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MQL vs. SQL: Why the Difference Matters for Professional Services Firms


by Christina Hooper on April 3, 2020
in Business Strategy

When you’re working with a marketing team or agency, you’re expecting them to help you do things to generate additional revenue — otherwise, what’s the point to invest in marketing?

It’s essential to make sure you set expectations at the beginning of the relationship. Your marketing team should be very clear on the types of leads that you’re expecting to receive, and what state of mind those leads should have when you get them.

You don’t want to waste your valuable time calling people that simply downloaded an ebook or subscribed to your newsletter. You want to contact leads that raised their hand and said they want to talk to you.

So how do you make sure that happens? Let’s explore the difference between MQL and SQL and learn about the customer value journey to find out.

Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs) are people your Marketing team has flagged as someone likely to become a customer based on the actions they’ve taken with marketing materials. 

Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs) are people you or your sales team have flagged as someone that might become a customer based on the conversations they’ve had with the lead.

Your marketing team should be responsible for nurturing new leads until they are warmed up and ready for your sales team to reach out and convert them into customers. 

You’ll be able to understand when this transition should take place by learning about the customer value journey each new lead should take.

The Customer Value Journey (CVJ)

The Customer Value Journey refers to the journey that your leads take as they learn about your brand and become first-time customers.

Optimizing the content and value you provide at each stage of the CVJ is crucial to your success in attracting and converting high-quality leads for your service-based business.

Have you ever noticed that while your marketing team celebrates the acquisition of new leads, your sales team seems to be complaining, frustrated, and disappointed with the quality of the leads they’re getting?

Your marketing and sales teams must work together to attract, convert, and close leads. Otherwise, your marketers won’t be generating leads that your sales team can realistically close.

A good marketing agency should be experienced with the CVJ. They should be asking you questions about your company to find out who your ideal customer is and what benefits your service provides, so they can ensure they attract the right leads for you.

At Sparkitive, our team of experts understands how valuable your time is. We don’t want you to waste your time or your resources on random acts of marketing that can’t generate the best leads for your business.

We want to help you discover the secret to explosive growth by leveraging our team of strategy-focused marketers, copywriters, developers, and designers to help you communicate the value you provide and build trust with your future customers.

Reach out to our experts and learn how we can help you grow your business by clicking the chat button on the bottom-right of your screen or schedule your free phone call now.

Not ready to talk to us just yet? 

Let’s take a step back and look at the buying lifecycle that brings a customer to you so you can understand what attracts and converts high-quality leads for your business.

Step #1: Potential Customers Become Aware of Your Brand

When a potential customer becomes aware that your brand and services exist, they are officially in the awareness stage of the CVJ. Content created for this stage typically includes blog posts, social media announcements, or paid advertisements on Google and social media ads.

Most marketers focus the majority of their efforts on optimizing content and ads for this stage because it’s how they attract new leads. 

Marketers that focus too much on vanity metrics, such as the number of leads, and neglect to pay attention to the quality of those leads, are only going to set your sales team up for failure.

Your marketing team needs to create content that speaks to the pain points of your ideal customers and gives them a solution to their problems. This content helps you attract better quality leads. Then your marketing team can nurture and prepare them for your sales team.

If you want your marketing team to create the best content to reach your ideal customers, you need to make sure that they really know who your ideal customer is. Your marketing team also needs to understand how you enrich your customer’s lives with your services so they can create compelling content to make potential customers aware of your brand.

Step #2: Potential Customers Engage With Your Brand

Now that your potential customers realize you exist and that you can help them solve their problem, they are ready to engage with your brand.

When a potential customer engages with your brand, they will either subscribe to your newsletter, download a lead magnet, or fill out a form on your website to get a quote or request more information.

At this point in the CVJ, your potential customers have officially become leads that your marketing team should monitor and attempt to warm up with a nurture campaign. 

HubSpot’s progressive profiling makes this task a breeze by allowing your marketers to get new information about the lead each time they fill out a form on your website.

Progressive profiling allows you to create multiple forms that you can use in a specified sequence for every lead magnet landing page. 

For example, the first time they download a lead magnet, the form will ask them for their first name and email address. Then when they return to your website and download a different lead magnet, you can have it collect their job role and email instead. 

You can collect information such as their job role, their company name, how many employees they have working for them, what topics they are most interested in, etc. Ask for the information that is most important for segmenting leads as good or bad for your business.

Each time you get them to download another lead magnet, you find out more information about them. This helps you to determine if they are a high-quality lead before you have your sales team take the time to reach out to them—resulting in higher-quality leads that are more likely to convert to customers.

Step #3: Engaged Leads Convert Into First-Time Buyers

Most marketers typically drop the ball at this stage of the CVJ. As soon as a potential customer engages with your brand and becomes a lead, they rush them on to your sales team without taking the time to warm them up first.

This is where your sales team starts to complain about the quality of your leads being “no good,” and you discover that they aren’t converting as well as you expected them to. 

You might be wondering why rushing them on to sales is a problem. After all, they took action and engaged with your brand, so doesn’t this mean they are ready to talk to you? 

The answer is—probably not.

Only 10% of new leads are going to convert to first-time buyers, but companies who take the time to nurture new leads can see a 47% increase in the amount of money a converted lead spends with their brand.

Think of it like this…

I want you to picture yourself walking into a brick and mortar store for the first time. As you walk in, one of the employees rushes up to you and starts blurting out a sales pitch that sounds rehearsed.

You avert your eyes and keep moving forward, saying “no thanks” or “I’m good,” hoping they will leave you alone to browse the shop in peace. Unfortunately, they are “in the zone,” and there’s no stopping them.

The longer they follow you around, the more uncomfortable you become. Eventually, you may even leave the store without making a single purchase because they didn’t leave you alone long enough to browse undisturbed. 

This is exactly how your website visitors feel when your marketing team has sales reach out to them after they’ve taken only one action on your site. Now they’re being pitched to when all they wanted to do was click around and browse.

You can avoid this awkward situation by ensuring your marketing team is taking the time to nurture and segment leads before sending them to sales.

Step #4: New Customers Become Long-Term Customers

After they’ve become a customer, you’ll want to continue delighting them with excellent customer service and providing value that will keep them coming back for more.

One of the easiest ways to provide value as a service-based business is to send your customers emails with information that is useful and informative.

Your sales team should be responsible for managing your customers from this point on, but your marketing team should be collaborating with them on email campaigns.

The types of emails you send to customers are different than those you're going to send to new leads you’re trying to nurture.

Customers have already made a commitment to your brand by investing in your service. Getting them to continue paying for that service or purchasing additional services is the goal at this stage of the CVJ.

A good marketing team can collaborate with sales to determine what would be most valuable to send to your customers to keep them engaged with your brand, so you will be the first one your customer thinks of when they need your services the most.

Step #5: Long-Term Customers Become Brand Promoters

Having a solid base of loyal customers who act as advocates for your brand is one of the best ways to scale your business.

Brand promoters are the customers who follow everything you do. They are your biggest fans and the first to give you a good testimonial or come to your defense on social media.

They love your services and the value you provide & they are ready to open their wallet when you recommend a service they should try. 

The more services you can offer that provide solutions to their problems or help ease their pain points, the more money they will spend with your brand. The more money loyal customers spend with your brand, the more likely they are to become brand promoters.

It’s important to grow your customer base continually, but once you’ve developed that relationship with your current customers, it’s easier and more profitable to sell additional services to them than it is to find and nurture new customers.

Marketing and Sales Alignment

Aligning your marketing and sales teams involves defining what makes a lead “warm” enough to pass on to sales.

Are they warm after they’ve downloaded 2 or 3 lead magnets? Or do they have to fill out a form to request a quote or ask a question first?

Downloading a lead magnet that promises to teach them something step-by-step might indicate they are more sales-ready than someone who downloaded a lead magnet that teaches them more about a specific topic. 

Your marketing team's decision to pass a prospective lead on to your sales team needs to be based on the lead's state of mind.

Even though this process may seem complicated to set up, it’s worth the effort. 89% of companies who take the time to align their marketing and sales teams reported measurable increases from continuous nurturing.

HubSpot offers a method to help marketers know when they can pass off leads through a feature called “lead scoring.”

Lead Scoring

68% of marketers said lead scoring based on content and engagement was one of their primary generators of revenue.

Lead scoring gives you the ability to assign a numerical value to leads based on the actions they take on your website.

Leads who engage more with your brand will have a higher lead score than those who don’t, making it easier to tell when a lead is ready to be passed off to sales.

You can customize how many points each action earns so you can adjust the value based on the type of action they take. Lead magnets that signal warmer leads would earn more points than a purely informational lead magnet.

There are two types of information you can use to score leads. Information gathered through forms would be considered explicit, and information collected from interactions with your website is implicit.

Most companies use a BANT model to qualify leads...

  • Budget - their ability to afford this purchase with you.
  • Authority - are they the decision-makers?
  • Need - they have a problem you can solve.
  • Time Frame - they have a realistic expectation for results.

Other criteria used to qualify leads may include demographics, alignment of goals, or even personality traits.

How you choose to segment and qualify your leads depends on who your ideal customer is and what actions you want them to take throughout their CVJ.

Build Your Marketing Plan in Just 5 Steps

Generating and nurturing high-quality leads is crucial for the continued growth and success of your service-based business.

You need a proven strategy in place to help you implement and refine your lead generation processes.

We understand how difficult it is to juggle the day to day operations of your business, and you don’t have time to micromanage your marketing and sales teams.

Help them perform their jobs efficiently and effectively with our proven 5 step marketing plan. You’ll learn how to build a comprehensive marketing plan to grow your business in 5 simple steps.

Get your free copy of our marketing plan now: Fast Track Your Business: The 5-Step Marketing Plan.
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As a professional services provider, your billable time is valuable. You don't want to waste it on bad marketing tactics that won't yield the results you're looking for.

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