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Marketing Qualified Leads: A Crash Course on MQLs

Your business’ demand generation efforts could bring in all sorts of traffic to your website.

It can be difficult to distinguish the tire-kickers from those with a legitimate interest in the products and services you offer. 

And no business wants to waste time and resources chasing prospects that are unlikely to convert. That’s why it’s important to have a lead qualification process in place. 

Part of that process is understanding the two main types of leads, commonly referred to as marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL). 

Of course, you may use different terminology or have a completely different qualification process for your business. But generally speaking, there are leads that are primed and ready to go and those that are not. 

We’re going to focus on the latter, and we’ll refer to them as marketing qualified leads. We’ll define what a marketing qualified lead is, how to develop MQL criteria, and why marketing and sales should work together to define MQL for your business. 

Let’s get started.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead? 

A marketing qualified lead is a lead who has taken a specific action that demonstrates an interest in the services or solutions you provide. 

For example, say you’re browsing an online custom furniture store. You explore the entire virtual showroom — case goods, dining tables, home accessories — pausing to zoom in on images of several couches along the way. You download a spec sheet for a sectional couch that might fit perfectly in your newly remodeled basement.

But at this point, you don’t click on the design center tab to view or order color and fabric samples. And you don’t engage with the chatbot that offered to connect you with a sales associate.  

Downloading the spec sheet indicates you are interested in the product and could potentially become a customer but you’re not quite ready to make a purchase. You’ve likely met the business’ criteria for a marketing qualified lead.

Here are some examples you might encounter in your business.

Marketing Qualified Lead Examples

What constitutes a marketing qualified lead is different for every business. For B2B and B2C brands, a website visitor may need to engage in one or more of the following actions to be considered an MQL. Engaging in multiple actions may indicate the lead is ready to speak to a salesperson. 

Here are some MQL examples:

  • Joining your email list
  • Visiting your site repeatedly
  • Accessing multiple pages
  • Taking a self-guided demo
  • Signing up for a webinar
  • Downloading white papers, ebooks, or other marketing assets
  • Requesting more information
  • Adding items to a wishlist
  • Completing an online form
  • Engaging with a chatbot
  • Clicking on a social media ad to access your site

These are the common ways a visitor can demonstrate an interest in your services or solutions. But they can also be the actions of tire-kickers or people that are just interested in your industry — heck, it could be someone writing a blog post or a customer trying to find your phone number!

Still, it is important for your business to determine what behaviors or actions must be taken for a lead to be considered an MQL — unless of course, you send all leads directly to sales.

How to Develop Your Business’ MQL Criteria

Developing your unique MQL criteria starts with examining your customers’ journey, which means paying attention to the behaviors of leads that actually converted. 

Creating a complete picture of that very first interaction through the completed sale will help your business determine what qualifies as an MQL. With that in mind, you’ll be able to allocate additional marketing — and eventually, sales resources — where they’re most needed. Here’s how to get started.

  • Examine demographic data: Which companies, job titles, locations, etc., make up your customer base? 
  • Leverage analytics: What do converted leads have in common? Which marketing assets were most associated with conversions? How did leads find your site and what was their behavior within it?  
  • Evaluate lead scoring: Does your scoring method reflect which leads became customers and which did not? 
  • Gather customer feedback: Why didn’t certain prospects convert? What pushed others over the finish line? How can you use that to improve your sales and marketing processes? 

It is important that marketing and sales develop these criteria together.

Why Defining MQL Must Be a Team Effort

Businesses generate more revenue when marketing and sales are aligned and working together in harmony. So of course, defining what qualifies as an MQL should be a joint effort. 

If there’s no consensus, sales won’t know what they’re getting from marketing. One rep might be handed a lead too early and turn them off with a premature sales pitch while another might get a lead too late and miss out on a legitimate opportunity. 

These scenarios could explain why one survey revealed 49% of sales reps ignored over half of marketing-provided leads. Every time sales go after the wrong lead, it is a loss of time, resources, opportunities, and revenue. The more unqualified leads that are sent to sales the more likely they are to ignore most MQLs and potentially miss out on qualified leads. 

But if you define MQL criteria together, you’ll increase the likelihood that sales will accept those leads enthusiastically. You’ll weed out all those tire-kickers too.

And sales reps can focus their efforts on leads that have the best chance of converting.

What Happens Next with Marketing Qualified Leads

Track running athlete handing off relay baton to another track runner - GIF by Valparaiso University

In a standard sales funnel, the next stage for an MQL is to become a sales accepted lead (SAL). A marketing qualified lead becomes an SAL when the lead has met the agreed-upon criteria outlined in a service-level agreement (SLA).  

However, the SAL stage is often skipped by businesses. In your sales funnel, you might want the MQL to go straight to the sales team for further qualification. From here, the lead may become a sales qualified lead (SQL) or a disqualified lead.  

Ultimately, what happens next for an MQL really depends on how your sales funnel is structured.

About the Author

Amy is an experienced professional writer specializing in blog content related to digital marketing and B2B SaaS. When she isn't writing, she's exploring Colorado's mountains or amusing herself by finding new ways to embarrass her teenage daughters.

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