Most marketing teams, when asked to commit to a leads number, sign-up for marketing qualified leads (MQLs). But here is the problem with MQLs – they are practically useless beyond the marketing organization. All an MQL says is that the lead has passed the marketing muster based on a certain criteria. This could be a combination of factors such as the degree of a prospect’s engagement with your website or webinar, relevance of their job title or their ranking based on their profile score. All of this is pointless if the sales team doesn’t think that it is the right target or doesn’t have the confidence to follow-up on the lead.

This explains the large drop-off when leads are passed from marketing to sales. Meeting high MQL numbers with a low conversion-to-wins doesn’t help your company. Instead of MQLs, the following may be better metrics to align your marketing efforts with your company’s overall targets:

1. Revenue

This is a bold metric and few marketing teams commit to this number. But intuitively it seems to make sense. The ultimate outcome from marketing is simple – help acquire new customers. Whether it’s building the brand through thought-leadership, engaging with customers through relevant content or participating meaningfully in your industry’s ecosystem, all your efforts, in the end, should translate to more customers using your product. So why not judge marketing by how it contributes to your top-line?

There isn’t a simple formula here; it varies based on your organization. It could be something as straightforward as crediting a portion of your revenue for every marketing-generated lead that resulted in a win. Or it could be a more complex split. But getting the marketing team to think about the revenue goals, both short- and long-term, may help in prioritizing efforts. It may even help us marketers empathize with sales!

2. Using sales-defined metric

If your sales team doesn’t believe that certain leads are worth chasing, no amount of scoring or nurturing will convince them. Which is why, in an ideal world, the equation between sales and marketing would be as simple as:

MQL = SAL (sales acceptable leads) or MQL = SQL (sales qualified leads)

Using a sales-defined metric ensures that marketing is focused on leads that the sales team can close and ensures better alignment between the two. Of course, for this to work properly, the sales team alone cannot define the parameters of SAL or SQL. It has to be a joint effort.

3. Teleprospecting qualified leads

For larger organizations, I like the approach advocated by Sirius Decision. They recommend that marketing organizations should have a tele-qualification team that filters all the leads by actually connecting with prospects. This ensures that marketing only passes on those leads where there has been an initial contact with the prospect, and certain criteria have been satisfied.

These ideas may seem like heresy, especially coming from a marketer. You may not even agree with the proposed replacements to MQL. But it’s clear that MQL has had its day and it’s time to give it a quiet burial and seriously think of alternatives.

Photograph ‘Skull, take 2’ by Vladimer Shioshvili

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a previous post, which was published on 7 July 2014.