In this episode, we’re debunking MQL and SQL goals and why marketing teams focus on revenue.
My guest Amber Kemmis is the COO at Instrumental Group, a digital marketing and sales innovation agency. Amber is an inbound growth marketing leader with a passion for people, processes, psychology, and driving revenue growth.
She’s here to share her marketing expertise, including:
- Why clients shouldn’t focus on SQL
- How consumer behavior is changing
- Why you need to start benchmarking better
- How to identify high-quality leads
- The difference between a goal and a KPI
- Sales & marketing alignment
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Stephen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is debunking MQL and SQL goals and why marketing teams need to focus on revenue. Here to speak with me as Amber Kemmis, who is the COO at Instrumental Group, a digital marketing and sales innovation agency. Amber is an inbound growth marketing and agency leader with a passion for people, processes, psychology MarTech, and driving revenue growth. Amber, welcome to the show.
Amber Kemmis: Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be talking about this topic.
Steffen: Amber, before we start about talking about today’s topic, tell us a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to being a COO at Instrumental Group?
Amber: Yeah, I think when people see my title COO, they can quickly discount me on the marketing front because we’re talking about marketing today. But really, my story started and my role in operations is kind of happenstance. I got introduced in marketing basically 10, a little over a decade ago. It started with not wanting to be a marketer. I actually wanted to be a psychologist, and took up a side hustle and a gig to basically learn HubSpot on and I got paid to learn marketing software and eventually fell in love with it.
Said I’d never worked for an agency. I ran a marketing team internally, I said, I’ll never work for an agency. And then fast forward 10 years into the agency world now. But I changed my mind because I really have been excited over the last decade of just shifting the paradigm of what agencies are capable of. And it’s given me a ton of experience and ability to do some really cool marketing campaigns across all sorts of verticals, and kind of help people change their mind about like the possibilities of partnering with an agency.
Steffen: Yeah. So it sounds like you’re not only involved on the operation side, it sounds like you’re much more involved also, on the day-to-day on the client side. Is that about right?
Amber: You know, now I’m not as involved on the client day-to-day side as I was throughout most of my career, but I love marketing. So any chance I can get, whether it’s with my husband’s business and helping him build there, or with our clients, key clients come in, and I can’t help but like, at least weigh in on the strategy a little bit when the team will let me.
Steffen: Now, how have marketing goals shifted recently, Amber?
Amber: Yeah, I think marketing has gone through such an interesting evolution in general. When I first got into marketing, it was kind of we were kind of playing the game of like, how many keywords can you put on a website and help your company get found? And now it’s like, well, no, you got to use AI to find the right topics. And then from there, you’ve got to do a lot of data analysis to even make sure they are the right topics.
And that was only 10 years ago, when we were playing sort of the throw keywords on a page and that was marketing. But now, if you go, I guess if you go back, like 20 years, it was the opposite. It was like highly focused on bottom line, you put a billboard or an ad out on TV. By the way, I was not a part of these market like this marketing era. So I’m speaking through history, but you looked at the revenue and you said okay, well, we ran this ad at this time. Revenue increase, I think, through sentiment and whatnot, we think it’s working, right.
We look at we’d look at hey, are the sales going up as we put marketing activity out? Today, and along the way, the last 10 years, we’ve really gotten focused on all the key performance indicators that are important to goals, to our marketing initiatives and defining goals. And sometimes those indicators end up becoming the goal. For example, traffic goals are saying, hey, we want to grow our traffic 10%, things like that. For lack of a better way of putting it I think when I say this, everyone’s going to it’s going to resonate is their vanity metrics.
So we’ve really come up with a lot of vanity metrics along the way, and said those are marketing goals. But we’re currently in I think the marketing and sales world facing a sort of great challenge in that our budgets have never been more sacred. We have to fight for that. And so I think people are really starting to say okay, we focused on things like traffic goals, or MQLs, SQLs, things like that for the last few years.
The revenue didn’t go up with it necessarily let’s refocus and help ensure that we’re showing that we’re driving revenue, instead of looking at some of those other things which are important, but aren’t necessarily leading to what’s going to help us secure our budget at the end of the day.
Steffen: That’s an interesting moment. And I think I have to agree. I mean, there obviously our media activities, you know, where you want to grow the brand of a company. If it’s a new company just got to grow brand awareness first, before you start pushing sales messages out. No one is going to buy anything from you if they don’t know you, right. But at the end of the day, everything marketing does funnels down to generating revenue. Because why otherwise, would you do the media activities or the marketing activities?
Now, as it relates to MQLs and SQLs, it’s an interesting point that you kind of pull these two parts out. Because my view is that, you know, MQL and SQL are part obviously, of the sales funnel, right? And then it’s kind of the path to a sale, which a sale equals revenue. Why do you think that those KPIs are not important? Or are people just paying too much attention on those two KPIs, and not enough on what comes after that?
Amber: I think we just got too focused on that. And I’m guilty of it too. So I’m not pointing blame anywhere. But I think we got too, way too focused on those particular goals and steps in the funnel. They’re still important, but we were so I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve had the conversation with a client at the end of the year. And we’re looking at, hey, we hit our MQL goal, we were prompt all along the way, because we’re hitting that, but their budgets are getting cut, because revenue wasn’t there alongside it. And so I don’t think, I think it’s sort of a false celebration to set an MQL goal and then realize that it’s not totally aligned to revenue, I think we’d really have to get better at creating those goals that truly, truly align to revenue.
Steffen: Yeah. So what I hear basically on what you said is like, it’s not that you want to abandon these KPIs. Right, I think they played a role in kind of moving a prospect down the funnel. First, when you run advertising, obviously, for us as advertisers, a lead is a lead, right? It’s a number that we generate. We don’t know if the email address or the person that submit that information is legit, for example. If it’s a good or bad lead.
So we need those, those points to kind of identify, is it a good lead? What has driven a good lead, what has driven and bad lead, so we can basically put that back into our operation or operation from an optimization perspective, and focus the budget on the right things, right. But it’s about kind of looking down the funnel and saying, okay, how many of those leads actually create a sale at the end of the day? And then what is the value of the sale? And then what is the total of sales value, revenue, whatever, that has been generated with the media activities, that basically were run?
Amber: Yeah, exactly. And, I mean, I know one of the reasons why we haven’t always done that is there is a disconnect between sales numbers and marketing. Like it’s, unfortunately, not everyone has closed-loop data. And so one of the things that we’ve done over time to get around that is say, okay, what’s the step closest to revenue that we can measure and set goals around, which often is like an MQL. And what ends up happening is, you get that far, and then we’re not asking ourselves, okay, what is the what is the revenue that that’s coming out of this? I, again, if you don’t have the data, but you that’s the important goal, you probably have to fix your systems to truly, truly help you get to that end goal.
Steffen: Yeah. Yeah. What do you do with clients or prospects that approach you and your company and say, hey, you know what, we want you to drive business for us. And actually, you know, here’s the KPI, which is SQL, and then they are pushing back on either disclosing information that will help you to identify, you know, the waterfall from lead to MQL, SQL opportunity sales so that you can properly identify, you know, what is the proper cost per sale? What is the proper cost per lead, etc, and track all the way through? What do you do with those kinds of clients, and prospects to make them understand that they are missing something. That they might not be on the right path?
Amber: Yeah, I think there’s a couple, well, there’s a few different paths of what we would take or what we would do. And it depends on the client scenario. One is, if the data is there, we often can show clients why they shouldn’t be focusing on that SQL. Maybe it’s showing them using attribution reports to understand, hey, who you think is really qualified, actually, isn’t that target that we should be going after.
Or that’s not where the revenue is at. So when we have the data, it’s awesome, because then we can kind of even if it’s not every piece of data that we need, we can show a client, here’s what you you should be working towards. I hate to say it this way, but it’s kind of like we can use data to poke holes in their existing philosophy or goals. But the more common scenario is that often companies find themselves in a position where they don’t have that data.
And they’re simply putting those goals in place. Because it either it was cast upon them, that’s what they’ve always done. And it really comes down to helping in that at that point, it’s a change management initiative, and that it’s helping not even just that person that we’re working with, but probably people in their organization, and making the case that we have to think about goals differently. And alongside that often comes, like I said earlier, system changes, like having to fix closed-loop reporting, working together to align sales and marketing better.
All of those things kind of will end up being a change management initiative to actually get a client on board. And there are I mean, the third scenario that I would put clients in is there are some that are just not willing to be open-minded and to think about it differently. And for those clients, it’s probably not going to turn into a partnership for us.
Steffen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Now, so we’re talking about goals. Do you think all industries should adopt what goals they actually value around? Or are the exceptions?
Amber: You know, I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of different types of industries. And even today, I, on one hand, we have clients that deliver fertility treatments, and on the other hand, clients that protect people from blasts, like explosions at oil and gas refineries. So, very different types of industries and clients. And I think it’s pretty universal, that consumer and customer behavior is changing super fast.
And because it’s changing super fast, so what actually determines success, what kinds of marketing campaigns we need to move forward change. I would say like, your marketing campaign, or your measurement and your goals should really be tied to the activities or the work you’re doing to drive that success. And when you’re, when the consumer and the customer behavior changes, so does the activity and the things that you’re doing to drive that.
And that means that we probably all no matter what industry you’re in, if you’re a roofing company, or you’re a b2b SaaS company, I think you really have to be rethinking how you measure goals. A great example of this, it’s one of my favorite examples, is first touch attribution. For so long, we’re all like, oh, well, let’s set a goal around how we drive people the first time.
You know, making sure that we’re getting the volume we need. Only to realize, if you look at our true linear or multi-touch first and last touch attribution model, the realization is that we’re missing a lot of the importance of measurement, if we’re only looking at that first touch. Buying cycle can often be six months for as an example. So yeah, I think your behavior as a customer, you and I probably shop differently than we did a long time ago.
We might even like evaluate things longer than we maybe have in some cases and other cases, or we might be more apt to hit buy now faster. So all of that in mind, we’ve got to change how we measure things. And, you know, especially as we look at 2023, and at least here in the economy being what it is, we’re all going to be questioned about the ROI that we’re driving. And so we have to think about setting goals that are closer to showing ROI is happening.
Steffen: So where do you start with companies? That process. Because, you know, it’s, as you said, it’s a change process, that transformation that you have to kind of kick off with companies that you either already work with or that come to you, want your services, but you have to say, look, you know what, love to work with you, but we have to work on this because otherwise, we aren’t able to show you our value, we are probably not moving the needle on your end. And in the end, you’re going to be unhappy.
Amber: Right. Right. I think it’s sort of a maturity continuum that we all have to kind of be on and working backwards. It sounds super simple. But I’ve never worked with a company where we show up and they don’t know their revenue goals. We’re all here to make a certain amount of money every year or have some sort of initiative that’s that’s associated to the bottom line.
So customer will always show up with that in mind, and it’s really a process of working backwards. Sometimes you can’t work backwards as perfectly as you’d want because again, that data is not there to work backwards on and that now means your first step in growing and being maturing as a company and your goals and your marketing goals is let’s start benchmarking better.
We might have missing data that we need to fill in to actually be able to set a really super clear goal. So it’s not uncommon for a client to come to us and say, hey, we have this revenue goal, help us understand what marketing goals we need to hit that. But we don’t have the pieces, we need to shine the to create a crystal ball. So putting those pieces in place early is important.
And it’s working backwards. Companies who are more mature and have the data that they need, we have a ton of cool tools and processes and analysis that we run that basically helps us say, okay, this is the thing that’s gonna drive the best rev, like get as closest to revenue and are constantly looking at that revenue number. We maybe have a KPI about leads, for example. But at the same time, we’re looking at how did those leads affect the revenue and that ultimate revenue goal.
Steffen: And that kind of goes back to kind of the alter the attribution part, right? Because not just looking at leads, but looking down the funnel, ensuring that the leads that you generate are actually creating revenue is quite important. How do you work with your clients and with your team to collect information from the sales funnel on which leads actually are driving opportunities and sales so that you can feed that back into your media buying side?
Amber: Yeah, I want to say unfortunate, but I’m sure there’s some other CRM users out there who would disagree. But most pretty much all of our clients operate on HubSpot. And even if their CRM isn’t on HubSpot, we have a team of data integration specialists that can help get it integrated. So in most scenarios, we’re able to see right within our marketing campaigns, the exact influenced revenue that we have associated to a particular marketing effort or campaign. When we put ad dollars out there, we can see right within HubSpot, what our cost per lead ends up being.
Things like that are right there. When that’s not possible, it’s a conversation. It’s a hey, sometimes it comes back in form of spreadsheet. But that’s sort of, it’s making sure that you have the conversation, at least I would say once a month, into when you’re talking about how are our marketing, how is that driving revenue? Again, sometimes it might have to, it can’t come to me in a fancy report. But ideally, that’s how the conversation unfolds.
Steffen: How frequently are you working with your clients to check in on results, and resetting what the expectation is, what the goals are?
Amber: I think every company and client is sort of in a different place. So we would certainly keep things in context. For example, a company with a long sales cycle, you might not have that conversation weekly. You might not be looking at the how are we driving revenue on a weekly basis. But for maybe a SaaS company, I think about some of our SAS clients who are subscription based we are on a weekly basis can see and already talking about what’s happening to our revenue in that case.
But usually, at least, I think that conversation has to happen again, at minimum on a monthly basis. And then all of our team is responsible for reporting on those some of those KPIs on a weekly basis just to make sure we’re on track. So when we show up for that conversation, it’s a good conversation. And we were well aware long ahead of time if it’s working or not working.
Steffen: Yeah, you just mentioned long sales cycles, which I think is is always a challenge when I talk to clients or prospects that have sales cycles of three, six plus months, where you can’t get feedback on what works and what doesn’t work relatively quickly. That’s when optimization starts to be a little bit more challenging, where you might have to use, I don’t know, MQL, SQL or other KPIs to get like intermediate indications on whether something works or not. How do you approach it? What are your thoughts on that? How to how to get clarity on what to focus on so you don’t have to wait that long before you can make optimization decisions?
Amber: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is that realization that this is a long term game. And clients who understand their sales cycle and understand I think marketing and what it does are okay with that. They don’t see it as a six month we’re going to know what works and works. They’re thinking about it in terms of 12 to 18 months because they know their sales cycle isn’t something that they can just wave a magic wand and it’s going to be shortened.
So there’s definitely this like overall realization that things are a little bit slower to change. We’ve been talking a lot on this call about goals. And I think the difference between a goal on a KPI is a goal is usually something wildly audacious. It’s a big hairy thing, usually measured monthly. But KPIs are really those indicators or key performance indicators that tell us if we’re on track or not. And those are the things that you look at on a weekly, monthly basis that will help us see if we’re going to create some velocity in the pipeline. Pipeline velocity is big in those situations. Yeah, maybe I can’t see that a deal closed yet.
But my closest step to that is are deals entering the funnel from our marketing efforts? And is it getting closer? So I can at least see, hopefully three to six months in even with a sales cycle, the number of opportunities where and pipeline potential we have created out of those things. That’s one way and then key performance indicators. Yeah, I know, traffic and conversion rates can be a vanity metric. But they’re also those things that you can test to turn the dial a little bit, even if you’re still waiting for a deal to ultimately close.
Steffen: Amber what other aspects besides goals can companies consider to create better sales and marketing alignment?
Amber: Yeah, this is a big one. I feel like three-ish years ago, four, I feel like for a while sales and marketing alignment was a buzzword like everybody was talking about it, we were all excited about it. And I don’t know what’s happened. Maybe it’s the self-service model of recent years, but I feel like we lost touch and have stopped talking about sales and marketing alignment, as much as we were for a while.
And because we’re not talking about it, we’re focusing on other things. I think just talking about it again, kicking off the new year with sales and market, with all the key stakeholders from your sales and marketing team is a great way to start that alignment, to be aligned to know of what goals are you each setting. Setting those goals together I think is really important. If sales is saying they’re going to reach revenue, how is marketing expected to fit into that picture?
And then I think the biggest thing is coming up with a service level agreement. How are you guys gonna work together as you’re working and driving this revenue, how are you, how can you best support each other? And that ultimately becomes sometimes a weekly, monthly call. I definitely am a I’m a huge fan of basically, having sort of a sales and marketing champion team that meet together regularly, share what’s working and not working.
Depending on the size of your sales and marketing teams, that might not be everyone. But if you have a small, lean team, it could be everybody. And kind of creating that regular cadence just keeps you keeps you on the same page.
Steffen: Now, usually agencies are hired by the marketing team, right? It’s very seldom that the sales team is kind of doing the RFP or kind of the outreach. How do you pull the sales team into this discussion, because you start off with marketing, talking about marketing goals, right? Whether it’s a number of leads, etc. But then again, as we discussed the entire time, it’s about you know, what happens to the leads down the funnel, and are they converting.
So therefore, it’s a discussion you have to have of sales, because you also need information from them, as we discussed. So how do you pull them into the boat, and then basically, create this bigger team and make them understand that can only work as a joint team sales, marketing and the agency?
Amber: Yeah. So we work with different sizes of organizations. So we actually do have situations where we’re working with a sales leader, because they don’t have a marketing team, and we are their marketing team. But in the cases where and this is probably the more common but in the cases where we’re working with the marketing team, we don’t have sales leadership involved. We actually do have a dedicated call with their sales team from like, from the get-go. It’s part of our process because we know it’s that important.
Usually that gets them on board and excited to have regular meetups. So they’re part of like our performance review and or QBRs. They’re a part of those discussions so they can see, okay, this is what’s working and not working. But we always try to involve them from the beginning. Because once we involve them from the beginning, that relationship is there and that expectation is there that they’re going to hear from us in the future.
Steffen: And it’s instrumental, right, to have them be part of this entire discussion because they have goals that are related to driving revenue, and if you’re part of the machine that drives revenue, you want them to be part of your discussion or your overall discussion.
Amber: Absolutely. I don’t think a marketing team can succeed without sales and marketing alignment, at least not if you have a sales team. Maybe if you’re a team that doesn’t require a sales team that might be possible. But if you have a sales and marketing team in place, there has to be alignment. If you’re not hitting your goals on either side, I would guess that if you did some introspection, there’s probably some issues with sales and marketing alignment.
Steffen: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, unfortunately, Amber we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast episode. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on MQLs, SQLs and why teams should probably more focus on revenue rather than on those KPIs. Now, if people want to find out more about you, about Instrumental Group, how can they get in touch?
Amber: Yeah, the best way to find me is on LinkedIn. I am on Twitter, but I don’t actively tweet. So reach out to me on LinkedIn. It’s just Amber Kemmis. You can also check out our website at instrumental.net.
Steffen: Perfect. Now thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience-focused and data-driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com.