How to Identify and Generate Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

How to Identify and Generate Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

High-quality leads are important for business  because they’re more likely than other leads to convert to paying customers. By qualifying leads, you can make the sales process more efficient because you can focus your efforts on consumers who have shown genuine interest in your brand. But how do you determine when leads should be passed along to the sales team and when they’re unlikely to buy?

That’s where marketing qualified leads come in. This article explains what you need to know about this important lead qualification.

What is a marketing qualified lead (MQL)?

A marketing qualified lead is a prospect your marketing team believes is ready to be passed to the sales team. This potential customer has met certain predetermined criteria (discussed below) that indicate they’re ready to move further down the sales funnel.

However, most definitions of marketing qualified leads indicate that while high-quality leads will likely eventually convert, they’re not yet in a position to buy.

Looking at this process from above, a marketing qualified lead will become a sales qualified lead and then a paying customer if they continue to advance through the sales funnel. Each stage of the journey represents a potential customer who comes closer to seeing your business as the answer to their pain points so that they make a purchase.

Marketing qualified lead (MQL) vs. sales qualified lead (SQL)

Marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads sound similar, but these two types of leads have different positions in the buyer’s journey.

A MQL has been evaluated by the marketing team and shows signs that they’re likely to eventually become a customer. The marketing team sees them as ready to pass on to the sales team for a little more nurturing. After the sales team takes charge of building the relationship, they’ll prepare the lead to become an SQL. These leads are on the path toward conversion.

The sales-ready lead is prepared for a direct outreach from a salesperson. These leads have moved just a bit further in the buyer’s journey compared to the MQL.


Examples of MQL actions

An MQL has somehow engaged with your brand in a way that shows their interest. It's this action on their part that helps you identify marketing leads on the path toward becoming paying customers.

Downloading trial software

The marketing qualified lead has shown interest in purchasing from your company. Downloading trial software indicates that they want to see how well your product can fit their needs and solve their pain points.

Engaging with software demos

Similar to trial software, registering for software demos demonstrates that a lead wants to better see how your product offering might fit their overall needs.

Filling out online forms

If a lead fills out an online form with their contact information, they’re telling your business that they’re open to having a conversation. This voluntary action shows intentional engagement and interest.

Signing up for a newsletter or mailing list

Signing up for a newsletter or mailing list demonstrates that a lead wants to receive more information and content from your brand. They want to learn more about what your company has to offer and keep up to date on the latest products or services.

Adding items to a wishlist

When a lead adds items to their wishlist, they’re interested in your products even if they’re not yet ready to make a purchase. But at some point, they may come back and add those items to their cart.

Adding items to a shopping cart

Similar to the wishlist, when a lead places items in an online shopping cart, they’re expressing interest in purchasing those products. They may or may not buy them immediately, but they’re showing interest in your product.

Repeatedly visiting a website

A potential customer who keeps coming back to your website also has a definite interest in your business. They may keep returning to learn more about what your business offers to see if it aligns with what they’re looking for.

Clicking ads to a website

If someone who has visited your site in the past now clicks on an ad to take them back to your site, that indicates interest for your business. A lead that values what you have to offer enough to come back possibly sees you as an answer to their query.

Clicking CTAs

Leads clicking on Calls To Action (CTAs) embedded in your email marketing, website, or social media content indicates that your offers appeal to them. They want to learn more about what you can do for them. This provides you with context you can use to keep building their interest and nurturing them as a lead.

Interacting with social media posts

Leads that follow your business on social media and then actively engage with you also demonstrate a genuine interest. You can build on this with content that encourages further engagement. This helps you learn about what interests them and what will resonate the most when they’re ready to speak with the sales team.

How to identify marketing qualified leads

Many companies use a system known as lead scoring that helps them identify marketing qualified leads. With a lead-scoring system, you look at particular actions that people tend to make as they move closer to conversion and purchasing something from you. You then compare the actions of current leads against previous customers, as well as past leads who didn’t convert.

The precise lead scoring system, and the number of points you assign to the different common behaviors, will vary depending on your business and customers. You’ll want to see how often certain behaviors occur before a lead becomes a customer. Behaviors that indicate a high likelihood of conversion will offer more lead points than behaviors that have less correlation.

A lead that has accumulated enough points demonstrates that they’re an MQL and can be engaged by your sales reps.

Consider looking at one of the following five data types when creating a lead-scoring system.

Sales historical behavior

Look at how leads have behaved in the past. Compare lead behavior just before they converted against leads that failed to convert. Noticing how these two groups act can help you classify particular behaviors as either moving toward or away from conversion.

Customer feedback

Solicit customer feedback. Speak with customers who decided to buy from you and those who didn’t. See if you can uncover patterns in what made them decide to buy from you or what encouraged them to go with a competitor.

Lead trends

Closely examine your leads that convert. See what types of indicators they have in common. Do they visit the same pages or engage with a few of the same lead magnets? Knowing what parts of your sales funnel have the greatest impact on the likelihood of converting can help you further identify your most successful leads.

Your competitive edge

Know what sets you apart from the competition. Identify what makes leads choose you over others in the industry. You want to have an accurate picture of how you line up with your competitors across all factors, including price, packages, services, customer service, and product quality. These indicators, and how they align with what your leads prioritize, can help you pinpoint MQLs that will likely convert.

Demographic factors

If you’ve spent time developing your company’s buyer personas, you may already have some idea of what to look for in an MQL. Take a close look at the demographic factors of leads that become paying customers. Note their company size and the buying power of the individual and group. Pay attention also to their location or job title. These sources of information can help you further analyze your leads as they come in, building the lead qualification criteria you can use moving forward.

Potential customers’ actions

See also how potential customers interact with your company throughout the buyer’s journey. See how many assets they interact with, what types of emails they open, and where they appear to pay the most attention. Noting conversion rates and how people respond to your different marketing efforts can also help you know what types of content to produce moving forward so that you improve your conversion rate.

How to generate MQLs

To grow your business, you want to secure more marketing qualified leads. Lead generation can increase your chances of getting new customers.

Consider the following strategies to help you bring in more MQLs.

Include lead magnets in paid ads

Paid ads help get your business in front of potential customers, with your material appearing right at the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). When you pay for these top slots, you naturally increase the number of people seeing your content. You can further attract people with offers like white papers or ebooks that encourage leads to sign up to download your material. Pairing your offers with landing pages that articulate how your business solves customer pain points can help you lay the foundation for lead nurturing.

Pair the content and lead magnet in your ad closely with the target keyword you’ve chosen. This helps ensure the material is relevant and helpful to the customer. Marketing automation can then help you follow up their registration by providing more relevant information and content. You can then gauge their reaction and how well they meet your qualifying metrics.

For example, a business that sells kitchen cabinets might take out ads with the keyword “kitchen redesign” and offer a landing page with an offer for a booklet about everything you need to know about designing a kitchen. When the lead downloads it, the company can follow up with an email offering helpful design tools to get the lead started.

Align your content marketing strategy with the buyer’s journey

Know what your customers want to see and learn at each stage of the buyer’s journey. The better you understand what they want to learn about, the better your content can meet those needs and the easier you’ll find it to keep the lead engaged as they mature into an MQL.

Design your marketing campaigns around the life cycle of your customer so that you meet their needs each step of the customer journey. This provides you with more data before the hand-off to the sales team so that you can feel confident in your lead management and the quality of the leads you pass on.

For example, if you sell accounting software, you want content that guides customers through the funnel. At the top, you might have blog posts about organizing finances. To nurture the lead, you might have gated content about how accounting software can help them save time and money.

This registration for the gated topic might then lead to email that offers accounting tips and suggestions, which increasingly point toward the value of the accounting software. Finally, a free trial can help the lead see what makes this offer convenient.

Optimize for SEO

Improving your search rankings can increase the number of clicks you get to your website. This brings more interested leads into your sales pipeline. As people then move through the buyer’s journey, they’ll continue to come across your business thanks to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which can help you nurture them until they become an MQL.

For example, a business offering educational materials might use SEO to help their curriculum be discovered by interested schools. A solid SEO strategy ensures this company has results high on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for a wide range of keywords related to the curriculum, including terms that might be more mid-funnel. The target audience sees them as an authority and learns more about their offerings and whether they might be a good fit.

Host or attend networking events

Hosting and attending networking events can help establish your business as a leader in the industry, encouraging others to seek you out for your expertise when they have a question related to your field.

Consider a marketing platform attending a big conference, for example. The marketing department can use opportunities at the conference to get to know attendees and build their overall reputation as an expert with a wonderful product. When those attendees realize their current marketing platform doesn’t work for them any more, the platform offered by their acquaintance from the conference might be the first to pop into their minds.

Subtly attract users through social media

You can also use social media to subtly attract users. Creating a strong social media presence allows you to stay in touch with the greater community. You can keep an eye on trends and interests of your target audience so that you can better meet their needs. You can also draw people to your brand by creating engaging content that people want to share on their own social media profiles.

For example, a travel company might build a social media presence based around the idea of “seizing the day” and regularly post beautiful images of people on vacation and having life-changing experiences. Users might share and engage with the page out of enjoyment, but they’re also getting to know the company. When a follower wants to plan a trip, they may reach out to the travel company.

Generate your own MQLs today

Building out strategies for attracting MQLs can take your business to the next level. But the process can be time-consuming and may require specific skills. That’s where working with a freelance specialist can help.

Upwork can connect you to the best lead generation experts around. They have the expertise your business needs to attract and qualify more potential customers. That way, you can spend more time converting customers and less time qualifying them.


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How to Identify and Generate Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
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