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Marketing Qualified Leads -Must Contain Season 2 Ep. 1 premiere with Tara Robertson

Must Contain is back with season 2!

Join Kristin and Kristin who are back and better than ever. This first episode covers some hot takes on MQL with Tara Robertson, Senior Manager of Demand Generation at Chili Piper.

Is it M-Q-L or Mequel? Twitter says MQLs are dead, is it true? Why should sales care about MQLs? Why should marketing? Get answers to these questions and more.

Short on time? Skip ahead to 17:22 to hear the three things you need to know about MQL in 2022.

A reminder that we have an open call for guests. Submit your buzzword using this form or type the link into your browser –  We can’t wait to hear what topics you want to break down with us in Season 2. 


Kristin Crowe (OGK): (00:00)
Hey there. Containers. Yep. I stuck with containers. I did not spend our extended spring break off coming up with a new name for y’all. Sorry about that, but if you’ve got one, I’d love to hear it. Anyway, we’re back with season two of Must Contain. We’ve got some great content coming every two weeks and can’t wait for y’all to hear it. But before we get started, one quick reminder. MOPsCON is coming. Early bird registration closes on June 17, so head over to MOPSCON.COM to register today. And now here’s the show.


Hosted by Kristin Anne Carideo(KAC) and Kristin Crowe (OGK)

Theme Song: (00:01)

Intro Theme Music

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (01:10)
Hi, I’m Kristin Crowe.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (01:12)
And I’m Kristin Carideo.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (01:14)
And this is {{Must Contain}} the podcast from Etumos where we help explain the how of marketing although we can’t always explain the why.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (01:22)
Join us every two weeks as we break down marketing and corporate topics and discuss what they really mean.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (01:27)
And if you enjoyed this podcast, please remember to like follow or subscribe on all your favorite podcast platforms. Welcome back to another episode of Must Contain.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (01:38)
The – what fun buzzword are we demystifying this week Kristin?

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (01:42)
Well Kristin, I am glad you asked. Our buzzword this week is every marketer’s favorite… I think MQL.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (01:51)
Do we say MQL, or do we say me-qual?

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (01:55)
People who say “me-qual” …I’m sorry, Nate Smitha drive me insane. It is definitely MQL it’s an acronym. It stands for three separate words. It’s not a word in and of itself. It can’t be me-qual. It is most definitely MQL

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (02:11)
Got it. OK, so marketing qualified leads. Who put us in charge of qualifying leads?

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (02:17)
Oh gosh, nobody I hope. But fortunately we do have someone here who knows a thing or two about it. So joining us today is Tara Robertson, Senior Manager of Demand Generation at ChiliPiper! Hello, Tara.

Tara Robertson: (02:33)
Hi. Kristin’s thanks so much for having me. I’ve been working in B2B marketing for about ten years now, and currently I manage our demand gen programs at ChiliPiper. Actually at ChiliPiper, we mostly sell to B2B marketers pretty much like myself and we help B2B revenue teams qualify, route, and schedule meetings, with inbound leads.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (02:53)
So there’s a lot of places we could take a conversation about MQLs, but I think we should start where we usually do, which is defining the term. Can you define the term MQL for us?

Tara Robertson: (03:07)
Sure. I think this is one term that has changed a lot in the last couple of years, but it really is defined differently by pretty much every company. But the key point that I think we should mention is you touched on this a little bit right in your intro, but really it’s marketing, deciding what a qualified lead looks like and it’s marketing, deciding what a good lead is to hand over to sales. So this can mean different things based on the org, but the main thing to know is that it’s marketing saying this lead is good.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (03:33)
So let’s just come out swinging. What are some of the misconceptions in the market around MQLs or what’s something that’s really put like a-a bee in your bonnet or someone peed in your Cheerios? What would that be about?

Tara Robertson: (03:49)
Sure. So I think it’s really trendy to say that things are dead right now. I see that all over LinkedIn and it makes me cringe pretty much every time. I think it’s pretty short sighted to say that certain metrics are just completely obsolete and you shouldn’t bother tracking them. I think that could be true if that’s the only metric your marketing team is looking at. But that’s one thing that’s really kind of grating on me right now is just saying that MQLs are completely dead and lead capture instead don’t capture any leads. Yeah, that’s the one thing I’d say.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (04:19)
Rumors of the MQL stuff have been greatly exaggerated, but with a lot of people beating that drum because I mean, I see that marketing all over the place too, why do you still think that lifecycle stage and in particular the marketing qualified lifecycle stage is still worth measuring?

Tara Robertson: (04:38)
Yeah, I think MQLs can definitely be a leading indicator that your marketing is reaching the right people, but I wouldn’t make it your northstar KPI. So a lot of B2B marketing teams just went all in on this one metric and said, we’re just going to bring in thousands of what we consider good qualified leads, call them MQLs and then pass those over to sales. So I think what’s causing this whole MQL is dead movement is people went way too far with that direction and just kind of hitting their quota, moving on to the next month and trying to hit their MQL quota. But you do need to know who’s coming to your site, who’s raising their hand for a demo or to talk to your sales team, and if those people are the right people. I think the big difference to look at is intent based MQLs and hand raisers. So when I say hand raisers, I mean people who are actually specifically requesting a demo, requesting product walk through intent based MQLs are those ones that are a bit fuzzier where it’s marketing saying this looks like a good lead based on certain criteria. So I would just make sure that you’re differentiating between those two when you’re setting your targets.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (05:40)
So we’ve talked a little bit about how MQL is different for different companies and how it’s kind of taken on its own beast. And therefore people are like, stop caring about it, who cares? But you just sort of talked through why it’s so important. What are some of the differentiators you can make across MQLs in order to get folks to accept them to get sales on board with them. But what are some of the ways you’ve seen MQLs defined by various organizations? So you just gave two examples, but what are some others that you may have seen that have worked or not worked? And what difference can the definition make with how sales and marketing work together?

Tara Robertson: (06:19)
Yeah, so I’ve worked at a couple of places where pretty much every form fill was considered an MQL, and basically anyone on your website who fills out a form, obviously that isn’t great for your relationship with sales because they’re the ones that have to follow up with those leads at the end of the day. And obviously that makes their job harder if they’re following up with everyone, basically with a pulse who’s filled out a form on your website at another company. I had a really complex lead scoring model that we were constantly tweaking, but again, we weren’t working with sales. We were in a room as a marketing team deciding what that lead scoring model should look like. So currently my role at ChiliPiper, I’m at the very other end where we only pass hand raisers over to sales. So if someone comes to our site requests a demo, we pass them right to a sales rep. So very much on the other end of the spectrum of passing every single form fill. So I think some companies are finding that happy medium somewhere in there, but it really makes a difference in our relationship with sales, giving them the right people to talk to. It’s night and day.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (07:19)
Now to find that happy medium, you really have to know your content really well. We have talked a lot about funnels on the podcast, my own personal experiences, but a lot of times the funnel is flatter or at least the funnel of like known prospects is flatter than some B2B marketers think it is or traditionally has been supported by kind of like the traditional you know, demand funnel. What’s your opinion on that? As someone who works in marketing and with funnel metrics all the time?

Tara Robertson: (07:56)
Yeah, I would definitely agree with the way you put it that the funnel is getting flatter. I think that for me at least that really applies to just that known funnel. So when someone’s in buying mode, you can go buy software the same day now if you really want to. But if you’re not in buying mode, I don’t believe that getting a couple of generic nurture emails is going to automatically switch you into buying mode and kind of flip that switch for you. So I do think that that a lot of people are calling this dark funnel, but that unknown funnel of people at the very top that you don’t know them yet, but they know you and they’re looking at your product, they’re talking to their peers, looking at reviews. So all of those activities are probably happening before that lead would be considered an MQL in your CRM, but you don’t even know that they exist yet and that they’re looking at you. So that’s one thing that I think is changing is that the known funnel is flatter, but there’s a lot happening that we can’t necessarily track anymore. At least that we can’t see in our CRM.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (08:53)
Goes back to those beers. Everyone’s having beers with their friends learning about your products, and then they’re coming to you and saying, “Hey, give me that demo! I’m ready now…” so it’s all it’s all coming together. I just love this. So great. Tara, let’s talk a little bit more about the acronym, which we have now decided is MQL be really pedantic about it. So MQL; Marketing Qualified, as we’ve said, as you’ve said, but what is marketing’s actual responsibility to sales in this case, in your own opinion?

Tara Robertson: (09:22)
Yeah, I think again, going back to that definition of its marketing, deciding what a qualified lead looks like, I think that’s kind of where some marketers went wrong here is they didn’t talk to the people that actually have to call these leads, which is your sales team. So a lot of marketers assume, hey, if we had our MQL target of say it’s 100 MQLs a month, pass those over to sales we’re kind of done for that month, wash your hands, move on to the next month, and then we up our target month over month. And currently, a lot of teams are at least that I’ve spoken to are incentivized on that MQL number and not further down the funnel on say book meetings, job creation even pipeline. So I really think that you get what you incentivize so if you incentivize your marketing team to bring in whatever your definition of an MQL is, they’ll go do that. And that doesn’t always work out well when it comes down to revenue and pipeline.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (10:10)
How have you seen the approach to MQLs and the prospect lifecycle generally changing? I mean, we talked a little bit about Dark Funnel. You can talk about how you feel about that term. I feel like it makes it sound way more mysterious than it really is. But how have you seen that change over the last few years and how has like your approach changed as a marketer as you’re watching what’s happening you know, with people getting a lot more information, not directly from content marketing?

Tara Robertson: (10:36)
I think the biggest change, at least on my end, is just seeing way less gated content on pretty much every channel, especially paid social, but everywhere. I think you could say there’s way less. Even just a couple of years ago, I know I was on the side of let’s gate everything and so that we can track who’s looking at our content. And that was the most important thing for us as a marketing team. But again, I don’t think that if someone is not in buying mode today, that filling out a form, getting a couple of emails from you is going to change their minds. They’re in that dark funnel space of again grabbing beers with their friends, talking about your products and getting a nuture email from you is not going to change that. So you really have to find a way to either be in those spaces with them as kind of a peer or maybe a thought leader in that space or just figure out the best way to get them onto your site some other way. And that’s really where I think Ungated content is really coming ahead on things like paid social. You’re just getting your content in front of much more people than gating it and kind of hiding that content behind a form.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (11:38)
So offer free beer right? Is that what we’re…

Tara Robertson: (11:40)
Yeah, exactly.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (11:44)
Perfect. So we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about the funnel in a couple of different episodes. Lead Lifecycle has come up a few times sales and marketing alignment is has been a topic as well. And all of these things have touched various topics. So clearly defining what leads are ready to be worked by sales is, is a big part of that. How should an organization evaluate how well their MQL criteria is working and what should they do if they discover it actually isn’t working?

Tara Robertson: (12:18)
I think the first place to start is just looking at what you consider an MQL today and just running that by your sales team and try not to just run it by sales leadership, but actual reps that have to make those phone calls because sometimes they can have a very different opinion. And sometimes those your sales leadership will say, Yeah, that sounds fine, we use this criteria and a past role. But then when you talk to the reps, they’ll say, Oh, these leads are crap, they don’t want to talk to us, they’re not ready, why are you wasting my time? So I think just moving past, defining that in a silo and deciding what does sales need and how can we bring these type of leads in. So bringing sales in just as soon as you can, if you already have MQL criteria and are trying to look at what’s working that’s where I would look at something like an SLA. So if you can see, hey, we’re holding up our end of the bargain, we told you that we would bring in X number of leads, this type of lead what’s going on on the follow up and what can we do to dig into that? And the other thing is really looking at your speed to lead. So when an MQL does come, and say they’re a hand raiser being able to figure out how long it takes for sales to make contact can be an indicator of these people weren’t really serious that they weren’t getting back to us or maybe for whatever reason, sales just isn’t prioritizing inbound leads. So taking a look at those two things and then lastly, just looking at MQLs that aren’t being touched at all usually that’s a big red flag that somethings off. Maybe it’s like a certain channel that you’re running. Maybe your Facebook ads are just you don’t have the targeting, right. So different ways that you can take a look at that.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (13:50)
Sales learns really quickly, like what turns into opportunities and what doesn’t. So I think a lot of that advice is just like listen to them, which has been an overarching theme here on must contain like you should probably. Can I get a drum roll, please? You should really talk to the sales team. Right? So let’s say you’ve done all that. You you feel like that, you know, you put forward a really good plan, a really good, really good criteria for MQLs you got buy in both from sales leadership and individual sales reps. What do you do if at that point they’re still just not working your leads so you’re not getting any information back as to the quality of those MQLs.

Tara Robertson: (14:32)
Yeah, I think it’s easier said than done, right? I mean, everybody can say talk to customers, talk to sales, but you have a lot of other things to do and sometimes it’s tough to carve out a time if you feel like it’s not going to be a productive conversation. One thing that I tried in a pastoral that we found super useful is we actually sent out a survey every Friday to our inbound reps and it went to the whole team and we basically just I think it was only around three questions. It was super quick and we just asked them how do the leads compare to the leads you got last week? What were the best sources and what were the worst sources? And just keeping it super brief meant that they could respond in literally a minute. And another thing to think about is a lot of the times inbound reps are very junior, so they might not be comfortable telling you how it’s going. So they might be telling their managers they might not tell you. So doing a survey or something where they can get feedback to you without having to have that tough conversation could be a safe space for them to kind of air that out. And it helps you with that. Feedback that you might not have gotten directly from them.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (15:32)
So we’re all talking with each other and we’ve all agreed that good quality leads are what we need and sales has agreed that we’re defining them correctly and now they’re not working. And you’re trying to talk to people to understand what’s going on, which can obviously take some time and you might not get the right kind of feedback. So what are some of the kind of quantitative reports that you can build and use to work with sales, to talk with them, to demonstrate that marketing is generating quality leads and that those leads are turning into revenue? If they would just give it a chance we could all agree that this is going to be successful.

Tara Robertson: (16:13)
Yeah. So the easiest metric to look at is just conversion. So how many of the leads that marketing is bringing in are turning into actual opportunities? So some companies define this differently. Maybe it’s SQL sales qualified sales accepted. We actually have a lifecycle stage called QHM which is quality held meeting. So we look at that metric versus MQL to define if we’re hitting our targets and that’s basically just defining, OK, the meeting happened and the rep qualified the lead. So there is something here. So whatever that metric is for you, look at the conversion of leads you’re bringing in to that metric the other thing is obviously pipeline. So try to compare the pipeline that you’re bringing in on the marketing side to sales and if you can look at it by channel and source and see where the biggest ops are coming from. And then you can also start looking at conversion to closed one closed lost. Maybe you have certain channels that are bringing in a ton of leads, but they’re closing lost for the same reason you can dig into that. But that is a little bit where things can start to get out of marketing’s control because you can only do so much in terms of closing it up. So I would really focus higher up on pipeline and off conversion.

Kristin Carideo (KAC): (17:20)
With that, we are going to wrap with the three things you need to know about the 2022 definition of MQLs:

First, your company’s definition of what an MQL is needs to be agreed upon by sales and marketing. And the sales marketing handoff points need to be co-created by both teams. It won’t work otherwise and you’ll have sales ignoring your leads and arguing with you about credit ask for feedback directly from the sales team. Things will change as your business does, and surveying your sales team, like Tara mentioned, is a concrete way you can determine their happiness with your MQL criteria.

Second, there is a difference between hand-raised MQLs and intent based MQLs and you probably want to ensure that you can measure which type of MQL is which in order to better determine criteria for your intent based MQLs which will have more stringent criteria than just somebody who sticks up their hand and says, I do want to talk to sales.

Third, if you lead a marketing team, please don’t incentivize them on MQLs. It just encourages bad behavior, incentivize revenue creation, and encourage that marketing and sales partnership. That way you’re truly looking for buy ready folks that are filling out forms and coming to your site and your team is focused on bringing in more of those folks versus just form fills to hit an MQL target.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (18:38)
That’s {{Must Contain}} MQL Thank you, Tara, for joining us. Any closing thoughts?

Tara Robertson: (18:45)
Yeah. I would just say I know it’s a lot of this, like I said, is easier said than done. So if your marketing team is still incentivized to bring in MQLs and you’re not really digging further into the funnel, I would really try to take a step back and ask why. So is there a certain target your sales team is trying to hit and how can you best serve them as a marketing team? It might be a little bit painful to have these conversations at first, but I promise in the long run, you and your sales team will be better off.

Kristin Crowe (OGK): (19:10)
And thank you, Tara again. And that’s must contain we’ll be back in two weeks with another great MOPs topic. But until then, remember, you can’t just call every content download an MQL no matter what the CMO says this quarter’s goals are. This episode was produced by Kristin Crowe, Kristin Carideo, Ali Stoltzfus and Lindsay Walter. It was edited by Kristin Crowe, theme music by Rusty Hall. Special thanks to Tara Robertson. And that’s {{Must Contain}} I’m Kristin Crowe and we’ll see you in two weeks.


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