The Difference Between MQL and SQL

MQl and SQL banner

Within sales and marketing it could be argued qualification starts at the second you begin to select the contact data to start your campaign. But it is lead qualification which is the turning point for unqualified contacts to become quality outcomes.

Lead qualification is the process of assessing the purchasing potential of an individual or business. Identifying the attributes that constitute a qualified lead can be a complicated task, so it is useful to have a clear, structured process by which to qualify leads.

This article will ensure you understand how to define MQLs and SQLs, how the qualification process works, and how to actually qualify a lead. But don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as you may think.

Marketing executive trying to quality leads

What is an MQL?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a prospect that fits one or more of your Buyer Personas, however they may be missing a few characteristics that would make the opportunity qualified, and the contact an ideal candidate for making a purchase.

For example, a MQL may have been generated through your website or email campaigns, they may have given an indication that they are interested in your offering, but haven’t explained what has prompted their enquiry or why.
At this point you may not understand their place in the decision-making team, or whether the opportunity would be worth your sales people’s valuable time.

What is an SQL?

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is typically a lead which has been further pursued by someone within your company. SQLs are usually confirmed following an initial outreach call with a member of your team. This first point of direct contact gives you the opportunity to qualify the lead, ensure that the lead is a good fit for your company, and explore that the contact has a genuine intent to buy.

How does the MQL to SQL process work?

It is crucial to know the difference between an MQL and SQL so that your team can reduce ‘lead-bleed’ (loss of leads from your sales pipeline) and pursue the most worthwhile sales opportunities.

At this early point in the customer journey it is critical that sales and marketing teams work together to ensure you are informed as to what content you should produce and offer, and ensure that you are correctly nurturing the lead to maximise the best possible results.

One critical step in inbound marketing methodology is the handover from an MQL to an SQL, from the marketing team to the sales team. For this step, it is important that both the marketing and sales teams are aligned with a collective strategy and are adhering to consistent definitions of MQLs and SQLs.

3 tips to help the MQL to SQL handover go smoothly

Marketing team handing over leads to sales team

Tip 1: Clarity on allocation to team members

To avoid confusion and the chance of missing leads, make sure all opportunities are clearly allocated for specific people on your CRM. This ensures your team each takes ownership for opportunities which come into the pipeline and helps them to manage their time.

Tip 2: Clear information handover

When the MQL is ready to be qualified, the marketing team should then transfer all of the lead’s information to the sales team.

You may wish to review how information is captured on your CRM and whether your database could be managed or used differently to ensure information gathered is clear and easy to use.

Tip 3: Materials for nurturing

Ensure the sales and marketing teams are equipped with materials such as case studies, whitepapers and even specific product or offering-based landing pages to share with interested contacts.

Even if these end up not being sent to contacts, having these materials means your team members have key information they can pull out when talking to contacts about their needs and challenges.

How do I qualify a lead?

When qualifying a lead, it is useful to form a checklist outlining defining characteristics of your target customer. Here are six questions you can include on your lead qualification checklist:

Notepad with checklist in

1. What is driving their enquiry?

Find out what is driving your lead to make an inquiry, to find out if they are sincerely interested in making a purchase. You can gauge their level of interest by asking direct questions such as:

  • What are your priorities for [business area]?

2. Why are they looking to make a change?

There is a difference between wanting a product or being enthusiastic about it, and actually having a use for it. It’s important to understand why they are looking to make a change by purchasing from you, and utilise the logic of having use for the product versus being driven by ‘want’.

To understand the ‘why’ behind your lead’s interest, you can ask them the following questions:

  • What challenges are you currently facing?
  • What are your goals for immediate and long-term?
  • What do you anticipate potentially holding you back from achieving those goals?

Once you know specific goals and challenges, you are in a much better place to assess whether or not your product is capable of meeting the needs of the lead.

3. What solutions do they have in place currently?

This is useful to help you understand what difference your offering may be able to make compared to your competitors, and perform a gap analysis of their needs. Alongside helping you understand their motives and their business problems, it will also give you an idea of what they’re currently spending (see Question 6: What is their budget?).

4. When do they need the solution in place?

A lead may not be ready to purchase immediately, but this does not mean they will not be ready a few months or a year into the future.

To figure out how imminently your prospect will be looking to make a purchase, ask them questions such as:

  • When do you need to have something new in place by?

If the lead does not have an immediate requirement, but there is intent or need to buy in the future, ensuring good database admin and contact nurturing means this opportunity won’t be lost. Note when the contact suggests to get back in touch and make sure to ask why that would be a timely point.

5. Who else may need to get involved to make the change?

Sometimes the job title of your lead can clearly signal they will be involved in discussions about your offering, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be others involved in signing off budget. Even if your contact ultimately holds the budget, often they will go to their colleagues to gather opinions before signing off their purchase.

If you are not sure whether your lead is the decision-maker, or even just to gain an understanding of the bigger picture you can ask questions such as:

  • Who is involved in signing off on this sort of decision?
  • How do you expect the process to go from here?

6. What is their budget?

A contact’s understanding of available budget will help you gauge how central they are to this buying decision. In many cases where the person is in a long sales cycle you may find they simply haven’t allocated a budget yet.

However, asking the following questions will help give you an idea of the current situation:

  • What budget is available for this?
  • What are you comfortable to set aside for this activity?

These questions will start to help you to determine if a lead is a genuine opportunity and if they are a good fit for your business. With leads that require future follow up and nurturing, you will need to continue increasing your understanding of their situation as it evolves over time.

Understanding lead qualification is important for your sales team and overall revenue because the right process can save time, meaning salespeople can then maximise the time spent on opportunities further along the sales process such as bids, RFPs, and in person meetings.

Tracking MQLs and SQLs also gives your sales and marketing teams further insight into what is working and what needs to be improved. Both teams should meet regularly to discuss leads that were handed over, and possibly even if any opportunities should be handed back to the qualification team to further nurture ahead of sale.

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