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Lead Definitions and Qualification Criteria

Lead definitions and qualification criteria

If you are looking to get the best return on your acquisition spend, it is critical that the leads you generate are handled appropriately at each stage of the pipeline, according to their areas of interest, their needs and pain points, and their buying stage. Unless you qualify your leads thoroughly you risk wasting your marketing spend, sending the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time, and exhausting your sales team as they chase prospects that are nowhere near ready to buy.

Establishing rules around how your leads are managed can be difficult; lead definitions and quality criteria vary dramatically for each business and the many acronyms that exist to give clarity to the process can be quite confusing. To help you navigate this terminology and create a systematic process to move your prospects effectively through the pipeline, we’ve put together a short guide.

Lead stages

What is an Automation Qualified Lead – AQL?

An AQL is an early stage lead that has scored by your marketing automation platform based on a set of rules associated with prospect behaviours such as website visits, page views, webinar registrations or contact form submissions. Scores may be weighted to reflect differing levels of engagement. For example, greater weight may be given to a download of a specific piece of content or an enquiry form submission, than to a prospect clicking an email or viewing a single page. AQLs scored automatically may have incomplete fields and lack sufficient information to support a fully tailored marketing programme.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead – MQL?

Marketing qualified leads have shared more information, exhibited early buying signals and may have hit a pre-defined threshold in terms of their automated score that indicates they are more likely to turn into a sale than an AQL. They may have made multiple website visits, submitted an information request or downloaded an in-depth industry report in exchange for information that gives deeper insight into their requirements and indicates they are further along the sales pipeline. Using this insight, marketers are able to create a more targeted programme with messaging tailored to the prospect’s interests to gently nurture and move the lead along the pipeline, bringing warmer prospects to the surface for prioritisation.

What is a Sales-Accepted Lead – SAL?

Before MQLs are passed to sales, an additional layer of qualification is advisable. Phone qualification can probe further and build levels of insight that can’t be achieved through automation, establishing that leads fully comply with the criteria required to be ‘accepted’ by sales. A real conversation with your prospect allows you to make a close personal connection and glean insight into interests, pain points and challenges whilst gathering valuable intelligence to inform judgements about lead quality. An SAL bridges the gap between MQLs and sales-ready leads, ensuring that your sales team is not wasting their time, or your money, chasing leads that are not yet ready to buy.

What are the best qualification criteria?

Definitions of what constitutes a ‘sales-ready’ lead will vary across all organisations depending on each proposition and strategy.

BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) is a well-known lead qualification model that outlines four key criteria. Once a lead has moved through the initial marketing stages, it’s down to your lead qualification team to scope out the prospect’s intent:

  • Budget: What is their budget?
  • Authority: Are you speaking to a key decision maker within the business? Will your contact need to seek approval from a manager?
  • Need: What is your lead’s key issue and how can your product or service solve it?
  • Timing: What is their timeframe realistically? An understanding of their timeline can help your sales team to plan key contact points and a tailored pitch.

BANT is useful and can be modified to include other criteria, but there are a number of different frameworks that can be used, or you can create your own. The key thing is to ensure that a clear definition is established and shared across sales and marketing, and any internal or external teams involved in the qualification process.

What is an SQL – Sales Qualified Lead?

A sales-qualified lead is one that has met the qualification criteria and is deemed ‘sales-ready’. Your sales team’s efforts are strategically targeted at priority prospects with the benefit of high value insight gathered during the phone qualification process. Armed with this additional insight, they can provide a tailored and persuasive proposition, positioning relevant benefits against customer needs to increase the chance of conversion.

High volumes of automation-qualified leads will dilute the quality of your pipeline. When looking to maximise return on spend from your marketing efforts, delivering the right quality of leads to your sales team is critical.  Adding phone qualification to your process not only builds rapport through human contact, it enables you to accurately determine where prospects are in the pipeline and when they are truly sales-ready.

Our lead management specialists provide a systematic approach to lead qualification and nurture, maintaining human interactions, keeping prospects engaged, and gathering valuable intelligence throughout the customer journey. If you would like to learn how we can provide a feed of higher-value, better qualified leads to your sales team, get in touch.

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