Defining the Differences Between Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads


In a best-case scenario, marketing and sales are intrinsically aligned. After all, the ultimate goal is generally the same for both departments—to close the sale—and everybody wants that. But each needs to agree on the hand-off process, which means having a clear definition of the difference between marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs).

Every organization generates and collects leads in various ways, and many get passed straight to sales. But depending on what stage they’re at in the buyer’s journey, that might not always be the best strategy.

MQLs vs. SQLs

Let’s start by breaking down that phrase, and specifically, the term “versus.”

In the broader sense, marketing and sales should be aligned, so looking at the situation as one vs. the other is not really the best approach as it assumes they are adversarial. The truth is actually quite the opposite, or it ought to be.

Sales and marketing alignment has many benefits, including:

  • Improved sales productivity. Sales teams can focus on high-value conversations.
  • Measurable marketing ROI. Enables detailed Analytics on content downloads and engagement.
  • More targeted marketing materials. Sales can work with marketing to ensure customers are well-served with the content marketing
  • Better engagement between teams. Done right, sales and marketing alignment can be described as symbiotic.
  • Stronger customer relationships. Customers feel heard and understood.
  • Happier customers. Informed customers make better decisions.
  • Enables the development of more accurate buyer personas. The more you engage with customers at all points in the buying journey, the better you’ll know and understand them.
  • Bottom line growth. Aligned teams close more sales in less time.

Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads Differences

Even when sales and marketing are successfully aligned, the decision to hand off must happen at some point. Knowing how SQLs and MQLs differ will help you develop a more precise idea of when that should happen.

Marketing qualified leads have shown interest in the product/service and have been identified by marketing as a lead that could become a customer if nurtured properly. Once they are ready to speak to someone on the sales team, they become SQLs.

MQLs have expressed intent to buy and are deemed a good fit for the solution you’re selling. It is marketing’s job to make the initial determinations as to whether they might qualify as a good fit. In many cases, they’ve already shown interest by clicking on a CTA, asking for more information, or scheduling a call.

Sales qualified leads have been researched and vetted by your marketing team. They are ready to speak to sales. So while SQLs exist without having been MQLs first, most leads require a bit of support before they’re ready to talk to sales.

Along the buyer journey, marketing informs, supports, and qualifies the lead. Throughout the process, sales and marketing should work together to decide what specific actions or behaviors should trigger a handoff, so in that sense, neither owns a customer or any particular phase. Still, every company is a little different in this regard.

Typically, more complex products will take more time to sell, as the process of determining what’s right for them is not always straightforward. In this case, marketing has a more nuanced job before moving the lead to SQL status, but by the time they hand off the lead, sales will have a well-developed customer profile, enabling a more meaningful and productive engagement.

Thinking this way aligns sales and marketing, optimizes sales efforts, and ensures the customer ends up with a solution that’s right for them. The customer feels supported because the journey is unified and feels more organic. Ultimately, if your marketing team has done the legwork, the process of selling should be that much easier.

Defining the MQL to SQL Journey

In moving your MQLs to the SLQ stage, there are a few things to consider.

  • Lead Scoring. In most organizations, the process involves lead scoring. Lead scoring assigns values to each lead based on various attributes, such as how much information they’ve submitted, how they’ve interacted with your website or content, or what ways they’ve engaged with your brand across various internet channels.

Lead scoring helps you prioritize so your teams can respond accordingly. It saves your sales team’s time and energy and helps them focus their efforts on leads that are ready to speak to them.

  • Lead Behavior. Sales and marketing come together to decide which behaviors carry the most weight—a critical determination in the decision to hand off to sales. These actions/behaviors could include:
    • Downloading content
    • Opting into emails
    • Scheduling a call or meeting
    • Booking a demo
    • Responding to an email

Given these three scenarios, you would assign more points to a call or meeting than you would an email. Ultimately, you don’t want to hand off the lead to sales until they are ready to progress in the journey because that will slow down sales. You can also assign negative points if the lead stops responding or doesn’t open your emails.

  • Buying Potential. Before your lead can move from MQL to SQL, they need to rank for a few key items:
    • They have a need for the product/service
    • They have the budget for it and can afford it
    • They have the infrastructure to support it
    • It solves problems for them

Unfortunately, these are questions you can’t (or shouldn’t, at least) just come out and ask, so you’ll need to do some research to find out who’s involved in making the buying decisions and what their specific roles are. You’ll also want to have an idea about how quickly the company moves under typical circumstances.

Handing Off to Sales

The value of aligning sales and marketing comes when the SQL is handed off.

At this stage, marketing will have gathered a lot of information about the lead, which sales can use to visualize the path they took. They’ll know about the company, the buying team, their roles, demographics, and pain points. They’ll also know what specific content has been downloaded or engaged with and can then proceed to have more meaningful conversations with the prospective customer.

Ultimately, it’s about helping the sales team focus their time and energy on selling the right products to the right people at the right time—and that all comes down to lead scoring. Maximizing your efforts in this area leads to more conversations, which leads to more sales.

Over time, the MQL to SQL process will also give both teams deeper insights into what’s working—what actions lead to more conversions, how many meaningful conversations are being had, and how well sales is closing their SQLs.

Convert More Leads and Enable The Sales Process With HubSpot

To improve sales and marketing performance, the first thing you need is a solid CRM. HubSpot is a complete solution, providing you with complete marketing, sales, and customer service tech stack that aligns your teams and facilitates scalable growth.

If you are having trouble with your MQL to SQL process, if you’re not getting the results you know are possible, reach out today, and let’s talk strategy.

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We’ll work with you to customize a solution that helps you save time, facilitate meaningful conversations, and achieve your business goals.

And check out our previous webinar: Transforming HubSpot Marketing Data Into Actionable Sales Insights

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