Marketing-qualified leads (MQL) are leads that have been reviewed by the marketing team and meet the criteria for passing along to sales. The sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospective customer who has progressed through the sales process, from marketing-qualified lead to sales-accepted lead and has reached a stage where the sales team can convert them into an active customer.
One of the most critical factors in understanding which leads are most likely to convert is the proper categorization of potential customers within the sales funnel.
A lead’s propensity to convert is indicated by sales and marketing teams deeming a lead “qualified” or “unqualified.”
To better understand these classifications, there are two important concepts/acronyms you should know: MQLs and SQLs.
But what are they, how are they different, and how do you deal with both MQLs and SQLs to boost the ROI of your inbound sales process?
As vice president of sales at Kennected, Chris-Hoffmann knows the lead conversion process like the back of his hand. He’ll be taking over the expertise here on.
In this blog, we’ll not only educate you about the difference between MQL vs. SQL but also take you through the whole journey of MQL to SQL conversion.
What Is A Marketing Qualified Lead?
MQLs are qualified prospects that your marketing team deems more likely to eventually turn into a sale than other leads but aren’t quite ready to buy yet.
They fit your target buyer persona well enough that your marketing team recognizes them as a great potential fit for your company in the future.
This is determined based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.
This is tracked by looking at specific behaviors or levels of engagement, such as website visits and content offer downloads.
Ideally, only certain forms should trigger a lead to the MQL stage, such as direct business offers and other sales-ready CTAs.
Involving sales too early in that nurturing process isn’t the best use of your organization’s resources.
Their expertise would be better reserved for SQLs, leads with a stronger possibility of converting.
MQLs, when nurtured properly, become SQLs, who become customers and promoters of your brand.
So, when done right, all of the work you’ve done to develop a quality inbound marketing and sales plan comes full circle to help you close more sales and grow your company.
These leads require additional marketing assistance before they’re ready to receive a sales call.
What Is A Sales Qualified Lead?
An SQL is a prospective customer that has progressed past the engagement stage, has been thoroughly analyzed by both marketing and sales, and has been deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process — a direct sales push.
These leads have displayed intent to buy and have met lead qualification criteria determining that they’re a right fit for the product or service.
They’re set to engage in the sales cycle.
All they need now is more lead nurturing for conversion into paying customers.
Sales And Marketing Teams Alignment
Defining marketing qualified leads (MQL), and sales qualified leads (SQL) for your organization must be done through a partnership between sales and marketing.
Marketing and sales teams tend to approach the topic differently, but they must work together to determine where each lead is in the buyer’s journey.
As many as 90% of MQLs are never converted to SQLs because they were falsely identified as MQLs too early in the buyer’s journey.
The team itself determines the criteria of both an MQL and an SQL.
Common criteria for an MQL can be meeting a lead score threshold, direct engagement with a marketing program, or responding to a campaign.
For an SQL, the criteria may be as simple as passing internal sales criteria such as having a corporate email, a valid LinkedIn profile, or responding to an initial sales outreach.
Ensuring everyone understands the difference between MQLs and SQLs is the foundation of the lead handoff process.
Suppose you have a lead that fits an ideal customer profile and is easily identifiable in form submissions or third-party data insights, like Datanyze.
In that case, you may want to pass the contact to your sales team for a quick follow-up.
Information such as company size or industry are common B2B examples, but information like pain points or a persona can also be great ways to qualify a lead as an MQL or SQL.
The weight that a particular action or piece of demographic information carries within lead scoring or routing rules will depend on your company.
One of the most critical factors for differentiating a lead from an MQL or SQL is their behavior on your website or how they engage with your company.
For example, Company A may notice that first-time visitors are as likely to purchase as a repeat visitor, while Company B’s leads aren’t expected to convert until they’ve visited the site three or more times.
No matter how much weight you place on particular behaviors, there are some general characteristics to monitor and consider in your MQL and SQL definitions.
Consider Their Profile
Understand who your potential customer is and if their characteristics align with your main buyer personas.
Once you understand your target audience, you can bucket leads into different customer segments. Evaluate their needs against your potential solutions.
Investigate what matters most to your prospect and whether or not your offerings can be a business priority for them.
How Does An MQL Become An SQL?
Sometimes the transition from MQL to SQL is seamless and straightforward, like when a marketing qualified lead requests to speak with a sales rep.
However, the shift from an MQL to an SQL is often more subtle, occurring over time through numerous interactions with your business.
It can be challenging to pinpoint the right time for handoff. Still, timing is everything.
What Is An MQL To SQL Conversion Rate?
In many organizations, the MQL to SQL conversion point in the customer lifecycle is a handoff point where marketing’s one-to-many communication is transferred to sales’ one-to-one communication.
It is the percentage of marketing qualified leads that get qualified by the sales folks.
This metric is used to analyze the efficiency of a marketing team in qualifying leads and maintaining a healthy sales pipeline for the salespeople.
A smooth transition from an MQL to an SQL ultimately depends on how well sales teams and marketing teams work together and share data.
Discuss what information is required to pass along and what the follow-up will look like based on lead intelligence and behavior.
The more aligned the two teams’ goals are — and the better their communication — the more productive lead generation will be.
What Is A Conversion Count?
How many times did a visitor complete a form on your post-click landing page offers?
An MQL has likely only downloaded one or two pieces of content, while an SQL has probably converted on multiple different offers.
Lead segmentation occurs when you divide your target audience by where they converted. Your leads come from a few places like email or paid marketing.
Over time, you’ll be able to define which channels are most successful at turning leads into paying customers. This information can be used to categorize your leads.
For example, if your email marketing campaigns tend to deliver more leads that turn into paying customers than your Facebook presence, it’s natural that you’d bump up a lead that came from an email blast from an MQL to SQL.
How Does A Sales Team Score Leads?
Once you’ve defined MQL and SQL definitions, you know who to hand off, but you still need to agree on how to pass leads to sales.
Does the job of the marketing department stop right after generating B2B leads? If your answer is yes, it implies that the leads should have a 100% conversion rate.
But in reality, that figure is way too low. This is where identifying “qualified leads” comes into existence.
Lead scoring is assigning a value or score to each lead based on their information and interactions with your business.
This is important because it prevents your sales team from reaching out before they’re ready to buy, which could ultimately destroy any trust you established up to that point.
A great lead qualification process enables your sales team to close more deals with less effort.
Many companies score leads based on these basic components:
Email subscription status
Assigning negative values to interactions that don’t reflect a genuine interest in your solutions is essential for gaining an accurate picture of a visitor’s intent.
The aim is that the overall score will reflect a lead’s value, allowing you to prioritize resources and develop the sales strategy going forward.
For most organizations, however, lead scoring requires maintenance that outweighs its value.
Before you implement lead scoring as part of your handoff process, consider whether or not you need it or if it would be possible to qualify leads through simple routing rules rather than lead scoring.
Asking to be contacted is one of the easiest ways to tell that a lead is sales-qualified. While MQLs may request additional information, they don’t typically ask to be contacted otherwise.
Many SQLs will ask to be contacted and indicate that they’re willing to invest time discussing your product.
What Is Lead Nurturing?
Lead nurturing is fostering a lead in every way possible to push it down the sales funnel.
It is imperative to nurture leads by the marketing folks once they have qualified them. There can be a lot of ways a lead can be nurtured.
Here are a few:
Retargeting via social media
Sending over e-books or templates (content marketing)
Qualifying Leads Is Not Easy
The tagging of a lead as an SQL is followed by identifying an opportunity and finally closing the sales. That’s the ideal journey of an MQL to SQL.
Lead nurturing plays a big part in this process. This entire process that we discussed above is not that simple.
Just look at the number of steps involved in this situation, right from generating a B2B lead to closing it. Qualifying leads is not at all easy.
And even if you do qualify leads with sheer ease, nurturing them is quite important.
Hop-On The Kennected Train
Want a solid lead generation plan? Kennected offers a series of solutions focused on building relationships with key decision-makers to achieve this feat.
Kennected used this process to earn the Two Comma Club Award (for earning $1,000,000) in less than seven months and a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America.
Moreover, we helped over 17,000 customers fill their sales pipelines with qualified leads and increase revenue.
Our LinkedIn lead generation services can help you take your LinkedIn marketing to the next level.
For more information on how to use this LinkedIn Sales Funnel and Kennected to fill your sales pipeline with qualified leads in less than 10 minutes per day, schedule a free strategy session here.