As salespeople, we are always trying to find innovative ways and truly out of the box means of growing our sales numbers. Each month, the sales targets may be different but the goal remains the same: to meet and possibly, fly beyond those targets irrespective of the market conditions.

Not surprisingly, sales personnel often find themselves scouting for sales opportunities outside the conventional terrains of the sales department. Most of the times, marketing leads are their first go-to. As a salesperson, you would have a routine habit of running through the web, newspapers, TV, flyers and other media to find out whether there are any profitable marketing opportunities out there.

However, what lies ahead isn’t always a happy ending! Sometimes we find a great marketing lead, whilst at other times we return figuratively empty-handed. And this leads to frustration and ultimately, the dreaded sales burnout.

This gap could easily be bridged if we could filter out the right marketing leads. Identifying one is not that difficult. But more important than the identification is to understand what is a marketing opportunity, sometimes also called a qualified sales lead.

Let’s do some deep diving here.

What is an mql (marketing qualified lead)?

According to popular definition, an mql is a lead that is more likely to convert into sales than other leads or prospects.  When a customer visits your website, your lead intelligence unit can make out whether he is a marketing lead or not, simply by observing which pieces of content he or she has consumed over a period.

marketing qualified lead definition

Let’s expand on the mql meaning.

Let’s say you run a website about the hospitality business. You have a hotel and you want customers, so how do you identify your qualified leads?

When a customer visits your website for the first time, your lead intelligence unit already knows your customer’s content consumption patterns such as travel-related content, deals on airline tickets, hotel reservations, etc. By tracking and thoroughly analyzing their content consumption patterns, your marketing software can determine if there is a high chance of your customer looking keenly at your service.

This customer is a marketing lead.

Let’s look up another meaning, this one is from Tableau:

According to this mql definition, a marketing qualified lead is a prospect which has shown interest in the marketing efforts of an organization. This lead is more likely to convert into a customer than others who might have visited that website.

Like in the earlier example, this lead is deemed to be a qualified one because they have downloaded content that is relevant to the business, subscribed to newsletters, or have added products to their shopping cart.

It seems almost all the sales-oriented websites have a similar definition of mql.

Take for instance the mql meaning from Leadfuze.  ‘A marketing qualified lead (mql) is a lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on leads intelligence based on closed-loop analytics.

Here’s another mql definition. According to Salesfusion, a marketing qualified lead is one that is used for a sales follow-up.

Now that we have understood the meaning of an mql, let’s set out to identifying which one of your leads would qualify as one and which ones would not.

How to identify who is an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead)?

Identifying a qualified marketing lead is critical to your start-up success. Some of these leads will turn out to be your long-term business partners, while others may just be window-shopping your products. Thus, it becomes important to not just estimate the right marketing qualified lead, but also have a pre-determined estimate of the business they may bring. Not to forget: This analysis needs to come with a minimum of time and effort in employment.

Why is that?

Let us understand that with an example of a typical work setting we all find ourselves in.

Time is ticking away and you have to meet your targets. As is with most competitive ventures these days, your company too needs to grow at a fast pace or it would lag behind its competitors and get farther from the leadership position.

In this scenario, not only you have to identify the right marketing qualified leads, you have to do this exercise accurately as well.

It is no longer ok to write yards and yards of content and then hope that everyone who reads it will turn out to be your customer. MQL identification is a science, and the good news is that we are going to share some secrets on this subject here.

Before we move forward, it is vital to define your marketing lead. However, if leads are more fruitful than regular leads, why is there a need to further diversify among them?

It is important to answer this question because no two leads are the same.

define marketing lead

Image Credit: Novsun

Even for two different organizations running within the same industry, one lead (e.g. booking hotel rooms) might be different from another (the category of rooms they want to book – may be looking at a budget room on one website, and a luxurious suite on another). Please note that in both cases, the industry remains the same i.e. hospitality.

Another factor that you may consider while defining your marketing lead is having a fix on the other criteria. This means splicing your raw data store into several subsets like titles (Mr./Mrs), designation, gender, age, income, etc. The clearer your demographics, the more likely are you to put a pin on your prospect and convert them with a more personalized appeal.

You can also check the buying habits of your mqls while evaluating their profitability. One good way to do this is to find out how they engage with your marketing assets.

You can also compare their buying behavior with those of your established customers. This way, you can also identify the next stages of your sales funnel.

Most MQL identification techniques rely upon the customer journey on the business’ websites. However, to not leave any ambiguity behind, let us not ascertain mql to the customer journey alone. Let us identify some of the stuff that marketers look into while evaluating their marketing qualified leads.

Here are some of the accepted ways by which you can identify your marketing qualified leads.

1. Checking historical behavior

If you have a website that gets lots of visitors, some of whom turn into customers, use this data to unearth your customers’ journey. Here, we are including all those who have bought your products or dropped out of the process for various reasons.

For instance, check what percentage of your customers dropped out after reaching the payment stage. How many customers lingered on a particular page of your website?

Did the ‘average time spent’ metric on your website/ page register an abnormal spike from a particular country, city or state?

These are just a few indicators that will tell you about your mqls.

2. Getting customer feedback

Often, visitors leave comments and feedback on the website. While some of them may be spam, there are other comments that will help you improve your site. Some of your visitors will tell you which things need to be fixed, while others will talk about their positive experiences.

This feedback goes a long way in converting disinterested visitors into marketing qualified leads. Because these visitors took the pain to tell you about your product, they can well be called as potential customers.

In terms of identifying mqls, while product-targeted feedback may be more useful, one can not simply ignore content-targeted comments too. For instance, a user commenting on how they liked your article or their take on it, would help you plan out your future content strategies as well.

3. Looking for trends

Another way to identify your mql is to check which pages, ads, links, etc are performing. Some tools like Google Analytics will also tell you which IPs are clicking specific links on your website so you can approach these incipient marketing leads and send them offers.

4. Finding your competitive edge

Some prospects choose you over your competitors. Have you wondered why?

Do a candid analysis of yourself and identify all your positive strengths.  The key here is to be as objective as possible.

what is a marketing qualified lead

Image Credit: Salesfusion

Generally, you can identify your leads when they perform the following actions:

  1. Downloading content

If you have a ‘to do guide’ on your site and lots of people are downloading it, this means you have a ready mass of mqls.

  1. Form filling

Do you have a form on your website that you’d like your customers to fill? If someone is filling it, it means there is a qualified marketing lead.

  1. Trying out product demos

If your product is a bit complicated to use but has installed a product demo on your website, then the number of people trying it is a good indicator of your mql mass.

  1. Submitting personal details like name, e-mail address or telephone number for newsletter subscriptions.
  2. Spending a lot of time on your website also indicates an interest in your services.
  3. Customers visit your site again, and again.
  4. Customers click an ad on your website but don’t follow through
  5. Contacting you to request for more information.

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list; there can be other indicators too that you can use to locate your qualified marketing leads. However, you can be assured that each of the above-mentioned criteria reflects a healthy interest in your business, thus, reflecting a user’s inclination towards becoming your mql.

While we have already discussed that mqls have a high conversion rate and save a lot more time than vague targeting, the million-dollar question is:

Do all Marketing Qualified Leads convert into sales?

Not necessarily. While they are, for sure, more inclined towards your products than other leads, this may not always convert. Some of them change into sales qualified leads and it is essential here to bring out the difference between both these kinds of leads.

Marketing Qualified Lead v/s Sales Qualified Lead (MQL vs SQL)

The success of any B2B cycle depends upon the proportion of marketing leads getting converted into sales. Across marketing organizations, the biggest challenge facing marketers is the kind of leads they are getting. Most marketers believe that quality and not quantity marketing leads result set in business success.

According to statistics, 79% of all marketing leads fail to convert into sales. Another data point says that 84% of all marketers would prefer quality over quantity when it comes to marketing qualified leads.

Another challenge facing sales and marketing professionals is their failure to differentiate between marketing and sales lead. This section attempts to describe the difference between sql and mql.

What’s an sql (sales qualified lead)?

sql means

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In simple words, a sales qualified lead is a prospect that has been vetted by the marketing and sales departments of the company. This lead has gone past the engagement stage and is now ready to buy the company’s products or services.

The definitions of mql and sql often vary from one organization to another. Even within the same organization, the marketing department may have a different meaning of an sql.

It is important for the marketing and sales reps to arrive at a common definition of the sales qualified lead. This way, it helps the sales teams to shorten their sales conversion cycles and achieve their quotas.

Many organizations use lead scoring techniques to identify sales qualified leads. This way, the lead data process becomes objective and there is little room for any friction between the two departments.

Let’s understand this clearly.

Marketing is the process by which we make a consumer aware of our products or services. Brand campaigns are meant to tell the consumer about the quality and the availability of our products or services in the current market scenario.

Sales, on the other hand, aims to make the interested customer buy the product. Sales is the final objective of all organizations. All marketing campaigns are geared to drive sales but the changeover from awareness to buying happens over a period.

Many marketing teams regard website clicks as sales qualified leads, but this is an incorrect assumption. You may like a particular product and click its website but the deeper purpose could be to know more about it. However, this does not take away that a user interested in the product is still a marketing qualified lead!

Merely showing interest by clicking on a banner ad does not demonstrate buying intention. As potential buyers, we may want to know more about the product features like dimensions, benefits, etc.

But what happens when a prospect clicks the website of a company repeatedly? Is he a potential customer?

Of course, it looks like he is interested in buying your product. The more clicks your site records from him, greater is the chance of this person becoming your customer.

This possibility improves further when he downloads a whitepaper from your site.

Many sales leads often factor in the demographics of the website visitor. For example, if there are repeated clicks from a 45-year old man on a site selling insurance, you can assume that this person wants to buy your product.

In B2B settings, the designation of the visitor also plays a leading role in deciding whether he is a sales qualified lead.

There are other factors too that indicate whether that particular lead is an sql. Company size, number of people employed and budget are just a few of the factors that determine how sales friendly a particular lead is in a B2B setup.

Please note that the operative word above is ‘indicate’. A factor that works in one setting might not work in another. Let’s take an example.

Let’s say, your lead intelligence systems show that your website has been visited upon by a VP of a large manufacturing company. You also find out that a Marketing Specialist too has clicked on one of your banners.

You lead scoring systems rank the VP 10 times more than the specialist. So, obviously, going by the conventional wisdom, the VP is a sales qualified lead, right?

But let’s look at the history behind these designations.

Your records say that typically any junior marketing executive clicks your website and later downloads a whitepaper before buying your product. You are now in a fix.

The obvious inference is that you need to give more importance to the Marketing Specialist, even though he doesn’t rank very high in your lead consideration set.

So, the moral of the story here is that marketing qualified and sales qualified leads need to meet on the same page, for the company to register actual gains.

Regardless to say that an sql too can be bettered with the aid of a high-quality mql.

Let us say, your company does a great job at getting the right mqls identified.

Now that you have some high-quality marketing leads in your sales funnel, how do you convert them into serious sales prospects?

The next section discusses this aspect of the sales conversion process.

Tips to nurture marketing qualified leads into sales qualified leads

Many inbound marketing campaigns focus only on top-of-the-funnel prospects.

qualified lead definition

Image Credit: Textbroker

Let’s say you are publishing a travel blog and want people to sign up to your offers. Every day, you see 1000s of visitors on your site, but that’s just the visitors’ traffic.  Days go by, and you are left wondering how many of them will finally become your customers.

At this stage, you are faced by two challenges;

  1. How to move your contacts further down the sales funnel?
  2. At the same time, you also want to get qualified sales leads. You are focusing on the quality stuff.

Here are some great ways by which you can convert your marketing qualified leads into sales qualified leads.

1. Drip Campaigns

One of the most common ways to nurture your marketing leads is through drip campaigns. As the word suggests, this nurturing process is slow and nourishes your contact the same way as small volumes of water does to plants. This is how it works.

  1. Bob visits your website and downloads a whitepaper. He basically wants to know everything that is happening in the industry.
  2. Since he has given out his email id, you reach out to him thanking for the download. In the same e-mail, you provide a link to an e-book that is pretty generic.
  3. Bob probably doesn’t read your e-mail. At this stage, he is still a qualified marketing lead.
  4. A few days later, you send another e-mail to him gently reminding him about your last communication. Bob still doesn’t open your mail.
  5. Next, another communication goes to Bob, this time it has a product demo. You are requesting him to try out this demo. Note: A product that didn’t catch the attention of the user is replaced by a better version that would interest your mql!
  6. Bob clicks to open the demo, and his action is recorded by your lead intelligence unit.
  7. Since Bob has shown interest in opening the demo, he becomes a sales qualified lead and a hot prospect for your company.

In the next stage, you send one of your reps to Bob and try to close the sale.

The above is a simplistic version of how a drip campaign works. Most enterprises use this sales nurturing technique in various ways, for varying durations and employing various indices.

If you are new to the business of generating online sales leads, you could try out the drip campaign technique.

qualified lead campaign definition

Image Credit: EngageBay

2. Newsletters

These can be used to communicate with your active or passive contacts so that they know what all is happening at your end.

Most companies send out newsletters to their contacts but there are a few ground rules to be followed.

The first rule you must follow is to tailor-make your newsletter according to the recipient.

Let’s say, you have 100 different contacts in your e-mail list out of which 40 are at the top of your sales funnel. Out of the rest, 20 are somewhere in the middle while the rest are at the bottom.

Besides the technicality, these leads come from all different industries, demographics and have little in common.

So what’s your newsletter strategy going to be?

You need to write some basic, simple stuff to your top-of-the-funnel ‘customers’. Introduce them to your company, your products, and that’s all.

For the rest, your communication needs to match their buying stages.

The bottom line is that don’t blast the same communication to all your e-mail subscribers. Besides being wasteful, it also alienates your future customers. In this approach, you would need an active CRM with a highly personalized template plethora for you to appeal to each of your leads more personally. EngageBay has all the emailing solutions you need – send out bulk emails without them appearing cliché, and land the lead into the sales funnel .

3. Creating event-based workflows

What happens if no downloads or email subscriptions are happening? How will you nurture a marketing qualified lead in this scenario?

Creating event-based workflows can be one answer. However, executing this strategy is easier said than done. Nevertheless, let us not rule out any potential techniques. Let us understand this strategy.

Suppose you see a visitor checking out a page on your website quite often. He is not downloading any stuff, and neither is he clicking an ad.

It seems he is checking whether any additional information is available on your page that can solve his problem. He is a marketing qualified lead and you want to know what stops him from buying your product.

In this case, you can create a series of events i.e. send emails to him asking for suggestions. Or, you can ask him specific questions about his website experience. This is called the creation of event-based workflows.

An event-based workflow draws out the latent needs of your prospect. However, you need to be very careful while executing this strategy. Sending mails several times to the same prospect while he is visiting your website may irk him and force him to abandon it forever. Moreover, to expect a reply from the user on the very first mail would be too much to ask for! So, the key is moderation and tactic!

4. Smart content strategy

Using smart content is a clever and dynamic strategy to convert your mqls into sales qualified leads.

Every time a user at the top of your funnel executes the desired action, you can show him content appropriate for the middle of the funnel ( downloading an e-book). If he downloads it, show him some other smart content that persuades him to arrive at the bottom of the funnel, e.g, trying out a product demo.

Using a smart content strategy is an advanced way to nurture all your marketing leads and convert them into sales leads.

But how can we determine if a marketing lead is ready for a sales pitch?

When is a marketing qualified lead ready for sales?

Handing an mql to the sales team requires trust and careful planning. It is like passing the baton to your teammate in a relay race. You’ve run fast and beaten your competitor, and now you are preparing to hand over your baton to your mate who is waiting for you a few meters away.

There are several ways of evaluating when an mql becomes a sales qualified lead. Here are a few of them.

a) If a lead is visiting your website several times in a given period, this means he is more likely to be your client than passive visitors. He finds the information provided meaningfully and consumes it repeatedly.

b) A marketing qualified lead is sales-ready if he is filling out your form many times in a given period. This prospect is hot and ready to buy your stuff.

c) If Bob is arriving at the pricing page of your website, it means he is interested in buying your product. Whether the price point is ok for him is a different matter.

On the other hand, a lead that just visits your homepage and drops off is not your sales lead. At best, he is just another marketing qualified lead.

mql meaning

Image Credit: LeadFuze

d) Find out which channel or source is giving you your leads. If yours is an enterprise that deals in software products, then there is a high probability that leads coming from software websites are hot sales leads. Similarly, if you are running ad campaigns on different social media platforms, you could easily get customer insights into how those ads are performing. This would help you plan your future social media campaigns.

While the above criteria tell us generally about qualified sales leads, it is important that sales and marketing folks arrive at some kind of SLAs.

An SLA is a service level agreement that identifies common workflows between two or more partners. In this case, the marketing and sales teams can identify those processes which help in handing over those marketing leads to sales which ultimately become hot sales prospects.

Once you have figured out the lead handling over processes, you will also have to figure out when to hand over those leads to your sales folks. For this, you can use one of the various lead automation tools available in the market. EngageBay is an efficient CRM software that provides seamless lead management tools, click here to try!

Summary

To summarize, a marketing qualified lead is one that is ready to become your customer. Please note that this lead may or may not buy your product in the long run. This lead has passed the primary engagement tests determined by your organization and is ready to be evaluated more.

However, one must also note that an mql may or may not convert into a sales qualified lead. Nearly 79% of all mqls fail to become sqls so it is vital to understand how can we achieve better conversions.

A sales qualified lead is one that is ready for sales conversion. Sql lies at the bottom of the sales funnel stage.

Marketing and sales specialists say there are at least 4 different strategies by which you can convert marketing leads into sales contacts. These are drip campaigns, campaigns based on newsletters, creating event-based workflows and sharing smart content with your website visitors.  However, for different organizations, there may be different methods that work for their respective industries.

The ultimate goal of an mql and an sql is to bring sales and grow business. So, there needs to be a meeting point between the two.

It’s also worthwhile to discover when marketing leads convert into sales leads. For this to happen, sales and marketing guys need to arrive at SLAs so that not just the processes but also the timing of handing over of sales leads is hammered out.