How We Discarded MQLs and Embraced Dark Social

Arthur Castillo
August 31, 2022
min to read

Your marketing funnel has changed. And the future... is dark. See how Chili Piper said good-bye to MQLs — while continuing to drive pipeline.

How We Discarded MQLs and Embraced Dark Social

Arthur Castillo
August 31, 2022
min to read

Your marketing funnel has changed. And the future... is dark. See how Chili Piper said good-bye to MQLs — while continuing to drive pipeline.

People aren’t buying products the way they used to.

And it’s largely because people aren’t connecting the way they used to. 

Back in the olden days of the early 2010s, professionals maybe connected with their peers once per year at in-person events.

Now, people have access to their peers pretty much instantly. 

Need advice about what type of scheduling software to purchase? 

All you have to do is post something on LinkedIn. Ping your Slack community. Ask your Facebook group. Post on a marketing subreddit. 

It’s never been easier to get unbiased (and basically immediate) advice from a large community of your peers. 

For marketers… it means everything we thought we knew about the marketing funnel is wrong. 

MQLs are broken

According to the ancient marketing philosophers, buyers begin their journey at the awareness stage.

The traditional marketing funnel is broken.
Source: Skyword

As they consume more content, they move further down the funnel, until they reach the “intent” stage and become a Marketing Qualified Lead. At this point, marketing hands the lead off to sales and pats themselves on the back for a job well done.

This method was all well and good when sales relied on marketing to curate lists of potential buyers. 

Now, a quick subscription to contact databases like ZoomInfo gives them access to more contact information than they could have ever imagined.

The new marketing funnel is dark

A few weeks ago, one of our Chili Champions reached out to me, asking if a certain company had engaged with Chili Piper. 

I checked. They had: Closed Lost.

Our champion said she’d talk to the VP of Sales and would make him buy Chili Piper. 

I thought, “That’s a pretty big claim, but OK.”

A week later, that VP of Sales schedules a demo. And then signs the contract within a week. 

What?? 🤯🤯

But this is happening all the time. 

Maybe it's because people don’t really trust brands anymore, but they definitely trust their friends, families, and peers. According to Nielson, 92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth or recommendations above all other forms of advertising.

How marketing teams can adapt to the dark age 

People aren’t going through your marketing funnel in a neat and orderly fashion — they’re hearing about you from all over the place. 

The dark funnel
Source: The F Company

But just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean you can’t optimize for it. 

Here are our favorite tips for marketing teams who are ready to leave everything they know behind and embrace the age of dark social: 

1. Optimize for Inbound Leads Exclusively 

In the age of dark social, marketing teams should focus on evoking curiosity and building demand. 

That means you shouldn’t focus on: 

  • Collecting email addresses
  • Nurturing leads
  • Creating gated content

Instead, you should focus on things like…

  • Creating content that’s actually interesting (and ungated)
  • Building community on social media (not having a monologue)
  • Testing your messaging so it actually resonates with your buyers (at Chili Piper, we use Wynter and our Customer Advisory Board)
  • Co-collaborating with other marketing teams and communities 
  • Gathering user reviews from happy customers
  • Etc, etc, etc

Basically, anything that gets people so curious about you they decide to type your name into Google and see what you’re all about. 

And, eventually, schedule a demo.

“Marketing’s primary job is to CREATE DEMAND. And the best way to create demand is in dark social. 84% of Refine Lab’s pipeline currently comes from the four core dark social categories — social media, content platforms (podcast), communities, and word of mouth.”
-Chris Walker, CEO at Refine Labs

2. Focus on the money

If marketing teams are judged based on how many MQLs they deliver to sales, guess what?

They’re going to focus on delivering MQLs to sales. 

Instead, marketing goals should be tied to an actual revenue number. 

At Chili Piper, we measure marketing goals based on: 

  • Qualified Meetings Held: Meetings that prospects have booked with sales (and actually showed up to)
  • Qualified Pipeline: Leads that have already spoken to sales, and sales has determined is ready to have a serious buying conversation 
  • Closed Won: 🤑🤑🤑

Because if marketing isn’t tied to actual revenue generated, they’re chasing the wrong number.

“If you’re a marketing leader that’s not reporting on a pipeline number or revenue number, you do not have a seat at the table”
-Kyle Lacy, Marketing Leader

3. Educate Buyers 

70% of the buyer’s journey happens before a prospect reaches out to sales. 

That means there should be enough information on your website for buyers to educate themselves on your product. 

By the time they talk to sales, they should already have a pretty good idea of what your product does. They’re just talking to sales to see how it fits their specific use case and if your company has solved similar challenges for others like them

When they finally raise their hand to talk to sales, they already know what your product does — but what will it do for them?

4. Take social seriously

Many B2B marketing teams make the mistake of ignoring social media because they can’t attribute any leads coming from social. 

“None of your buyers woke up, Googled you and decided to buy.”
-David Blinov, Partner at The F Company

But that’s what dark social is all about: People are talking about you in places you can’t hear them. 

And using social media to show the world what kind of company you are, in a fun way, is key.

On Chili Piper's LinkedIn, we posted: "Sometimes, we get comments that make us smile Like this one we got today." : From now own, whenever someone asks me what my ideal B2B demand gen strat would look like in practice, I'm just going to show them chilipiper."

5. Get involved in communities

At Chili Piper, we’re super involved in communities.

Special shout out to *deep breath in* 

Sales Assembly, MarketingOps.com, RevGenius, M2, JB Sales, Marketing Millennials, Wizard of Ops, Women in Sales, and Modern Sales Pros …phew.

Here are a few tips we have: 

Be part of the conversation 

I set up Slack keywords for “Chili Piper” and “Scheduling”.

That way, every time one of those keywords is mentioned, I’ll get pinged. Now, I can type something up myself, but we’ve found something more effective.

I can tag a Chili Champion within the community for them to share their thoughts on a relevant thread. Your customers are your best sales reps and are much more credible than if I shared my (biased) opinion on Chili Piper.

Which leads me to my second tip… 

Know who is in your community 

Which of your product champions are already part of the community?

Start a conversation with them and see if they’d be willing to go to bat for you whenever your product comes up. 

Treat communities like a partnership 

At Chili Piper, we don’t partner with communities that we don’t vibe with. 

When we partner with communities, we want to help them as much as they help us. 

Of course, we’ll participate in their events, webinars, AMAs, and other community-building activities

But we’ll also encourage them to get involved in all the things happening at Chili Piper — so we can use our network to help them build their membership! 

Don’t let the future pass you by

If you’re still gating content and sending contact lists to sales… it might be time for a change.

Everything that we used to call “lead nurturing” is now happening in the dark. 

And it’s safe to say that most people aren’t ready to talk to sales until they’ve raised their hand and said, “OK, I want to talk to sales.”

The next step in that process is making it ridiculously easy to talk to sales as soon as they do raise their hand. 

If you want prospects to be able to schedule time with sales, immediately after submitting your demo form, check out Chili Piper 🌶️. 

You’ll probably double your inbound conversion rate.

People aren’t buying products the way they used to.

And it’s largely because people aren’t connecting the way they used to. 

Back in the olden days of the early 2010s, professionals maybe connected with their peers once per year at in-person events.

Now, people have access to their peers pretty much instantly. 

Need advice about what type of scheduling software to purchase? 

All you have to do is post something on LinkedIn. Ping your Slack community. Ask your Facebook group. Post on a marketing subreddit. 

It’s never been easier to get unbiased (and basically immediate) advice from a large community of your peers. 

For marketers… it means everything we thought we knew about the marketing funnel is wrong. 

MQLs are broken

According to the ancient marketing philosophers, buyers begin their journey at the awareness stage.

The traditional marketing funnel is broken.
Source: Skyword

As they consume more content, they move further down the funnel, until they reach the “intent” stage and become a Marketing Qualified Lead. At this point, marketing hands the lead off to sales and pats themselves on the back for a job well done.

This method was all well and good when sales relied on marketing to curate lists of potential buyers. 

Now, a quick subscription to contact databases like ZoomInfo gives them access to more contact information than they could have ever imagined.

The new marketing funnel is dark

A few weeks ago, one of our Chili Champions reached out to me, asking if a certain company had engaged with Chili Piper. 

I checked. They had: Closed Lost.

Our champion said she’d talk to the VP of Sales and would make him buy Chili Piper. 

I thought, “That’s a pretty big claim, but OK.”

A week later, that VP of Sales schedules a demo. And then signs the contract within a week. 

What?? 🤯🤯

But this is happening all the time. 

Maybe it's because people don’t really trust brands anymore, but they definitely trust their friends, families, and peers. According to Nielson, 92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth or recommendations above all other forms of advertising.

How marketing teams can adapt to the dark age 

People aren’t going through your marketing funnel in a neat and orderly fashion — they’re hearing about you from all over the place. 

The dark funnel
Source: The F Company

But just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean you can’t optimize for it. 

Here are our favorite tips for marketing teams who are ready to leave everything they know behind and embrace the age of dark social: 

1. Optimize for Inbound Leads Exclusively 

In the age of dark social, marketing teams should focus on evoking curiosity and building demand. 

That means you shouldn’t focus on: 

  • Collecting email addresses
  • Nurturing leads
  • Creating gated content

Instead, you should focus on things like…

  • Creating content that’s actually interesting (and ungated)
  • Building community on social media (not having a monologue)
  • Testing your messaging so it actually resonates with your buyers (at Chili Piper, we use Wynter and our Customer Advisory Board)
  • Co-collaborating with other marketing teams and communities 
  • Gathering user reviews from happy customers
  • Etc, etc, etc

Basically, anything that gets people so curious about you they decide to type your name into Google and see what you’re all about. 

And, eventually, schedule a demo.

“Marketing’s primary job is to CREATE DEMAND. And the best way to create demand is in dark social. 84% of Refine Lab’s pipeline currently comes from the four core dark social categories — social media, content platforms (podcast), communities, and word of mouth.”
-Chris Walker, CEO at Refine Labs

2. Focus on the money

If marketing teams are judged based on how many MQLs they deliver to sales, guess what?

They’re going to focus on delivering MQLs to sales. 

Instead, marketing goals should be tied to an actual revenue number. 

At Chili Piper, we measure marketing goals based on: 

  • Qualified Meetings Held: Meetings that prospects have booked with sales (and actually showed up to)
  • Qualified Pipeline: Leads that have already spoken to sales, and sales has determined is ready to have a serious buying conversation 
  • Closed Won: 🤑🤑🤑

Because if marketing isn’t tied to actual revenue generated, they’re chasing the wrong number.

“If you’re a marketing leader that’s not reporting on a pipeline number or revenue number, you do not have a seat at the table”
-Kyle Lacy, Marketing Leader

3. Educate Buyers 

70% of the buyer’s journey happens before a prospect reaches out to sales. 

That means there should be enough information on your website for buyers to educate themselves on your product. 

By the time they talk to sales, they should already have a pretty good idea of what your product does. They’re just talking to sales to see how it fits their specific use case and if your company has solved similar challenges for others like them

When they finally raise their hand to talk to sales, they already know what your product does — but what will it do for them?

4. Take social seriously

Many B2B marketing teams make the mistake of ignoring social media because they can’t attribute any leads coming from social. 

“None of your buyers woke up, Googled you and decided to buy.”
-David Blinov, Partner at The F Company

But that’s what dark social is all about: People are talking about you in places you can’t hear them. 

And using social media to show the world what kind of company you are, in a fun way, is key.

On Chili Piper's LinkedIn, we posted: "Sometimes, we get comments that make us smile Like this one we got today." : From now own, whenever someone asks me what my ideal B2B demand gen strat would look like in practice, I'm just going to show them chilipiper."

5. Get involved in communities

At Chili Piper, we’re super involved in communities.

Special shout out to *deep breath in* 

Sales Assembly, MarketingOps.com, RevGenius, M2, JB Sales, Marketing Millennials, Wizard of Ops, Women in Sales, and Modern Sales Pros …phew.

Here are a few tips we have: 

Be part of the conversation 

I set up Slack keywords for “Chili Piper” and “Scheduling”.

That way, every time one of those keywords is mentioned, I’ll get pinged. Now, I can type something up myself, but we’ve found something more effective.

I can tag a Chili Champion within the community for them to share their thoughts on a relevant thread. Your customers are your best sales reps and are much more credible than if I shared my (biased) opinion on Chili Piper.

Which leads me to my second tip… 

Know who is in your community 

Which of your product champions are already part of the community?

Start a conversation with them and see if they’d be willing to go to bat for you whenever your product comes up. 

Treat communities like a partnership 

At Chili Piper, we don’t partner with communities that we don’t vibe with. 

When we partner with communities, we want to help them as much as they help us. 

Of course, we’ll participate in their events, webinars, AMAs, and other community-building activities

But we’ll also encourage them to get involved in all the things happening at Chili Piper — so we can use our network to help them build their membership! 

Don’t let the future pass you by

If you’re still gating content and sending contact lists to sales… it might be time for a change.

Everything that we used to call “lead nurturing” is now happening in the dark. 

And it’s safe to say that most people aren’t ready to talk to sales until they’ve raised their hand and said, “OK, I want to talk to sales.”

The next step in that process is making it ridiculously easy to talk to sales as soon as they do raise their hand. 

If you want prospects to be able to schedule time with sales, immediately after submitting your demo form, check out Chili Piper 🌶️. 

You’ll probably double your inbound conversion rate.

Arthur Castillo

Arthur Castillo currently heads Dark Social & Enangelism at Chili Piper, where he recently transitioned as one of the top performing Account Executives. He brings a unique view to marketing with his 7+ years in sales and is on a mission to blur the lines between sales and marketing. Based in Toronto, Canada, in his spare time you can catch him watching NFL or soccer, playing fantasy football, and looking to improve his chess game!

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