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B2B Marketers’ Shift From MQLs To Revenue Requires A Top-Funnel Makeover

1Scott VaughanA growing number of CMOs are shifting their demand marketers’ focus. Simply generating MQLs (marketing qualified leads) is no longer enough. B2B marketing executives are now emphasizing down-funnel efforts that convert prospects to new customers and cross- or up-sell solutions to current customers. And, to be clear, these are not marketing technology vendors with the marketing-driven revenue slogans we have heard for the last several years. This mandate is coming directly from the C-suite.

According to Gerry Murray at IDC Research, B2B marketing's budget is on the brink of a major overhaul: “Historically, nearly 50% of a tech company’s marketing program budget is spent on awareness,” he said. “However, CMOs are driving funds out of the traditional (but vague) job of ‘awareness building’ to jobs later in the buyer's journey.”

This reallocation of marketing budget screams, “Stop spending so much effort on top-of-funnel marketing programs, just generating MQLs that sit idly in the database waiting for attention.” It’s time for a real makeover. CMOs must balance the precious time, budget and resources now spent on top-funnel lead gen with lower-funnel initiatives that convert prospects to customers and increase lifetime value of existing customers.

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That’s easier said than done. Branding the business and generating new, viable leads that fit buyer and/or account profiles will always remain critical—you can’t convert prospects to customers if you don’t have any prospects to start with. And unfortunately, most B2B brands’ databases are not full of contacts and the numerous types of correlated data needed to convert contacts to sales pipeline, let alone customers.

Even the promise of account-based marketing (ABM)—designed to increase sales and marketing efficiency—requires marketers to continually discover and identify new leads among target-account buying committees.

If the demand marketing machine is to work, generating leads should not and cannot go away. So, the question is—How do demand marketers scale pipeline using fewer resources?

First, top-funnel processes must become far more efficient—there’s no reason highly educated and skilled marketers should be spending their days manually managing one-off campaigns and scrubbing and processing lead files. Secondly, these top-funnel efforts, which historically have remained removed from the more automated, lower-funnel nurturing initiatives, must become integrated with down-funnel processes, data and tech for a seamless customer journey.

This strategy shift requires tremendous discipline and a commitment to changing legacy habits and entrenched inefficient processes. To support this transition, marketers are stealing a page from what they’re doing with marketing automation for lead qualification and CRM for managing the customer life cycle. They’re applying process-automating tools, connecting systems, improving data quality and deploying analytics at the top of the funnel.

Fixing The Top-Funnel Inefficiencies To Focus On Lower-Funnel Strategy

Top-of-funnel marketing involves an increasing number of channels, data sources and systems that are typically disconnected and require multiple manual processes to execute. These efforts are resource-intensive and difficult to measure. Launching, managing and identifying the right mix of channels (search, content syndication, events), content and targets drains time and budget.

Another, less recognized byproduct is the negative effects this top-funnel chaos has on marketing team morale. Most marketers didn’t go to college just to scrub spreadsheets, format files, fix bad data or piece together multiple data files into a dashboard. This is contributing to turnover in marketing departments, draining resources and hindering progress even further.

By automating campaign management, lead routing and data processing, and implementing closed-loop analytics (via integrations with marketing automation and CRM), marketers streamline resources required to execute top-funnel programs. Further, top-funnel program automation boosts funnel velocity, leading to greater conversions that scale sales pipeline. Most importantly, it enables marketers to focus their efforts on more strategic, buyer-centric initiatives down the funnel that result in more customers and marketing-attributed revenue.

Increasing lead volume alone won’t cut it for B2B marketers any more. CMOs are putting the brakes on throwing more resources at campaigns designed to simply generate MQLs—they’re looking at the big picture, the entire funnel. A smart way to get started is by automating one-off, manual processes required for top-of-the-funnel lead generation. The time and resources saved can then be re-deployed for greater impact, leveraging the team’s analytical skills and creative abilities to devise and execute more precise, cross-channel marketing programs that translate directly to new customers and increased lifetime value from existing customers.


Scott Vaughan is the CMO of Integrate, a cloud-based, closed-loop marketing software provider. He leads the company's go-to market and marketing strategy focused on serving its growing customer base. Prior to Integrate, Vaughan was the CMO of UBM. His experience and passion is focused on unlocking the potential of marketing, media and technology to drive business and customer value.