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What's the Difference Between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Sales Qualified Lead?

What's the Difference Between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Sales Qualified Lead?
Dean Moothart
What's the Difference Between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Sales Qualified Lead?

Whats the Difference Between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Sales Qualified Lead

Ask any salesperson, and they’ll tell you that not all leads are created equal. And because salespeople believe this, they don’t always follow up with every lead that marketing sends them.

Salespeople complaining about the quality of leads and Marketing Directors complaining about the lack of lead follow-up by sales seems to be the prevailing attitude in most organizations.

The most common cause of this “finger-pointing” is the lack of clarity and understanding of the fact that there are indeed different types of leads. The two primary lead types at the top of the sales funnel are marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs).

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead?

A MQL is a Marketing Qualified Lead. A MQL is any lead that is generated by marketing and meets the organization’s predetermined target market criteria.

Target market criteria can be based on geography, vertical industry, company size, etc. Typically, marketing should maintain ownership of MQLs. It’s their job to continue to market to them, educate them, and nurture them until they become a SQL.

Once they become an SQL, they should be passed to sales.

It's important to note that in some organizations, if there aren't a huge, unmanageable amount of leads coming in, then these leads might be deemed sales qualified (no matter what stage of the journey they're in) and passed onto sales to follow up directly. They could then be made a MQL later on if they don't move along in the sales process. 

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What is a Sales Qualified Lead?

A SQL is a Sales Qualified Lead. A SQL is any MQL that warrants the attention and action from a salesperson.

The criteria that triggers the action will vary from one organization to the next. It may be the title of the MQL. For instance, if the lead that’s generated is the CEO of a target company, it probably warrants immediate attention from sales.If the lead is a mid-level manager that can only influence the decision, then it may make sense to continue to market to them as an MQL.

The activity, frequency and digital behavior of a lead may also help determine SQL status. If a MQL is generated from a specific marketing campaign and then they respond to other additional marketing tactics within the next week or month, this could be an indication of their urgency level. At the very least, the salesperson should respond so they can assess and further qualify the opportunity.

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Distinguishing the Differences Between MQLs and SQLs

If your organization has low lead volumes, then requiring salespeople to review and classify each lead is a reasonable expectation. If the volume of leads makes this exercise too cumbersome or time-consuming, many organizations choose to deploy a lead scoring system. Points are assigned to leads for various attributes and behaviors. When a lead reaches a predetermined point threshold, the lead is automatically classified as a SQL and is passed to Sales.

So why is it important to make a distinction between MQLs and SQLs?

  • First, establishing clear definitions and criteria for each allows organizations to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.

If your marketing campaign and tactics are producing a lot of MQLs but few SQLs, then adjustments may be needed – adjustments to your strategy, tactics or MQL/SQL criteria. After all, the objective of marketing is to generate opportunities that move through the funnel and ultimately drive revenue.

  • Second, clearly defining and measuring MQLs and SQLs will ensure that every lead receives appropriate follow-up and treatment.

It’s critical that everyone on the sales and marketing teams understands the treatment that each type of lead receives. Definitive workflows should be established to ensure that leads don’t fall through the cracks.

Having a lead just sitting in your CRM without any owner or prescribed next step is like two baseball players letting an easy pop-up drop the ground between them. It’s an easy out and each fielder thinks the other has it covered – until they don’t. Leads that don’t have prescribed owners and next steps lead to wasted marketing investments, barren sales pipelines, and frustrated prospects.

  • Finally, it’s important to understand that every organization will have different definitions for MQLs and SQLs.

It’s important, though, that everyone understands and agrees upon the definitions. So sales or marketing shouldn’t create their definitions and establish criteria in a silo. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to bring marketing and sales together to hash out the details. Doing so will lead to less frustration, less finger-pointing, and more effective selling.

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Dean Moothart

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