Understanding the Difference Between Sales Qualified Leads and Marketing Qualified Leads

Successful inbound marketing does not end at lead generation. Simply getting contacts into your database is far from enough in attempting to increase your customer base and grow your sales. Nurturing these leads on their way to becoming customers is a crucial step in the process.

That much is clear to any marketer familiar with the concept. But unfortunately, many of them still don’t go far enough in distinguishing just when a lead is ready to buy. If you don’t hit that sweet spot, you may lose out on a sales opportunity.

That’s where the concept of Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) comes into play. These leads are ready for the sales pitch. Of course, some marketers also distinguish Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) to further enhance their efforts.

What is the difference between SQL and MQL, where should you focus, and how can you improve your efforts to generate each? You’ll know the answers to these questions by the time you’re done reading this post.

Understanding Marketing Qualified Leads

Inbound marketing leader HubSpot defines a Marketing Qualified Lead as

A lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.

Based on their demographics, the way they entered your database, and their actions taken since becoming a lead, MQLs have a statistically high chance of turning into a customer. But, crucially, they are not yet ready to actually take that step. As their name suggests, they are qualified for targeted marketing efforts, but not quite ready for a sales call.

Improving Your MQL Generation Efforts

Naturally, you want to get as many marketing qualified leads into your marketing and sales funnel as possible. These are the contacts who will respond most positively to lead nurturing efforts, and ultimately have a higher chance of providing positive ROI for your business. Here are a few ways to get as many MQLs into your funnel as possible:

  • Analyze Your Current Customers. Try to find common characteristics that could act as predictors for future success. If, for example, you find that the majority of your customers are between 25-34 years old, leads in that age range might be more likely to convert as well.
  • Build Buyer Personas. As we’ve detailed in a previous blog series, buyer personas can play a crucial role in increasing the quality of your leads. If you know not just quantitative but also qualitative characteristics of ideal customers, you can tailor your strategy more closely to reaching and resonating with your target audience.
  • Engage in Lead Scoring. Not every lead that enters your database is marketing-qualified. But that doesn’t prevent them from getting there. Through lead scoring efforts, you can track your contacts’ engagement with your content and website, determining which leads show enough interest in your company to deserve more targeted messaging.

Understanding Sales Qualified Leads

Sales Qualified Leads differ from MQLs in one crucial area: they are (or should be) ready to become customers. They are, in other words, qualified for a direct sales call or pitch. According to TechTarget,

A sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospective customer that … is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process. An SQL has displayed intent to buy a company’s products and has met an organization’s lead qualification criteria that determine whether a buyer is a right fit.

SQLs are this close to becoming a customer. They’re not only a good fit, but are just waiting for the right opportunity to start generating revenue for you.

Improving Your SQL Generation Efforts

Naturally, if you focus on lead generation, you want to maximize your conversions from ‘regular’ to sales-qualified leads. Here are a few ways you can do just that:

  • Align Marketing and Sales. Sometimes, finding a SQL is as easy as making sure that you catch the right moment of transition from marketing to sales. To achieve that goal, in turn, you need to make sure that your marketing and sales teams are closely aligned, both in terms of messaging and database access.
  • Optimize Your Lead Nurturing. The best nurturing campaigns pick up MQLs, and drive them to the SQL stage through targeted messages designed specifically to nudge them closer to the sale. Emails should gradually shift in tone from establishing thought leadership to prompting a sale.
  • Use Closed-Loop Reporting. Closing the loop in your reporting means understanding exactly what happened to each lead in your funnel. You can use that information to determine whether your SQLs actually turned into customers, refining the criteria you set to optimize your efforts long-term.

Where Should You Focus?

Unfortunately, every business and marketer has to deal with limited resources. Both SQLs and MQLs are important to track, but if you only have the time and budget to focus on one, which one should it be?

The exact answer, of course, depends. The complexity of your sales process and buyer’s journey is a crucial variable, as is your exact marketing need. If you struggle generating quality leads, a focus on MQLs can help you improve that process. If, on the other hand, your lead-to-customer conversion needs improvement, focusing your resources on improving your SQLs is more beneficial.

Ultimately, both MQLs and SQLs can help you improve your inbound marketing and sales efforts. For help in both, and to build an inbound marketing strategy that will actually drive both leads AND customers, contact us.

Darren Faber

About Darren Faber

Darren is one of the first employees Foxtail ever had. Aside from that he enjoys starring in low-budget rom-coms (true story, look it up).

Foxtail Marketing is a digital marketing firm that provides content marketing, digital marketing, and lead generation services for small and mid-market companies.

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