Products
Solutions
Resources

Back to blog

MQLs
MQLs
MQLs

Explore MQLs: defining with sales, strategies to generate, and best practices for sales handoff to boost lead gen.

What is an MQL?

An MQL or Marketing Qualified Lead is a lead that has exhibited key behaviors indicating enough interest and intent to warrant further sales follow-up. MQL stands for Marketing Qualified Lead, in contrast to a SQL or Sales Qualified Lead.

While a standard lead represents any prospect that has shown some initial interest, an MQL meets certain pre-defined criteria set by the marketing and sales teams to qualify it as ready for active sales outreach. An MQL has moved beyond lead status and has engaged further with content and offerings that suggest they have serious buying potential.

The main characteristics that distinguish an MQL from a generic lead include:

- Fit: The lead matches target buyer personas and ideal customer profiles based on traits like demographics, firmographics, role, industry, etc. They are a good potential fit for becoming a customer.

- Engagement: The lead has shown meaningful engagement that indicates interest, such as downloading gated content, watching videos, signing up for a free trial, or interacting on the website.

- Recency: The lead's activities or interactions have occurred recently, suggesting they are still actively interested and in the market.

- Frequency: The lead has repeatedly returned and engaged over time, rather than just a one-off interaction. This shows ongoing nurturing is having an impact.

- Qualification: The lead has provided enough information through forms to meet qualification standards set by marketing and sales, such as budget, authority, pain points, etc.

By meeting the defined MQL criteria, these leads can more confidently and efficiently be pursued by the sales team to advance them further in the funnel. MQLs indicate qualified prospect accounts with buying potential.


How MQLs differ from other lead types

MQLs differ from other common lead types in sales and marketing in a few key ways. Understanding these differences is critical when developing an effective MQL strategy.

MQL vs SQL

The main difference between an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) and an SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is the stage of the sales process they are in.

  • MQLs occur earlier in the sales funnel when a lead shows initial buying interest but is not yet ready to be contacted by sales.

  • SQLs are later stage leads that sales has contacted, screened, and moved further down the sales funnel.

  • MQLs require additional nurturing and qualification by marketing before becoming SQLs. SQLs are past lead nurturing and ready for the sales team to actively sell to.

  • The specific criteria used to define MQLs vs SQLs should be agreed upon by both marketing and sales teams. But generally MQLs indicate some buying interest while SQLs indicate serious sales potential.

MQL vs PQL

PQLs (Product Qualified Leads) are a recently coined concept that generally apply to product-led growth companies. The biggest difference between the two is that a PQL leverages product data.

  • PQLs use product data as another way to differentiate between a qualified user

  • MQLs are generally used by companies with larger sales teams who are able to contact a high-volume lead pool

  • PQLs often use concepts such as Intent Signals or Milestone Events to find common patterns between the best users

  • The specific criteria used to define MQLs vs PQLs should be agreed upon by both sales and product teams. PQLs are generally a qualified target to promote a paid offering to while still utilizing a free plan. However, there is a variant of a PQL targeted for upgrades between paid plans.

MQL vs Lead

In some organizations, the term "lead" is used interchangeably with MQL. But leads more broadly refer to any individual or company that has shown some initial interest or potential to eventually become a customer.

  • All MQLs are leads, but not all leads are MQLs. MQLs are leads that meet specific agreed-upon criteria to indicate higher sales potential.

  • Leads that don't yet meet MQL criteria may be referred to as "marketing leads" that require additional nurturing before becoming MQLs.

MQL vs Opportunity

Opportunities generally refer to leads that sales has begun actively pursuing as potential deals.

  • MQLs have not yet been contacted by sales, while opportunities are leads already engaged in the sales process.

  • Opportunities may also represent larger deal values or revenue potential compared to MQLs.

  • Once sales makes contact and progresses an MQL through the sales funnel, it becomes classified as an opportunity.

The main similarity between MQLs and other lead types is they all indicate potential future sales pipeline and revenue. But MQLs represent a critical middle stage between early stage leads and later stage SQLs or opportunities.


Developing MQL criteria - involving sales and leveraging buyer insights

To develop a strong MQL definition, marketing needs to work closely with sales and incorporate insights about buyer personas. The criteria should combine firmographic, demographic, and behavioral qualifications.

Having open communication between marketing and sales is critical for aligning on what makes a high-quality MQL. Schedule meetings with sales leaders and top performers to understand what factors make a lead promising from their perspective. Get anecdotal feedback on what types of titles, companies, and lead actions result in sales-ready prospects.

Your buyer personas should also inform the MQL criteria. Look at the various personas’ goals, challenges, and interests. Think about what content offers and topics would convince them to engage. These insights can reveal what types of actions signify intent and readiness from each persona.

Companies like Flywheel will automatically enrich your leads to help define if a lead is an MQL.

Specific qualification factors to consider:

Firmographic

  • Industry

  • Company size/revenue

  • Tech stack/technology

  • Founding date

  • Headquarter location

Demographic

  • Job title/role

  • Department

  • Seniority level

  • Location

Behavioral

  • Content downloads

  • Email opens/clicks

  • Form fills

  • Site pages visited

  • Time on site

  • Repeat visits

The ideal MQL definition combines firmographic, demographic, and behavioral qualifications tuned to your personas and validated by sales. Revisit the criteria quarterly and iterate based on performance.


Sourcing and generating MQLs

There are several key tactics and channels that modern marketing teams use to source, attract, and generate MQLs. The main methods fall into three categories:

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing focuses on creating valuable content and resources which compel prospects to come to your site, download assets, and engage with your brand. This allows you to capture contacts and track their behaviors to determine which become MQLs. Typical inbound tactics include:

- Blog content: Publishing high-quality blog posts that rank for keywords prospects are searching helps drive relevant traffic to your site. Include calls-to-action to download gated content.

- eBooks, whitepapers, and guides: Creating in-depth, educational long-form content like eBooks and offering them in exchange for contact information attracts and qualifies leads.

- Webinars and videos: Webinars that provide value demonstration along with lead capture forms are excellent for sourcing MQLs. Videos like demos and tutorials also engage viewers.

- Free trials and product demos: Providing free access to your products or services allows prospects to experience the value firsthand and become qualified leads.

Outbound Prospecting

While inbound focuses on attracting leads to your site, outbound prospecting involves directly contacting and engaging potential leads through methods like email, phone calls, social media outreach, and paid ads. Outbound activities generate new MQLs by putting your offers and content directly in front of prospects. Common outbound lead gen tactics include:

- Email campaigns: Segmented email campaigns that promote content offers and webinars to targeted prospect lists generate MQLs. Typically more effective than general cold email outreach.

- Direct mail: Physical mailers with promotional offers and incentives that drive prospects to your site and offers work to capture new leads.

- Social media: Engaging prospects through social platforms with content offers helps drive site traffic and lead capture. LinkedIn ads are especially effective for B2B lead gen.

- Paid search/display ads: Pay-per-click search & display ads focused on relevant buyer keywords help send interested prospects to lead capture landing pages.

Social Media & Paid Advertising

Social platforms and paid advertising channels provide additional avenues to engage prospects, get in front of target audiences, and convert contacts into MQLs.

- Facebook & Instagram ads: Highly targeted ads to specific demographics and lookalike audiences work to generate inbound leads.

- YouTube video ads: Pre-roll and mid-roll video ads help reach audiences in a captivating video format and drive views of your videos.

- Twitter lead gen cards: Lead gen cards make it easy for prospects to convert directly from tweets into leads.

- LinkedIn sponsored content: Sponsored posts and content that promote gated asset offers helps convert the platform's professional audience into MQLs.

- Google AdWords: Pay-per-click ads targeted to specific keywords related to your offerings help drive inbound leads when users search.

- Retargeting ads: Displaying ads to site visitors after they leave brings them back to complete lead capture forms and become MQLs.

The right mix of inbound marketing, outbound prospecting, and paid advertising provides a balanced approach to generating MQLs and meeting lead targets. Test different strategies and double down on the tactics that prove most effective.


Measuring MQL performance

Evaluating how well your MQL program is working is critical for optimizing results over time. You’ll want to measure MQL performance across a few key areas:

Volume

  • Total number of new MQLs generated each month or quarter

  • Volume relative to leads generated and sales team capacity

  • Ensure enough MQLs are entering the sales pipeline

Quality

  • Percentage of MQLs that convert to sales opportunities

  • Win rates for deals sourced from MQLs vs. other channels

  • Customer lifetime value from MQL-sourced deals

  • Qualitative feedback from sales on MQL quality

Conversion Metrics

  • MQL to opportunity conversion rate

  • MQL to closed deal conversion rate

  • Time from MQL status to closed deal

  • Marketing contribution to pipeline based on MQLs

Benchmarking Targets

  • Compare volume, quality and conversion rates vs. historical performance

  • Set goals and targets for MQL metrics

  • Benchmark metrics against industry standards

Monitoring Over Time

  • Track changes in MQL metrics week-over-week, month-over-month

  • Break down metrics by campaign, channel, offer etc.

  • Identify trends to optimize and improve performance

Continuously monitoring your MQL analytics provides visibility into the health and productivity of your process. Establish a dashboard to track key MQL metrics over time. Review periodically with sales leadership to identify areas for improvement.


Develop a lead scoring model

  • Implement a lead scoring system that gives points for certain actions or attributes. For example, downloading a targeted content asset might score 50 points, while repeat site visits score 10 points each.

  • Determine a target lead score where an MQL becomes an SQL based on their activity over time. This score threshold helps take the guesswork out of lead prioritization.

  • Use lead scoring to focus nurturing efforts on hot leads most likely to convert rather than trying to nurture every MQL equally.

Create automated nurture tracks

  • Set up email or ad nurturing tracks that provide helpful content to leads based on their interests and readiness.

  • Track engagement with nurture content to see if it impacts lead scoring and conversion rates.

  • Make your nurture content valuable and relevant to leads so they look forward to your emails rather than considering it spam.

Provide ongoing value

  • Avoid only sending promotional offers and coupons to MQLs. While discounts may help, education and value are more important.

  • Develop a nurturing calendar with a mix of valuable content, industry insights, product updates, and special offers.

  • Survey MQLs periodically to find out what content they find most helpful to determine what to send next.

  • Focus on building a relationship during nurturing and aim to provide value, not just sell. MQLs that perceive value are more likely to turn into SQLs.

By developing effective lead scoring, nurture programs, and always providing value, you'll see more of your MQLs convert to that coveted SQL status. Pay close attention to what content and messaging resonates most with MQLs during nurturing to optimize conversion rates.


Transitioning MQLs to sales

A key part of the MQL process is defining sales readiness and executing a smooth handoff from marketing to sales. There are several best practices for managing this transition effectively:

Define Sales Readiness

  • Work with sales to agree on the specific criteria that make an MQL ready for sales outreach. This may include:

    • Reaching a threshold of engagement through content views, form fills, etc.

    • Matching an ideal customer profile based on firmographic and demographic qualifications.

    • Exhibiting buying signals that indicate intent and ability to make a purchase.

  • Document the sales handoff criteria clearly so both teams understand the requirements.

  • Have a process for sales to provide feedback on the quality of leads being handed off by marketing.

Automate and Track Handoffs

  • Use marketing automation software to automatically notify sales when an MQL meets the readiness criteria.

  • Track key metrics around the handoff including:

    • Time between lead becoming an MQL and sales follow-up

    • Marketing origins and campaigns associated with MQLs

    • Sales contact attempts and conversations held

Manage Sales Follow-Up

  • Set an SLA for sales outreach to MQLs - aim for less than 24 hours.

  • Have sales focus first outreach on confirming the problems, needs, or interests that made the lead an MQL.

  • Make sure sales has access to all relevant marketing content, offers, and campaign history on each MQL.

  • Set procedures for following up with MQLs sales is unable to contact after multiple attempts.

Refine Based on Feedback

  • Check in regularly with sales on the quality and quantity of MQLs.

  • Be prepared to adjust the sales readiness criteria if too many MQLs are not sales qualified.

  • Work with sales on developing effective nurture tracks for MQLs not yet ready for sales contact.

Let me know if you would like me to expand or modify this section further.


Aligning marketing and sales on MQLs

For the MQL process to work effectively, marketing and sales teams need to be aligned on what an MQL is and the criteria used to qualify leads. Here are some tips for getting alignment between the teams:

Get sales buy-in on the MQL definition

  • Involve sales leaders and reps early when developing your MQL criteria. Get their input on what makes a sales-ready lead.

  • Show sales examples of leads that would qualify as MQLs under your proposed criteria. Get their feedback on whether they think the leads are sales-ready.

  • Emphasize how the MQL process will get them better qualified leads.

Set expectations with sales on lead volume

  • Provide forecasts to sales on how many MQLs marketing expects to generate monthly. Set realistic targets based on conversion rates.

  • If there will be a ramp-up period to hit target MQL volume, communicate this with sales.

Establish an ongoing feedback loop

  • Put a system in place for sales to provide continued input on the MQLs they receive.

  • Sales reps should rate the quality of MQLs and provide feedback on any leads that don't seem sales-ready.

  • Marketing should review sales' input and fine-tune the MQL process as needed. Frequent communication will ensure alignment.

Conduct quarterly reviews of the MQL process

  • Marketing and sales leaders should meet regularly to review the effectiveness of the current MQL criteria and process.

  • Discuss any changes that are needed to ensure the teams stay aligned on what makes for a qualified lead.


Optimizing the entire MQL process

The MQL process should be continuously optimized through testing, integrations, and making revisions. Here are some best practices:

Regularly Revisit Definitions and Processes

  • Review the MQL definition quarterly with marketing and sales leaders. Look at any changes in buyer personas, products, sales processes etc. and update the criteria accordingly.

  • Every 6 months, examine the entire process from generating to nurturing MQLs. Identify any bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Get feedback from reps on the quality and volume of MQLs.

  • Conduct quarterly reviews of metrics like MQL to SQL conversion rates. Falling conversion rates may indicate a need to re-examine the MQL criteria and process.

Test and Experiment

  • A/B test different lead gen offers and content types to determine which assets perform best for generating MQLs.

  • Experiment with targeting different segments, channels, or accounts to optimize lead sourcing.

  • Try varying MQL criteria like number of page views required or time spent on site to find the optimal threshold.

Integrate and Automate

  • Use marketing automation to score leads and automatically tag them as MQLs when they meet the defined criteria.

  • Build workflows to nurture leads towards becoming MQLs with relevant, sequenced messaging.

  • Integrate CRM system with marketing automation to seamlessly hand off MQLs to sales reps.

  • Use lead scoring algorithms and predictive analytics to determine propensity to convert to MQL.

Key Takeaways

  • The MQL process should never remain static. Continually test, optimize, integrate, and update it for maximum effectiveness.

  • Marketing and sales must both stay closely involved in improving the lead lifecycle.

  • Leverage tools and technologies to automatically identify and transition MQLs for sales follow up.


MQL best practices

Managing MQLs effectively and avoiding common mistakes requires following certain best practices:

Top Tips for Managing MQLs

  • Define lead lifecycle stages - Break down the lead workflow into distinct stages with milestones and MQL criteria for each one. This allows proper tracking and nurturing.

  • Establish a process for reviewing MQLs - Sales should review new MQLs at least weekly to ensure they meet the agreed criteria before follow up. Marketing and sales can jointly review a sample regularly.

  • Use lead scoring - Scoring leads based on their actions and attributes makes it easier to identify when they become sales-ready. Set thresholds for MQL designation.

  • Keep the sales team updated - Provide sales with real-time visibility into the number of MQLs in their pipeline through integration and reporting.

  • Nurture through marketing automation - Automated nurture flows produce higher quality MQLs ready for sales contact. Tailor content and messages for lead lifecycle stage.

Avoiding Common MQL Mistakes

  • Not having clearly aligned buyer profiles between marketing and sales

  • Sending sales unvetted, low-quality leads that don't match target customer criteria

  • Changing the MQL criteria without collaborating with sales

  • Having vague or undefined processes for handling and transitioning MQLs

  • Letting poor quality MQLs slip through instead of refining definitions and processes

  • Failing to regularly review metrics and optimize the MQL process

Ensuring High Quality MQLs

  • Collaborate closely with sales to align on ideal customer profiles and attributes

  • Review lead sources frequently and prune ones producing poor quality

  • Use progressive profiling to collect more lead data over time before MQL stage

  • Nurture leads in marketing automation based on behaviors and attributes

  • Only count fully qualified leads that sales agrees meet MQL criteria

  • Monitor key metrics like sales acceptance rate to improve quality

Published on

Jan 16, 2024

in

Marketing

Chase Wilson

Chase Wilson

CEO of Flywheel

Get access to Flywheel

Flywheel brings clarity to product-led growth. Experience the frameworks used by cutting-edge PLG marketing teams, all in one tool.

Get access to Flywheel

Flywheel brings clarity to product-led growth. Experience the frameworks used by cutting-edge PLG marketing teams, all in one tool.