feedback

Just because sales has control of the MQL threshold doesn’t mean that marketing is any less important. Marketing still plays a critical role in providing Sales with as much intelligence as possible to facilitate decision making.

Besides lead score and engagement data, Marketing should provide the sales team with additional analysis such as:

  • Lead score vs. conversion
  • Lead score vs. velocity
  • Pipeline vs. MQL threshold

6. Keep Calm and Carry On

Handing over MQL control probably feels very uncomfortable for most marketers. However, as a unified revenue-ops model becomes more popular, a tighter integration of the MQL model between Sales and Marketing makes good business sense.

Summing Up

By enabling the sales leadership team to control the MQL threshold, you create a game-changing environment that:

➡ Improves the lead flow process, benefits sales, and increases revenue.

➡ Enables Sales to control their definition of lead quality and adjust the volume of lead flow based on it.

➡ Gives the sales manager a “knob” outside of the marketing automation platform where they can control the MQL threshold for their specific part of the funnel.

➡ Allows Marketing to be involved in the process. The marketing team owns scoring and provides Sales with as much intelligence as possible to facilitate decision making.

Giving up control of the MQL threshold can be intimidating for Marketing, but it’s clear that having a pragmatic and manageable process for managing leads is critical for any revenue organization that wants to scale efficiently.

At the end of the day, Sales and Marketing are part of the same team and share a common goal — driving revenue for the company. Why not work together?

Ed King is CEO and founder of Openprise. He has been building stuff as far as he can remember. Prior to founding Openprise, Ed was VP of Marketing and Product Management at companies including Axway, Vordel, Qualys, Agiliance, and Oracle. He deployed Marketo three times before doing it again at Openprise. Each time he was handicapped by poor data quality, but no more!