Definition

marketing-qualified lead (MQL)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era

A marketing-qualified lead (MQL) is a website visitor whose engagement levels indicate that he is likely to become a customer.  

To become an MQL, the visitor has demonstrated interest in the website's content. For example, the visitor may have filled in a web form, have downloaded content, have signed up for a newsletter or have virtually placed items in a shopping cart.  Each type of interaction is assigned a lead score, a metric that is intended to help sales and marketing personnel determine where the visitor is in the buying cycle. If the potential customer is early in the buying cycle, it is usually the marketing department's job to nurture the lead.

An MQL can be contrasted with a sales-qualified lead (SQL).  SQLs often indicate immediate interest in a company’s products or services, and a best practice is for a sales representative to act on an SQL within the first 24 hours of discovery. MQLs, by contrast, are leads of more general interest that may require more education and follow-up to be converted into sales opportunities. 

In a sales funnel, an MQL would be at the widest part of the funnel, while an SQL would be at the narrowest part of the funnel. Ideally, an MQL who is nurtured through one-to-many promotional e-mails and many-to-many social media marketing efforts will eventually accumulate enough lead points to become an SQL. The exact tipping point for MQL to SQL conversion will vary from company to company. 

Large companies often use lead generation software to automate the identification of qualified leads. Several vendors, such as Inside Sales, Lattice Engines and Inside View, use predictive analytics to provide companies with scored leads. But some industry observers critique these applications for identifying leads without providing sufficient transparency into the predictive modeling algorithms that could help the company to differentiate between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads. The difference is important because SQL leads are typically nurtured on a one-to-one basis and if done in person, require more attention and time.

This was last updated in May 2015

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