OPINION: Rethinking B2B Marketing – Moving Beyond the MQL Vortex

Posted on by Abdul Rastagar

A dichotomy has emerged between traditional B2B marketing practices and the modern, strategic methodologies necessary for success. The traditional models—often characterized by a strong focus on attribution and MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads)—represent a bygone era that typically leads to a high volume of low-quality leads with poor conversion rates. This approach, popularized in the early 2010s, is largely ineffective in today’s sophisticated market environment.

In recent years, there has been a transformational shift in power from seller to buyer which requires a reimagined and modern approach to marketing. The modern buyer’s journey is complex and multi-faceted, involving numerous digital and offline interactions that typically carry out over many months and are often entirely invisible to the business. It is furthermore complicated by large buying groups and the increasing presence of external influencers.

That’s why B2B marketing requires a shift towards practices that emphasize a sustained, long-term focus on authentic customer education, demand creation, brand development, competitive differentiation, transparency and customer-centric selling processes. These elements are critical for leveraging the power of word-of-mouth, building community and navigating the complexities of dark social.

The persistence of outdated methods across both startups and established organizations often leads to attempts at quick fixes (“run more digital ads and webinars”) and the ability to track leads (i.e. the attribution “hamster wheel”). Instead, the new marketing paradigm demands a more strategic approach. Companies must focus on ongoing and meaningful customer engagement while also accepting that they have less visibility in the dark social marketplace.

The Path Forward

In light of these challenges, B2B companies must overhaul their go-to-market strategies. Instead of relying on outdated lead generation tactics like cold-calling, heavy digital advertising, gated content and hidden pricing, firms must focus on engaging potential customers through genuine educational content, transparency and strategic nurturing that aligns with the buyers’ actual journey and creates a better experience.

Such engagement is more likely to cultivate interest and trust in a company, reflecting an understanding of the B2B buyer’s challenges and how the solution can address them. And it is more likely to lead to meaningful conversions, faster sales cycles and higher win rates.

Dark Social: An Impediment to Attribution

Furthermore, the traditional reliance on simple attribution models is increasingly untenable in an era dominated by dark social. The untraceable sharing of content through private channels, such as communities, apps and various digital channels and word-of-mouth avenues, complicate the ability to track how customer interactions lead to sales.

In light of this, companies should shift their focus away from the attribution hamster wheel and the MQL vortex that attempts to trace every customer interaction to evaluating the overall impact of their marketing efforts on revenue growth and customer engagement. After all, who cares about the first-touch attribution when what matters is the cumulative effect of many different touchpoints with multiple people in the buying group over an extended period of time?

As the B2B marketplace continues to evolve, companies must also learn to prioritize transparency and reduce the friction involved in the customer acquisition process, as well as become generous in making their content and their executives available. Here are ways in which leading-edge companies accomplish this:

  1. Ungate content (i.e. no requirement for customers to fill out form fields)
  2. Be upfront about pricing packages directly on their website
  3. Find ways to make reference customers freely available
  4. Educate on industry problems rather than their own products
  5. Host regular expert podcasts or live learning sessions
  6. Expect executives to regularly post on relevant social media
  7. Nurture and encourage employee advocacy
  8. Invest in ongoing brand development
  9. Prioritize high-intent customers over cold sales efforts
  10. Collaborate with industry influencers and key opinion leaders
  11. Dedicate a sizeable marketing effort on educating “not-in-market” customers

The above practical steps require that marketing organizations spend less time worrying about attribution and instead embrace dark social buying behavior. This helps build trust and reduce the effort required by the buyer to understand the offering when they are ready to purchase.

Embracing B2B Complexity

Market leaders recognize the extended nature of the B2B sales cycle. This often involves multiple decision-makers and a series of evaluations and approvals. Understanding and accommodating this complexity, rather than attempting to force the customer to accelerate the process, is key to success. Increasingly, forward-looking leaders question the old marketing playbook that is solely focused on demand capture. Rather than chasing leads and going down the MQL vortex, they’re focusing on extended demand creation, customer referencing and brand development.

The need for a paradigm shift in B2B marketing is clear. Companies that cling to outdated models will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The future belongs to those who embrace a modern, transparent and customer-centric marketing strategy. This effort should focus on creating genuine demand and building long-term relationships with customers, rather than pursuing short-term gains through ineffective and outdated tactics.

Abdul Rastagar is Head of Marketing at Lexitas Pharma Services.


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