Are your leads sales-ready? Or are your conversion rates lacking?
The age old battle between sales and marketing always seems to boil down to one issue: leads. Marketing teams have long been measured based on the demand they generate, but sales teams are often looking for more qualified prospects to sell to.
Lead capture is the responsibility of both your sales and marketing teams. While marketers are charged with designing and implementing the lead capture strategy, sales teams should communicate their expectations and needs as well. When these teams work together it can lead to high-quality marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
What is an MQL?
A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead that has been deemed more likely to become a customer at some point based on the interactions they've had with a brand. These inbound marketing touchpoints can happen across a variety of marketing channels over any given period of time.
MQLs are a necessary part of sales enablement. Marketing teams generate buzz and interest around a product using lead nurturing strategies, with the ultimate goal of passing prospective new customers to sales.
But before you can hand off leads and send them to the next stage of the buying cycle, you'll need to know how to qualify them. Determining when a lead has qualified as an MQL is a necessary step for lead qualification. Passing bad leads off to your sales team isn't doing prospective customers or your bottom line any favors.
But first, what is a marketing qualified lead? And is it any different from sales qualified leads?
What's the difference between MQLs and SQLs?
The exact criteria for what counts towards an MQL vs. SQL will depend largely on your organization. Many businesses have varying definitions depending on things like the length of their sales cycle, their product, their unique buyers journey, and more.
But regardless of how your company defines MQLs and SQLs, there are some universal definitions that can help get you started.
Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
An MQL is a prospect that has interacted with your brand before and is likely to eventually turn into a paying customer. Not everyone who engages with your marketing materials qualifies as an MQL.
A marketing qualified lead refers specifically to leads who fit a set criteria created by your sales team. These criteria can be anything from information about lead behavior to how frequently a customer visits your website.
Here are a few examples of marketing qualified lead actions:
Downloading gated content like eBooks, free trial offers, and whitepapers.
Clicking on web or social media ads that lead back to your website.
Favoriting items on your website or adding items to an online shopping cart even if a purchase didn’t occur
Signing up for email marketing campaigns (newsletters and product catalogs are perhaps the most common)
Leads that do not fit the criteria set by sales don't qualify as MQLs (yet). Remember, the goal of generating MQLs is to pass highly qualified, ready-to-buy potential customers to your sales team.
If the leads you're sending to your sales reps aren't ready to at least jump on a demo call, you'll only be wasting your sales teams time. It also makes for a less than ideal customer journey for your prospective leads. Always make sure the leads you're sending to sales fit your company's ideal customer profile.
Sales qualified leads (SQLs)
A sales qualified lead is any lead that has met all the lead criteria and been approved by sales as a viable prospect. These leads are often actively searching for a product or service your company offers and have expressed their intent to purchase.
Here are a few examples of sales qualified lead actions:
Signing up for a free trial offer or a software demo of your product
Requesting more information about your products, pricing pages and services
Requesting to be contacted by your team for more information (sales calls, emails, demo requests, etc.)
Requesting more information on how your product fits into their current technology stack
An easy way to think of this is that marketing captures visitors attention, sparks interest, and introduces value. Sales shows how that value can benefit the potential customer and leads them along the buying process. Aligning your sales and marketing teams provides a huge advantage in helping leads become prospects, and smoothly transition to customers.
MQLs and lead scoring
To really gauge how ready an MQL is to be passed on to the sales team, some companies could look toward lead scoring. Lead scores help determine the quality of a lead based on parameters set by your sales team.
Marketing teams use lead generation techniques to attract, qualify, and pass high-value leads to their sales team with the goal of converting prospects into paying customers. The more likely a lead is to become a customer, the higher their lead score will be. Many companies take advantage of marketing automation to create an effective lead-scoring system for their campaigns.
For example, an intern looking to learn the basics of marketing may have a lower lead score compared to a sales manager looking to download a case study. Previous engagements with web content, demo requests, and even interaction on social media are factors of lead scoring. This score is indicative of buyer intent, and helps marketers provide higher-quality leads to their sales teams.
Here’s some information you should be looking for when scoring leads:
Personal information (Name, email, phone number, job title, etc.)
Company information (industry, revenue, employee headcount, etc.)
Level of engagement with marketing across channels (email, social, web, etc.)
Online behavior and referring channel
Stage in the buying cycle
Identifying MQLs are important because it typically signifies the first time a visitor has shown interest in a company or its offerings. Even if this interest is for basic educational purposes – like a webinar or downloadable infographic – it’s a visitor’s first of many steps in the sales funnel. At the very least, MQLs who don’t convert are still likely to come back and find value in your web content and your brand.
Best practices for generating high-value MQLs
It doesn’t matter how many MQLs you generate if they aren’t viable leads for your sales team. The reality is that not all leads are created equal. If you’re looking to build a pipeline of engaged MQLs to pass along to your sales team, you’ll need a strategy that both marketing and sales invest in. Here are some of the best tips for building a seamless lead generation strategy.
Gain a better understanding of your sales cycle
Generating highly qualified leads requires a cohesive marketing and sales strategy. While it is the role of marketing to generate MQLs, involving sales in the process can streamline your efforts. It’s a good idea to meet with your sales leaders and get their insight on what the typical sales funnel looks like at your company.
Here are some questions to help you gain insight into the sales process:
How long does it take to close a deal from start to finish?
What do your customers-won and customers-lost have in common?
What do leads need in order to be sales qualified?
What common pain points do your customers have in common?
Understanding your sales cycle better equips you to qualify leads. When you understand the motivation behind what makes prospects buy, it’s easier to spot qualified leads. This strategy also helps establish clear expectations with your sales leadership.
Aligning everyone’s expectations about what information sales needs to nurture a lead means your marketing team can generate higher-quality MQLs. All of this makes it easy to prove marketing ROI and the overall impact on overall revenue.
Create marketing goals that align with your sales goals
Measuring the success of your lead generation strategy comes down to the numbers. And since lead management is for the benefit of your sales organization, it’s important to choose goals that align with your sales goals.
These metrics can also guide your lead generation strategy. As you begin generating leads, pay close attention to things like where these leads are coming from and how many you generate per channel. This data will give you a clearer picture of where to focus your efforts to attract more MQLs and which strategies aren’t worth your time.
Here are some common metrics used to measure MQLs:
Number of MQLs: how many qualified leads are generated by marketing in a given time period (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.)
Sources: which sources or channels convert the best: (LinkedIn Advertising, webinar sign-ups, free trial demos, etc.)
Sales conversion: which channels and strategies convert the most leads to MQLs? Which content types generate the most conversions
Choose the right lead generation channels
The key to capturing a consumer's attention is getting the right message in front of them at the right time. But that’s not all that factors into your success: choosing the right channel for delivering that message can be even more important than what you’re saying.
With so many leads consuming information digitally, a cross-channel marketing strategy is one of the best ways to keep your relationship with leads alive. Striking a balance between a cohesive digital experience and an overwhelming one is hard. It’s best to start by choosing a few lead generation channels to test out and then focus your efforts as you find what works best for your business.
Here are some popular lead generation channels for attracting MQLs:
Paid Search / PPC
Webinars and podcasts
Gauging the success of your lead generation channels will depend on a number of factors. One popular strategy marketers use is tracking cost per acquisition (CPA). Measuring your CPA helps your marketing team understand how much it would cost to successfully convert a visitor to a paying customer. The lower your cost per acquisition, the more cost-effective your marketing campaigns are.
Unqualified MQLs are a thing of the past
Now that you know the basics of MQLs and what qualifies these leads, it’s time to put that knowledge to use. Take what you've learned in this article to build a more thoughtful lead generation strategy and find the right leads, faster.
Lauren Pope is a former content marketer at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, the G2 Learning Hub, and other sites. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and singing karaoke. (she/her/hers)
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Lead scoring software takes the guesswork out of lead qualification.