A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead who has indicated interest in what a brand has to offer based on marketing efforts or is otherwise more likely to become a customer than other leads. Often an MQL is a lead who has intentionally engaged with your brand by performing actions like voluntarily submitting contact information, opting into a program, adding e-commerce items to a shopping cart, downloading materials, or repeatedly visiting a website.

These are promising leads who are curious and considering you, but they haven’t quite made the step into a sales conversation yet. However, they’re more likely to be receptive to a sales pitch than a normal lead. If you think about your own buyers’ journey, it would be pretty rare that you submit your real email address unless you’re open to starting a conversation. An MQL is judged to be interested in your products and/or services, and you may offer a solution to whatever it is they need.

An MQL has taken the first steps to becoming a customer and is primed to receive additional contact. From a very general perspective: Marketing Qualified Leads turn into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), which then turn into customers.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead and what do they do?

Marketing Qualified Leads have shown interest in buying. They’re open to the idea of a sale and have taken an initial step to engage with your business, without buying. While marketing efforts can bring leads in, the lead’s behavior is what prompts marketers to consider them an MQL. They make some sort of active contact action to peruse what you have to offer.

Examples of Marketing Qualified Lead actions:

  • Downloading trial software or free ebook
  • Using software demos
  • Filling out online forms
  • Submitting an email address for a newsletter or mailing list
  • Favoriting items or adding items to a wishlist
  • Adding items to the shopping cart
  • Repeating site visits or spending a lot of time on your site
  • Clicking on an ad to find your site
  • Contacting you to request more information

These represent some of the most common actions, but this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. The best way to figure out what is and isn’t a qualified lead for your business depends on a whole lot of other information like lead scoring, analytics, product delivery, and demographics. It’s a start, however, to finding sales-ready leads and weeding out those leads who are simply unlikely to ever commit to a sale.

How To Identify Marketing Qualified Leads

One of the most common ways to identify Marketing Qualified Leads is examining buyer journeys and existing customer behaviors. It’s important to develop a definition for your own business needs because not all Marketing Qualified Leads are the same, even within the same industry.

Defining your specific Marketing Qualified Lead criteria requires looking at your other leads’ and buyers’ habits. This can include investigating demographic data like business or organization, location, job title, and company size. Buyer habits are often also helpful indicators, and you may want to investigate how MQLs interact with your marketing assets. Analyze how they act compared to other leads who have successfully become customers.

Examine historical behavior: What do your customers-won and customers-lost do when they’re ready to buy? Look at how sales have gone in the past and the path they took from reaching out with interest to confirming the sale.

Get customer feedback: What feedback do you get from potential leads who back out? Are they put off by anything in particular that you could change? It’s important to get both empirical data as well as a sentiment analysis.

Look for trends: What do your successful leads have in common? Which pages, offers, and ads convert the highest quality MQLs? This can tell you what you are doing right and help focus in on exactly what is working to produce sales.

Identify competitive edge: What makes leads choose you over competitors? Understand and be candid about your place in the competitive landscape on every level, including marketing presence and tactics.

What a Marketing Qualified Lead is not

By our earlier definition, an MQL is neither just a lead nor a guaranteed customer. Don’t overvalue and don’t undervalue. Marketing Qualified Leads are merely those who have indicated some level of interest or engagement with your business and may be open to more. If they are any further than that and have indicated that they ARE ready to make a purchase, then they’re no longer a Marketing Qualified Lead and are instead a Sales Qualified Lead.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) Vs. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

The main difference between a Marketing Qualified Lead and Sales Qualified Lead is the lead’s perceived willingness to make a purchase. Marketing Qualified Leads are very curious, while Sales Qualified Leads are leads handed off to Sales because they are considering a purchase.

Here’s a quick example to demonstrate the difference: Imagine you are shopping in a retail store at your local mall. If you’re a Marketing Qualified Lead, you’re probably browsing or window shopping. By going into the store you indicate that the interest is there, but there’s only a chance that you buy something. Meanwhile, if you’re a Sales Qualified Lead, you’re probably walking straight to the aisle you need or are hunting down a floor associate for help.

SQLs been vetted for intent and are highly interested in making a purchase. These are usually those leads who are requesting quotes, requesting purchase information, or a requesting a live demo session.

An MQL is not a guarantee of sale

Don’t assume that every Marketing Qualified Lead will turn into a Sales Qualified Lead. Even if they are indicating interest, you can’t assume a lead will always proceed down the sales funnel to customer status. If a lead is clearly not ready to make a purchase and you approach them as if they are, you will likely scare the lead away entirely.

An MQL is not a regular lead

Marketing Qualified Leads actively show interest. They aren’t just passively watching you, they’ve taken some sort of action to fulfill their curiosity. Thinking back to our example of a shopper in a retail mall: regular leads would be every single person walking past your storefront. They’re around, it’s possible that they could notice you and even walk in the door someday, but they don’t really take much notice.

An MQL is not any bit of interest that comes your way

Sometimes the person who’s just browsing is really just browsing and will walk out of the store no matter what you do. Sometimes that person is going to download your trial software or ebook just to try it out for curiosity or maybe can’t afford a purchase. There are a lot of factors that lead to someone becoming a generic lead and there’s not much you can do besides weeding out low-quality leads and focus on the promising, high quality leads. Make sure you define the difference between a lead and a Marketing Qualified Lead as it makes the most sense for your business.

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