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MQLs & SQLs: What Is a Marketing Qualified Lead & Sales Qualified Lead?

Dec 4, '19 / by Beth Carter

MQLs and SQLs: What is a Marketing & Sales Qualified Lead?

Not everyone who lands on your website is ready to buy from you.

Your website visitors might simply be trying to get familiar with what you offer. Or they might be trying to educate themselves on an industry-related topic. For these early-stage visitors, aggressive sales messaging will likely scare them off or turn them off before they've even gotten to know you.

On the other hand, if a website visitor is ready to buy but your messaging is too passive, you may struggle to convert those visitors into actual sales.

Should you consider all these visitors to be leads? Yes … but not all leads are the same.

Leads come in multiple categories:

  1. Leads
  2. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  3. Sales qualified leads (SQLs)

These categories are typically determined based on where an individual is in their buying journey. Understanding the differences between a lead, a marketing qualified lead, and a sales qualified lead will enable you to approach each individual with messaging that's always on target.

What Are the Different Kinds of Leads?

Although there are several ways to qualify the people who hit your website, one factor stands out above all: the individual's "intent" or readiness to buy.

Leads are interested primarily in information. They’re just beginning to understand that they might have a problem they need to solve, and they're looking around and doing a bit of research to see what answers you can provide them. These individuals are not yet ready to buy at this stage.

Example:  Bob’s team is growing and he wants to make sure projects are managed efficiently, so he searches for “Best practices project management.” He comes across a blog you've published on your website titled “10 Project Management Best Practices That Will Transform Your Workflow.” He reads the post and decides to subscribe to the blog. At this stage, you have no idea whether Bob is a good fit for your company or even interested in what you do.

The next stage is marketing qualified lead, also referred to as an MQL. These individuals understand their problem fairly well and are actively trying to solve it. An MQL will do a fair bit of digging around your website, possibly visiting your product pages, reading some blogs, and downloading content to help them decide which path to take. They’re in research mode and have the potential to buy, but aren’t quite ready just yet to get down to brass tacks with a sales rep.

Example: Bob is pretty sure that a project management software solution will help his team more easily get work out the door, but he’s not yet confident enough in this idea to commit to a sales call. So, he watches some videos about how to use the software, reads a few more blogs and a couple of e-books, and downloads a white paper with data on how your project management software improves efficiency.

Finally, there’s the sales qualified lead, also known as an SQL. These folks are far along in their process and ready to buy. They’ve read the e-books, gone through the email sequences, spent time on your high-value pages, and they’ve taken things one step further — possibly making contact via a chat window, asking questions over email, or even requesting a trial version or demo of a product or service. They’re ready to talk to someone on the sales team about logistics and budget.

Example: After having done his homework, Bob’s ready to get down to business. He visits your contact page, submits his information for a demo, and starts making a list of what questions he wants to ask your sales rep when they call.

What Is Lead Scoring?
Manually analyzing each lead might work well for companies with very few leads, but for companies with a lot of web traffic and conversions, a manual review process is inefficient. Instead, a lead scoring system can automate the qualification of leads. With this system, your marketing automation platform applies an algorithm to the contacts in your database, assigning a set number of points anytime the contact takes a certain action.

Example: Reading a blog post might equal 10 points, while submitting a request for a demo might equal 100 points. Your team can determine the total point values that qualify a contact as a lead, MQL or SQL. You can even set up alerts to automatically be notified when a contact becomes an SQL — ensuring you'll be able to act quickly and make timely contact.

What Works Best for SQLs vs MQLs

When it comes to converting leads, MQLs and SQLs into paying customers, you naturally need an approach that is tailored to each individual's specific needs.

MQLs are best left to self-serve and explore your site on their own, but that doesn’t mean you have to be completely hands-off. The strategic use of CTAs, email sequences, and internal links can help steer the lead to other relevant content on your site, helping to get them thinking about the next step. For MQLs, having great content is key. They’re looking for things like:

  • E-books
  • Whitepapers
  • Webinars
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics

In addition, social media engagement or retargeting ads can help nurture an MQL without a forced sales pitch.

Your goal is to establish your authority with MQLs and show them that not only do you know how to solve their problems, but you can also do it better than the competition.

With SQLs, you can be more forward. They’ve already reached out to you in some way, either by email or chat. And they're reasonably sure that you’re the one for them. You just need to show initiative, as well as qualify for opportunity fit. Is this lead a good fit client for your organization?

You can push the relationship forward by offering to speak with them to answer any more questions they might have. Focused content is perfect for this situation, including:

  • Case studies
  • Comparison sheets
  • Demo videos
  • Free strategy sessions

This type of content showcases your ability to solve the SQL's problem and provides success metrics to prove it. Basically, it proves that you’re the best choice for the job.

Who’s Showing Up?

By keeping a close eye on your lead activity, you may start to notice that you’re attracting a mix of MQLs and SQLs. Great! Keep serving up content to help nudge these visitors along in their buying journey

Or, you might be getting a lot of general leads, but nobody seems willing to engage further. If this is happening, we suggest you work on fleshing out your web copy and marketing content assets, so that no matter what kind of lead is on your site, they can find what they came for.

By providing the right balance of content and messaging that speaks to each category of lead, you’ll find that you're not only attracting higher quality website visitors, you're ultimately building lasting relationships with your leads and vastly improving the odds that when it comes time to buy, you’ll be the first one on their minds.

Read the Guide: Build a Complete B2B Content Strategy

Topics: Content Marketing, Lead Management

Beth Carter
Written by Beth Carter

I love to write and I'm a total grammar freak. I also passionately believe that conversational, approachable and insightful content can help people solve real problems and can make a real difference in the world.

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