What’s the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)? This is one of the most important questions you need to answer as you ramp up your marketing efforts. Your answer doesn’t need to stay the same forever – in fact, it should change as you learn more about your audience and ICP. If you don't get clear on this definition upfront, you can cause a lot of confusion, missed leads, and investment in the wrong efforts.
An MQL is a lead that the marketing team has qualified as having demonstrated intent/interest in your product (based on a set of mutually agreed-upon criteria) and is ready for handoff to the sales team.
Let’s break each step down and go over the criteria...
An MQL should be a "Lead" first and foremost, which means it needs to fit your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). If a lead originates from inbound efforts (contact form, demo request, resource download, ROI calculator submission) the ICP fit can be a little looser. In the case of your outbound efforts (cold email or LinkedIn outreach), good ICP fit is a prerequisite for turning a lead into an MQL. If the lead isn't a good fit, is it really worth spending sales team resources to nurture them down the funnel?
Remember that your ICP may lie on a spectrum. For example, if a lead does not fit your ICP because the company’s revenue range is too high or too low, you may still make the decision to pursue it. If a lead has positive signals but uses an ERP your product doesn’t integrate with, they may not be worth spending time nurturing. This type of lead can (and should) get disqualified by marketing.
Before you build your marketing dashboard, your marketing and sales teams need to align on what it means for a lead to have demonstrated enough intent to be handed off. This will change based on the maturity of your sales function. For example, do you have SDRs and BDRs to help nurture lower intent leads through the funnel? Or does your team mainly consist of Account Executives who only want to engage with extremely high-intent “hand-raisers”? Get clear on what criteria make a lead worth handing off to sales – these will differ from company to company.
This portion of the definition tells us which team takes ownership of further developing the lead down the funnel. If sales accept responsibility for an MQL, they should mark the contact as a SAL (Sales Accepted Lead).
You need to get clear on what qualifies a lead as being ready for handoff to sales. These decisions should not be made in isolation – meet and talk through the specific criteria you’ll use to move leads along at each stage. It’s really important for marketing to prioritize fast handoff, and sales to prioritize fast follow-up. A good goal to aim for is a 5-minute follow-up for hot inbound MQLs.
Just because a lead has been accepted by sales does not mean that all marketing communications should stop. You should, however, be careful to avoid overlap marketing and sales messages.
Here’s are some basic questions to ask before disqualifying a lead at the MQL stage or handing it off to your sales team for follow-up: