Marketing is a process with very clear start and end points. The customer’s journey from the stage of identifying a need to making a purchase is called the sales funnel or the buying cycle. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs) both have specific positions in the buying cycle, but the treatment needed to convert them into a sale is different in each case, and often requires publishing specific types of content and other inbound marketing strategies.
The MQL vs. the SQL
A marketing qualified lead is a potential customer as opposed to a sales qualified lead, which is a prospective one. An MQL is someone who has indicated an interest in your product or service, to the point of giving you some personal information such as their name and email address. It means they could become a customer at a later stage, but are not yet ready to buy. MQLs have typically gone through the steps at the beginning of the buying cycle, which could include:
- Realizing that they have a problem requiring a solution
- Researching possible solution types and providers
- Identifying your company as one of several possible vendors
- Indicating an interest in receiving more information about your product or service
This doesn’t mean, however, that this type of lead is at the point where you should send a sales person to close the deal! Not only would you risk losing the sale, but you’re wasting the sales person’s time and effort.
Evaluating Legitimate MQLs
The methods used to evaluate where your potential customer is in his buying journey differs between industries and companies. Ideally, you’ll need to create a nurturing program to shepherd your prospects through the process, but first you have to select those leads that are worth the effort. According to Gleanster Research, a full 50% of the leads you receive are not yet ready to buy. In fact, only 25% of them are legitimate and should be forwarded to sales as SQLs.
Lead scoring: One way to determine an MQL is through lead scoring, which helps you to set some parameters for sending qualified SQLs through to sales. Marketing automation programs have criteria that use your website analytics to determine how long a user spent on your website, track the pages he viewed and the items he clicked on until the point where he provided his contact details. You can allocate a score for each behavior, and set a minimum level of points for the lead to become an MQL.
Behavior analysis: Website analytics also provide basic demographics, such as the country of origin. In some cases, your contact form can include a few short questions to help you find out the user’s needs. Evaluate each lead according to the scoring criteria, and you will end up with a list of MQLs.
At this point, these are ripe for nurturing with tactics such as an email marketing campaign, a personalized invitation to a virtual or real-life event or a special promotional deal, and the process will help to increase the information you have on them. When your MQL responds positively indicating that they may be ready to consider making a buying decision, you have converted your marketing qualified lead into a sales qualified lead to pursue.
Converting an SQL into a Sale
Turning your sales qualified lead into a sale depends—once again—on your industry and your business. In some industries, personal contact from a sales person or the small business owner may be all that it takes to close the sale. In others, a lengthy bidding or estimating process in competition with other vendors might be required. Review previous successful sales to identify patterns such as:
- The average length of time it takes to sign a new customer
- Typical conversion percentage of MQLs, based on the number of qualified leads that result in sales
- The average cost to your company in terms of time spent to convert an SQL, versus the average value of the sale or contract.
This will enable you to draw up a blueprint for closing SQLs, and with regular monitoring against your process you’ll be able to see if the situation changes. Market forces such as a stronger dollar, an election or a dip in oil prices can often make it easier or harder to close a deal. If you can identify the factors that affect your business, you can plan ahead for tactics such as pro-actively publishing content that addresses them and resonates with readers.