All You Need to Know About Getting Marketing Qualified Leads Right

Kasia Kowalska and Ania Rubkiewicz
10 min read
Nov 10, 2023
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As a marketer, I know that sometimes it’s hard to decide when a marketing qualified lead should be passed on to sales. Unsurprisingly, it comes down to answering the question: “What is a marketing qualified lead?" and how you can distinguish them from individuals already further down the sales funnel. 

What is a marketing qualified lead?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead that a marketing team categorizes as having a high potential to become a customer. The qualification is based on a set of criteria individually agreed on by marketing teams and can include:

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How to identify marketing qualified leads

To identify MQLs, you need to refer to a number of criteria that indicate a lead’s interest in your offer and so their long-term potential of converting. In essence, these individuals must disclose characteristics and behavior that could turn them into sales qualified leads (SQLs).

Knowing these criteria is invaluable, as it lets your marketing focus on the exact actions, marketing collateral, and other materials that resonate among leads in the sales funnel. That being said, there aren’t any one-size-fits-all templates you can use for your marketing qualified leads. As each business is different, your team should brainstorm and shortlist the traits you can expect from an MQL visiting your site or brick-and-mortar store. 

Evaluate your buyer journeys and your existing customers’ behavior

Historical purchases and customer and lead data will be an ally here. It might be worth looking at how a specific group of site visitors interact with your marketing assets compared to others. 

And by saying “specific group”, I mean users who share common traits. What do these visitors have in common with leads who have previously converted into SQLs? 

For instance, did leads from your social media channels tend to download your ebooks more often? Or maybe they were twice as likely as other groups to sign up for a free trial. These are just some of the data you need to keep an eye out for.

Collect and analyze feedback from your leads. 

The best way to find out what’s on your leads’ minds and what they think of your offer is by asking them. I recommend running surveys on your site or sending one to their email address if they gave you their details online. Pay particular attention to those who have:

Gathering insights from both of these segments will boost your awareness of who’s on their way towards becoming an MQL and how you can fix any obstacles.

Lead scoring

Lead scoring is the process of assessing how ready the lead is to move into the next stage of the sales funnel. It’s often done in a numerical form, such as, each lead is given points (usually from 0 – 100) for performing specific actions. For example, if they visit a certain number of pages or click on a specific CTA, like downloading an ebook, they might get 20 points. If they sign up for a product demo or free account, they could earn 60 points as their actions are more high intent. 

There are two main types of lead scoring:

The former uses data collected through numerous tools like Google Analytics and doesn’t require people to share any additional information as it’s collected automatically. Conversely, the latter requires more effort and engagement from prospects, making it more reliable and effective. You don’t have to pick just one method, it’s perfectly fine to combine the two.

In short, lead scoring helps sales and marketing teams estimate leads’ readiness to buy. The more points they gather, the higher the chance of a conversion. If a lead who downloaded your ebook starts to check your pricing page and then registers for a trial, then you can consider it a so-called “hot” lead. You can start planning how to turn the lead into a paying customer.

Examples of actions marketing qualified leads will take on your website

Here are some examples of behavior and characteristics you are likely to see from your marketing qualified leads:

Source: CoSchedule

While these actions are a great starting point for qualifying your leads, they are not a closed list. Be sure to investigate your own visitor behavior to spot the tell-tale signs of potential MQLs.

What’s not a marketing qualified lead?

Now that you have a good understanding of what makes a marketing qualified lead, it’s time to look at what isn’t an MQL. Here are the most important differences to be aware of.

Not everyone who interacts with your site/product will become an MQL

I’m sure you’ve engaged in window shopping – either killing time while waiting for someone at the mall or just checking an item out of pure curiosity. You wouldn’t exactly call yourself an MQL in such a scenario, right? It’s worth knowing that, whether you run an online or offline business, some of your visitors will not be MQL material. 

An MQL is not an SQL

While we’ve already mentioned that MQLs are eventually meant to convert into SQLs, it’s not uncommon to mistake one for the other. While dealing with a lead, the single best way to differentiate between the former and the latter is by evaluating their readiness to buy. 

MQLs are eager to learn about your offer, are likely to engage with your content, and spend significant time on your site or return to it frequently. However, they don’t disclose any behavior that points to them being ready to seal the deal.

For example, let’s imagine you run an electronics store. There are two people looking at smartphones – a person who’s looking at several phones in your offer and an someone who entered the aisle and decisively headed straight to the sales assistant’s desk. The latter says that they’re considering two phones but need help with a couple of questions to decide which one will best suit their needs. Better yet, they want to make the purchase today. 

As you can see, the first individual appears interested but might not be ready to short-list phones yet. While the other is clearly looking to purchase, which means it’s clear as day that they’re already a sales-qualified lead.

MQLs aren’t always SQLs in the making

It’s important to realize that not all MQLs are meant to become SQLs. Many things can make them drop out of the sales funnel. Even something as simple as targeting an MQL with a sales offer too early in the process or a YouTube video from one of your competitors could draw them away. So, an MQL isn’t a guarantee of a sale; rather, it’s someone with the early signs of sales potential. 

When to hand off MQLs to the sales team

I am sure you were in a situation where you collected hundreds of leads by running an effective marketing campaign, and you couldn’t stop yourself from passing them on to sales – which was a mistake. 

Unfortunately, just because someone downloaded your ebook on outbound sales doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy your product. Sadly, it doesn’t even mean that they’re interested in it. They might already have a product they’re perfectly happy with, and they’re just looking for additional insights on the subject. 

You might be wondering – “How do I know it’s the right moment to hand off my marketing lead to sales?” The secret lies in properly defining when an MQL turns into an SQL. It will depend on your customer lifecycle. The longer it is, the more actions you’ll have to perform to turn a marketing lead into a sales one. 

Timing is of crucial importance, so don’t rush it! If you get it wrong and pass on the lead to the sales team too early, not only will you kill your chance of turning it into a paying customer. You will also waste your sales team’s time.

To get the handoff right, you should closely work with sales to develop the right qualification criteria. It might be a combination of demographics and actions. I worked at a company once where we discovered that leads from a certain country never converted into paying customers, even though they frequently signed up for demos or downloaded content. We immediately disqualified them to save the sales team’s time. 

While in most cases, it will be a good idea to hand off a lead who signed up for a demo to your sales department immediately, as high chances are they’re ready to buy, in other cases, it might be worth asking additional questions to verify their intention. 

To make sure sales and marketing are on the same page, I recommend creating a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that includes key performance metrics and the working relationship between the two teams. Here are a few things you can consider including in your SLA:

This should make the cooperation much smoother, and, as a result, boost the path to conversion. 

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Getting MQLs right

I’m sure you’ll agree that the secret to identifying MQLs comes down to two things – having the right lead scoring criteria and ensuring sound communication between your marketing and sales teams. 

Remember that timing is everything! If you see that a lead has turned “hot”, you need to act fast. On the other hand, if you reach out with a sales offer too early in the process, you might scare your lead away. By following the advice I shared in this piece, you’ll be able to create better lead profiles and, eventually, increase the chances of conversion.

If you enjoyed reading this piece, be sure to read our next guide in the series, where we discuss SQLs – the next stage in the sales funnel.