A Deeper Understanding of Marketing Qualified Leads

A detective looking at his evidence board through a magnifying glass


For any business to create revenue, it needs to generate leads. In fact, according to HubSpot, most marketers believe that generating leads is their top priority. Ideally, these leads will eventually become customers that purchase from the brand. However, while many companies may consider all leads as potential customers, the reality is that not all leads are created equal. 

Leads are typically categorized as marketing qualified lead (MQL) or sales qualified lead (SQL). But at what point does a lead fall into either of these categories? Shouldn’t brands be marketing to all of their leads and then trying to close the sale? To find out the answer, we spoke to marketing experts to better understand marketing qualified leads and how to approach them.

What Is an MQL? (And How Do Leads Become Marketing Qualified?)

“A marketing qualified lead is a lead who has shown interest and intent within your marketing efforts by taking action,” says marketing manager at San Diego, CA-based OnePitch, Kendall Aldridge. For example, most brands view the people that visit their websites or interact with them on social media as potential prospects. Still, that initial interest, such as simply visiting a website a few times, isn’t enough to classify them as an MQL — intent is a crucial factor as well. 

MQLs are prospects that are determined to be more likely to become a buyer eventually but haven’t decided to buy yet. According to Jesse Thé, president & CEO of Ontario, Canada-based Tauria, “to become an MQL, a visitor has shown an interest in the content of the site.” The behavior exhibited by a potential lead is what enables them to be classified as a marketing qualified lead. 

This might mean filling out a form to download an ebook, signing up for a newsletter, or in the case of an ecommerce store, placing items in a shopping cart. However, while intent and behavior provide a starting point for lead classification, companies tend to use lead scoring techniques before deciding that a lead has become an MQL. For example, brands may refer to buyer personas, compare existing buyer demographics and then outline which behaviors they view as most important for a prospect to become a marketing qualified lead. 

Related Article: The 4 Prerequisites to Successful B2B Marketing Planning in 2021

The Right Approach for Marketing to Leads

Since all leads can become MQLs based on specific criteria, many companies may consider marketing to all of their leads using the same approach. However, some marketing experts believe that to be the wrong approach. 

“A single meaningful conversation with a potential customer is worth ten times more than a bunch of MQLs resulting from a ‘spray and pray’ mass marketing campaign,” points out Leila Modarres, Chief Marketing Officer at Santa Clara, CA-based Infostretch. It might be tempting to get caught up in MQL data when deciding if marketing efforts have been successful or not, but that doesn’t match up with the nonlinear nature of what happens in the real-world buyer’s journey, Modarres explains. 

Instead, what ends up happening is that while a potential prospect might have indeed engaged with a piece of content to find something valuable to them, it doesn’t mean that they should be classified as an MQL. “The best approach to this is to monitor intention by setting up strong parameters for what qualifies a lead to be marketed to,” suggests Aldridge. 

With a solid scoring system, companies can better understand buyer actions and use that data to optimize the customer journey better. Here are some steps to properly determine if a prospect fits into the marketing qualified lead category:

  • Define an MQL for your brand: The criteria a prospect needs to meet to become a marketing qualified lead will vary from company to company. Sit down with your marketing and sales teams to determine the ideal score a prospect should have before moving them through the funnel.
  • Categorize leads based on buyer personas: If you’re doing your marketing correctly, most of the leads generated should match your ideal buyer persona. However, if a prospect takes an intended action but doesn’t match up with your buyer persona, then they may not be ready to be classified as an MQL just yet. 
  • Compare historical behavior: Just as your ideal buyer persona will have specific characteristics, so too will the customers who have made it to the end of your sales funnel. Identify the factors and actions that these buyers took and compare them to the actions taken by your prospect. 
  • Ask your customers: One way to determine if a prospect is an MQL is to ask them. Simply asking a prospect if they want to be contacted by sales on one of your forms is an easy way to categorize them as an MQL and continue providing them with relevant information. 


Everyone interested in your product or service isn’t going to become an MQL. However, by understanding what marketing qualified means for your brand and using your prospect’s intended actions, you can identify those that fit the role.

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