sales and marketing teams collaborate to develop an mql definition

What Is an MQL? 7 Steps to Defining Marketing Qualified Leads

What is a marketing-qualified lead? Follow these 7 steps to defining a MQL for your organization to make sure you're passing the hottest prospects to sales.
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Hot leads. That’s what your sales team wants, right? And lucky you! Because it’s your job to provide them. But filling the pipeline with fantastic leads isn’t always easy … and doing so requires a delicate balance between quantity and quality. Get this wrong and the impacts can be felt downstream, with fewer sales conversions and lackluster revenue. And that’s why rethinking how you define marketing qualified leads (MQLs) is so important … because it lays the groundwork for success.

What is an MQL?

A marketing qualified lead is a prospect who has shown interest in your company’s product or service by taking any action that indicates interest (downloading content, attending a webinar, etc.). MQLs require additional nurturing before you can pass them on to your sales team. 

Most organizations define leads in three stages, with MQLs being the first: 

Marketing-qualified leads (MQL): Leads accepted by marketing for additional nurture.  

Sales-accepted leads (SAL): Sales accepts the lead and agrees to take action.

Sales-qualified leads (SQL): Leads that have passed the point of qualification by the development team or sales, and are moving into an opportunity stage.

We’ll focus on the nexus between marketing-qualified and sales-qualified leads, as that’s the common ground for sales and marketing teams of all shapes and sizes.

Define the lead as qualified

The marketing qualified lead definition is the point at which marketing determines that a lead requires additional nurturing. The first and most important thing to do is for sales and marketing to agree on what a “qualified lead” means. Without a common definition, the two teams work from different playbooks … and that can undermine your results. 

Here are seven steps to making sure you get this right.

Develop a shared definition for a marketing qualified lead

Partner with your sales team leaders to develop a crystal clear definition of what marketing-qualified leads are and what they are not. What often happens instead is that the marketing department defines each of the lead stages but salespeople aren’t in on the process. And that creates a disconnect. When you align on this one critical element, everything downstream flows much easier.

Sales and marketing teams collaborate to develop shared mql meaning for their organization.
It takes teamwork to define marketing qualified leads (MQLs) for your organization. Meet with sales and compare notes until you’re aligned.
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

Use your buyer personas as a starting point

Fifty-six percent of organizations report generating higher-quality leads when using buyer personas, and 36% report shorter sales cycles. With this in mind, it’s no surprise just how powerful using personas is for your marketing efforts. But they’re also a fantastic starting point to help define your MQLs.


You can use the criteria included in your personas to develop your MQL definition (such as industry, job title, etc.). This information, along with behavioral data, can also help define when an MQL is ready to make the leap to SQL. 

For example, online behavior, such as engaging with email marketing, attending a webinar, or downloading multiple white papers, can help you better understand where a buyer is on their journey. You can break these data points out to determine the minimum criteria required for an MQL and the criteria required to make the transition to an SQL.

Get anecdotal feedback from sales

Sit down with your sales team and ask questions like: “What is a sales qualified lead for you?” and “What leads are the easiest for you to make contact with and qualify?” 

This doesn’t mean that marketing will have to deliver only these types of leads. Still, it’s critical to get as close as possible to a shared definition that is agreeable to sales.

And you want that definition to align with marketing, so when salespeople get a new lead, they’re not saying, “Hey, they totally aren’t ready to buy,” or “They don’t really meet our qualifications for a good lead.”

Two marketing pros discuss the meaning of mql over a laptop screen.
Trying to define MQL meaning? It’s all about getting feedback from sales and leveraging personas. Photo by Windows on Unsplash.

Determine demographic and “firmographic” qualification factors

Buyer personas are an excellent resource for gathering demographic and firmographic characteristics, such as industry, company size, location, and the buyer’s role. Once you capture these details, it’s helpful to sit down with sales and go over them. 

Present what you have and ask: “Did we miss anything?” Oftentimes, the answer will surprise you. The sales team is great for double-checking your work and unearthing factors you might not have considered.

Determine behavioral qualification information

Buyers will always tell you what they want if you listen closely enough. And part of that “listening” involves uncovering the digital breadcrumbs that prospects leave behind. 

For example, downloading specific white papers or attending webinars might be actions historically taken by leads who are ready to buy. People who spend a certain amount of time on a pricing page and return to that page several times over a day or two may display a sense of urgency. Furthermore, some organizations ask, “Would you like to be contacted by sales?” on their registration forms to make it easy for a lead to self-identify as an MQL who is ready and willing to talk to sales ­– right now.

Tracking this data across channels provides a more complete picture and the data points can be used in lead scoring, giving you the ability to score your MQLs more accurately.

Forecast whether your team can deliver enough marketing qualified leads

If you cast your net too wide, salespeople will spend far too much time on leads who are not ready to buy. But cast it too narrowly, and the sales team won’t have enough leads. 

So, it’s all about balance, right? 

Part of creating that balance is a negotiation between your sales and marketing teams. Sales, for example, might need to accept a broader MQL definition in order to fill the funnel with enough leads. And marketing might need to narrow its focus a bit to provide sales with higher-quality prospects.

Revisit the MQL definition quarterly

MQL marketing and defining MQLs isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task. Nope. You’ve got to keep on revisiting it, especially during “trigger events.” A new product launch is one such event and a great time to take a fresh look at your MQL definition. 

However, the hardest part of this process is getting it done to begin with. But it’s a wise investment that pays sales and marketing departments back significantly with improved lead quality, shorter sales cycles, and an easier time meeting quotas. 

And if you need a little more help attracting new prospects, we’ve got you covered. We  outlined our favorite strategies in our eBook “How To Attract More Prospects.

a closeup of two hands with markers sketching ideas for a shared mql definition on a white board
Back to the drawing board? Don’t be afraid to revisit your MQL definition twice a year. You’re always learning more about your qualified leads. Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash.


What is a marketing-qualified lead and an MQL definition?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a prospect who has shown interest and engagement with your marketing initiatives. Identifying MQLs helps marketers focus on nurturing efforts and move more leads through the sales funnel. 

What is a sales-qualified lead? 

A sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospect who meets specific criteria linked to their likelihood of purchasing. Unlike MQLs, SQLs have shown higher interest in your products and services, increasing the chance of a conversion

What is MQL vs SQL? 

An MQL and SQL are two types of leads in your sales funnel. MQL stands for marketing-qualified lead, while SQL stands for sales-qualified lead. An MQL has shown interest in your marketing efforts but might not be ready to buy. An SQL has shown a higher likelihood of converting to a customer. 

What is the MQL meaning? 

MQLs, or marketing qualified leads, are prospects who show interest or engagement with your marketing efforts and are ready for further nurturing. MQLs are typically defined by meeting specific demographics, online behavior, and content engagement criteria. 

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