Advice for Demand Marketers: How to Avoid the Black Hole of MQLs

the black hole of MQLsSales wants qualified leads. Now. With velocity, ready to buy, and at their target accounts. You already invested in marketing automation (which someone else probably stuffed full of crappy data) and dabbled in some paid efforts. Now you’re exploring Predictive and Account-based Marketing… but HOLD ON. Whatever happened to all those leads you already generated and qualified?

As a demand marketer, it’s tempting to wash your hands of the lead once it reaches Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). But too often Sales reaches out a few times, then moves on when a lead is unresponsive. They aren’t going to nicely hand that lead back to marketing – they will just move on.

And the lead will disappear into “the black hole of MQLs”.

Marketing isn’t nurturing them anymore, sales isn’t reaching out to them anymore, and often there’s no plan to check up on these people who had great potential to become your customers. What about all your marketing technology? Depends on what your marketing tech stack looks like, but remember: these people have moved out of your fancy marketing nurture system, which offers a multitude of reports and alerts, and into the CRM which commonly is dependent on a collection of unlinked, data-heavy reports combined with manual inputs from the reps.

So how can you prevent leads from getting stuck in this black hole? We have 3 suggestions that can help eliminate this gap – you’re going to see the “marketing and sales alignment” theme a lot here:

1. Make sure Marketing has visibility into the CRM.

In smaller organizations, the marketing team already has CRM access and, at minimum, can manually monitor what's happening with leads through some creative reporting. But to scale this for larger organizations, a reporting platform like Domo or Tableau might be necessary. So far we’ve gotten by with a mash-up of creative Salesforce reports, HubSpot reports, and good ol’ fashioned Excel – but I dream about having a sexy reporting dashboard someday soon.

2. Establish lead qualification guidelines in collaboration with the sales team.

We’ve actually found it more helpful to establish a disqualification framework here; if Sales can’t answer yes to two critical qualifying questions, it’s time to move on and not waste more time with that lead. By standardizing the discovery process, we defined what makes a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), and Sales is clear on what is required to convert.

3. Put automatic processes in place to keep leads moving.

Set an expiration date for your MQL queue – we use 30 days. Send the sales rep an automated alert when a lead is about to expire, and once they hit the deadline without being converted to a contact, return them to Marketing. It’s important to ensure that Sales doesn’t feel pressured to convert a lead early just so marketing doesn’t “take it back,” because that would throw off our metrics. We balance this by requiring an opportunity to be opened, or the individual added to an existing opportunity, anytime a lead is converted to a contact.  Once something is in the opportunity queue, it’s now firmly on Sales management’s radar and part of their monitoring process. (Note: this part actually killed two birds with one stone: we now get better revenue-attribution metrics too!) 


Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to ensure your own leads are moving through the pipeline toward revenue and not falling into the black hole of MQLs. MarTech is helpful, but having the right alignment and processes in place is critical for it to work. We'll keep exploring other places leads can fall out of the buyer's journey, but for now, shoot me a note if you want to talk it out.

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