Imagine someone has shown interest in your brand by browsing your website and filling out an online form. Some marketing teams would treat that person like any other potential customer who lands on your site—but that’s a huge mistake.
Consumers who explicitly express interest in your brand are worth more time and effort than someone who casually clicks on a social media ad. So, if your team doesn't understand what a marketing qualified lead (MQL) is and how it fits into the sales pipeline, they’ll likely miss opportunities to nurture high-value leads.
Help your marketing department build a deep understanding of MQLs so they can easily recognize worthwhile leads and encourage more conversions.
What is an MQL?
An MQL is a marketing qualified lead, or someone who has shown interest in your company’s product or service. They might have signed up for your company’s email list, followed you on Instagram, spent a lot of time on your site, or downloaded a free resource. (There’s no set of definitive criteria for an MQL, so the exact definition can vary from company to company.)
Although MQLs aren’t quite sales-ready, they’ve taken actions that indicate they’ll likely make a purchase eventually—making them the perfect candidate to receive more marketing collateral. These resources will help your team move MQLs through the sales pipeline as they gain more knowledge about your products or services.
MQL vs. SQL: What’s the difference?
An MQL is a marketing qualified lead, and an SQL is a sales qualified lead. The main difference between MQLs and SQLs is their location in your sales funnel.
An MQL has moved past the awareness stage at the top of the funnel and is currently in the interest stage. An SQL has already gone through the awareness and interest phases and has entered the decision section of the funnel.
Consumers become SQLs when they show an intent to buy. For example, an SQL may have visited your product’s pricing page or even put an item in their shopping cart. They might have also requested a consultation with a sales agent. When a lead becomes an SQL, it’s time for your sales reps to approach them and nudge them to the next stage of the customer journey.
MQLs have indicated interest in your product or service but aren't necessarily ready to buy. Instead, they’re more likely to have browsed your website or downloaded a free ebook with information about your company’s product or industry. In that case, it’s time to send them more content and materials about your product or service and how it can help them solve their problems. The idea is to maintain their interest and engagement until they become a customer.
How do MQLs vary across industries?
The ways in which MQLs show interest in a brand differs slightly from industry to industry.
For a B2C company, an MQL is a consumer who might have:
- Browsed your company’s website and viewed the products you sell
- Followed your social media pages and liked some of your company’s posts
- Created a wishlist of products they’re interested in purchasing
With a B2B company, an MQL is a representative for a business and is looking to purchase a product for their business. This person may have:
- Filled out a form and asked to receive more information
- Downloaded gated content with details about how your product could help their business
- Requested a free demo
- Signed up for a webinar
All these activities indicate that the potential customer has a genuine interest in your company—they just haven’t gone so far as to add items to their shopping cart or view pricing pages yet. So, it’s time for your marketing team to start planning the best way to approach and nurture these leads.
How to identify MQLs
Every business will approach MQLs differently, but there are standard steps you can take to spot MQLs, manage them effectively, move them to the next stage of the sales pipeline, and turn them into loyal customers—no matter your company size. Using clear criteria, connecting teams, and using the right software will allow you to minimize confusion and maximize conversions.
1. Establish clear MQL criteria
Generally, marketers are responsible for identifying quality leads and setting MQL criteria. For your business, an MQL might be someone who opens an email or fills out an online form. Perhaps it’s a person who clicks on multiple calls to action (CTAs) or interacts with a social media post.
Whatever your criteria, make sure the marketing team communicates these requirements to other departments—especially sales. They may have feedback on what signals a promising lead based on what they’ve observed when winning (or losing) customers.
Once you’ve settled on the criteria, create a lead scoring system to determine whether or not each lead is an MQL. Lead scoring programs help, too. This process generally involves giving every lead a numerical score based on certain behaviors or data points. It will help your marketers see if their efforts are paying off and adjust their strategy accordingly. For example, if a lead continues to move down the sales funnel after receiving marketing materials, you’ll know your team’s outreach is working.
2. Align your marketing and sales teams
Your marketing team will want to work hand in glove with your sales team. Marketing can’t identify high-quality MQLs without the help of sales, and sales agents can’t convert MQLs without the help of marketers. So, it’s critical for these teams to align on goals and communicate often.
In addition to agreeing on the MQL criteria, marketers and sales agents must collaborate on building a standardized approach for nurturing leads throughout the funnel. They’ll also need to determine which team is responsible for specific tasks at each stage. That way, there won’t be confusion. Everyone will know exactly when to execute a handoff or send a follow-up email, for instance.
Sales reps and marketers should also share data that informs what generates a high-value lead. For example, the sales team might share with your marketing team that Facebook leads tend to convert. Your marketing team, meanwhile, may share that a campaign promoting a certain product feature was very popular, so sales agents will know to emphasize that feature in their pitches.
3. Use a CRM
A customer relationship management (CRM) tool will help you manage interactions with MQLs so you can better understand where they are in the pipeline, what’s working, and how to prioritize ongoing communication.
With a CRM, marketing and sales teams can:
- Receive instant notifications when a lead interacts with your company or moves down the sales funnel. A CRM keeps leads from falling through the cracks, so marketers and sales agents don’t miss valuable opportunities.
- Route leads to the appropriate marketing or sales team member based on unique information about the leads, such as their location, industry, or interests.
- Save essential details about interactions with leads, like which marketing or sales rep they spoke with last and what they discussed. With this context in your CRM, an MQL never has to repeat themselves and will likely feel seen and understood by your company.
- See when an MQL becomes an SQL (or is close to becoming one). Your team will automatically receive a note when an MQL meets certain criteria.
A powerful CRM system takes your company’s lead management abilities to another level, making it easier for your teams to juggle various tasks, track a large number of MQLs, and move those leads down the sales pipeline.
Understanding MQLs will help you turn them into SQLs
Identifying an MQL doesn’t guarantee a sale, but it does put you in a stronger position to convince and convert. Instead of spending equal effort on all potential customers, your marketing team can devote extra time and attention to high-value leads who are likely to become loyal customers.
Speak to MQLs’ needs and interests with your marketing initiatives, and these leads will be well on their way to becoming SQLs.