Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) vs. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Getting confused with the terms “Marketing Qualified Lead” and “Sales Qualified Lead”?

Consumers are getting more sophisticated by the day. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C sales, even just starting out, you probably understand that to a certain degree.

What you may not have considered is the necessity for the sales process to keep up with the times.

With larger funnel and more complex situations, it’s critical for all of those moving pieces to have names and definitions.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mess and lost money on the table.

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Given our business model, we understand the need for clear and concise definitions to your sales madness. And the best way to accomplish that (in our eyes) was to write a series of “sales definitions”.

In this post, we’ll break down the key differences between a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQLs) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQLs).

Along with that, we’ll give you some ways to tell when an Marketing Qualified Lead makes the leap to being sales ready, and some tips to get them there better and faster.

If that sounds like something you need, let’s get into it.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

Let’s start with a simple definition.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): a lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.

There are a couple of basic ways for you to judge a lead that is “more likely to become a customer…”—by hand or through lead scoring.

  • By Hand: This means that you’ve used your ideal buyer personas to find a list of highly targeted buyers (or purchased a list) that could be open to hearing more about your solution. Typically, this is a more “hands on” approach and is for B2B sales reps looking for brands within a certain set of firmographic data.
  • Through Marketing: You’ve either drawn them to your landing page through ads, inbound marketing, or other means. This also means that they’ve “taken the bait” and given you their email, signed up for something, or even requested an interaction with you.

Keep in Mind: There may be other ways for leads to come your way (e.g. referrals).

The Goal: Find Out Who’s Really Interested in Buying

The purpose of the MQL stage of your sales funnel is to identify between the two types of MQLs. Click To Tweet

Don’t worry, we’ll explain.

There are two basic types of leads in any funnel. Those who may buy (after some research and being pitched) and those who don’t intend to buy at all.

The former are called “Prospects” and the latter are labeled “Suspects”.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) vs. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
There are three perspectives of leads in your funnel:

  • Prospect: The point of prospects entering the funnel is to research and genuinely determine the fit of your solution with their needs.
  • Suspect: A suspect will enter your funnel for any number of reasons, besides any intent to buy. Maybe they want your download, are bored, etc.
  • You: The purpose you need to focus on is differentiating between those who could be sales ready soon and those who are wasting your time.

Click here to read our full 1500+ word post devoted to the MQL. It’s full of just about anything you’d want to know about this marketing term.

What is a Sales Qualified Lead?

Again, here’s a definition to kick things off.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): A prospective customer that has been researched and vetted — first by an organization’s marketing department and then by its sales team – and is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process. (Source)

This definition does a good job of clarifying the key things that need to happen before an MQL becomes an SQL.

Notice the words “vetted” and “deemed ready”.

A lead has been checked out and deemed a genuine prospect; this lead has been educated and has ultimately “raised their hand”—ready for a conversation.

The MQL process can take some time, but when the sales team kicks in, things tend to speed up.

It’s this faster pace that necessitates the need for a great system of identifying when a lead hits that plateau and is ready for the sales team.

Click here for the full post titled, “What is a Sales Qualified Lead?”

When is a Marketing Qualified Lead Ready for Sales?

The bridge between marketing and sales is critical.

With that said, here are some pointers and resources to help you identify that key moment when a Marketing Qualified Lead should transition to sales readiness.

Filling the Bucket (Lead Scoring)

Hopefully, you’re working with a good CRM.

Any software worth its weight in code will include some sort of lead scoring capability. The purpose of putting a number on each lead is to figure out their perceived value and once it hits a certain level (based on research and past data)—they’re shipped off to sales.

It’s a little like those giant buckets of water at a theme park.

It slowly fills until it reaches a certain point when the weight of the bucket starts its unstoppable process. Everyone can see what’s about to happen as it sends the water pouring out over all the anxious kids beneath.

If your system is followed and implemented correctly, the lead will begin to shift their weight toward purchases and it will be noticeable to everyone looking at the data.

While our illustration is simple, this can get complicated.

As we mentioned, the buying crowd is getting more antsy and funnels are becoming more and more complex.

Instead of sending two to three emails and then moving in for the close, it takes a more sophisticated method of identifying where your leads are in the nurturing process.

Selling too soon (or too late) makes all the difference in your conversion rate. Click To Tweet

In a great post by ConversionXL, they debunk the thought that “sales funnels are linear”.

The real funnel looks more like a tornado where leads spin around and slowly work their way to the bottom through content and interaction.

It’s worth a couple of read-throughs and could seriously help your marketing process.

Here are a few other great resources if you’re just getting started with lead scoring:

The Missing Link in Most Companies

While marketing can see the shift of the lead towards becoming sales qualified, there is still a definitive point at which the lead needs to be “deemed ready” (per our definition).

Many companies just blindly send the lead once it hits the prerequisite in the CRM. That’s likely a mistake.

Over time, complaints from the sales team could cause a divide between your marketing department. Sending poor leads based on things that sales understands, but your marketers may not.

In your sales pipeline, the point between MQL and SQL is where the most money leaks out.

The solution is an interdepartmental step where a sales rep gets a chance to directly interact with the lead (preferably via phone call).

Marketing should be heavily involved as the conversation will include tons of insightful data that can be used to:

  • Better score future leads
  • Weed out hidden suspects not willing to buy
  • Create better content that better readies leads for the sales team

This step actually has an entirely new label of “Sales Accepted Lead” (SAL).

It’s a recognition that a lead has hit the lead scoring level deemed necessary, and an interaction should be scheduled.

What Needs to Be Addressed in the Call?

Good question.

First, it’s not a sales call. It’s a call to determine one of three things:

  1. The lead is ready for a demo/sales call or,
  2. The lead needs further nurturing in the funnel or,
  3. The lead is a suspect.

In order to figure this out, you’ll need to ask a series of questions and follow ups.

The biggest key is to listen, not just for their direct answers—but the tone, too. Click To Tweet

In our “What is a Suspect vs a Prospect?” post, we went over what a call like this should look like in detail. Give it a look if you would like to add this step in between your lead scoring and your sales team.

Successful Transition From MQL to SQL

After the lead is “deemed ready” by both the marketing folks and the sales team, they are officially transferred to an SQL.

The coolest thing is that a sales call may have already been scheduled and the lead is more excited to talk about the product than ever before.

Your rep won’t get burnt out talking to duds all day and the entire team will be excited as your conversion rate creeps higher over time.

Take the time to label your leads and set up a proper lead scoring system (using your CRM). Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate before tossing contacts back and forth between departments in order to dramatically improve your closed-won rate.

What are some of your ways of knowing when a lead is “ready”?

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