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Industrial lead generation - MQL vs SQL

Industrial Lead Generation – MQL vs SQL

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Industrial lead generation is an important, if not the #1 goal of industrial marketers. Sure, there are other objectives of manufacturing content marketing as can be seen in this chart from the Manufacturing Content Marketing 2020 research report published by the Content Marketing Institute.

Even though “Generate demand/leads” is at #4, generating high quality leads is closely related to the top three goals.

Industrial lead generation with manufacturing content marketing

Industrial lead generation is complicated

Your Sales team and more importantly, upper management want Marketing to generate leads that turn into RFQs/RFPs and sales opportunities.

Here’s where things begin to get complicated and start to fall apart. Not all leads are created equal, especially in long sales cycles with many stakeholders involved as is typical in industrial sales.

No, this post is not about quantity vs quality of leads.

MQL and SQL definitions

I’ll approach the definitions from the perspective of industrial content marketing since most manufacturing marketers are using this inbound marketing strategy to successfully generate leads these days.

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is someone who has shown some interest in your content and may even be willing to give up their basic contact information in exchange for gaining access to more valuable content. These are top of the funnel (ToFU) leads.

A Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is someone who has shown an interest in your product or service and not just in consuming your content. These prospects are further along in their buying journey. These are middle of the funnel (MoFU) leads who may be ready to have a conversation with your sales team.

The biggest mistake made by Marketing is that they tend to hand off MQLs to Sales to qualify and close. Marketing’s job doesn’t end with generating MQLs. There is a lot more work to be done.

It is critical to understand the differences between a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). Otherwise, you’ll reinforce the biggest complaint that I’ve heard from Sales, “Marketing generates crappy leads.”

Converting MQLs into SQLs

So how do you turn MQLs into SQLs? The conversion doesn’t happen in one magical step, it’s a process that begins long before you start a content marketing program for lead generation.

Let me back up a bit first.

BANT in industrial lead generationSalespeople have been using the BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timing/Timeframe) method for qualifying leads successfully for a long time. It is an efficient system without wasting time on prospects who don’t have the budget and/or the authority to make a buying decision.

However, that strategy is not as effective today when industrial buyers prefer to remain invisible or anonymous for a large part of their buying journey.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this point.

Let’s say you are a manufacturer of industrial components, your part must be “designed in” by a Design Engineer before the Purchasing Department can issue a PO or send out a request for RFQ/RFP. The Design Engineer is the specifier who has no buying authority, but you are not going to get to the RFQ stage unless s/he specifies your part first. Such a lead wouldn’t fit into the neat definitions of BANT. (For more on this, see BANT May Not Work in Qualifying Leads for Industrial Sales).

How SAL brings together Sales and Marketing

Actually, there is one critical step between MQL and SQL. I refer to it as SALSales Accepted Leads (There are other acronyms for the same thing). SAL bridges the gap between MQLs and SQLs.

You can find many articles online about Sales and Marketing alignment. I’ll stick with the approach of using manufacturing content marketing.

SAL - role in industrial lead generation

SAL is a three-letter word that is the key step in achieving Sales and Marketing alignment. How you ask? It would take up thousands of words to describe the entire process. Here are key talking points.

  • The two have to work together to come up with a unified definition of a qualified lead
  • Sales agrees to take follow-up action on these leads
  • Sales provides feedback to Marketing to refine these definitions and scores over time
  • This makes for a closed-loop lead generation system
  • Without SAL, Sales and Marketing will continue to point fingers at each other when things don’t go right

Refer to my post, SAL is the Glue that Binds Sales and Marketing in Lead Generation for additional details.

BTW, I had published that post back in 2010 and it is still the second most popular posts among the 300+ posts that I have published here. Shows you the lasting power of industrial blogging.

Email automation for nurturing MQLs into SQLs

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the conversion is a process and not something you can accomplish in one fell swoop. Once again Sales and Marketing have to work in tandem to come up with a uniform definition of a qualified lead and scoring criteria.

Industrial email marketing continues to be the most effective way to nurture engineers and technical professionals by feeding them relevant content that will move them forward in their purchase decision in a logical manner. Content must address the challenges faced by various stakeholders at different stages of their buying journey.

Note, I’m not referring to email blasts or as it is commonly known as “batch and blast.” You need to carefully segment your list, create supporting content assets for lead nurturing, send out personalized emails and measure the results. That’s the only way you’ll convert MQLs into real SQLs.

Some call it “drip” marketing whereas others refer to it as email automation. You’ll need some form of marketing technology to make this process efficient and effective. To learn more about industrial email marketing, refer to article “Why Email Marketing for Manufacturers is the Cornerstone of Industrial Marketing.”

This post should give you a good understanding of MQLs vs SQLs and their respective roles in industrial lead generation.

Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 35+ years of practical manufacturing and industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., a manufacturing marketing agency in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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