I swear it’s not just any old lead. This one’s legit!
WHAT IS A QUALIFIED LEAD?
Your inbound marketing generates leads for your business. (Hopefully a lot of leads!)
Because you only have limited resources, though, you need to figure out how to prioritize them. Who is most likely to buy your product? How do you know? Are they ready now?
Lead qualification helps you answer those questions. It’s the process of evaluating leads to determine which ones are most likely to become customers. Think about it like a funnel, with three stages:
- Lead - a person who could eventually become a customer of your business. You can generate inbound leads using tools like a blog or contact form. You can also purchase lists of leads relevant to your industry and niche.
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) - leads that your marketing team has identified as good fits for your business. MQLs fit the parameters of your ideal customer profile and have typically engaged with your company in some way (like downloading a whitepaper or attending a webinar)
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs) - leads that your sales team has engaged with and determined to be worth pursuing through your sales process.
We’ll focus here on defining marketing qualified leads in particular, but having this broader context of the entire process is vital for understanding the importance of MQLs.
Where do qualified leads come from?
Every company should have its own criteria for determining if a lead should be considered an MQL. If you don’t have a clear definition of an MQL yet, work together with people from your marketing, sales, and product teams to agree upon a standard definition.
Ideal customer profile and buyer persona
You can’t sell to everyone, so you should start by determining your ideal customer profile (ICP) and a buyer persona. Determining your ICP is the process of looking at your best current customers and figuring out what they have in common. Your buyer persona takes it a step further, creating a fictional representation of your ideal customer that helps shape your marketing efforts.
Let’s say you’re a dog food company called Doggie Delights:
- Ideal customer profile: US-based dog owners making at least $100k per year
- Buyer persona: Todd, a 32-year-old dog dad from Atlanta with two golden retrievers. Todd works in management for a tech company, loves golf, and plays video games. He makes $120k per year, reads the New Yorker, and spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Your buyer persona tells you that it’s a good idea to focus on building your brand awareness on Twitter. As you do so, you get a lead from a cat owner in Scotland. Your ICP tells you immediately that it’s a bad fit. You can still nurture that lead through email campaigns, but unless something changes in their life (like buying a dog and moving to the USA) or you expand your product lines and add international shipping, they’re not going to become an MQL.
Once you know who you’re targeting with your marketing, you put that info to work in your lead qualification process. This usually happens through some form of lead scoring. Just like judges at the Olympics, your lead scoring process attempts to put a quantitative value on the quality of a lead.
There are two common groups of criteria used for lead scoring: demographics and behaviors. Demographic info can tell you if a customer is a potential fit or not. Behavioral info helps you gauge their interest and readiness.
Here are some examples of criteria from each bucket:
|Company size||Web page visits|
|Industry||Social media follows|
Once you’ve identified the criteria that are relevant to your business, you’ll assign point values to each and set a threshold that determines when a lead is an MQL and when it becomes an SQL. Say a lead gets five points for being in the right industry, five points for each email they read, and ten points for attending a webinar.
Points add up, and once they hit the threshold you can pass them off to sales with confidence, knowing that they’re a qualified lead with a decent chance of closing.
Building out a lead qualification process is an iterative process. Your qualification process will evolve as your business grows. Keeping a close eye on your sales team’s close rates and an open feedback loop between sales and marketing is key to improving your lead qualification in the future.
If this sounds like a lot, there are plenty of lead generation and qualification tools that can help with the heavy lifting.
Why do qualified leads matter?
Qualified leads help you close more sales and create more revenue.
Rather than passing your sales team a thousand random leads and hoping they get lucky, a robust lead qualification process narrows their focus. You only pass the leads most likely to close over to sales, meaning you’ll get a higher conversion rate on those leads.
If that’s not enough, qualified leads also help you build a long-term marketing and growth engine. You may find a lead that seems like a perfect fit, but it’s not the right time for them to buy. By nurturing that lead over time through your marketing campaigns, you’ll keep it warm and increase your odds of closing the sale when the time is right.
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