Recently Forrester has been promoting a range of content, including a webinar, saying that marketers should stop using MQLs and MQAs and move to opportunities. This is potentially a dramatic change for marketers, so we thought it would make sense to explain what Forrester is saying and what it means for you.

The Basic Premise: A Switch from Leads to Opportunities

B2B marketing has been dominated by the concept of leads: i.e. it’s been all about individuals. But there are problems with a lead-centric approach, particularly as the product gets more expensive, complex or important because decisions are made by groups of people, not individuals. Forrester’s research shows that 82% of B2B purchases are made by groups and not individuals.

Most B2B marketers understand the concept of a decision-making unit (DMU), which is often called “buying committee” in America. Different people in an organisation take on different roles and come together as a group of people to make a buying decision. This isn’t new, but Forrester’s point is that marketers still focus on individuals rather than the DMU as a group.

The Problems with MQLs

Of course, there are several reasons why there are problems with MQLs, in addition to the fact that they don’t represent how things are bought in the real world of B2B. Leads are also not a great thing to monitor through the nurturing and sales process as typically 99% of MQLs don’t lead to a sale according to Forrester. This means that there is a lot of time spent tracking people who are “qualified” but don’t have any intention of buying.

The low conversion rate of MQLs also results in sales being reluctant to follow them up, which wastes the lead. These problems are due in part to the way we define MQLs – metrics like form-fills or pages viewed on the website or even the size of the company are poor indicators that someone is ready or likely to buy.

Another problem is that a focus purely on MQLs ignores other signals that indicate a group is considering a purchase: for example, one person from the group might fill in a form that causes them to become an MQL. But others from the same company might be browsing your website without becoming identified and in a lead-centric world anything that doesn’t have contact details attached can be missed.

Finally when multiple leads are generated from the same account, often only the first gets full attention in a lead-centric world. If you think of opportunities, then subsequent leads give more colour and data about the DMU.

Marketing Qualified Accounts aren’t any Better

Marketing Qualified Accounts have other problems. An individual account will often have multiple opportunities, but a process that is driven by MQAs will bundle together all the contacts from the qualified account together, providing lots of data but little insight.

Grouping by Opportunity

Forrester feels that marketing should be grouping contacts by opportunities. So this means that we start with opportunities, rather than “working a lead” until it results in an opportunity at the bottom of the funnel.

We’re not sure that this really is anything revolutionary. Today most B2B organisations are tracking opportunities and sales typically thinks in opportunities. Forrester is suggesting that we should be trying to identify opportunities much earlier in the customer journey when the customers are interacting with marketing.

We feel that identifying opportunities earlier is something that is needed. It’s not just about having a better approach to managing marketing and BDR activities, it’s also a reflection of the change in the B2B buying process that has been well documented: customers are spending much more time in self-directed research where they interact with marketing content and engaging with sales later in the process.

How Can We Take an Opportunity-Centric Approach to Marketing?

Like many ideas, the idea of thinking about opportunities is not new. The change is that, with marketing covering more and more of the customer journey, data needs to be gathered to identify opportunities and ideally they need to be identified and tracked before sales become involved. Marketers need to decide what level of commitment they have to opportunity-centric marketing based on factors from the product they are selling to the culture in their organisation.

There are three levels of approach branded, crawl, walk, and run by Forrester. You can probably improve your processes by making it easier for the BDR to see the different contacts from an account who might be collaborating in a DMU – the crawl approach. The BDR can then create the opportunity and link contacts and other data to the opportunity more easily.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can plan which DMUs you want to target. This approach (run) is ideal if much of your marketing effort is account-based. If you know the accounts you are targeting and run ABM campaigns, you already have an idea of where the opportunities will arise. It’s then easy to see who is engaging with the campaign and link different behaviour, signals and contacts together.

A mid-way approach (walk) might be to use triggers to set up opportunities. In this case, you identify an action, or actions, that indicates someone is highly likely to buy, and then you can create an opportunity automatically. For example, if someone visits our website and views the client, people and contact us pages it’s a really good indication that they are looking for an agency.

Ultimately you should be able to map where your bigger customers and prospects have multiple opportunities, and each opportunity has some information associated with it. This is extremely helpful for a marketing team as it goes one step further from ABM: you know which contacts you need to nurture and the contacts you need to engage because you have an opportunity identified but have not uncovered all the members of the DMU.

How Difficult is an Opportunity-Based Approach

The barriers to taking an opportunity-based approach can be divided into three main categories: the marketer doesn’t believe the buying group is how their products are purchased, it’s considered too difficult or there is a culture of using MQLs and changing the culture to talk about another metric is hard to do.

Realistically it is the case that changing culture is a huge challenge. If marketing has been measured, even in part, by MQLs and the marketing team wants to forget about this metric then sales and senior management are going to wonder how to assess the effectiveness of the marketing team and their campaigns.

Should You Say Goodbye to MQLs?

At Napier, our approach would be dependent upon the culture of your organisation. As we mentioned previously, the way organisations buy is changing, with sales involved much later in the process. So you really do need to start thinking about opportunities when running marketing campaigns. No matter what your individual circumstances are, you should start mapping and talking about opportunities.

But the reality for many marketers is that walking away from MQLs is going to cause huge problems in your organisation. In this case, we’d take it slowly. The “walk” approach just needs you to be able to bundle up the data and contacts you think are in a DMU to help your BDR or sales team to create the opportunity in their CRM more easily and with more insight. This will result in a much more positive view of the MQLs that you send to them, and will set the platform for marketing to take ownership of opportunities.

Whatever the approach, we believe that the move to thinking about opportunities when running marketing campaigns is inevitable and driven by what seems like an unstoppable trend of buyers spending less time with sales and more of the customer journey interacting with marketing content.