What is a marketing qualified lead (MQL)?

A digital marketing professional learns the meaning of MQL or marketing qualified lead.

Most marketers know that leads don’t become customers overnight. Increasingly, people are doing their own research at their own pace with less reliance than ever on salespeople. And even when someone has almost made a purchase, with a product sitting in their online shopping cart, the sale can slip away as easily as the person clicking on another browser tab.

It can be maddening for business leaders. But what happens after a prospect abandons their ecommerce cart? Is the opportunity actually lost forever? After all, the person nearly made a purchase. They nearly became a customer, which certainly means they’re more likely to become a customer than most other people.

This person clearly interacted with your brand in a meaningful way. Your marketing team would likely label them a qualified lead — one worthy of retargeting, reengagement, and further efforts to nurture them through the sales funnel.

Identifying marketing qualified leads (MQL) is essential to ultimately converting customers. But before you know who your MQLs are, you have to understand what an MQL is.

What is an MQL?

As a concept, MQL is relatively straightforward. It is a prospective customer that has been vetted by your marketing team and satisfied the relevant criteria to be passed along to the sales department.

There are many different criteria that an organization can use to qualify leads. The specific considerations that you use should be based on factors like the industry you operate in, the costs of your products, and your target audience.

However, the one criterion that every business should use when qualifying leads is whether the prospect has indicated their interest by willingly interacting with the brand in a meaningful way.

Voluntary interactions with a brand are a strong indicator that the potential customer has a high interest in your product or service. These voluntary interactions can take many forms, including:

All of these willing engagements demonstrate that the consumer is interested in making a purchase. But not all of these examples indicate the same level of intrigue on the part of the potential customer.

For instance, a prospective customer who takes the time to complete a contact or quote form has peak interest. On the other hand, someone that clicks on a paid ad and views only one other page before bouncing will still need to be nurtured before being routed to sales.

Due to the large degree of variability in prospect interest levels, it is critical that your business establishes other criteria in addition to brand interactions. By using multiple criteria to qualify leads, your marketing team can help sales staff boost conversion rates and generate more revenue.

MQL criteria

Before your organization can clearly define MQL criteria, it should first map the customer journey from brand awareness to purchase. If you have already done this, revisit your customer journey map to ensure that it clearly defines each stage of the sales funnel.

From there, your organization needs to consider relevant factors such as:

MQLs and non-MQLs will interact with marketing assets in very different ways. By analyzing these differences, you’ll be able to better understand what differentiates these two groups of prospects.

MQLs are more likely to become sales conversions, as they are more receptive than typical leads. However, they have not become a sales conversion yet and should only be offered relevant solutions to their problem.

After you’ve examined the behavior of MQLs and non-MQLs, it’s time to get more granular. This is when you should begin to consider demographic data points like job titles, location, education, and household income levels.

By considering these factors, you’ll be better positioned to establish relevant MQL criteria. For instance, you may decide an MQL is a prospect that has requested a quote online or filled out a contact form. These criteria would be useful for an organization that sells costly items, such as high-end furniture or computers.

On the other hand, an ecommerce retailer that deals in household goods, clothes, and small-ticket items might benefit from establishing looser MQL criteria. For example, a business may decide that an MQL is a prospect that has added items to their online shopping cart, clicked on a paid ad, or signed up for email notifications.

In addition, when identifying and targeting MQLs, you should consider the following:

Examine historical data

Take a look back at sales data over the last 12 months. Which pathways did customers take on their purchasing journey? Did each of your marketing channels yield notable results, or did the majority of MQLs originate from a particular medium (such as paid search or Facebook)?

Once you’ve determined which channels are yielding the best leads, you can further explore the efficacy of each channel. If a particular channel is yielding very few MQLs, you should evaluate how you’re marketing on that medium.

Seek customer feedback

While the concept of vetting leads before sending them to sales is a great way of boosting conversions, not every MQL will make a purchase. They are simply more likely to do so. With that in mind, you should be actively seeking feedback from prospective customers that decline to make a purchase.

For example, let’s say a past customer who’s on your mailing list adds a new item to their cart and abandons it. Since you already have a relationship with that customer, you could reach out to them and remind them about the items in their abandoned cart. You could also find out why they decided not to complete the purchase.

Gathering feedback will help you strengthen future marketing campaigns and refine your MQL criteria. The feedback will also assist you as you evaluate seasonal sales offers, product pricing, and discount opportunities.

Over time, your criteria for a marketing qualified lead will likely — and should — evolve. To ensure you’re using the most relevant qualifying criteria possible, always actively search for trends within your target audience.

After you begin using your MQL system, reexamine demographic data and purchasing habits among successful leads. See which factors these individuals have in common so that you can optimize your next marketing campaign and drive conversion rates even higher.

Identify a competitive edge

Understanding your market positioning is critical, not only to using the MQL concept but also to achieving your sales goals. What value proposition can you offer customers? Why should they choose your product over those provided by competitors?

By answering these questions with your marketing materials, you’ll gain a competitive advantage within your industry. And you’ll be more capable of demonstrating your value to prospective customers.

Manage your MQLs with Adobe Marketo Engage

Using the concept of MQLs, you can more effectively vet prospects, utilize sales resources, and improve conversion rates. You will also be able to reduce cart abandonment rates, increase sales team performance, and optimize revenue.

Now that you know what an MQL is, how an MQL works, and the differences between different types of leads, the question is how to start following your leads better, managing your MQLs more strategically, and making more sales.

Adobe Marketo Engage, which specializes in customer engagement for complex B2B buying journeys, is a complete solution for lead management. It brings marketing and sales together to nurture leads, orchestrate personalized experiences, optimize content, and measure business impact across every channel.

Ready to take the guesswork out of lead management? Take an Adobe Marketo Engage product tour today.