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How we determine success impacts what kinds of marketing strategies and programs we deploy. Many strategies use leads as the one metric that matters in the belief that more leads equals more sales. Is this true, though? Perhaps in the B2C or eCommerce world, a lead is the best success metric. In B2B, however, this is not exactly the case. This is especially true of account-based marketing programs (ABM).

B2B companies that are still using leads generated to determine the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns and ROI might be doing themselves a disservice. At best, they don’t understand how the B2B buying journey has changed. At worst, they are developing ineffective marketing programs optimized for the wrong metric. 




Not all leads are the same. Before we begin discussing the role leads play in ABM, we should discuss the two basic types of leads. 

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead the marketing team has designated as most likely to become a customer compared to other leads. MQLs are usually earlier in the buying cycle. These prospective customers are just starting to engage with the brand, showing general interest in the product or offering.

The other type of lead is a sales-qualified lead (SQL). A sales-qualified lead is a prospective customer that is ready to talk to a sales team. Typically, this lead has expressed enough interest in your product or service, that they’re ready to move into your sales process. Usually, they’ve been researched and vetted by your marketing department and then handed off to your sales team.

So how do we qualify leads, and what do we do with qualified leads in an ABM program?


What is ABM?


Before we talk about the role leads play in an ABM program, let’s look at a quick overview of what ABM is. Account-based marketing is a focused growth strategy in which marketing and sales align their efforts to create personalized buying experiences for a mutually-identified set of high-value accounts. These accounts are identified and selected based on ideal customer profiles (ICPs). 

A typical ABM program has three stages:

  • Activate – Create awareness with net new logos utilizing top-of-funnel demand generation
  • Accelerate – Accelerate pipeline movement by supporting the sales process
  • Expansion – Identifying retention and expansion opportunities within current customers

ABM is efficient and effective both in terms of cost and leads generated. By targeting select accounts identified ahead of time as likely potential customers, ad dollars and marketing efforts aren’t wasted on generating poor quality leads. 

As a potential customer moves through these stages, it would be right to assume that the goal is to create a marketing-qualified lead that can be passed along to the sales team. However, it would be wrong to assume that creating this MQL is the right metric to measure success. 


Using Intent Data 


The next logical question is, how do we know that prospects are moving through these stages? This is where intent data comes in. Intent data is information collected about a web user’s content consumption or observed behavior that can provide insight into their interests. This is then taken to indicate potential intent to take action.

Companies rely on two different sources of intent data, first-party data and third-party data. First-party intent data gives brands insights about their customers from internal resources such as a website, blog, subscription activity, or a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This data comes from users who directly interact with a brand’s content, making it useful for forming a clear view of the user’s intentions.

Third-party intent data comes from data conglomerates that purchase intent data from various websites and model the data in order to monetize it. This type of intent data is best for reaching a large volume of users near the top of the funnel. Intent data provides buyer journey insights that help identify accounts that are entering into the purchase process and showing interest in products or services. 


The Role of Leads in ABM


So the outcome of an ABM approach is an MQL, but the number of MQLs is the wrong metric to follow? On the face of it, this doesn’t make much sense–until you understand that a lead does not signal a company’s intent to buy. For B2B enterprise sales, as the price tag for a product or service increases, so does the amount of people involved in the buying decision. Depending on the cost, one MQL may only represent 15% of the buying group. So if we can’t judge ABM success off of the number of MQLs generated, then how do we measure success? We have to look at the pipeline, specifically the qualified pipeline, and view MQLs as just another intent signal.

Qualified pipelines are MQLs that have been converted to an opportunity or when sales has qualified that opportunity with a real value and close-date. Essentially, the goal of an ABM marketing program is to take a forward-looking approach to ensure marketing efforts are producing enough qualified pipeline so sales can achieve their quota in future quarters. 

In order to successfully pull this together and have an ABM program that generates MQLs that turn into SQLs that turn into qualified pipeline, it is essential to align your sales and marketing teams as much as possible. 


Aligning Sales and Marketing


The key to a successful ABM is establishing a working marketing and sales team relationship. Regular meetings should be held to discuss things like which marketing content is working best, gaps in enablement material, or prospect feedback that can help with campaign targeting. Marketing and sales also need to align on what makes a quality lead.

  • What kind of content should be engaged with in order to define someone as MQL?
  • What are the defining account traits necessary to call someone an MQL
  • What pain points should a prospect have to make them an MQL?

Be sure to regularly revisit these definitions and metrics so marketing and sales can stay in alignment. 

While we wouldn’t say leads are dead, they are not an accurate indication of a successful ABM program. They are a signal that should be looked at as a touchpoint in the purchase process. From a strategic perspective, if the board and C-Suite of a company are using MQLs as a benchmark of success, they are using the wrong KPI to make decisions. 

At RenderTribe, we help customers build an ABM strategy to drive more sales and accelerate growth. Our RenderLab process helps you identify the unique pieces that fit your marketing strategy and align your plan with overall business objectives. We help build the foundation for measurement, expertise, and the tactical execution needed to support the plan.

Contact us today to see how we can help you align sales and marketing activities to achieve your revenue goals.

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