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Best Practices for Defining, Assigning and Engaging MQLs


August 11, 2022


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Best Practices for Defining, Assigning and Engaging MQLs - The Gist - B2B Inbound Marketing Agency - Certified HubSpot Solutions Partner

The debate between marketing and sales in the lead handoff process can best be described as spirited. This is particularly since most businesses will have both Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Accepted Leads (SALs). What's more, you are likely grappling with how the sales team interacts with the leads from the marketing teams.


What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

A Marketing Qualified Lead (or MQL) is a contact that has engaged with your marketing channels and demonstrated interest to the marketing team that they are likely to become a customer or at least are ready to be contacted by a member of the sales team. Ideally, your marketing and sales teams will work together to operate from a Service Level Agreement (SLA) which sets standards and expectations for what milestones must be reached in order for a lead to become worthy of a sales rep's time and attention.

Traditionally, "MQL" is a label your marketing team will apply to a lead in your CRM that effectively assigns them to the sales team for more in-depth, personalized follow-up.


Establishing the Qualification Process

In other words, how does your marketing team know a lead is actually qualified? 

At a high-level, the marketing team should be able to identify a lead as qualified because they would have already worked with the sales team to design shared expectations and definitions about the following:

  • How leads are generated
  • What characteristics the sales team looks for in a lead
  • What demographic information signals a qualified lead
  • What behaviors or actions signal a lead might be qualified

Sales activities aren't as scalable as marketing activities. For example, the marketing team may send a monthly newsletter to 500 subscribers. A year later that subscriber list may grow to 2,000 people. Your newsletter now reaches 4x as many people and therefore you can argue is now 4x as valuable. But it doesn't take the marketing team 4x as much time to send the email. 

That's why sales teams have to be much more judicious with their time. In a sales environment, time is money. A sales rep must optimize their time spent on high-value activities working high-potential leads in order to be successful. That's why sales teams don't want to work weak leads and why marketing must understand what constitutes a lead worthy of the sales team's time.

This is all to say that the process for qualifying (and passing) leads should be clearly defined and agreed upon by both the sales and marketing teams. Therefore, the qualification process should be somewhat vigorous (although that doesn't mean it has to be incredibly time consuming). While MQLs are often qualified manually, they can also be done automatically through workflows.

Examples of manual qualification include:

  • A lead replies directly to a marketing email with a question
  • Someone notices a lead is highly-engaged with ebooks
  • Some notices a lead is highly-engaged on the company's social media accounts
  • The marketing team notices a lead has been visiting your pricing page

Examples of automatic qualification include:

  • When specific form(s) on your website are submitted, a workflow automatically marks them as an MQL and passes the lead to sales
  • When a contact has been subscribed to your emails for _ days and has opened and clicked every email they were sent, a workflow marks them as an MQL and passes the lead to sales
  • You set up automated lead scoring (which can be its own topic altogether) so certain indicators that suggest buying interest increase the lead's internal "score" and once it reaches a certain threshold, a workflow marks the lead as an MQL and passes it to sales

Basically, the marketing team is responsible for determining whether or not they believe there is a chance of the lead actually converting to a customer. The sales team will then nurture and convert a specific lead into a customer. 


Establishing a Working Marketing and Sales Team Relationship

For the MQL cycle to succeed there needs to be open communication and alignment between the marketing and sales teams. Specifically, for marketers to target and identify high-quality leads there needs to be alignment with the sales teams. 

You want to start by clearly stating the importance of the relationship between the marketing and sales department. These teams have to understand and value cross-team communication and collaboration. 

One of the most critical steps for aligning your sales and marketing efforts is creating a service level agreement (SLA). Traditionally, an SLA serves to define exactly what a customer will receive from a service provider. But SLAs serve internal operations as well, and sales and marketing agreements are among the most crucial.

Source: HubSpot

Set recurring meetings to discuss this alignment and areas where there's room for growth. During said meetings, there should be time to discuss how best you can optimize the relationship between the marketing and sales teams. 


Creating Lead Definitions and Buyer Personas

Marketers and sales teams should work together to develop lead definitions for your business. These should involve collaborative meetings whereby both teams identify, explain, and record the main traits that an MQL should have using the buyer persona model. Developing buyer personas makes it easy for the marketing to be targeted, including the marketing content to invest in. Be sure to have this conversation include the pain points or challenges that the marketing team faces when trying to establish an MQL. 

Regularly reviewing these personas and definitions is just as important as creating them in the first place. Just as your business, internal teams, and customer base evolve, so do your prospects, buyer personas, and leads. This should inform your decision to circle back to your lead definition and update them as the need arises. It would help if you then had the marketing team present these changes to the sales team for feedback. 

Overall, you ought to be aware that just because something works for now doesn't mean it'll work in the future. This should consistently inform your decision to revisit your lead definition to ensure that your marketing is sufficiently targeted. 


The Handoff to the Sales Team

As discussed, the MQL will often be passed along to the sales team. These leads should be of high quality, ensuring that the resources allocated to nurturing them aren't wasted. 

The sales team can be instrumental in following up with the inquiries with additional probing questions. The latter could help in finding out more details on the lead, which should help improve lead qualification. Overall, by having the sales teams reach out to the leads to help with additional questions, there's a high likelihood of closing more deals and reaching business goals. 

It should be the sales team's responsibility to establish "playbooks" or general guidelines for following up with leads. This helps ensure relative consistency in outreach practices across your team(s).

Additionally, it's vitally important that the sales team regularly report back to the marketing team about their experience working and closing the leads. A good marketing team should be able to take this feedback and apply it to their campaigns with the purpose of generating more ideal-fit leads for the sales team to work.


Follow Up as Quickly (and Effectively) as Possible

A window of opportunity is the short period in which the desired action needs to be taken. Once this window closes, the opportunity to close the deal is officially out. 

The sales team can be instrumental in reaching out to the lead before the window of opportunity closes. The sales team needs to work with the marketing team to find the best possible point in the conversion funnel where they can influence the purchase decision. You don't always know how long that window of opportunity will stay open, but in most cases the faster the lead is contacted the greater likelihood they will be converted to a customer.


In Conclusion, a Symbiotic Relationship

Concisely, there needs to be a natural give and take between these teams. Specifically, marketers need to understand the types of leads that are valuable and what messaging will resonate with the target audience. On the other hand, sales teams need to understand that leads are really hard to generate. As such, these leads need to be qualified, followed up, and engaged as quickly and as effectively as possible. Overall, marketers and salespeople need to work together to develop a lead definition for the business and nurture these to ensure deals are closed. 

At The Gist, we provide you with scalable and sustainable strategies that ensure leads pass to the sales team. We help you with strategies to help optimize your engagement with prospects. Let's talk and create a customized strategy that expands your reach, reduces friction, and ensures prospects become customers.