What is an MQL?

Published 2022-03-02, updated 2023-02-01

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Summary - Every marketing team needs a measure in place to evaluate lead quality. That's where the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) comes in.

Marketing’s goal is to drive revenue. The strategy and tactics used to achieve that goal will differ depending on your market, positioning, and the product/services you sell. However, every marketing team on the planet needs some measure in place to evaluate lead quality. To grow and scale, your marketing team needs a handle on who your best leads are and where they come from.

That’s where the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) comes in. An MQL is a lead that marketing believes has a higher probability to convert into a paying customer.

Even if you don’t have an MQL strategy, you should understand the concept behind MQLs. It will serve you well as you structure your demand generation activities or prepare for a product-led marketing strategy. 

Let’s take a deep dive on the MQL metric.

What is a marketing qualified lead?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead that marketing believes will convert into a paying customer based on behavioural, demographic and firmographic attributes. For example, marketing may define an MQL as someone who meets the following criteria:

  • Has submitted a demo request form
  • Is from a good geography
  • Is from a good industry

The intent of implementing an MQL process is to streamline how marketing passes qualified leads to sales. Beyond that purpose, you have a lot of room to set up your own definition of an MQL. In my post, how to pick an MQL model, I take a look at common ways to define an MQL such as manual qualification, lead scoring, and product-led MQLs.

Behind each of those ways to define an MQL is a larger question: what is the profile of your best-fit customer?

The MQL is where your customer profiles meet your contact database. Whatever makes up those ideal profiles should have data points in your marketing automation platform, such as HubSpot. An MQL is a lead who fulfills enough of your best-fit profile data to warrant additional follow up from sales.

Who should track MQLs?

Marketers need a metric to evaluate the quality of the leads they generate. The MQL is a well-established metric that does this, but it’s possible you may have other measures in place. In that sense, every marketing team should be tracking MQLs or an equivalent metric to indicate lead quality.

The need to track MQLs will become apparent once you’ve implemented a marketing automation and CRM platform. Your sales and marketing team will need to have dialogue about which team works leads at particular stages in the lifecycle, and how to facilitate that hand-off point, both in terms of external communications and lead management processes.

Why is the MQL metric important?

The MQL metric is important because it’s a metric that bridges both sales and marketing. It literally measures foot traffic on that bridge.

It tells marketing how many leads they’ve generated for the sales team and can provide the basis for fulfilling a certain quota each week or month. For sales, it is used as the first step in the inbound sales pipeline, indicating how many new, qualified leads are ready for follow up.

The MQL metric is really the result of setting up a process for sales and marketing. The count of contacts that reach the MQL stage comprise the metric you will monitor, but the process is more nuanced and has implications for both sales and marketing teams. Here’s an example of an internal flow for the MQL process.

Mql Lead Scoring Model

Because this metric is the hand-off point from marketing to sales, it should facilitate conversations about quality and quantity. Ideally, MQLs should be accepted by sales and worked by sales at a high rate. If sales is rejecting a high percentage of MQLs, then quality is low and the definition needs to be tweaked.

In summary, the MQL is more than just a measurement or KPI. It serves a few functions:

  • A forcing function for organizing your sales and marketing lead handoff process
  • An optimization metric
    • Look at MQL to Opportunity to evaluate the early stages of your sales process
    • Look at Lead to MQL to see how well you convert contacts in your database
  • Setting targets and optimizing programs
    • For example, optimizing a demo request campaign

How do you actually track MQLs?

Where does MQL data come from? You will track MQLs in your contact database, whether it’s in your marketing automation platform or CRM (or both). Tools like HubSpot, Marketo, Salesforce, and others provide you with both the means to communicate with MQLs and to implement an MQL process. 

The key here is to come up with a business definition of an MQL and translate that into your contact database. For example, if you work in HubSpot you may want to implement a lead scoring program that evaluates each contact’s attributes and assigns scores. You will then set up a “threshold” which signals a lead is now an MQL. Check out this post on picking an MQL to learn more.

One interesting thing to note about MQLs is that it is a “transitory” phase. Once a lead becomes an MQL, it should quickly move into the sales funnel. Your MQL list will be quite fluid – each day you will see new contacts added and older contacts removed. In HubSpot, for example, an MQL should progres to the Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) stage. For this reason, you will need to use timestamps to count MQLs generated during a particular period.

What other metrics to use with MQL?

The key metric to pair with MQLs is the SQL metric, or the first stage in your sales funnel. This will give you your MQL acceptance rate, which can be used as a KPI to evaluate the quality of leads. If sales accepts a high percentage of MQLs, you can be confident that your lead quality is good.

Benchmarking this metric is difficult since so many organizations will have different processes in place. For example, it could vary depending on the stringency of the sales qualification process or if sales generally responds to all MQLs. In general, I’d aim for an internal benchmark of 80% MQL acceptance rate.

The other metric to pair with MQLs is opportunities. Seeing how many MQLs become an opportunity on the sales pipeline gives marketing tangible revenue opportunities for the MQLs they generate. If the initial sales qualification criteria is open and inclusive (sales accepts all MQLs), then MQL-to-Opportunity will be critical for evaluating lead quality.

Should you be tracking MQLs?

Without a doubt, you should have a metric in place to evaluate your lead quality. You should also have a process for your sales and marketing hand-off. The MQL does both of these things quite well, however, it’s not the only way to accomplish this.

If your shop is focused on conversational marketing or product-led marketing, you may opt for a slightly different approach. In product-led teams, you may use product qualified leads (PQL) instead of MQL and give far more weighting to product or free trial engagement. 

By deliberately tracking your marketing team’s ability to generate quality leads, you are providing yourself with a data point for conversion optimization. Tracking the rate that MQLs turn into opportunities or customers will tell you if you’re connecting with your best-fit customers.

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