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30th April 2024

B2B lead qualification is a vitally important piece of the lead generation puzzle, for both marketing and sales teams.

Without it, you face the difficult task of trying to sell your products and services to cold leads.

Not only that, it's now very well documented that B2B buyers do a lot of their own research before approaching potential suppliers. That means B2B decision-makers are even less receptive to cold callers than ever before.

To put it into perspective, according to Salesforce’s State of Sales report, sales reps now only spend 28% of their time actually selling.

The rest of the time they’re nurturing their leads and working out, with the marketing team’s help, who’s ready to buy.

Lead qualification is the name of that process.

To help you create warm opportunities for your sales team, this blog will cover:

  • What is a qualified lead?
  • The best lead qualification methods.
  • Lead generation vs lead qualification.
  • The top 5 lead qualification strategies for B2B marketers.
  • The definition of BANT lead qualification.
  • What is intent data?
  • How to use profiling & qualifying questions.
  • The importance of lead nurturing and lead scoring.
Man working on laptop

What Is Lead Qualification?

Lead qualification is the process of ensuring leads are ready to hear from your sales team.

You can’t sell to a cold lead: each one needs to be monitored and nurtured through the marketing funnel.

The marketing lead qualification process ensures you know which leads are nurtured to the point that you can pass them to sales.

That brings us to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

MQLs are leads that have shown enough interest in your brand or product for you to judge them as relevant prospects. They are people who are more likely to become a client after some further nurturing.

In our opinion, an MQL should always be a prospect that has actively opted-in to hear from your company directly. For example this could be from downloading a piece of your content and consenting to receive further information from you. 

Not all B2B lead generation services care about this as much as we do, so it's worth vetting your suppliers if you're generating MQLs.

Our Quality Lead Generation Checklist can help you do that. Or, take a look at our lead generation process for an example of how an MQL is generated.

The point at which they officially cross over from top-of-funnel lead to MQL is up to you. For example, you might choose factors such as:

  • If they've read more than one piece of your content (typically an educational piece, for example through content syndication lead gen).
  • Attended a webinar.
  • Received, open and clicked one or more of your marketing emails.
  • Engaged with a certain number of LinkedIn posts and/or visited a certain page of your website.

As they warm up and become more familiar with your brand, you should then be able to introduce them to messaging and content that’s more relevant to your products and services.

You can also use lead scoring to decide when leads become MQLs - more on that later.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)

SQLs are not the same thing as MQLs, though sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.

SQLs come further down the funnel. These are leads that are likely to convert soon, having shown strong intent signals such as requesting a product demo or a quote.

This is the point when the sales team are most likely to close the deal.

And this is why lead qualification is so important. Without knowing when leads are ready to buy, your sales team will waste a lot of time chasing cold leads, and probably annoying would-be future customers.

Modern decision-makers are in control of their own buying journey. They do their own research, and spend very little time talking to salespeople. Nail your lead qualification marketing, and you’ll have much more success with your lead generation.

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So, How Do You Qualify a Lead?

There are a few different frameworks you can use for qualifying sales leads. And as we know, the B2B marketing industry loves a good acronym so below are a few more!

Each of the below lead qualifications strategies can be used to identify the key information you need to nurture your MQLs into SQLs, and are often used as a benchmark by B2B tech marketers.

  • BANT qualification - which stands for 'budget, authority, need, timeline', which we’ll look at in more detail later on. Basically, marketers use the four BANT criteria to assess each lead and track where they are in the marketing funnel.
  • GPCTBA - which stands for 'goals; plans; challenges; timeline; budget; authority'.
  • C&I has also been developed to include 'consequences and implications'.
  • Finally, MEDICC, which has been designed specifically to help you become familiar with your target’s purchasing process. The acronym stands for 'metrics; economic buyer; decision criteria; decision process; identify pain; champion.'

If you'd like to read more on each those frameworks, check out this article from Business News Daily.

We also like this lead qualification guide from HubSpot: 101 questions you can ask to qualify a lead.

Lead Validation: How to Get Better Qualified Leads

Although validating your leads is a vital part of the qualifying process, don’t get lead qualification and lead validation mixed up.

Lead validation is all about checking your leads’ contact details and other information, to ensure you get minimal bounce-backs when you reach out to them. It also involves checking each lead has definitely consented to hear from you - which is a pretty solid lead qualification process itself.

A good quality lead generation agency should validate your leads before delivery. They should be able to show you a clear digital footprint of how each lead was generated, as well as proof that they consent to hear from you.

They’ll also check each lead’s details against trusted databases - such as LinkedIn and regional/national business registers.

Headldey Media colleague standing up in the office

Lead Qualification Marketing: 5 Key Strategies to Include

The lead generation qualification process involves several methods with slightly different aims and outcomes.

Here are our favorite lead qualification strategies, and how they work.

Strategy #1: BANT Lead Generation

BANT lead qualification is a great way to get sales qualified leads directly from your lead generation agency.

What Is BANT Lead Qualification?

The BANT acronym stands for Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. BANT questions are used by marketers to assess each lead for readiness to buy.

In fact, BANT marketing is one of the most popular lead qualification frameworks. And you can see why - it’s four straightforward criteria for marketers to judge:

  • Whether the lead has the budget for your products or solutions.
  • How much control they have over the purchase decision.
  • Why and how badly they need the product.
  • When they are likely to buy.

The more reputable lead generation agencies, like Headley Media, run SoftBANT campaigns, also known as half BANT.

This type of BANT lead generation campaign focuses on the two most useful lead qualification criteria – need and timeframe.

With a SoftBANT campaign, your agency will help you understand why your leads are researching new products and establish when they’ll be ready to buy.

BANT qualified leads can therefore be passed to your sales team quicker than other MQLs. 

Headley Media logo on a white wall

Strategy #2: Intent Data Targeting

Intent data targeting is ideal for lead qualification.

B2B intent data is the ‘digital breadcrumbs’ left by your leads as they browse different websites and content, including your own.

By tracking what webpages leads have looked at as they search for solutions to their business needs, you can gain more understanding of what they need and how far into the buyer’s journey they are.

As well as browsing webpages, intent signals include liking social media posts, reading your content on 3rd party sites (such as Headley Media's content library websites), and checking out product reviews.

Intent signals are a fantastic way to qualify your leads. Modern buyers do their own research into solutions for their business, so by tracking their buying intent, you can build a better picture of what they need and when they’re likely to buy. The best intent data providers can help you harvest and record this data for faster SQLs.

Gathering all this data can be a bit of a privacy minefield. Use a lead generation intent company that complies with all privacy laws such as GDPR, and legitimate 3rd party B2B intent data providers like Bombora.

Strategy #3: Profiling & Qualifying Questions

What’s the simplest way to find something out about someone? Just ask them!

With profiling questions and qualifying questions, you can ask leads directly about their business needs and their interest in various products.

Profiling questions can help you gauge a lead's readiness to buy, so it’s great for prospect qualification. In comparison, qualifying questions can help you include or exclude your leads based on the answers they provide.

These audience intelligence strategies help in qualifying prospects. Typical questions include “What industry are you working in?” and “What software are you currently using [for a specific function]?”.

You can gain a lot of valuable information very quickly. The catch is that lots of questions can be off-putting for some potential leads - so make sure your content is worth their while. An experienced B2B lead generation agency can help you create the right questions for your campaigns.

Man on phone in an office

Strategy #4: Install Based Targeting

Install based targeting is all about targeting leads based on what software they’re already using. And it’s particularly great for SaaS lead generation. 

Install based lead qualification helps you to outmanoeuvre your competitors. For example, you could offer their clients your subscription-based service over the clunkier model they’re already using. Or, you could offer a discount or complementary services if they switch.

On the flip-side, if you have a SaaS product that works with a piece of tech they're using, such as HubSpot, you could target businesses that you know use HubSpot.

Either way, if you can find out what software your leads are already using, it’s incredibly useful data for tailoring your messaging for targeted B2B marketing. Particularly in lead generation for SaaS.

Installed based targeting also helps qualify your leads. If you know your prospect is in need of new software, you can judge whether they’re ready for you to reach out and offer them a better solution.

Using install based targeting for B2B SaaS lead generation involves watching your competitors to find out who their clients are, and why those clients like them.

Install based marketers should check their competitors’ websites and social media for testimonials, as well as reviews on websites such as G2 and Capterra. This information will help you understand what these leads like about the product and how you can better compete.

Strategy #5: Lead Nurturing & Scoring

Finally, let's look at two longer term lead qualification strategies: B2B lead nurturing and lead scoring. Arguably two of the most important strategies for qualifying your leads.

First up, what is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing in B2B is the art of guiding your leads to the bottom of the marketing funnel, also known as creating those SQLs we explored earlier.

Lead nurturing tactics include email marketing, display advertising, social media marketing and content syndication. By carefully exposing likely leads to more of your relevant content and brand messaging, you can warm them up to your products and services, and ultimately qualify them as a lead.

Email lead nurturing is the most common method. Lead nurturing emails often begin by offering the lead more content relevant to the action that gave you their email address - for example, if they downloaded an eBook about a hot topic in your industry, you could send them a case study related to that hot topic.

Later on, your lead nurturing campaign might include an email invitation to a webinar or product demonstration. Here’s a full list of B2B lead nurturing ideas.

And, what about lead scoring?

B2B lead scoring is the process of keeping track of your leads’ buying behaviors and intent signals, and assigning a numerical value to those behaviors.

The higher the score, the more qualified the lead is. These intent signals include any interaction the lead has with your brand - viewing your advert, clicking on a certain webpage, liking a social media post, opening an email, downloading your whitepaper.  We love this lead scoring model from HubSpot.

To find trusted lead generation, lead qualification and lead validation services, use our handy Quality Lead Generation Checklist - or download our complete, free B2B Lead Gen Toolkit!