In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we concentrated on why the focus on the individual marketing qualified lead (MQL), while still common in many revenue processes, is an antiquated and restrictive approach. In this blog (part 3 of this series), we’ll explore why shifting the focus to the marketing qualified account (MQA) is equally problematic.

An MQA Is Well Intentioned But Has The Wrong Focus

Based on the introduction of account-based marketing (ABM) as a practice over the past several years, a new alternative for the focus of the revenue process, the MQA, has emerged. The goal of ABM is to concentrate on what is believed to be high-value accounts. The introduction of ABM platforms has intensified the focus on the account-level view. The goal of the MQA is to look at all relevant insights and signals that occur within these accounts and aggregate it into a relevant score based on a combination of fit and engagement. Once the account score hits a defined threshold, the account is sent to the revenue development rep (RDR) or account executive as an MQA.

While the intent of capturing and sharing insights about an account initially seems to be a viable approach, it, too, introduces a number of major challenges that result in inefficiencies and lost opportunities. Here’s why the focus on the MQA is not the next logical enhancement to replace the MQL and should not be adopted as the new standard for the revenue process.

MQAs Don’t Represent The Buyer Either

Just as B2B buying decisions are not made by an individual person, the buying decision is also not made by an account. Accounts are legal entities that do not make buying decisions and therefore cannot be “qualified” to signify progression and propensity to buy. Instead, the true buyer is a group of people (the buying group) within an account who are working together to solve a business problem. Our relationship with the buying group is what drives progression (and can be tracked) through the revenue process. ACME as an organization has not bought our talent management solution. Instead, it has a buying group of personas from HR, IT, and lines of business within ACME who are working together to improve the accuracy and efficiency of ACME’s hiring process and making the buying decision to solve this need. This potential opportunity for our talent management solution (with the associated buying group) is then tracked as it flows through our revenue process.

Accounts Can Have Many Opportunities, Each At A Different Stage

The vast majority of our clients (other than perhaps early-stage startups) have a portfolio of solutions that they market and sell that address a variety of functional business needs. These solutions can span different buying groups and functional needs within their target prospect accounts. To achieve best-in-class alignment between marketing and sales, it’s important to understand all the potential opportunities that exist within an account or market segment.

Figure 1 illustrates the concept of an opportunity map, a tool used to identify the potential opportunities that exist within an account. The opportunity map identifies the relevant buying groups, functional business needs, and relevant solutions that make up these potential opportunities. In this example, the client targets three different buying groups (talent management, HR operations, and learning management), each with a different functional need for a total of three solutions. Each of these combinations of buying groups, functional business needs, and aligned solutions represents a unique buying decision and aligns to three unique potential opportunities. It’s these potential opportunities, and not the account, that must be tracked through the revenue process.

Figure 1: Example Opportunity Map

Because each of these opportunities represents unique buying decisions, each can be at different stages in our revenue process. The talent management opportunity may be in the late-stage pipeline, while the HR operations and learning management opportunities in the same account may be very early in the process (i.e., the detected stage). It’s impossible to use one account stage (the MQA) to reflect the progression of multiple opportunities. The proper way to think of this is to embrace and adopt the concept of a set of “qualified opportunities” as opposed to the nonsensical “qualified account.”

Sales Hates Noise

Aggregating signals across an account into a single score is intended to produce actionable insight that enables high-quality actions from the RDR and sales, but instead often results in lots of noise with limited to no action. Why? Because while the salesperson may see a high interest/engagement at an account level, it’s not evident what the expected and optimal actions should be. Seeing an account score indicating that 15 people have engaged for a total of 642 engaged minutes is interesting, but it’s not obvious to sales what they should do with this information. Who should they call? And what should they talk about?

What sales requires is an added layer of context. To act, sales needs to understand the more detailed insight of “Who is interested in what?” and “Are there groups of people interested in the same solution?” Understanding that there are seven people representing a range of key internal functions interested in the talent management solution, five interested in HR operations, and three people interested in learning management is infinitely more powerful and actionable.

But if we lack this context, an MQA appears as noise, and the appropriate actions are far less obvious. Sales may interpret the MQA to reflect interest only in the talent management solution but miss the insight about interest in the additional opportunities within the account. When that happens, the additional opportunities could be lost.

The Answer Is An Opportunity-Centric Focus

Aligning marketing, the RDR, and sales to a common view of the revenue process is critical for success. With MQLs, the focus on individuals is too small. With MQAs, the focus is too coarse-grained. Both approaches have problems. In part 4 of this series, we’ll look at why an opportunity focus is the right approach to deliver valuable context to marketing, the RDR, and sales throughout the revenue process.