What is a Marketing-Qualified Lead? What MQL Really Means

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead What MQL Really Means FI What is a Marketing Qualified Lead? What MQL Really Means


For all of the desirable actions, channels, and profile aspects you define, you should also look at the undesirables.

Don’t just look at the positive, look at the negative attributes.

Are you a B2B organization? Do you want your teams following up with people that are masking their identity with “@gmail.com” email addresses? Is it important to weed out the procurement titles?

Look at each of the categories, and make sure you look at these undesirables, and document them accordingly.

Lead Scoring for MQLs

If you look closely at the categories, you’ll notice that all of the items defined can be leveraged in lead scoring.

Each of the attributes or actions that you define together with sales can be translated into a lead score, giving you the ability to score an MQL appropriately, and dynamically. You can set your marketing automation platform to take specific actions with leads that reach a certain score, such as sending them to sales with an MQL tag.

In communicating this to all stakeholders, you can easily define each lead by profile, channel, and actions. That way all parties know what an MQL actually is, and agree upon it.

Sales Accepted Leads

At its simplest, a “sales accepted lead” is a lead that sales has agreed meets benchmark(s) that sales and marketing have defined as warranting attention from sales.

Because you’ve communicated the profile, channel, and actions that make up the MQL lead score, and presented the lead to sales in the context of their CRM, sales is now able to make a good decision on whether or not to accept the lead.

There are three major criteria that exist here for sales to accept the lead.

  • The lead meets your MQL requirements, and sales can see that
  • Sales is able to initiate a conversation
  • This person is at a firm, and in a position, that makes it legitimately possible that at some point they may want to do business with our firm.

For most B2B firms, that’s it. For others, where the sales cycle is short and deal size is small, you should have buying time and authority in the mix.

However, the goal of sales at this point is to have a conversation to learn more about the individual, deepen the relationship with the brand (not crush it), and set the stage for further conversations.

This takes a talented sales team and training. The good news is, it works and generates ROI. When marketing does a good job of setting the stage for a conversation, well-trained sales teams can deepen that and drive positive interactions.

This lead may get passed back to marketing over time, or go through multiple cycles, but every time sales accepts the lead they should be gathering additional critical information that can help them serve the customer in the future, and help marketing serve the customer more effectively with targeted content.

You now know that every lead sales has accepted is a potential client at some point, and that you’re working your tail off to serve them better.

Note: This definition sometimes flies in the face of our “give me results NOW” mentality in business. But the truth of the matter is that business is about relationships. Relationships sometimes take time. By accepting a lead early, and learning more about them, it gives both sales and marketing time to develop that relationship.

Sales Qualified Opportunity

At its simplest, a “sales qualified opportunity” is a lead that sales has worked with enough to believe the lead has a high potential of closing. Every sales team in every company must create its own criteria.

Defining an SQO from an SAL can be a simple process. The simplest way to define this is to check whether we know the following things:

  • There is a legitimate buy cycle in place – whether that takes 1 day or 2 years doesn’t matter
  • We are talking with an influencer in that buy cycle
  • We have a time frame for that buy cycle
  • We know the size of the opportunity
  • We have permission to follow-up with next steps

If these items are known, an opportunity should be created in the CRM, no questions asked. If this was generated by the MQL to a SAL to the SQO funnel, then sales, marketing, operations, and executives should all see this as a win.

Some teams layer on budget into this equation. We tend to see that as a step in the buy cycle, rather than necessary for initiating a potential SQO.

We lean toward capturing possible opportunities earlier in the buy cycle rather than later. It keeps sales teams more focused on driving towards results and the pipelines in view of all. It also allows us to better analyze the lead funnel cycle better earlier on, and prioritize. If certain channels, prospects, or activities are leading to SQOs that are not closing, we want to see that quickly, and vice versa.

Make qualification simple

It’s always easy to add layers and make things more complicated, but this adds time and cost, and doesn’t usually add to clarity. Use the framework provided to define things for your teams. Make this process as simple and clear-cut as possible, so you can see unambiguous results. If you don’t get the results you want, adjust the framework to change a criteria or a timeframe, until you are able to accurately filter MQLs that become SAL that become SQO.

Here’s a quick recap for you, and we’re always happy to chat and help you define these for your team.

MQL – Marketing Qualified Lead

  • Important to look at leads by:

    • Profile
    • Channel gathered in
    • Actions taken
    • Undesirables
  • Agreed upon traits and channels with the sales team. Documented by both teams
  • Indicated to the sales team through lead scoring and leads presented in CRM

SAL – Sales Accepted Lead

  • The lead meets your MQL requirements
  • Sales is able to initiate a conversation
  • It is feasible that this lead may do business with us

SQO – Sales Qualified Opportunity

Sales confirms from the SAL that:

  • There is a buy cycle
  • The person has influence
  • We know the time frame and size of opportunity
  • We have permission to follow up and next steps

And of course, the final step is closing that sale. Then we’re into a new lifecycle of retention, loyalty, advocacy, referral and upsell with that client – but that’s another post, for another day.

Happy marketing and selling!

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