How to Generate and Convert Marketing Qualified Leads

In marketing and sales, we’re always on the lookout for leads. However, not all leads are created equal. Leads that have the biggest impact on your bottom line are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).

But what exactly are MQLs and what makes them so special?

In this article, we’ll give you the low-down on what MQLs are and where you can find them.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

Simply put, a marketing qualified lead is a prospect that the marketing department has judged likely to convert into a customer, based on analytics and lead intelligence.

Think of it this way, if you’re single, and you have several suitors knocking on your front door, MQL leads are the ones that are most likely to become your significant other based on your own objectives, standards, and qualifications honed to a fine edge after years and years of dating and relationships.

Every business has their own criteria for determining the quality of a lead. Sometimes it’s because they downloaded a particular eBook or because they made an inquiry online or over the phone. Whatever the case, it’s usually up to the marketing department to judge based on a relevant scoring system.

What Makes MQLs So Important?

MQLs are highly valuable because they focus more on quality than quantity. For instance, it’s better to have a small group of highly qualified MQLs with high purchasing power rather than hundreds of mildly interested inquiries in your inbox from a webinar.

A more specific example is in C-suite marketing. It’s better to have a small number of C-suite executive leads than hundreds of non-C-suite leads because the former have a higher likelihood of being decision makers. Again, quality trumps quantity because the non-C-suite leads are likely a harder sell even though you have a lot of them.

We’re not the only ones saying quality trumps all. 70% of marketers cite the need for higher quality leads in lead generation initiatives. Higher conversion rates mean more efficient sales and marketing processes, so you should be doing all you can to improve not only your overall numbers but also the number of quality leads in your marketing funnel.

The Benefits of Defining MQLs

Don’t waste time and effort

Identifying your MQLs ensures that the work marketing teams have done doesn’t go to waste. When MQLs are handed over to sales, marketing teams can rest assured, in the knowledge that the sales team is pursuing the hottest possible leads generated from hard data.

At the same time, sales teams can be assured that they are not simply looking for needles in a haystack. With the use of MQLs, outreach by the sales teams is far more targeted and more likely to result in a sale.

Improved sales workload

Sales representatives don’t want to waste their time and energy on prospects that lead nowhere. More importantly, businesses don’t want to waste their resources on pursuing bad leads.

Knowing who MQLs are helps businesses improve their teams’ workloads to ensure that they’re only using resources on the prospects that can generate the highest ROI.

Better alignment for sales and marketing teams

MQLs are an important factor in creating a Service-Level Agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales teams. When there is a formal criterion for defining which leads get passed to the sales team, there is less space for confusion and misunderstanding.

Better alignment facilitates a feedback loop between marketing and sales teams. This means a lower rejection rate for sales reps, as the lead scoring system focuses on targeting “easier” leads. When the hand-off process between teams is smoother, resources are spent more efficiently.

Improved content marketing

A MarketingSherpa survey found that 79 percent of marketing leads never make it to actual sales. This is a big challenge for businesses and another area where MQL identification can help.

MQLs benefit content marketers because it lets them know who exactly they need to target with their content, which improves the ROI of lead nurturing initiatives.

MQLs help qualify your priorities

Knowing which leads can generate the biggest opportunities helps businesses fine-tune their marketing and sales priorities. Do you want to invest more resources trying to convert leads from hundreds of inquiries or would you rather nurture quality leads from a small group of high-potential buyers?

Better Sales-Marketing Alignment for Improving MQLs

In order for sales and marketing to be truly effective, both teams need to align their strategies and share the processes of their day-to-day operations. MQLs are extremely valuable to a business and a marketing to sales pipeline needs to run and be tracked so you now which marketing techniques and strategies are resulting in revenue.

1. Define Your MQL

Before anything, work with sales to define your ideal customer and target market so that marketers are equipped to identify leads that sales will be more likely to convert. 40% of sales reps say that prospecting is the most challenging part of their job.

To address this, providing your team with an identifiable profile of preferred customer ensures marketing will be able to hand over likely customers. In turn, sales representatives are confident the MQLs provided by the marketing team are more likely to result in conversions. Knowing who MQLs are will enhance the overall workload and performance contributing to higher ROIs for your firm.

2. Track the Workflow and Quality of your MQLs

Insights on your MQL performance can provide you with optimization opportunities to increase conversion rates and decrease the number of leads that go cold. An established process between sales and marketing teams can minimize confusion, miscommunication, and gaps. A tailored and standardized strategy that underscores prompt engagement of MQLs will allow your teams to properly nurture potential customers leading to better sales conversions.

3. Establish a Combined Marketers and Sales Team for Enhanced Collaboration

These processes work best if marketing and sales teams are working together. Through better persona development and targeting, marketers can execute appropriate campaigns and turnover vetted MQLs which in turn improves the performance of sales representatives. Establishing a mechanism for greater collaboration and trust between sales and marketing teams will give your organization an advantage over the competition and accelerate business growth.

4. Lead Score Process Audit

Lead scoring is a method employed to rank prospects or leads according to a scale indicating their potential value to the business. Respective scores rate the leads interest, interaction, and professional profile which will then help your sales and marketing teams determine if they are ready to progress to a sales discussion.

The process and basis of evaluation is as critical as the results themselves.  Traditionally, sales and marketing teams have relied on BANT – a sales qualification framework – used to identify and target prospective clients based on Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline. While BANT can be used as a guide, it’s time to move beyond the confines of BANT to focus on the needs of your leads based on their engagements with your brand.

By focusing on the presence of BANT’s four elements, you may be excluding intent data as well as rushing your MQLs to a sales discussion that needs additional information. In the end, BANT could be narrowing your field of opportunity and missing out on leads that may have been better for your firm.

Customers want service providers that are prepared, understand them and provide personalized services that consider their unique requirements. According to a HubSpot report, buyers shared that the three most important elements of a positive sales experience are a sales representative who 1) listens to their needs, 2) isn’t pushy, and 3) provides relevant information.

In order to develop a customer relationship, it’s imperative that executives impress the need for sales and marketers to nurture clients and genuinely listen to their challenges and requirements. Leads are dynamic and their needs change over time. Today’s marketplace is no longer about pitching your product, rather it’s about providing client services and helping consumers identify and address their problems with the services you are offering.

Turning MQL to SAL: Maximizing Your Sales Accepted Leads

LeanData’s new report, The State of Lead Management, based on a survey of 527 B2B sellers and marketers found an average 25.5 % of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong account owner.

In sum, over 25% of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong person.

This means individuals who expressed interest are not getting the attention they deserve.

LeanData also discovered sales and marketing leaders also have different opinions on lead follow-up effectiveness. For example, the chart below shows 30% of marketing leaders believe that sales will always follow-up on marketing-generated leads compared to 61% of sales leaders.

Source: http://www.marketingcharts.com/online/b2b-marketers-and-salespeople-point-to-problems-with-lead-management-76968/

There’s room for improvement.

Tip 1: Set up a service-level agreement on lead routing with sales

Do you have the following things documented by your sales team?

  • Written criteria for lead routing (territories, vertical focus, product interest, etc.)
  • Sales time-to-follow-up expectations (2 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours,)
  • Management support to help keep the sales team accountable?
  • Clear process flow from form completion to sales hand-off?

I helped a client develop a service level agreement to improve lead routing and increased their leads-to-opportunities by over 200%.

Here’s how.

  1. Developed a universal lead definition which influenced how they score. And field sales agreed to engage all marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) within 24 hours.
  2. Qualified all leads with inside sales and distributed within two business hours.
  3. Used a checklist to update territories often to keep up with changes.
  4. Routed leads via automated rules in Salesforce.com. The workflow notifies the salesperson and creates a task with a deadline.
  5. Setup rule if a qualified lead is not opened/edited by the assigned rep within 24 hours, they get a reminder message from their manager. And if a sales lead goes more than 48 hours, they get a call to see if that contact needs to reassigned or if they need help.

It takes some time to plan the process and collaborative work with sales. But it’s worth it. Using this approach, they converted 200% more leads to opportunities.

Learn more on sales and marketing alignment.

Tip 2: Verify that people actually want to talk to a sales rep before routing

Use your potential customer’s and your sales rep’s time well. When someone downloads a single piece of content (like a white paper), are they ready for a sales rep to call? Not likely.

The key to lead routing to match the readiness of the lead (i.e., future customer) with expectations of your sales team. If you don’t do this, you’re starting them off with a quick disconnect.

First, you need to qualify each lead to see they are “sales-ready” which means they want to talk to a salesperson. You can find this ideal point by using lead scoring and lead qualification. There is only so much information that you can get off a Web form or that someone will volunteer in an email.

Learn more about Lead Qualification Basics Every B2B Marketer Must Know

Tip 3: Provide tools your reps can use to follow-up after the handoff

Like a relay race, there’s a point when Marketing’s and Sales’ hands are on the baton when you make a handoff.

Here’s what I mean.

You need to be clear when marketing is going to hand the lead off to sales. So don’t drop the baton because that hurts the relationship.

Additionally, salespeople often struggle with their follow-up approach. After working with hundreds of salespeople and seeing their sales processes first hand, I frequently hear this “stuck point.” They often ask, “How do I advance the lead when there isn’t an immediate need?” And salespeople are often stuck wondering, “What else can I talk to them about?”

Without your input, salespeople can resort to boring or irrelevant messaging. This is not because they lack creatively, it comes down to their time. Help your salespeople spend their time connecting and selling rather than building content and messaging.

Create a few emails and some talking points to help them connect with the motivation of leads based on their interest. In sum, provide your sales team with messaging and content to engage relevantly.

Learn more about email nurturing.

Tip 4: Schedule appointments for the sales team and cut “telephone tag”

Here are three potential ideas you can test to optimize your lead routing for more sales:

Distribute leads based on sales skill

Use lead grading to rank what level of expertise leads need based on the need. More general inquiries can go to inside sales reps first. Do not frustrate field salespeople by sending them people who don’t want to talk to them. Make sure you sort your leads based on anticipated needs or interest then route them as soon as possible.

Send leads to reps by product or industry expertise

Use your sales team’s industry experience and knowledge. The more you know about your reps, the more you can match with leads they’ll have the most success. This is why round-robin lead distribution can be deadly to conversion. It assumes every salesperson is the same.

Route based on the location

If you have a large distributed field team, you likely route leads via territories or regions. But smaller teams and inside sales teams can also use local lead routing too. You can help your sales team make local connections.

For example, if a contact works from home in CA, but their office is located in MN. Who do you route this lead too? Can that person based in CA connect work with someone local? You need to real collaboration with sales to do this.

Learn more about lead routing.

Tip 5: Track and measure sales follow-up

Does your routing support the real-time tracking and reporting of all marketing-generated leads? You can monitor and measure lead routing in the following ways:

  • Stage of the sales pipeline
  • Industry vertical and initial interest
  • Salesperson responsiveness (time-to-open/edit and initial follow-up)
  • Territory performance (benchmark and compare performance)
  • A marketing campaign or lead source
  • Lead scoring and grading
  • Forecasted revenue and time-to-close

Tip 6: Use a checklist to make sure no leads get lost or missed

Airline pilots, portfolio managers, surgeons use checklists so why not marketers? By using lists, you can improve your performance and get more consistent results. For more on this, read HBR: Using Checklists to Prevent Failure.

You can use the following list of steps to help you focus on where you need to improve lead routing now:

  • Get buy-in from the sales team on your “sales ready” lead definition
  • Provide qualification information for each sales lead
  • Centralize the lead qualification process with a clear lead definition
  • Document the lead hand-off process and accountabilities at each stage
  • Qualify and Distribute sales-ready leads immediately
  • Communicate lead handoff to salesperson using automated rules and human oversight
  • Measure sales pursuit on leads (If not followed up will leads get pulled or reassigned)
  • Sales management must also audit and track rep follow-up
  • Close the loop on marketing-generated leads -what gets measured gets done
  • Train your salespeople on how to follow-up and give you feedback
  • Get close-loop feedback from the sales team on leads
  • Share best-practice lead generation follow-up across the sales team

Check out our 20-point checklist to creating the perfect blog post.

In Conclusion

Almost all businesses can benefit from the identification and pursuit of marketing qualified leads. In a nutshell, it ensures that sales representatives are not just handed random numbers to call, but they are pursuing high-quality leads.

The result is an improvement in productivity and more sales conversions for the company. It also ensures that the marketing teams are executing campaigns geared towards the leads that have the highest potential of turning into sales.

Want to find out how to increase high quality leads via content marketing? Check out our Content Builder Services or schedule a 15-minute call with Michael Brenner today!

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.