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What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

Written by:

Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

Not all potential customers are created equal. Leads who interact with a company’s marketing materials, called marketing qualified leads (MQLs), are a cut above the rest as their actions signal a potential streamline to a sale.

But what’s the point of all this fancy terminology if the goal is to turn all leads into customers? Such a hyper-specific term might be off-putting at first, but don’t worry – this guide will explain all the details on marketing qualified leads and why they’re important for your bottom line.

Key Takeaways

  • A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a potential customer who’s interacted with a company’s marketing materials.

  • Interacting with marketing materials means that MQLs have a higher chance of becoming paying customers, so companies should focus their selling efforts on them.

  • To convert an MQL into a customer, a company should provide them with informational content and slowly nurture their interest until they’re ready to purchase.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a potential customer, or lead, who interacts with a company’s marketing material, signaling an interest in the company’s product.

Flagging a lead as an MQL tells sales reps that this person has a higher chance of becoming a customer than regular leads, so they should be more attentive to them.

The exact criteria to qualify an MQL depends on the company’s activities and policies: some companies might say that someone who took a pamphlet at an event is an MQL, or someone who subscribed to the company’s email list, or even simply a frequent visitor of their site.

Practically speaking, the more leads a company has, the higher the threshold it should take to qualify as an MQL. Otherwise, a company might waste countless hours and resources tracking thousands of website visitors who might not purchase at all.

MQLs are at the top of the sales funnel and aren’t ready to make a purchase yet: they likely only have a passing interest in the company and are looking for information.

Though they might not be interested in buying, an interest in the company or product is a good first step that reps can nurture further.

Where Marketing Qualified Leads Fit in the Sales Process

We just said that MQLs are at the top of the sales funnel, but why are we discussing marketing during a sales discussion? Aren’t these two separate functions? While that is true, MQLs occupy a unique spot between the two in the sales process.

First, let’s review the customer journey, which starts with marketing and leads to sales. A marketing funnel is an overview of the customer’s journey from the moment they become aware of a brand to the point where they consider purchasing. Once they’re interested, they progress into the sales funnel to complete their sale. 

Leads pass through the marketing funnel to become MQLs, and enter the sales funnel. If the MQL expresses interest in purchasing, they become a sales qualified lead (SQL), and with luck, come out on the other side of the sales funnel as a paying customer. 

However, the point at which the marketing funnel ends and the sales funnel begins isn’t always clear. It depends on the company: some companies don’t use a marketing funnel at all, folding it into the top of the sales funnel. 

All of this is to say that MQLs are at the topmost part of the sales process, even if you don’t have a distinct marketing funnel or a marketing team.

Importance of Distinguishing Marketing Qualified Leads

Though a company aims to turn as many leads into customers as possible, realistically speaking, that’s impossible: the word “funnel” earlier might’ve clued you into the fact that as leads progress through the sales process, there are fewer and fewer at every stage. You might start with a dozen leads and only end up with one sale!

Though they’re not ready to purchase, an MQL has a higher chance of becoming that one sale. By distinguishing which leads are MQLs, marketing and sales reps can focus their promotional efforts on the most promising leads and fast-track them toward a sale.

In other words, MQLs are low-hanging fruit – the leads most likely to purchase. A company hungry for customers would be wise to capture its sales first before pursuing more distant leads.

A large company with thousands of customers might not care much about identifying MQLs, as their lead generation activities are strong enough to fill their sales funnel without any active effort. But for smaller businesses just starting out, singling out MQLs might make the difference between meeting sales quotas or going bust.

How to Convert Marketing Qualified Leads Into Customers

Once you’ve pinned down your MQLs, you might be eager to shove “BUY NOW” messages in their faces to get them to close as fast as possible. 

But that’s a huge mistake: an MQL faced with such aggressive and annoying messaging will likely walk away rather than make a purchase.

Consumers at different stages of the sales funnel require different messaging based on their purchase intent; as we said before, MQLs at the top of the sales funnel aren’t ready to make a purchase yet and are likely only looking for information at this stage.

Thus, reps should nurture MQLs by providing informative material without pushing them to buy yet. A good strategy might be sending them an invitation to “learn more” by speaking to a rep or offering a demo to show the product’s usefulness.

Once MQLs express an interest in purchasing, they become a sales qualified lead (SQL). The sales team then further qualifies the lead by checking if they match the company’s ideal customer profile using techniques like lead scoring or BANT criteria, turning them into a prospect. If the qualified prospect has a pain point your company can solve and an interest in buying, they become an opportunity. From there, all that’s left is to ask for the sale to turn the opportunity into a customer.

By providing MQLs content appropriate to their interest level, reps can organically guide prospective customers to an eventual purchase. Remember: slow and steady wins the race!


A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a potential customer who has interacted with a company’s marketing material. Though they might not be sales-ready, identifying and nurturing MQLs could help companies fill their sales funnel with more qualified leads, setting the stage for some serious sales success.

Marketing Qualified Lead FAQs

What are some best practices for capturing and nurturing MQLs?

Before capturing a single MQL, you’ll have to sit down with your marketing and sales teams to hammer out clear criteria for what makes an MQL, preventing the company from wasting resources on under-qualified leads and miscommunication between reps.

Then, to help capture more MQLs, your advertising and marketing materials should offer qualified leads something valuable to them, such as information or a useful tool. It’s also good to have a clear call to action on your marketing material, where you invite the lead to interact with your company.

Additionally, prepare plenty of enticing content ahead of time so that marketing and sales reps have more material they can use to nurture the MQL’s interest. You can collect these resources and combine them with your best practices into a sales playbook, and distribute a full sales guide to every rep at once.

What tools can I use to help me manage MQLs?

If you have separate marketing and sales teams, there’s a chance that even if the marketing team marks a lead as an MQL, that information —or even the whole lead— might get lost in the hand-off to the sales team. Using a CRM like Zendesk or HubSpot helps break down these information silos and makes the transition from the marketing to the sales funnel seamless.

Other online lead tracking and management software like Adobe Marketo Engage could help you capture more MQLs online by tracking metrics such as website traffic and clickthrough rates, and providing tools such as a chat bot.

How do I get more leads?

Beyond MQLs, there are many other ways to get leads. Broadly speaking, there are two types of lead generation strategies: inbound lead generation, in which customers contact the business, and outbound lead generation, in which the business reaches out to potential customers.

Examples of inbound lead generation strategies include social media marketing, collaborations, and SEO optimization. Outbound lead generation might involve cold contacting, asking old customers to refer you to new ones, revisiting old leads, and participating in trade shows.