Moving from MQLs to Pipeline and Revenue

Nobody cares about the data when things are going well. But when you stop hitting your goals, everyone cares about the data. 

B2B marketers need to know what their marketing dollars are doing right now. More than ever before.

On DGU this week, get an inside look at how we got a seat at the revenue table at Metadata.

Check out the full episode to hear how they made the jump or keep reading for the top takeaways.

Three top takeaways: 

Takeaway 1: Learn how your conversion metrics lead to revenue

You need directional data to do this. Not perfect data because there’s no such thing.

List every important event, lead stage, and opportunity stage when you’re building your funnel. You can start small and use a Google Sheet too. That’s what we did.

We track metrics like MQLs, opportunities, and pipeline — all the way through to closed-won revenue. Plus inputs like average deal size, planned quarterly churn, and conversion rates between every stage.

B2B companies will define metrics differently, so don’t copy whatever works for someone else. The key is defining each metric and agreeing on the definitions with Sales and the Leadership team.

Takeaway 2: Track leading indicators so you can see how you’re pacing

You can’t tell your Leadership team, “Trust me. You’ll start to see pipeline and revenue generated from our marketing. Just wait, it’s coming.”

We track leading indicators like demos requested, meetings booked, and meetings held to see how we’re pacing. Every single day.

This helps our Marketing team make better decisions and reprioritize how we’re spending our time and where to focus if we’re behind.

Pipeline and revenue are lagging indicators, plus sales cycle length varies at every company. So you won’t know which metrics to optimize for if you’re waiting for pipeline and revenue to show up in your Salesforce dashboards.

Takeaway 3: Making the jump from MQLs to pipeline doesn’t happen overnight

Owning a pipeline and revenue target is a big commit. Your marketing leader needs to be 100% onboard with making the jump too.

It took us about two-ish quarters to move from MQLs to pipeline. But we could move this fast because we always set our goals with downstream impact in mind.

Here’s what we recommend if you haven’t set your goals like this:

Start with Marketing Ops and Rev Ops to figure out what you’re tracking right now vs. what needs to be set up so you can start collecting data.

Turn this into a quick project plan with big milestones and dates, then present it to your marketing leader. The Marketing leader needs to have the same conversation with the Leadership team.

Moving from MQLs to pipeline and revenue is a much easier conversation when you already have a solid plan in place to get there.Then parking lot issues and like moving things around. We’re still working on that one.

Get closer to revenue in your reporting

Jason: Anytime you talk about reporting, there’s always attribution involved in some way, but we’re not talking about that. 

We’re just talking about how you get closer to revenue in your reporting and in goal setting, which is the most important thing.

Mark: So this exact topic is something that I’ve seen come up in our own community as well as some of the other B2B marketing communities that I’m in right now. 

So why do you think people are asking about this topic?

Jason: It’s more important now when things aren’t going so well and when everybody’s meeting their goals. 

I’ve seen this happen many times when all the departments are meeting their goals. Nobody asks for any data. 

All you have to really show them is the fact that you’re meeting that goal. Look — we’re meeting our goal. I don’t care about anything else, so I don’t want to bother myself with that data. 

I don’t care how much you’re wasting. The fact that you are within your budget and we’re meeting the primary goal.

That’s all people care about. Now when things get tight, people maybe aren’t making their goals, then suddenly we get armchair marketers coming in. 

Then wanting to dig into the data and try and tell you what you missed. Or why you weren’t measuring something like the hamster wheel itself. 

That whole cycle of time is good. Nobody cares about data. Times are not so good. 

Everybody cares about data. That’s a cycle I’ve seen go around, too. 

I think the main reason people are leaning more into it is because they’re having too many of us marketers tell the story of what our dollars are doing.

Defending against armchair marketers 

Mark: For the people who are dealing with armchair marketers right now and having to go through the hell that you just described.

Any advice that you’d give ‌them to navigate those conversations?

Jason: It’s being buttoned up yourself. The more buttoned up you are and confident in it, the less like holes that are gonna be poked. 

Honestly, you could have the most incorrect data. I’m not saying to do this, but I’m just saying this is a reality.

You could have the most incorrect data set and if you present it so confidently and just you’re able to walk through it just point by point. 

Every leader that I’ve ever worked for or had to report to, if there’s ever any uncertainty in your voice or your presentation, it just gets dug into. I don’t know if it’s subconscious. 

I don’t know if that’s just what, how, how leaders operate, but that’s been like a hundred percent of my experience. You show any weakness, like it’s just going to get lasered in and like opened up. 

So learning presentation skills and getting confident in the data and then having a story to tell with it, I think are the best blockers for the armchair.

Mark: There was a LinkedIn post that Jason Lempkin was talking about. Basically, he said the key to getting promoted was knowing your shit better than anyone else in the room. 

So I feel like that kind of meshes with a lot of what he’s suggesting. No matter how complete or incomplete the data is, when you are presenting your story to the board, to your leadership team, to your CEO, you have to know it better than anyone else.

Jason: And the reality is so many marketing leaders that I’ve worked for don’t know their data. 

They rely on their staff to do the number crunching, and they don’t‌ take the time to really understand what’s going on in it. 

Let’s say you’re reporting up to your CMO and the CMO is now taking that data to a leadership or board meeting. They don’t often do a great job of supporting it either. 

If you’re a marketing leader and you’re listening to this and you don’t feel like you should be so close to your metrics and like to understand them better than any of your peers can ever even try to imagine.

I’ve seen this happen before. Imagine walking into a board meeting or just a leadership meeting with C-level folks and the CMO presents something and then the head of sales presents the same thing but with different data and more confidently. 

Then the head of sales is now dictating what marketing has to do and nobody wants to be in that position. I’ve seen that happen where the head of sales came in with better data about marketing than the CMO did. 

That’s just a recipe for disaster. So get really good on your metrics. 

Be confident in them and then also be like, be transparent about it. Don’t try to sugarcoat things that are‌ not working well. That also can throw you off. 

People can look at the raw data and they make their own assumption. If you’re presenting it in a clear enough way and they can make their own assumptions.

Yet you’re presenting something and it’s trying to make it shiny or sugar coat it, you’re also gonna lose credibility there too.

Be honest about the things that are not working well. These are the three things we’re doing to address this. 

Building your demand model 

Mark: So for people who haven’t heard this yet, you were still at Workfront, in the fall of 2019, but advising Metadata on the side. 

You were still very much involved at Metadata, but you did not take over as the marketing leader until March of 2020.

What were Gil’s expectations of what he wanted you to measure? Did you‌ pitch what you wanted to measure? What did that world look like?

Jason: Even before March of 2020, going back into late 2019, that’s when I started. Matt Cannell and I were working here together, both as consultants and he was much better in Salesforce than I ever was.

Though I’ve grown up through marketing ops, I never really touched Salesforce. I was at all these big companies and it was like sales ops were always working with Salesforce.

I never really got that great at it, but it didn’t really matter here in 2019 because we were only using Salesforce to track closed one ops.

So the only thing that was in Salesforce was once something‌ closed once. Like if somebody looked at it, they’re like, “you guys have a hundred percent conversion to customers. Good job!” 

That’s really what it was. It was basically like a billing system. I didn’t even know that.

Logan wasn’t putting anything in. He was tracking his opportunities in Excel. I said, “Why were we paying for Salesforce?”

I don’t know‌. Good question. I have no idea why. Maybe like the invoicing system. I don’t know. I think it was just like a transactional system.

We couldn’t really do any demand modeling at all because we had no idea what kind of pipeline would happen and how that pipeline would turn into revenue or anything. 

Our primary metric was leads and then of course demo requests, but we were measuring leads.

It was basically like inbound leads, website traffic, and I think that was about it from marketing. 

It really wasn’t much. It was just like those were the two things and we were, I think we were somewhere around 20 to 30 demo requests in a given month. And we were super stoked with that at that time.

That was pretty flat for several months. It was just pretty much that, and it was always clawing to get that. 

That’s what it looked like and leads were just a misnomer because so many people hopefully don’t do it today.

We’ve all done this, but I’d be doing things like content syndication and I’d be bringing the lists in, and those were leads. 

I was like, “look, we got like 800 more leads this month because I bought some content syndication and we just uploaded them into HubSpot webinars.” Look at all these leads. It was that.

Mark: I think we’re not here to bash what we’re talking about because you have to start somewhere. 

We’ve done that before, whether it was here or at previous companies. 

But what you are describing is the world that many marketers are still living in and some have been lucky enough to get out of. It’s very familiar to everyone.

Jason: This was just three years ago. I had all the experience at that point too. 

We had no brand at the time. We had nothing really working for us. 

We had systems in place, but like nothing to. No real ads. The ads were pretty bad. We were ‌ doing quite a few swap deals even back then. 

We had access to some decent tools even in the beginning because we were doing swap deals. Yet we didn’t configure any of them correctly.

That’s really how it started, basic stuff. I don’t think I had lead goals. 

Gil asked, “how many leads do we have?” 

He did not know that I bought these names basically like out of a hat and uploaded them into HubSpot.

I found some random list at one point of thousands of people. I remember it was like a list I was not supposed to be using and I uploaded all of them. 

It was thousands of people I uploaded into HubSpot. Let’s go email these people.

Mark: How and when did you start making this shift away from what you were just describing? 

Was it more so Matt leading the charge on this when he was still here as a consultant? What did that look like?

Jason: Matt got Logan, who was our only seller at the time. Matt got them to start and that’s when Olivier and Clay got hired. 

They said we have to use Salesforce. We want to use Salesforce to track our opportunities.

We got Logan to move his opportunities out of Excel into Salesforce, but we still didn’t have historical data.  

Matt tried to basically get as good of historical data as possible, then also started to look at what kind of pipeline we‌ have. 

He had built our first demand model, which was way more complicated than it needed to be at the time. Matt’s very smart and can sometimes.

Give you a solution for an enterprise company when you’re like a five-person team. 

Matt had built this amazing demand model and we used it for like a quarter and we said—this ‌ seems to be working. This seems to be pretty accurate enough.

Then Matt left and I remember Gil was like, “did we update that demand model?”

I cracked it open. I couldn’t make sense of it at all. Trying to follow the formulas and where to get this number. I was so lost. 

I was embarrassed to ask him for help, because I thought —I should know this. It’s all right here in front of me, so why can’t I figure this out? I just completely rebuilt it. 

I did it in a different way. Matt was trying to bake in things that I wasn’t ready to bake in, like the sales cycle. 

I need to know where we are today and what we need to do to close the gap. I think I built the first one that we started. We kept using the model I built for probably a year and a half.

It worked pretty well, but I had to rebuild it. So this was part of that start of the transition. But I always knew, from when I started, I wanted to carry a pipeline goal. 

But until we‌ have better data, I don’t know how to set that up. We were working on this for a while. 

Work towards directional data, not perfect data

Mark: You mentioned better data. We’re big believers of using imperfect but directional data. 

When you say better data, what advice would you give to people who are looking to make this jump? 

What type of data were you looking for? Was it more the amount of data? Was it like the quality of data? Was it all the above? 

Jason: At first I was just looking for major milestones, like in a funnel. 

What are the milestone points in a customer’s journey and being able to have data around that. 

I really needed to understand the matriculation from leads all the way down to opportunity so that we could set goals and then try to improve.

The one thing about goals: Never go to benchmarks and then set your goals BA based on some industry benchmarks. 

Never put your finger in the air. Goals are set by knowing where you are today and coming up with an improvement to that. That’s how you set a goal.

Getting these like key journey milestone points. Understanding the data at those points and the conversion between them. 

How these things lead to revenue. That’s just the basic point. 

It could be three points only, lead MQL opportunity, or qualified lead meeting, or deep late stage opportunity. 

It doesn’t have to be 18 steps. Simply getting some key milestone journey points set as the first step. 

Let’s make sure we have good tracking on these things wherever we add historical data so we have a little bit of a better picture. We’ll do that. 

Ask questions: Where are we today? What are our conversion rates, good, bad, or ugly? Where just, where are we at? Then coming up with some improvement plans from there.

Moving from MQLs to pipeline and revenue

Mark: So we’ve got the demand model. You are simplifying it. You are collecting more data and slowly getting better at it. 

So how did you get from leads to MQL, to them looking at meetings and then finally opportunities?

The big thought leaders on LinkedIn all say marketers should be held accountable to pipeline and revenue.  

What people assume is that they need to stop measuring MQLs and immediately jump to pipeline and revenue. We are not truthfully at revenue yet. 

Jason: When we broke out from leads and we had good enough data.

We understood how demo requests this conversion rate to meetings, this conversion rate to op, this conversion rate to closed one.

We just worked it back and that’s how we set our goals. Sales is responsible for 30% of the revenue. Marketing’s‌ responsible for 70%.

Here’s our goal for the year, working it back. We were already basing our demo request number on what would turn into revenue.

We are still setting our goals up at that demo request number. It was mainly because I was thinking this is what we have.

This is about as far as we can affect those conversion rates.

Getting that demo request, it’s in the hands of sales, then it’s up to them to and as long as it’s the right person, and so on. 

We started by keeping our goals up at that demo request. That worked for a while because it was tied to revenue. It was working.

We would hit our demo request number. These conversion rates were holding steady or improving or just slight fluctuation. 

For several quarters that worked. We delivered many demo requests. 

They turned into this op. They turned into this revenue. We were meeting our goals or exceeding our goals.

Everything was good. So that carried us for quite a while. 

But then the transition point was when things got a little tight and I wanted to get off “we just need more demo requests.”

Let’s say some of these conversion rates start to fluctuate, then you just need to put more at the top of the funnel. I didn’t want to have to. 

I didn’t want to continuously drive more to the top of the funnel. 

If I could at least have higher quality demos, but way fewer, I just wanted more flexibility.

That’s when we started to talk about moving our goals down the funnel a little bit more.

That way we could have more flexibility in what we do to get to that.

Instead of saying there’s not enough pipeline, more demo requests. 

Mark: Gil was interested. He was fixated on demo requests for the longest time. 

I don’t know if it was because of some of the slides that I’d seen in fundraising decks.

My own take was that it became this new artificial MQL number. 

It was a different metric where you could game it. Putting more at the top of the funnel into it doesn’t mean you’re going to get any more at the bottom of the funnel.

Jason: I think it was a lot of vanity. It was like vanity being able to show investors these charts that stated, “we started at 30 and within four months we were at 200.” 

Imagine trying to keep that trajectory. It goes like an exponential curve to the sky.

I hated that too. You want to be responsible for the pipeline. 

There’s work that has to happen, so you’re‌ going to take some responsibility. I think Gil saw it as us taking on more responsibility.

Building our goals based on the impact we thought it would have on revenue made it a fairly easy shift. It wasn’t sales saying they needed this many demos and us. 

I‌ controlled the demo or the demand model for the entire funnel.

We weren’t being fed data that we didn’t have control over. Then we could let go. 

There was one month or quarter where our demo requests went down, even though we’re still increasing pipeline.  

We started to‌ have algorithms in the demand model. 

What percentage of pipeline’s probably going to push to next quarter? 

We started to bring all these in and use that to lower like our top of funnel. Then putting stuff in the top of the funnel. 

Sometimes it meant we needed fewer demo requests this month than last month, but the opportunities and pipeline are still going up.

That nice chart of every month the demo request goes up, but now it’s started to stagnate and goes all over the place. So it wasn’t as cool anymore. 

In fact since then it’s come down like I think the highest month was probably 400 or somewhere around that. 

How to use leading indicators

Mark: So how do you recommend people look at leading indicators as they’re making this move?

Jason: How we set the goal. There’s a funnel with journey points on the way and it depends on how you’re measuring.

If you’re doing gated content, you’re starting at leads, and then you’re probably going from leads to demo requests.

Then demo requests to qualified demo requests, which is probably your MQL. 

Meetings booked. Meetings held opportunities created stage one all the way through stage five or six. 

These are the key points that we measure. I’ll say before the recession, our math really held and our conversion rates just didn’t change. 

They didn’t fluctuate. A committed deal was a committed deal, and that would be close to a certain rate.

Then we started to see these fluctuations with the recession and our rates kind of getting wonky. Before that it was very linear. The math just worked out. 

Leading indicators we measure at Metadata

Mark: What to be looking for and kind of what to be measuring before they start to see ops and pipeline and revenue. Because I got to show something. 

Jason: We have to use leading indicators because we’re B2B and we have sales cycles. 

If I was B2C, I would get a conversion on the first touch. That’s different. 

I can report on my revenue right now, but because we’ve got three, six month sales cycles.

If we wait for the revenue, then we won’t know we’re going to be optimizing on a six month, a three to six month cycle. Which is not fast enough.

Leading indicators are important for timing of decisions and being able to understand are you pacing right? That’s how we use them. 

All those metrics, the stage opportunities, the meetings, the demo requests, all of that we look at on a daily basis. 

We set these, we look at it in a pacing way. We like to look at those key metrics every single day for a couple reasons. 

We look at them in a pacing way. Imagine that we’re going to straight line the performance through a quarter. 

Let’s say I have a goal, 90 opportunities in a quarter. Great. I know I need to do one a day at least. 

You can pace that out with some math and understand, are you a hundred percent pacing below that? Above that? We have that all the way at demo request. 

In the beginning of a quarter, we know that if these conversion rates hold and the ASP holds. We can deliver what we thought we were three months from now.

It gives you the ability to make quicker decisions and understand what’s working and what’s not. 

Identify patterns faster than you normally would. If you were just like only measuring down funnel. 

That’s the most important thing, especially now. You need to find out what’s working and what’s not as fast as possible.

Looking at these things and understanding when patterns change and then addressing those, that became a really key thing for us. 

Some people might consider measuring your funnel every day overkill. I wouldn’t.

Demand planning in a down economy

Mark: The way we’ve modeled the things that Metadata and the way that most B2B companies’ modeling it are somewhat irrelevant anymore. 

You can’t go off of historical data given what’s going on right now in the onset world.

How are you looking at this these days and how are you looking at it differently than maybe you did before?

Jason: We often try and plan for a common scenario here and then like what’s the worst case scenario that can happen? 

These last two quarters, the market has been our worst case scenario. 

What just happened? Did hell freeze over because we thought we were the most conservative we could possibly be. 

Mark: That got thrown to multiple people in the room saying, “this is the worst case.” What happened? 

Jason: We’re all feeling very worst case scenes. This is what happens and this is how we address it. 

Behaviors are changing so fast, especially in our world.

Marketers budgets are one of the first to get cut. This last quarter, we had deals in commit.

We weighed those really high and we were expecting those to come in. We would have deals that were literally no sign at all of them not closing.

Then two days before the marketer comes to us and says, “my budget just got slashed like today. I had no awareness of it leading into this. No indicators that this was going to  happen all of a sudden, I got handed this today.”

It’s the planning environment right now is ridiculous. Couple of things.

First thing I’m trying to do is to get the data ordered in a way where it doesn’t require us to do like 12x pipeline coverage. No marketer would ever wanna sign up for it. 

It also doesn’t put ourselves in a situation where we hit our goals, but then the company doesn’t meet theirs.

So I’m trying to balance this with our CFO, CEO, head of sales. Last quarter our close rate was, let’s call it abysmal. 

Do we have to use that as a close rate for this quarter? We’re digging into every single one. 

What’s a way that I can set this up so that the company can meet their goals, but then my team can also have some success, meet our goals, get some bonus.

What’s the right balance of that with the best that I know today? It’s really hard. 

If I just had a magic wand— let’s plan for what last quarter was, and let’s have enough money to put that much in the top of the funnel and let’s make this happen.

But we don’t, our budgets also have gone down from last quarter. It’s a delicate balance. 

Again, if I didn’t have as good of data as I have or if I wasn’t as good with the data, these conversations wouldn’t be going as well. 

Then they would have a lack of confidence in us. When they don’t  want more buffers on what your data says.

More buffers means you have to do more work. I think being incredibly buttoned up with data.

If you see something that you think is not going to work for the business, call that out.

It’s not going to work for marketing, but if this is not gonna work for the business, let me be the one to call that out.

Then writing a balance of trying to get the team a bonus and having successes. Yet also making sure the company’s getting what it needs to grow. 

Mark: If you had the answer, then we’d be in a perfect spot right now. 

No one knows what’s going on right now in the economy and especially in B2B software. 

So I think it’ll be helpful for people to hear how you are approaching this in the first place.

Knowing how unpredictable it has been over the last two-ish quarters, three-ish quarters.

Jason: Luckily our CEO and CFO, they acknowledge that shit, this is hard. 

They’re not coming to us screaming. They want us to learn from it.

There’s some understanding of that. Now we do take responsibility for ourselves too, but we’re not saying the whole thing is the economy. 

We’re definitely not. But there’s a part of this that’s the economy, but there’s also parts of this that we can fix and get better at.

There’s acknowledgement that there’s this thing right now and this time that means that we’re not going to be great at forecasting.

Our best advice for moving from MQLs to pipeline and revenue

Mark: Last question for you. Looking back in the three plus years that you’ve been at Metadata. 

Could you do anything over again as you were moving from MQLs to pipeline and revenue? 

Jason: For a fairly long time I wasn’t actually considering an existing pipeline in a future quarter moving pipeline. 

I was just taking the hard number. “Alright sales has a 2 million, let’s say $2 million goal next quarter.”

I was backing that up to exactly what I would have to deliver from an inbound perspective to hit the $2 million. 

Not even really considering, well, what pipeline is already in there or what they push from this quarter to next quarter that they didn’t close. 

That just made us overwork. That might be why we beat our goals several times because we were delivering more pipeline than what sales‌ needed to close to hit their goals. 

It might have been a good thing, but it also required us to like to do more work in marketing. Then try to figure more things out, which is not a bad thing.

But maybe overworked an already small team to really ensure that number was hit. 

Maybe it could have been lower, then we could have worked on other things and made progress on other things.

I thought it was okay because I thought, “We’re pretty immature in our demand model right now.” 

So this is okay, but I was short changing myself and our team basically. 

I’d say that probably one of the things is definitely considering what is the existing pipeline and the stuff that sales is going to push from quarter to quarter.

That is still a real pipeline, especially if you have and this is the second one.

You want to make sure it’s a real pipeline, which I think is a key difference because it’s happened multiple times here. 

Mark: When there are not strict definitions around what an opportunity is and what real pipeline is. 

Fake pipeline is AEs can then push ops into future quarters and it makes it appear as if you have some pipeline to start from.

Or you might even have enough pipeline to start from when in reality it should have never been a pipeline to begin with.

You have to make sure that whatever you are exiting a quarter width, that it’s a real pipeline that you can count on.

And your sales team has scrubbed the shit out of it. Which is something that we still have to do nowadays.

Jason: I still have to remind them, “Hey, clean up your pipeline.” But now they know because we sell them. 

We’re going to base our inbound on whatever is in there. We’re gonna take that out of what we have to deliver.

If you want more inbound, clean that shit up. If you want less, go ahead and leave it in the parking lot.

We’re still dealing with this problem because we don’t even wait for stage one or two at all. We’re looking at the pipeline. 

Now my question to the sales team is: If I can’t wait for this at all, then why are we even in the pipeline?

Then sales doesn’t wait for stage three right now when they’re doing their calculations.

We still need better definitions for the pipeline.

If it’s in stage one, some of those close, and that’s better than a demo request. 

We should be able to wait for them in some way. Right now I can’t wait for them at all because some of this is because of the environmental recession.

If we have better definitions of this, much stricter and consistent, across all AEs of what’s stage one? What’s stage two? 

That would‌ work. We’d be able to associate weights. I think right now it’s a little bit of what each AE thinks is kind of a thing.

Then parking lot issues and like moving things around. We’re still working on that one.

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