You have probably already heard of these terms:
- Marketing Qualified Lead, or MQL.
- Sales Qualified Lead, or SQL.
They refer to two levels of lead qualification. The ability of an organisation to distinguish between these two levels of qualification is essential to improve lead conversion and optimise the alignment of efforts between marketing and sales.
Find out what a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) are, the difference between the two and how to go from one to the other. We will also have the opportunity to give you some tips on how to speed up the qualification of leads and their transmission to the sales team.
What is a Marketing Qualified Lead or MQL?
Defined very simply, MQL is the marketers’ conception of what a qualified lead is. It is both a lead qualified BY marketing and FOR (in the sense of “according to”) marketing.
For the marketing team, a lead is a contact that is considered to have the potential to become a customer – but without any certainty. There are two ways, two approaches, that allow, from a marketing point of view, to detect when a “contact” or “prospect” can be considered as a qualified lead:
- The “manual” approach. You know your target audience, you have built personas and from this you have created a list of people or companies that meet your target criteria. By definition, these are contacts who are likely to be interested. This approach is widely used in B2B.
- The marketing approach. You have created landing pages or used other inbound marketing techniques to attract contacts to you. People who agree to give you their email address, to subscribe to your newsletter, who seek to contact you after reading an article or a landing page are by definition interested leads, deemed “qualified” by marketing.
Of course, these two approaches do not sum up everything. There are other ways for an individual to become a qualified lead in the marketing sense (such as word-of-mouth contacts and recommendations). And the definition of what a MQL is will necessarily vary from company to company. But in general, a marketing team qualifies a qualified lead (and therefore an MQL) as an individual who corresponds to the target and who has shown interest in the company or its products in one way or another: by filling in a form, giving their email, subscribing to a mailing list, contacting customer service to obtain information, etc.
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The most important thing to remember is that an MQL is a lead who “may” be interested in your products and who “may” become a customer. But, in the end, you don’t know that. An MQL has not clearly expressed a desire to buy. He has only expressed an interest. An MQL is a lead that needs to be qualified and nurtured by the marketing team, that needs to be marketed to before it is passed on to the sales team.
What is a Sales Qualified Lead or SQL?
An SQL is a lead that the sales team considers to be qualified, relevant, interesting and potentially convertible into a customer. An SQL has been processed by the marketing team. And in general, its quality depends on the work carried out upstream by marketing. An SQL is an MQL that has reached a certain level of maturity. In general, it is a telephone interview that allows a lead to be qualified as SQL. So an SQL is a lead qualified BY and FOR the sales team, to use the definition given earlier.
Note that a lead can land directly in the SQL box, without passing through the MQL stage: this is the case if the individual contacts a sales representative without having been confronted with the marketing team, its operations or its content. In theory – and this is true most of the time – an SQL is more valuable than an MQL, i.e. more likely to turn into a customer. But in practice, an SQL may well not convert.
It usually takes much longer for an individual to be qualified as an MQL by the marketing team. Conversely, an individual can be qualified as an SQL in the space of a few minutes, the time of a phone call. The timelines are different. To align and coordinate the marketing and sales teams, it is important to put in place a solid organisation. The objective is to identify the right moment to transfer leads from marketing to sales. Successfully identifying this moment is a key to sales performance.
Discover our complete guide to lead qualification.
When is an MQL ready to be handed over to the sales team?
How do you identify the key moment, the most opportune moment when a lead qualified by marketing can be passed on to the sales team? One of the best approaches to successfully identifying this moment has a name: Lead Scoring. To do lead scoring, you need a good CRM. Almost all “good” CRMs offer lead scoring functionality.
Lead Scoring consists of assigning a score to each lead. This makes it easy to identify and visualise the value of each lead and to know when a lead is ripe for transfer to sales. The score of each lead evolves according to the events on the lead’s side, the way it reacts to marketing campaigns and actions. It is up to you to define the critical level (= score) that should trigger the transfer. This is easier said than done, because, as you know, the conversion process has become increasingly complex. It is not always easy to determine where the leads are in the nurturing process. We will have the opportunity in other articles to deal with this difficult subject.
But you should not rely solely and blindly on the CRM to determine whether a lead is ready to be passed on to the sales team. In fact, in reality, many of the leads that marketing deems ready to be passed on are in fact poor and insufficiently qualified leads. This can annoy sales, who find themselves dealing with leads that have not been sufficiently nurtured by marketing. This can lead to conflict between the two departments of the organisation, but it can also have a significant impact on the sales performance and therefore the turnover of the company.
For this reason, a new approach is increasingly being developed: it consists of having the MQLs validated by the sales staff before the transfer. Validation can be done by means of an interaction – for example, a qualifying phone call from a salesperson. This phone call is anything but a sales call. Its purpose is to check whether the lead is ready for a sales call / sending a demo OR whether the lead needs more nurturing.
But the validation process also and above all requires better communication between the two departments, so that :
- Both agree on the right time to hand over from marketing to sales.
- The marketing team, on the advice of the sales team, improves its actions and the content produced to nurture leads.
The aim is also to gradually refine the lead scoring methods in order to reduce errors as much as possible.
Once the lead is validated by the sales team (known as a Sales Accepted Lead), it can be considered a SQL lead. Going through this phase (sales validation) generally facilitates the sale. During the validation call, the sales representative can, for example, schedule a sales meeting if he or she considers the lead to be mature. The SAL stage allows, more generally, to obtain much more qualitative SQL.
Discover our complete guide to the art of setting up effective sales processes.
In conclusion, three tips:
- Take the time to define what an MQL and SQL are for your company. Tip: set high standards for MQLs.
- Set up an effective lead scoring system.
- Optimise communication between the marketing team and the sales team.
The major problem many businesses face today is that leads generated by marketing do not always meet the standards of the sales team. Applying these three tips will help you improve your conversion rates – potentially dramatically.
If you are interested in the subject of prospecting and lead management, I strongly suggest you read these articles: