Defining Leads, MQLs, and SQLs in an Industrial Setting

Kelly Wilhelme
Posted by Kelly Wilhelme on May 24, 2016


For any marketing or sales department, choosing the best prospects to target requires a great deal of thought and strategy. Once you’ve identified your target personas, then what? Those definitions are tied to the marketing and sales content you create, of course. One of the amazing things about inbound marketing is its ability to capture information from prospects who visit your website and request your content. In that process they identify and give you bits of information about themselves.

Then what? How do you use that information to qualify the contact, with the goal of identifying the best leads to hand off to sales. And by best, I mean the leads most likely to close, which includes handing them off to sales at the right time, when the lead is ready – not too soon, and surely not so late that you’ve missed your opportunity.

First of all, let’s be clear on a few definitions that follow the buyer’s journey or lifecycle stage:

  • Contact = anyone who’s provided you their email address
  • Lead = a contact who has the possibility of becoming a marketing qualified lead, but you just don’t know enough yet.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead = a lead who meets demographic criteria and who you will nurture with marketing content.
  • Sales Qualified Lead = an MQL who’s demonstrated, through their behavior, that they’re ready to talk to you.

Let’s talk through how to define each of these in an industrial setting.

Defining a Lead

As I said above, think about a true lead as someone who has the possibility of becoming an MQL. The easiest way to explain this is to think about who wouldn’t be included.

In a B2B setting like industrial distribution, you wouldn’t want to include students or self-employed people in your lead list. So, you could exclude .edu and personal email domains (gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc). You obviously don’t want to nurture competitors, so they should be identified and excluded as well. Other criteria could include international IP addresses, if you don’t sell outside the United States.

What you’re left with then, are contacts who could potentially become qualified once you learn more about them.

Marketing Qualified Leads

So what makes someone an MQL? To become an MQL, you have to know enough about the lead – either individually and/or about their company – to determine the likelihood that they’d become a customer. In other words, they fit the profile of one of your target personas. You get this information from forms they’ve filled out and, if you use the HubSpot CRM, information it populates about their company (size, revenue, etc.).

For example, an industrial MQL might fit the following criteria:

  • Located in the U.S.
  • Job title/role fits one of your target personas (i.e. Strategic Buyer, Reliability Engineer)
  • Company size or volume of program purchases meets your annual threshold
  • Pain point/biggest challenge aligns with one of your core products or services

Knowing whether a lead is an MQL will help you target your nurturing campaigns at the leads who have the highest probability of becoming customers.

Sales Qualified Leads

If MQLs are based on demographic information, how do you know if a lead actually wants to talk to you? How ‘hot’ are they? This is where SQL definition comes into play. Nothing is more annoying than a cold call from a sales rep whose company you’ve never heard of, and have indicated absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, marketing automation platforms allow you to track your leads’ behaviors so you can gauge their level of sales-readiness accordingly. Lead scoring is one way to accomplish this.

Lead scoring allows you to assign point values to various behaviors or activities, such as content downloads, page views, site visits, emails opened or clicked, events attended, and forms submitted. You can even assign more points to different webpages. For example, a lead who visits your Products page might get 5 points, where a blog post is only 1 point. Your Contact Us page is also a page that should be weighted more heavily than others.

Once an MQL hits a certain score threshold, they become flagged as an SQL, and should be handed off to the sales team for initiation of the sales process, i.e. a connect attempt sequence.

It’s also worth noting that anyone who fits your MQL criteria and indicates an interest in talking to you by requesting a consultation, trial, demo, etc. should be immediately flagged as an SQL.

Defining The Lead Lifecycle Saves Time & Improves Close Ratio

No system is perfect, and as a marketing manager, you should still frequently be reviewing form submissions and monitoring hot leads. But putting parameters around these lead definitions not only helps marketing and sales be on the same page, it allows both to devote their time to the leads who have the highest likelihood of becoming customers.

How to Develop an Innovative & Effective Inbound Marketing Plan

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Inbound Sales

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