Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

Getting people interested in your product is the gateway to customer acquisition.

That being said…lead generation is no easy task. Not to mention, generating new leads is only the first step in a long list of necessary activities before a prospect signs on the dotted line.

In this article, we’ll review the first line of defense in lead generation — the marketing qualified lead (MQL), including how to define a marketing qualified lead, the difference between MQLs and sales qualified leads (SQLs), and how to get more MQLs into your pipeline.

Keep reading to learn the in’s and out’s of MQLs!

Table of Contents

What is a Lead?

You’re likely already familiar with the concept of lead generation, however, let’s set the stage by defining what a lead is.

A lead is a person who has a potential interest in your product or service. This can be done by filling out a website form, signing up for a free trial, answering a cold email or call, or requesting a demo of your product or service.

The above is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leads. To learn more about leads, read our Leads glossary term.

However, someone who downloads an eBook shouldn’t be treated the same as someone who requests a demo, because a demo is a larger commitment than downloading an eBook. In other words, you must have some sort of system to qualify each lead that comes through your door.

After the lead is generated, the first qualification level is typically done by the marketing team.

Let’s dig into this concept further.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

As the name suggests, MQLs are leads vetted and qualified by the marketing team — whether that is done manually (a team member reviews each lead coming into the pipeline) or automatically (your CRM system triggers the qualification based on certain criteria).

Establishing criteria is key, as not all website visitors will become marketing qualified leads. Criteria can include:

  • The type of asset downloaded
  • How long they engaged with content on your site
  • If they are a returning visitor or if it was the first time on the site
  • Lead demographic (company size, location, revenue estimates, etc.)

Marketing qualified leads are typically the entry point into the funnel, so you’ll likely have far more MQLs than any other type of lead.

Marketing Qualified Leads vs. Sales Qualified Leads

The difference between MQLs and SQLs is more than just a letter!

While a large majority of leads coming in will become MQLs, the next line of defense is the sales qualified lead (SQL).

In general, most companies have at least three stages before a lead becomes a customer. These include:

  • Marketing qualified lead
  • Sales qualified lead
  • Prospect

The second tier, SQL, is a lead that has been vetted and is ready to speak to the sales team as someone who is highly interested in purchasing your product or service.

They have passed the proverbial MQL “test” and have met the assigned criteria set by the sales and marketing teams.

It’s imperative to have open lines of communication between the sales and marketing teams, from the two working together to define the lead qualification process to sales letting marketing know the type of messaging that is resonating with potential customers.

Sales and marketing alignment — no matter the size of the company — is the key to unlocking growth opportunities throughout the sales process.

Read our Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) glossary term to learn more about SQLs. 

How to Define an MQL

Ask any two marketing professionals, and they’ll likely have a different answer on how their company defines MQLs.

Some marketers may say that every website visitor that fills out a form is an MQL, while others may only consider demo requests an MQL (while other leads are simply added to an ongoing nurture campaign).

As mentioned above, the key to MQLs is the criteria.

If you have agreed-upon criteria for your sales funnel, then there won’t be any confusion on which leads the sales team should focus on first. Why email someone who signed up for your newsletter when you could be reaching out to the person who filled out a request for pricing?

Here’s an example of how a website visitor may move through the sales funnel.


Meet Jack. Jack is the founder of an early-stage crypto startup who has finally realized that his Excel-based financial model isn’t up to snuff. Jack navigates to Google and searches for the best financial modeling tools for startups

He clicks on Finmark within search results and starts poking around our website. Jack likes what he sees, so he requests a demo of our software. Jack is now a lead! 

Molly, a marketing specialist, gets an email that Jack has requested a demo of our software. 

She reviews the notification within our CRM system to qualify Jack. Because Jack requested a demo and is within our ICP (ideal customer profile), Molly classifies Jack as a marketing qualified lead.

The sales team then gets notified of the MQL. Given that Jack is located in the Northeast, Chris, the account executive for the East Coast, reviews Jack’s profile. He sees that Jack not only requested a demo, but has also looked at several other pages on our website. 

Chris emails Jack to share more information on Finmark, including a link to an on-demand demo video. Jack immediately responds and wants to set something up for this week to discuss next steps. With that indication of interest, Jack is now an SQL.

Chris and Jack connect on Thursday afternoon. Jack expresses even further interest in purchasing our software, but needs some additional materials on our benefits and features before making a final decision. Chris shares this information with Jack, who loves what he sees. Jack is now a prospect!

Jack quickly signs the contract and becomes a Finmark customer. He now recommends Finmark to other founders in his network! 


This is only one example of how an MQL can turn into a customer, but as you can see, there are clear criteria and actions that must be taken for a lead to move down the funnel.

Setting guidelines and parameters early on will only help to further streamline the process as you get more MQLs, SQLs, and eventually, customers. Also, if you use CRM software, some of the lead qualification process can be automated.

How to Get More Marketing Qualified Leads

The more MQLs you have, the greater opportunity for customer acquisition. But how can you get more MQLs?

Don’t just throw money at marketing and expect more leads. Establish clear messaging, set expectations, and utilize all your marketing resources effectively. This includes:

1. Establish a Qualification Process

Create explicit definitions for each stage of the sales funnel. Having these guardrails ensures that there is no confusion between sales and marketing and sets everyone up for success throughout the qualification process.

This process should also be revisited and redefined regularly based on sales and marketing feedback. Just because someone who downloaded an eBook was once seen as an MQL doesn’t mean that always has to be the case!

2. Develop Value Proposition & Benefits

Any good marketer knows that having a clear message is the foundation of a successful marketing strategy. A straightforward message that cuts through the noise means that you can articulate the benefits of your product or service without having to lean on buzzwords.

Don’t just walk the walk, talk the talk of your target buyer to truly address how your product solves their pain points and watch your MQLs grow.

3. Utilize Paid Acquisition Channels

While marketing budgets may be small in the early stages of your startup, it can be beneficial to spend some marketing dollars on paid acquisition channels, like social media ads or PPC (pay per click).

These allow you to segment your audiences more effectively to reach your target audiences. For example, you can create a LinkedIn campaign to only reach a specific industry, region, or even job title.

4. Nurture All Leads

While not all leads are equal, they should all be treated as if they will eventually become a customer. That means you should consistently be nurturing every lead that comes through the pipeline, even if they aren’t yet an MQL or SQL.

Having email nurture campaigns can ensure you are staying in touch with potential future MQLs. This can mean a soft touchpoint every few months or so, where you share new content, like a new blog post or eBook, that they may be interested in.

Start Your Sales Engines

Customer acquisition starts with sales and marketing. Establishing clear criteria and aligning your teams can create a solid foundation for future growth.

Once the foundation has been set, start revving that engine!