What is a B2B marketing qualified lead?


What is a B2B marketing qualified lead?

March 2021
Words reading marketing qualified lead written on page against blue background

Defining what it means to be a marketing qualified lead.

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a prospective customer interested in your proposition. The B2B marketer must often meet three broad objectives for brand, sales leads/revenue, and corporate social responsibility. So, understanding what it is we need to pass on to sales colleagues in terms of leads is fundamental. More importantly, our sales colleagues need to understand what it is we are handing over to them – they want a sales qualified lead (SQL).

The sales team don’t want to waste time on a prospective customer who isn’t really a prospective customer, and never will be a paying customer. They also don’t want to talk to a prospective customer too early or at the wrong time, as this might deter them from becoming a paying customer. This is why these simple definitions, and alignment between sales and marketing, are important. 

In this blog, we’re going to talk about stages in the B2B marketing and sales process, and how you could define potential customers at each stage. Ultimately, however, it’s for your organisation to decide how you categorise leads and what you call them. What you choose should be consistent across your business and make sure all stakeholders, in sales, marketing and beyond, understand what your definitions mean so you are all aligned, and there is little chance of misinterpretation. 

If a sales colleague thinks a prospective customer is ready to purchase but they’re not, this could lose the sale and resulting revenue, and damage internal relationships.

How to define your B2B marketing and sales process

We’ve talked about the B2B sales funnel in our blog, what is a B2B sales funnel and why do I need one, highlighting that this is your marketing and sales process. Prospective customers come in at the top of the funnel, and you use various marketing techniques to nurture the more serious ones until they move to the bottom of the funnel. Here, they are passed onto the sales team who turn them into paying customers. 

It makes sense to define your prospective customers according to where they are in the marketing and sales process (funnel). To do that, it helps to define your process and funnel first. This sounds obvious, but we’ve seen many marketers charge into campaigns without creating the process and infrastructure first, because it’s viewed as a tedious task. But you should invest time in mapping processes and putting the infrastructure into place. 

Marketing qualified leads highlighted in diagram of sales funnel

What do you call your prospective customers?

Our approach is not to reinvent the wheel, nor fix something if it isn’t broken. So we looked at what the rest of the marketing and sales world calls ‘prospective customers’ as they move through the process or funnel to becoming paying customers.

As with the sales funnel, there are many definitions of what a ‘prospective customer’ is. Broadly speaking, a prospective customer falls into three categories.

1. Prospects 

These are people (personas) and organisations who may have a requirement for your proposition but are currently strangers to your brand. Depending on your proposition and the size and type of the market you’re targeting, you may know exactly who they are, because there may only be 50 of them in the world. Or there could be millions, and you need to mass market to engage.

As you market to prospects at the top of the sales funnel, they become aware of your brand. Your marketing may result in engagement, and these prospects will become more familiar with your proposition. This moves them further down the funnel, while those prospects who lack genuine interest will fall away. You will be left with the prospects that are ‘problem aware’ and know your brand may have a solution, so are more likely to buy.    

There are some definitions that say leads become prospects. That’s fine, but the majority of the sales and marketing world agree that prospects are turned into leads when they cross the threshold of being more likely to buy.

2. Leads

Your leads are prospective customers who are ‘problem aware’ and have become ‘solution aware’ as a result of your marketing. They are in the middle of your funnel, at the consideration/evaluation stage, because now you are telling them how you can solve their problem more specifically. This makes them ‘solution aware’ as they begin to consider/evaluate your solution.

You may interact with leads digitally, or perhaps via events and webinars. Ideally, each individual lead has been identified and is in your CRM or marketing automation solution system, and you’re tracking their progress through the funnel. At some point, your marketing activities will nurture them to the point that you will establish they:

•    have a specific need 
•    think your solution can fulfil that need
•    have a budget 
•    are a decision-maker or key influencer
•    are ready to take a decision

This is when a lead becomes an opportunity, moving down to the bottom of the funnel. Depending on your preferred terminology, you qualified this lead as being an opportunity, so this potential customer is, according to your organisation’s criteria, a marketing qualified lead.

3. Opportunities / MQL / SQL 

The bottom of the funnel is the decision/conversion/purchase point. It’s where your sales colleagues get involved. Having fulfilled all the criteria above, which establishes the potential customer as an opportunity or marketing qualified lead, this potential customer will transition into a sales qualified lead.   

So, what differentiates an MQL from an SQL? 

You can decide, but a key factor is whether the lead is ready to speak to the sales team. At this stage they are a decision-maker or key influencer with a need and budget, and they understand your brand can deliver a solution and what form that might take. They are also ready to have that solution designed to meet their specific needs by a salesperson via a consultative sales process. 

What triggers the handover process? It can be a direct request or opt-in by the customer, so they engage directly by contacting you. Or your CRM or marketing automation solution has a lead scoring process that, when a sufficiently high score is reached based on the lead’s behaviour, a salesperson reaches out. 

What do salespeople want from marketing?

The world is full of sales-led businesses, brand-focused organisations, and marketing-oriented companies, but in the B2B world, when we’re selling large solutions, we need each other. There is a symbiosis between the two functions, as there is between all functions in an organisation.

We have different but highly complementary skills and are more effective when we work as a team towards a common objective and using a shared language. Often this does not happen, especially in large organisations. So, if you want to understand what your sales colleagues want from your marketing and lead generation, ask them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Marketing support 

If you’d like help in designing your marketing and sales process, lead generation strategies, lead scoring, or selecting and onboarding CRM and automation platforms, please contact us for marketing support.

What can we do for you?

For a no obligation discussion about how we can help you meet your marketing and communication objectives call or email us.

+44 (0) 20 7100 4460 mail@copestone.uk.com

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