Marketing Qualified Lead: Everything You Need to Know About MQLs

If you‘re a B2B marketer, you‘ve probably heard the term "marketing qualified lead" (MQL) tossed around. But what exactly is an MQL? Why are MQLs important? And how do you define the right criteria for your organization?

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll answer all those questions and more. You‘ll learn:

  • What is a marketing qualified lead?
  • How MQLs differ from other lead types
  • Why focusing on MQLs is critical for B2B success
  • How to define the right MQL criteria for your business
  • Tips for generating more high-quality MQLs

By the end, you‘ll be equipped with the knowledge and strategies to take your MQL generation to the next level. Let‘s dive in!

What Is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead that has indicated a higher likelihood to become a customer compared to other leads based on their demographic information and behavioral engagement with the company‘s marketing content.

MQLs have usually interacted with the company‘s website, content, and offers across multiple touchpoints and demonstrated a certain level of interest. However, they are not yet ready to buy. They still need to be nurtured further down the funnel by marketing and vetted by the sales team before being considered "sales-ready".

MQL Definition

Source: Marketo

The Difference Between MQLs and SQLs

It‘s important to note that MQLs are not the same as sales qualified leads (SQLs). An SQL is a lead that has been accepted by sales as worthy of a direct follow-up. SQLs have expressed clear intent to buy, usually by requesting a sales contact or demo.

All SQLs start as MQLs, but not all MQLs will become SQLs. The distinction is important because it reflects the lead‘s buying stage and the handoff point between marketing and sales.

Here‘s how to think about the difference between MQLs and SQLs:

MQL SQL
Fits demographic/firmographic profile of ideal customer Has authority and budget to purchase
Has demonstrated interest through website and content engagement Has requested sales contact or demo
Requires further nurturing to determine sales-readiness Is sales-ready and in active buying process
May or may not convert to a customer Higher likelihood of converting to a customer

Why Focusing on MQLs Is Critical for B2B Success

Generating high-quality MQLs has a significant impact on key B2B marketing and sales metrics like conversion rates, pipeline velocity, customer acquisition costs, and revenue.

Consider these statistics:

  • Leads that are immediately routed to sales have a 391% higher chance of converting (LeadJen)
  • 80% of new leads never translate into sales, often due to lack of lead nurturing (Marketo)
  • Nurtured leads produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads (DemandGen Report)
  • Organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing have 36% higher customer retention rates and achieved 38% higher sales win rates (MarketingProfs)

By focusing on generating more qualified leads that are properly nurtured, organizations can realize higher conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and a greater return on their marketing investment.

But perhaps more importantly, having a clear definition of an MQL that both marketing and sales agree on is critical for alignment between the two teams. Without that shared understanding, marketing may deliver leads to sales that aren‘t a good fit, while sales may ignore MQLs that actually have potential. Misalignment results in lost productivity, squandered opportunities, and tension between the teams.

Getting the MQL definition and process right sets the foundation for a productive and successful lead generation engine.

How to Define the Right MQL Criteria for Your Business

Every organization has a unique definition of an MQL depending on their ideal customer profile, lead generation tactics, and sales process. However, most companies look at a combination of demographic, firmographic, and behavioral attributes to determine whether a lead is an MQL.

Demographic and Firmographic MQL Criteria

Demographic and firmographic information, like job title, industry, and company size, help determine whether a lead is a good fit for your product or service. For example, a B2B SaaS company selling marketing automation software may define their ideal customer profile as:

  • Marketing director or above
  • Working at a B2B company
  • 200+ employees
  • $50M+ in revenue

Leads that match those demographics would be considered more qualified than those that don‘t. However, demographics alone don‘t tell you how engaged a lead is with your brand. That‘s where behavioral data comes in.

Behavioral MQL Criteria

Behavioral attributes look at how a lead interacts with your website, content, and offers. The more engaged a lead is, the higher their chances of becoming an MQL.

Typical behavioral criteria for MQLs include:

  • Visited key pages on website (pricing, product, etc.)
  • Viewed multiple pieces of content (eBooks, webinars, blog posts)
  • Filled out a form (contact us, demo request, content download)
  • Clicked links in emails
  • Engaged with social media posts
  • Attended an event (virtual or in-person)

The specific behavioral criteria will vary based on the company‘s marketing and sales process. A B2C ecommerce brand may put more weight on product page views and abandoned carts, while a B2B company may prioritize content downloads and demo requests.

Lead Scoring: Automating the MQL Qualification Process

Tracking demographic and behavioral data gets complicated quickly, especially when dealing with hundreds or thousands of leads. That‘s where lead scoring comes in.

Lead scoring is the process of assigning points to leads based on attributes and actions they take. Leads that reach a certain score threshold are flagged as MQLs and get passed to sales.

A typical lead scoring model may look like:

Attribute Points
Visited pricing page +20
Requested a demo +30
Downloaded eBook +10
Opened email +5
Unsubscribed from email -10
Student or consultant title -20

Source: Act-On

Lead scoring ensures an objective and consistent process for determining MQLs. It also saves time for both marketing and sales teams. Marketing doesn‘t have to manually review each lead, while sales knows they‘re getting leads that meet a minimum qualification bar.

Tips for Generating More Marketing Qualified Leads

Now that you understand what MQLs are and how to define them, let‘s look at some tips for generating more MQLs for your business.

1. Develop Targeted Content for Each Buying Stage

Not all leads are at the same stage of the buying journey. Some may just be starting their research, while others may be actively evaluating solutions. Creating targeted content for each stage helps move leads closer to MQL status.

For example, a typical B2B content funnel may include:

  • Top of Funnel (TOFU): Blog posts, infographics, social media posts to attract new leads
  • Middle of Funnel (MOFU): eBooks, webinars, case studies to educate and engage leads
  • Bottom of Funnel (BOFU): Product demos, free trials, sales consultations to convert leads into MQLs and customers

2. Implement Progressive Profiling on Lead Forms

Progressive profiling is a technique where you ask for different information from a lead each time they fill out a form on your website. Instead of asking for all the qualification information upfront, which can hurt conversion rates, you gather it over time.

For example, the first form may only ask for name and email. The next form may ask for company size and industry. Then role, then budget, and so on. Progressive profiling allows you to gradually qualify leads without sacrificing conversion rates.

3. Run Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Campaigns

Account-based marketing is a B2B strategy that focuses marketing and sales efforts on a defined set of target accounts. Instead of broad-based lead generation, ABM calls for personalized outreach to decision-makers at each account.

By targeting high-value accounts that closely match your ideal customer profile, ABM can significantly increase MQL conversion rates and deal size. ABM campaigns often include tactics like:

  • Targeted advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Personalized content
  • Executive events

4. Leverage Lead Nurturing Emails

Not every MQL is ready to talk to sales right away. That‘s where lead nurturing comes in. Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with potential customers by sending targeted emails over time.

Effective lead nurturing emails are timely, relevant, and personalized based on the lead‘s interests and behavior. They may include educational content, product information, case studies, and limited-time offers.

According to Forrester, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost per lead. By keeping MQLs engaged after initial conversion, lead nurturing can be a powerful driver of sales-readiness.

5. Use Chatbots to Qualify Leads

Chatbots are an increasingly popular tool for engaging and qualifying website visitors in real-time. Using natural language processing and machine learning, chatbots can understand a lead‘s intent and guide them to the next best action – whether that‘s providing information, booking a meeting, or connecting them with sales.

Chatbots are also a great way to progressively profile leads without long forms. By asking qualification questions through the chat interface, chatbots can determine if a lead matches your MQL criteria and assign them an appropriate lead score.

Conclusion

Generating high-quality MQLs is a critical component of an effective B2B marketing and sales process. By focusing on leads that are a strong fit for your product and likely to convert, you can significantly improve key metrics like conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, and revenue.

But it all starts with having a clear definition of an MQL that both marketing and sales agree on. Taking the time to establish your ideal customer profile and engagement criteria lays the foundation for more productive lead generation and follow-up.

From there, it‘s about creating targeted content for each stage of the funnel, leveraging lead nurturing and progressive profiling to move leads down the funnel, and exploring account-based marketing for high-value leads.

By putting these strategies into practice and continually optimizing your processes, you can generate a steady stream of sales-ready MQLs that fuel business growth. The key is to stay focused on quality over quantity and to always keep the customer‘s needs at the center of your efforts.