Are Your Leads Below Freezing? Turning MQLs Into SQLs

By Kari Rippetoe | Jan 8, 2014
More Articles by Kari

So cold my leads are frozenAs most of the United States freezes its collective behind off in the polar vortex sweeping across the country, I’m sitting in the toasty Marketing Mojo offices thinking about marketing-qualified leads, or MQLs. Why, you ask? Well, firstly it’s my job to think about these things. But secondly, I engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn recently about the difference between MQLs and sales-qualified leads, otherwise known as SQLs.

In the discussion, one participant commented that they had “never heard of separate leads – particularly ‘marketing’ leads,” even going so far as to say that it sounded like a “dumb” system. It’s entirely possible that this person did not understand the concept of MQLs and SQLs, and to their credit, from the outside it can seem somewhat inefficient to market to your leads separately; however, when you think about it, it’s actually the most efficient way to warm your leads up into potential sales.

What’s the difference between MQLs and SQLs, anyway?

A Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL) is one that has shown some sort of interest in your company, such as by downloading a piece of content, registering for an event or webinar, or signing up for an e-newsletter. They’ve provided you with enough information to indicate that they want to stay in touch with your company and continue to receive communications, but they may not be quite ready to buy from you yet.

A Sales-Qualified Lead (SQL) is one that has been further qualified in some way as ready to buy, or at least interested in buying. This can be done when the lead fills out a form indicating they want to talk to sales or receive pricing information, but also when their behavior indicates a propensity to buy, such as downloading certain pieces of content or taking some other desired action.

Yes, MQLs can turn into SQLs!

While MQLs might not be ready to buy quite yet, there are several different ways you can warm them up so you’re top of mind when they are.

1. Knowing your buyer personas

If you don’t know your key buyer personas, make it a marketing resolution to develop your personas in 2014! Knowing who your customers are and what makes them tick is crucial to understanding what kind of marketing messages they’ll respond to. This goes beyond just knowing demographics – you’ll need to understand what motivates them to seek out and buy solutions like yours. I recommend learning more about developing buyer personas at the Buyer Persona Institute, and/or hiring someone who can help you with this.

2. Mapping content to buying cycle

If you have content such as whitepapers, webinars, guides, videos, etc., you can use that to nurture your MQLs into sales leads. But different leads will need different pieces of content, depending on what stage in the buying cycle they’re in.

Buying Cycle Stages


In the example above, you see the different stages in the buying cycle for a laptop, mapped to the different decision-makers at each stage (or “key personas”), benefits they want from the product (or “Key Rings of Insight,” coined by Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute) and resources they may consult to get the information they need. The next step would then be to map the content you have to each stage. Here is the same example, with the content mapping in the last column:

Mapping Content to Buying Cycle Stages


As you can see, different pieces of content can help move MQLs along through the buying cycle, because it helps them to make better purchasing decisions.

3. Implementing a marketing automation system

While marketing automation won’t automate everything you do as a marketer, it can make your job a lot easier. Essentially, it will help you score, segment and nurture your leads so you can more efficiently market to them and turn those MQLs to SQLs. This infographic below demonstrates how this works:

There are number of marketing automation platforms available, including Marketo, Eloqua, Act-On and Hubspot – check them out or give us a shout if you need some guidance!

4. Retargeting

Retargeting, also known as remarketing, is a great way to stay top of mind with MQLs who have shown some interest in your solutions. Here’s how it works: someone visits your website, and they’re cookied based on certain actions they take while there – such as visiting certain pages, completing (or not completing) a purchase, or downloading a piece of content. You then have the ability to show display ads to them after they’ve left your website. For instance, you can serve ads to anyone who registered for a webinar, offering a related content download. Or, you can serve targeted ads to people who looked at a particular product or service you offer.

Don’t leave your MQLs out in the cold – keep them warm and turn them into SQLs (and sales)! These are just a few tactics that can help you do this, but what do you find effective? Comment below!

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