Marketing qualified lead (MQL) is one among the many technical terms used in b2b digital marketing. It can be difficult to get the true meaning of the term as you can find sources with differing definitions.
Most of the definitions are usually vague, which only makes matters worse and defeats the purpose of this common marketing metric.
Simply put, a marketing qualified lead is a lead that’s qualified for marketing or, in other words, a marketing-ready lead.
In this article, I’ll show what a marketing-ready lead is. I’ll also show the difference between a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead – which can come in handy in digital marketing for startups.
Read on if you want to be able to make the best use of this metric and use it to improve the success of your b2b digital marketing efforts.
What Does it Mean to be Qualified for Marketing?
An individual is qualified for marketing or ready to be marketed to when they have gotten to the consideration stage of the sales funnel.
If you know about the sales funnel, you know that it generally consists of three parts:
- Decision Making
I’ll briefly go over each part of the sales funnel to show the journey that a person undertakes from the time they make contact with your business to the time they make a purchase.
This is the stage when a stranger first becomes aware of your business. It could be when they first see an ad or hear about you from a friend.
The awareness stage lasts over an extended period. When you use startups lead generation services, some of the leads they bring in are in this stage.
Typically, a stranger doesn’t just hear about a product and rush to buy it. Even so, awareness is critical as it kickstarts the process of converting a stranger into a customer.
Awareness campaigns include television ads, billboard ads, LinkedIn campaigns that are focused on impressions, and so on.
To summarize, the awareness stage is when a stranger goes, “So, these guys offer this service or product. Noted.”
We live in a digital age where it’s so easy to get to the customer, especially with startups lead generation services. You’d think that’s a good thing for businesses, but not necessarily.
In the past, it used to take a lot of money to run a television ad or advertise in the newspaper. Only big corporations could do it.
Nowadays, every business can access potential customers en masse through digital marketing channels. The barriers of entry are lower than ever before. Heck, with $20, you can run a marketing campaign on LinkedIn for a day!
This means that the average consumer is bombarded with information.
They may be aware of your business, but they are also aware about at least one other business in your space.
To move a potential customer down into the consideration stage, you have to get them to start thinking about using your product, to start weighing its pros and cons, and so on.
An example of conversion at this stage would be to get them to click on a Google display ad to your site and then to get them to sign up for your newsletter.
When a person subscribes to your email, it typically means that they expect to receive unique value from you or that they are considering your product and want to learn more.
Either way, that’s a marketing qualified lead right there!
They’re not ready to be sold to. Not yet. That would be a mistake, one that newbies usually make in digital marketing for startups.
But they are ready to receive that “Ultimate Guide” or that “Industry-Specific Whitepaper”.
If you do your job right, you’ll soon turn them into a Sales Qualified Lead by guiding them into the next stage of the funnel – the decision-making stage.
Nurturing. That’s the key to guiding a customer from the consideration stage into the decision-making stage.
Once a buyer has subscribed to your newsletter, you should nurture them appropriately before attempting to sell to them. Nurturing in this case means sending them enough of the right marketing material.
Techniques like segmentation come in handy. You want to send marketing material that the potential customer will find relevant.
If you do your job right, your customer will get to a point and think, “I think these guys can solve my problem.”
And bam! They are in the last stage of the funnel: The decision-making stage. They have been marketed to enough and they are ready to be sold to.
At this stage, what they need is a salesperson to help them choose the best solution for their problem.
They still need to be nurtured with sales content like a product comparison blog. They might also appreciate a free product demonstration.
Anyway, as a marketer you did your job when you got the potential customer to think that your business was good enough. That’s usually the point when you pass off the lead to the sales team as a sales qualified lead.
From there, they can work their magic and if they do their job right, your company will have closed a lead.
Difference Between an MQL and an SQL
The key to understanding the difference between these two terms is in understanding the sales funnel, which I have explained above.
A Marketing Qualified Lead is ready to be marketed to but should not be sold to. They have expressed interest in the product and need to be nurtured with the appropriate marketing content.
A Sales Qualified Lead has been sufficiently marketed to and is ready to be sold to. They can be handed over to the sales team. At this point, the job of the sales team is to help the lead make the best decision.
And that’s it folks. Don’t let yourself get lost in the rigid definitions. All you need is to understand the marketing process.