What is a sales qualified lead versus a marketing qualified lead?

A sales qualified lead (SQL) and a marketing qualified lead (MQL) are two of the many buzzwords you’re likely to come across in the digital marketing space. While it might seem that you can infer the meanings directly inferred from the words themselves, this is often not the case.

To understand what sales qualified and marketing qualified leads are, it is important to first understand what leads are.

What is a lead?

Far from being a device to help you keep your furry friend close, a lead is an individual or organisation that has shown a level of interest in what you’re selling. One level deeper, even this definition can mean different things to different people depending on what side you are on – sales or marketing. The difference in perspective may stem from the fact that while marketers may see leads as people who have expressed an interested in a product or service, salespeople may only see leads as those who qualified as a viable prospect with problems that fit the solution offered.

This difference is addressed by qualifying leads as either marketing qualified or sales qualified. While each organisation may have its own definition of what constitutes a MQL and a SQL, determining where a specific contact is at in your marketing and sales process, adds clarity while reducing the likelihood of missing opportunities to target more customers and generate more revenue.

So, what is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead who has expressed some interest in your product or service, based on your marketing efforts. This could be a lead who visited your landing page and filled out an online form to download an eBook. However, at this point, it may not be clear what level of interest the contact has in your product or service. By engaging with these contacts and providing further information or relevant content, the marketing team determines if the leads are ready to be handed over to the sales team which makes them MQLs. An example could be leads who request specific information about your product or download product catalogues and case studies. They are now Marketing Qualified Leads or warm leads.

While MQLs may show more interest in your product than other leads, they are probably not yet at the stage where they feel comfortable enough to commit. Because of their interest in your product, they are likely to be receptive to any communication from your brand which helps to bring them closer to making a purchase decision.

  • What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?

    In B2B, Marketing Qualified Leads will usually be followed up by a sales rep with a phone call aimed at qualifying or disqualifying the leads against certain criteria:

    • Valid contact details
    • Valid purchase intent
    • Genuine need that matches the product/service offered
    • Power to make purchase decisions
    • Business size or industry

    So, a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is a lead who has been qualified as a viable prospect with needs that match the product or service offered by the seller and that is deemed ready for the next stage of the buying cycle, usually a product demo.

    One of the biggest ways to tell whether a lead is marketing qualified or sales qualified is by the nature of your communication with them. When a lead is marketing qualified, you might find that most of the communication might be in one direction even though there is a level of engagement. Emails are opened and read, the newsletter is signed up to, free products are claimed, webinars are attended etc. When the nature of the conversation starts changing, and leads begin to play an active role in the communication process – asking questions about the product features, payment plans etc., then they may be ready to receive a sales call.                       

    How does an MQL transition into an SQL?

    MQLs have to transition to becoming SQLs before they further transition to becoming customers. Within this transitioning process, some companies may review and nurture MQLs first until they become a SQL or Sales Accepted Leads (SALs). SALs are marketing qualified leads who have undergone review and have been deemed ready for transitioning to become Sales Qualified Leads.

    Sales reps will need to understand that most SQLs will have consumed a considerable amount of information leading up to this point, therefore providing unsolicited education about the product or service will do nothing to close the sale.

    On the other hand, it is easy for sales reps to get complacent or lazy at this point, and not put enough of an effort into closing leads, losing the leads altogether. The key to not making a mess of closing SQLs is to find the balance between too much and too little, and the best way to find this balance is by understanding the person behind the number. Seeking to understand at this point may involve doing the background research on the lead and studying the nature of their interactions with the company. Study what emails they have opened, what resources they have engaged with and what questions they have asked in the past to help you decide where the gaps in the buying process lie, and how to address these gaps.

    Lead scoring

    One feature of the dynamic process of collecting leads and transitioning them from one stage to the other is a process known as ‘lead scoring’. Lead scoring is the process of ranking leads based on their chances of becoming customers. The process is slightly more elaborate but can be summarised briefly:

    The three main broad results following a lead scoring exercise are:

    1. Leads to pursue and close – Sales Qualified Leads

    2. Leads to nurture – Marketing Qualified Leads

    3. Leads to discard – Neither. These leads may have arrived on the product page by accident or may find that the product is unsuitable for their needs. For example, a lead interested in purchasing real estate for rent in Manchester might come through as a lead for a company that specialises in office rentals in London.

    While these terms may be described differently, these form the main broad categories leads are classified into after lead scoring. Once lead scoring reaches a certain level, the marketing team passes leads on to the sales team to take over the conversation.

    In conclusion, there is a need for unity between sales and marketing which incorporates proper lead scoring and classification as either MQLs or SQLs. A few hours spent on this activity could help to prevent leads from slipping through the cracks and rendering your marketing efforts obsolete. 

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