We can all agree that B2B marketing success ultimately hinges on qualified leads that result in revenue, and this is true whether you’re promoting a SaaS recurring revenue model or a one-time IT hardware purchase. This does not mean, however, that B2B success metrics should only be defined by qualified leads and revenue. On the contrary, the most actionable data can be found when metrics align with each unique stage of the often complex B2B conversion funnel.
These metrics could be anything from impressions or video views for top-funnel brand awareness, to sales qualified leads towards the bottom of the funnel. What is important to recognize is that not all leads are qualified the moment they enter your site, but over time a variety of touch points and interactions can turn them from an engaged prospect to a sales qualified lead. This is why it is critical to accurately define the path a prospect travels as they become a customer.
Although some aspects of the funnel may be obvious, such as knowing when sales should get involved with a prospect, some stages are more ambiguous. Properly defining your conversion funnel will influence marketing channels and targeting more than you can imagine. For example, there are almost no situations where it would be appropriate to promote a free trial or product demo via a banner ad to an audience that has never engaged with your brand. Instead you would use a campaign such as site or email based retargeting, to effectively influence those who have already engaged with your brand and become qualified leads, to now proceed to a demo or free trial. It seems simple here, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve see B2B marketers go for the home run on each swing, rather than a more systematic approach tailored to the business’s unique conversion funnel.
Conversion Funnel Audiences
Every B2B organization has its own set of audiences and definitions for its unique conversion funnel. Over the years we at DragonSearch have found a number of commonalities among them all, regardless of which crazy, nonsensical acronym is attached to each. In the end, these acronyms can actually be very helpful, as they guide the thinking and process of marketers.
We’ll go through a few of these acronyms below; some may seem familiar and some perhaps not. On principle, defining these segments is an exercise to help us understand our audience. Since 76% of business buyers prefer different content at each stage of the purchase process, you can imagine how much impact can be found by tailoring your marketing tactics for each group.
Marketing Engaged Leads (MELs)
MELs live at the top of any B2B organization’s conversion funnel. They are defined as being a form submit or touch that has not fit the criteria of being qualified yet. Typically prospects that fall into the MEL category are those that have submitted only a small piece of information or converted on a piece of content that is mapped to the top of the funnel. In general, the form submit or touch associated with the MEL is lacking the information necessary to qualify the lead. This does not mean a MEL cannot become qualified though – it simply has yet to happen.
Within the MEL category, there are two sub-audiences:
- Suspects are leads that have only provided one or two pieces of self-identifying information, such as an email address. Thus, much of the information around themselves and business is missing.
- Prospects on the other hand are leads that have provided much of that missing information, such as name, email, and phone, but have not reached the criteria around qualification. Usually, qualification is considered lacking because of the content being converted on and interest level being indicated by the lead. For example, someone converting on a top of funnel, industry focused piece of content, is highly unlikely to have a strong sales interest in your product or brand at that moment. This is likely their first interaction with your content or brand and thus, they still need to become warm towards what you offer as a service or product.
In general, MELs are the largest pool of potential customers because of the content; the content they consume and where that content fits in the larger sales funnel should reflect this. The goal with MELs is to help guide them down the funnel with appropriate pieces of content marketing and promotion to turn them into Marketing Qualified Leads.
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
MQLs are those leads that have reached the level of qualification defined by your marketing team. Typically, these leads initially entered your funnel as a MEL by reading a blog post or submitting a limited amount of information to receive a piece of content focused on their industry. Through retargeting initiatives or other marketing channels, they were then presented with a product-specific piece of content, brochure, or some other sales-related asset that lead them to fill out a form resulting in qualification. Typically this qualification is a result of their interest in your brand or product beyond what a prospect would have expressed in the MEL stage of the funnel.
What is most important to understand about the MQL stage is that you have now driven a lead to the point of handing off to your sales team based on their interest and other qualification criteria.
Sales Engaged Leads and Sales Qualified Leads
In various B2B organizations there are different qualification standards set by the marketing and sales departments based upon size of lead, potential revenue, and likeliness to convert into a customer. Thus SELs and SQLs are marketing qualified leads that have now reached the sales team. Typically the transition from SEL to SQL simply takes a phone call or demo to understand the needs of the customer and scope of the potential purchase in terms of deal size and revenue. Just because a lead has entered into the sales team’s realm does not mean marketing should stop trying to close the deal.
Social retargeting based on email addresses and onsite interactions, such as a demo request form submit, are excellent targeting methods to use in nurturing a lead into a closed deal. This is especially true when assets such as case studies, new product features, or a blog post about a recent award that was won are available. Promoting these materials through social advertising and retargeting work in tandem with the more business-focused conversations being had with the sales team to effectively shorten the sales cycle and close the deal when it’s down to you and a competitor.
B2B Marketing that is Funnel-Focused
There are so many moving parts in the B2B marketer’s world, that the definition of a business’s conversion funnel is just the tip of the iceberg. This definition is critical to setting in motion marketing conversations around who to target, what marketing channels to use, and what content to create to effectively hit each stage of the funnel and drive a lead from a MEL to a customer. The ability to market to each of these stages effectively is what truly defines B2B marketing success.