MQL to SQL: Nurturing Your Marketing Qualified Lead for the Sale

In the B2B world, in which sales cycles are considerably longer than your average business-to-consumer transaction, lead nurturing has become an increasingly important topic of discussion for sales teams.

Despite having a genuine interest in a given company’s products or services, so many prospects (nearly 97% in fact) are not yet ready to make a purchase and need more time to be nurtured down the sales funnel.

However, many businesses experience difficulties transitioning a marketing-qualified lead into a sales-qualified lead, or even making a clear and practically applicable distinction between the two. As a result, their marketing and sales team leaders are left wondering – how do I nurture my marketing-qualified lead all the way to the sale?

The best way to look at this is to start with the end in mind and work backward.

Here are some tips and criteria you can use to identify and nurture qualified leads and set your sales team up for success.

To get the ball rolling...

First, have your sales leaders answer a few questions:

  • What is the type of client we are looking for? (In the inbound marketing process, this is a good place to refer back to your target buyer personas.)
  • When does Marketing turn the lead over to the sales team?
  • What is our sales process – from initial call to proposal stage to close?
  • Who is responsible for delivering on the sales process?

You can always ask additional questions, but the main point is to establish a system, complete with owners for each portion of the funnel, as well as exactly who your target audience is and how they will respond to the various elements in your sales process.

Defining your Sales Qualified Lead (vs. your Marketing Qualified Lead)

Once you develop the answers to the questions above, you’re ready to move on to the next stage. Now it’s time to ask yourself: what is a true sales qualified lead for our company?

This part is always tricky because many professionals have different opinions as to what a sales-qualified lead really is.

Some companies think any lead, or should I say contact, that converts on your website (downloaded a white paper, signed up for the blog, etc.) is a sales-qualified lead.

It’s not.

Think about your own day-to-day activity on various websites.

I’ve visited plenty of sites and clicked on a few topics that seemed interesting, and within five minutes, my phone starts ringing – and it’s that company asking me how they can help me!

At least some companies ask me questions about why I visited their site and what I was interested in.

In reality, your Sales Qualified Lead should be able to answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions:

  • Did the SQL indicate they want to be contacted? Meaning, did they click on the Call-to-Action on your website that says Please Contact Us.
  • Do they have some pain? When your prospect submitted a form, did they list a few challenges they’ve been experiencing or problems they’re trying to resolve?
  • Will you be speaking with the decision-maker or key stakeholder in the process? You want to make sure the contact you are calling back is part of the decision-making process and not someone who is simply gathering information.
  • Do they have a budget to make a decision? In order to be sales qualified, this contact should be prepared to eventually make a purchase in order to solve his or her pain.
  • Are they willing to invest time in a meeting to allow you to ask questions? When you send an invitation by email to set up a 30-minute discovery meeting, a sales qualified lead will not push back and say “just send me information.” They’re game for a discussion with a member of your sales team.

A Marketing Qualified Lead is significantly different. There are a number of benchmarks or indicators you can use, but a typical MQL has completed one or more of the following items:

  • They have requested information via email, but have not yet asked to be contacted.

  • They’ve downloaded marketing collateral from your website (eBooks, tip sheets, infographics, etc.).

  • They have visited your website numerous times – and have checked out relevant product or service pages.

  • They attended a webinar you hosted.

Creating a lead nurturing workflow...

Now that you know the difference between the two, it’s time to set up your lead nurturing workflow process to effectively turn your Marketing Qualified Lead into a Sales Qualified Lead!

Your marketing workflow should be a documented process that you follow – and it should incorporate input from both the Marketing and Sales teams.

Your process should include any or all of the following components:

  • Automated emails
  • Personal emails
  • Educational content
  • Calls-to-Action
  • And potentially even phone calls from a Marketing team member.

If phone calls are part of your nurturing process, make sure your marketers have scripted questions to ask… In this case, they should recognize they’re simply calling to learn more about the prospect and to listen. You are not calling them to tell them all about your company.

Here’s a sample workflow you can use to help start your process:

1. Leads come in via your marketing platform (For example, on HubSpot forms!), converting on landing pages that serve up helpful content.

2. Depending on how many leads come in, you can do one of the following:

  • If you’re converting a large number of leads on a daily or weekly basis, each prospect can receive an automated email set up in your marketing platform.
  • If only a few leads are converting each week, feel free to send a personal email – but be sure to create a template you can use each time, particularly when you have multiple team salespeople involved.

3. Your first lead nurturing email should include a ‘thank you' for visiting the site, a link to additional educational content, and a Call-to-Action – examples could include a CTA to sign up for a blog, or a webinar invite, etc. It’s also never a bad idea to provide the option to schedule a brief discovery call.


4. The second email can be an invitation to a future webinar or an event that you’re hosting. How far you space these emails apart may depend on your particular business or industry. But don’t be afraid to send email #2 in the same week.


5. The third email sent the following week can be an educational email about what’s happening in the industry today – a piece of content or links to news articles that will help keep them up to speed on the ever-changing business landscape.

Keep in mind, all emails should drive your prospects back to your website – either to additional conversion landing pages or to informational pages that outline how your company solves problems, as well as case studies detailing how you’ve helped clients in the past.

Note: A phone call can be made at any time in this process if you feel this prospect fits the criteria of a potential client. Rules for the phone call?

Script questions to ask, carefully listen to their answers, and ask a follow-up question based on their answer. Then find out what other information you can send the prospect to continue to educate them and nurture them along your sales funnel.

Once that lead decides to hit the ‘Contact Us’ button on your website, your company’s sales team will already have a history of the blogs they’ve read, webinars they’ve attended and other content they’ve downloaded.

They can use this record to pinpoint important information they can leverage during the selling process.

Once your sales process is in place, it’s important to review it every 3-6 months to assess what’s working – talking to the sales team to see if the leads are converting into sales, and if not, why?

Have insights into the lead nurturing process you’d like to share? Feel free to post in the comments section below. Good Marketing and Good Selling to you all!

Drive Sales with Content That Converts

Jim Kaufman
About the Author
Jim Kaufman

Co-author of the book "The Inbound Sales Effect", Jim Kaufman has been helping his customers with their sales development and training needs for 20+ years. A HubSpot certified sales professional with a proven success in prospecting and closing deals, Jim has delivered sales strategies, processes and SaaS training to over 500 business executives and companies, including Fortune 1000 companies.