Navigating the modern landscape of sales and marketing requires a well-established understanding of different terminologies, especially the terminology that defines the progression of potential customers through the conversion journey.
At the heart of this journey are two pivotal terms: MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) and SQL (Sales Qualified Lead). While they might sound like mere acronyms, the distinctions between MQLs and SQLs hold the key to optimizing your sales funnel for maximum efficiency and success.
In this article, we explore the fundamental differences between MQLs and SQLs, shedding light on how each stage contributes to the art of turning leads into satisfied customers. Let’s dive right in!
What Is A Lead?
A lead is a potential customer who has shown interest in your company’s products or services. They are typically still in the initial stage of the sales cycle.
Still, how do we know leads? A lead has taken some action that indicates their interest in learning more about what the company offers. This action can be any type of interaction with your website or social media. For example, they might have filled out a form, subscribed to a newsletter, or simply reached out via DMs. Generally speaking, once a person enters their information into your database, they are automatically considered a lead for showing enough interest by providing their personal info.
The goal of digital marketing is to attract and capture these leads, nurturing them through various marketing tactics until they are ready to move further down the sales funnel. This process involves engaging with leads, providing them with relevant information, addressing their questions and concerns, and gradually guiding them toward making a purchase decision.
Lead Qualification vs. Lead Scoring
Lead qualification is the process of evaluating and filtering leads to determine whether they are suitable prospects for the sales team. It’s about categorizing them into different levels of readiness or interest in purchasing a product or service.
The goal of lead qualification is to identify and focus on leads that are most likely to become customers, and thereby increase sales efficiency.
- Information Gathering: Collect details about the lead’s needs, budget, purchasing authority, etc.
- Assessment: Analyze the information to gauge how well the lead fits the company’s target customer profile.
- Categorization: Divide leads into categories like hot, warm, or cold, based on their readiness to buy.
Example: A real estate agency may qualify leads by assessing a prospect’s budget, preferred location, and readiness to buy a home. A lead expressing an immediate need to purchase might be considered a hot lead.
Lead scoring is a methodology used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead represents to the organization. It assigns numerical values to leads based on specific behaviors, interactions, or information.
The purpose of lead scoring is to prioritize leads, enabling the sales team to engage with those most likely to convert, and ensuring that marketing and sales efforts are allocated more efficiently.
- Criteria Development: Define the factors that indicate a lead’s interest or fit, such as website visits, email opens, etc.
- Scoring System: Create a scoring system that assigns measurable values to various lead activities or attributes, either by developing a point system or utilizing a CRM that already does this. This system will serve as the foundation for your lead ranking mechanism.
- Lead Ranking: Systematically rank leads based on their aggregate point score. This enables a focused effort on leads that are primed for conversion, warranting immediate outreach.
Example: In the scenario of an offline Educational Center offering a range of courses, the lead scoring structure could look like this:
Visiting the website earns 3 points per page, downloading the “Guide to learn XYZ” earns 10 points, and scheduling and attending a one-on-one consultation with an academic counselor earns 20 points.
Lead Qualification is more subjective and relies on human judgment. It focuses on whether the lead is a fit or not. Lead Scoring is more data-driven, utilizing numerical values to rank leads according to their level of engagement or interest. Some believe that lead scoring is a subset of lead qualification, whereas scoring is just a quantitative method to qualify leads. Others may argue that they are two distinct processes serving different purposes.
While both lead qualification and lead scoring aim to streamline sales efforts, their difference lies in their approach. Lead qualification is more about categorizing leads into binary classes (qualified or not), whereas lead scoring provides a more nuanced view by ranking them based on numerical values. In our view, a balanced combination of both can yield the most effective results in a modern marketing strategy. Integrating lead qualification with lead scoring can provide a more comprehensive understanding of where a lead stands in the sales funnel, thus optimizing conversion rates.
What Are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)?
A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead who has shown more interest in your services than other leads, making them more likely to move down the sales funnel. You have a higher expectation for them to be sales-ready in the future. However, they haven’t reached the sales-ready stage yet.
MQLs could be identified by their active interest and engagement with the company’s offerings and content. These interactions could include one or more of the following depending on your lead scoring system and your business needs:
- The Number of Page Views: The number of pages your leads view can be another indicator of their interest in your product or services. How many pages does it take for your lead to move down the sales funnel to the next stage?
- Type of Content: Another factor to take into consideration is the type of content your user interacts with. This attribute showcases the user intent. This is when you figure out whether the lead is looking for information or making a purchase.
- PDFs and Ebooks Downloads: The type of material your leads download could give great insight into their readiness to move down the sales funnel. Pay attention to the books and PDFs they download and the type of content it promotes.
- Attended Webinars: This is another element to consider when it comes to lead qualification. Has the lead attended any of your held webinars? If so, what kind of webinars were they interested in?
- Social Media Interactions: A major element to inspect carefully is the number of interactions the lead makes on your social media pages. What type of content do they interact with the most? And on which channel? (We use A Shorten URL tools and/or UTMs) to track activities on Social Media Channels.
Each of the previous attributes is assigned a weight by your lead scoring system, then whenever a lead reaches a certain threshold, they can be upgraded from a lead to an MQL. However, you don’t have to follow those exact features. Just do whatever serves your business the best.
Note: You must use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management tool) to track everything related to every customer in One Place.
MQLs are the responsibility of your marketing team until they become sales-ready to hand off to the sales team. Recognizing MQLs is crucial for nurturing them through targeted marketing strategies and providing them with relevant information that educates, informs, and guides them toward a better understanding of the company’s offerings. Eventually, turning them into sales-qualified leads (SQLs), then customers!
What Are Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)?
Next down the sales funnel is the sales-qualified lead (SQL). This type of lead has shown enough interest in your product or services to be considered sales-ready. Typically, they have shown interest in talking to your sales team. This is also determined by the lead scoring system of your business according to your business needs. Typically, a lead must surpass a certain threshold on your lead scoring system to be considered an SQL.
However, we could use one of the most common systems to help assess SQLs, the BANT system, which is defined by the following :
- Budget: The lead has the financial resources to make a purchase.
- Authority: The lead has the decision-making power to proceed with a purchase.
- Need: The lead’s needs align well with the solutions or products offered by the company.
- Timeline: The lead has a clear timeframe for when they intend to make a purchasing decision.
Once leads meet these criteria, they are considered more likely to convert, and the sales team can focus on personalized interactions, addressing their specific needs and concerns. This approach increases the chances of successfully converting SQLs into paying customers.
MQL vs. SQL: Key Differences
Now, we are going to focus more on the difference between MQLs and SQLs. The key difference between an MQL and an SQL is the readiness to make a purchase. An MQL might show interest in the product, yet, they are not quite at the decision-making stage yet. However, SQLs show a clear interest in speaking to your sales team. That’s why, they are handed off to the sales team by the marketing team.
Here’s a quick summary of the key differences between MQL and SQL:
|Not ready to make a purchase
|Ready to make a purchase
|Showing interest in the product
Importance of MQLs vs. SQLs
Distinguishing the fine line between MQL and SQL is crucial to avoid miscommunication. You don’t want to send a lead who is not sales-ready to your sales team. As this will only lead to frustration on both sides and might turn the lead off completely from making any future purchases. Furthermore, you don’t want to waste the time of your sales team, as time is the most valuable currency in the business world.
Sales Funnel: From MQL to SQL
As we established, MQLs are individuals who have shown initial interest in your products or services, but they’re not yet ready for direct sales engagement. Converting them into SQLs involves transitioning them from general interest to a more serious intent to purchase. But how exactly can we do that?
Well, here’s how the process of converting MQLs to SQLs typically works:
- Lead Scoring and Segmentation: Start by assigning scores to MQLs based on their behavior and engagement level. This helps prioritize leads for further engagement. Segmentation is essential too. Understanding the unique needs and preferences of each group of MQLs allows for tailored communication. Example: Imagine a fitness center where visitors can either browse workout equipment or sign up for a newsletter. Those who browse the equipment might get 5 points, while those who sign up for the newsletter earn 10 points. The center then segments these leads into two groups: ‘Just Browsing’ and ‘Interested,’ to tailor follow-up messages accordingly. Assigning points allows the fitness center to prioritize leads who are more likely to become members, thus focusing their marketing efforts more efficiently.
- Personalized Experience: Engage with MQLs through personalized communication. This could involve sending targeted emails, providing additional resources, and addressing their specific pain points and interests. The goal is to establish a deeper connection and build trust. Example: The ‘Interested’ group receives an email with a personalized workout plan, while the ‘Just Browsing’ group gets an email highlighting the benefits of regular exercise. Customized communication boosts engagement rates and ensures that each lead feels understood, increasing the chances of conversion.
- Educational Content: Offer informative content that addresses their questions and concerns. This could include product guides, case studies, or webinars. This not only showcases your expertise but also helps the MQLs understand the value of your offerings. Example: The fitness center can send out a series of short videos explaining how to use different gym equipment, along with written guides about maintaining a balanced diet. Providing valuable educational content establishes the center as an authority in fitness, which can accelerate the lead’s journey towards membership.
- Demonstrate Value: Showcase the unique value proposition of your products or services. Explain how your solutions can solve their problems or meet their needs better than alternatives. Example: Share a customer testimonial of someone who achieved their fitness goals in a short period, thanks to the center’s specialized training programs. Testimonials are powerful tools for demonstrating value, helping undecided leads tip over to becoming paying customers.
- Lead Qualification: During these interactions, gather more information about the MQLs. Assess their budget, authority, needs, and timeline, the BANT criteria that we previously mentioned, to determine if they meet the requirements for becoming an SQL. Example: During a follow-up call, the fitness center can ask leads about their budget for a gym membership, how often they plan to use the gym, and when they’re planning to make a decision (the BANT criteria). This additional layer of information helps the center understand which leads are not just interested but also have the potential and readiness to become actual customers.
- Handoff to Sales: Once an MQL meets the necessary criteria, they can be handed off to the sales team as an SQL. The sales team can then engage in more direct and personalized conversations, focusing on addressing specific needs and providing solutions tailored to the lead’s situation. Example: Once a lead has accrued 50 points, shown interest in membership plans, and fits the BANT criteria, they are passed on to the sales team for a one-on-one consultation. The transition from marketing to sales becomes smoother, focusing on leads who are highly likely to convert, thereby improving the closing rate.
- Continuous Nurturing: Not all MQLs will immediately become SQLs, but that doesn’t mean they should be disregarded. Continue nurturing those who are not ready to become SQLs yet, providing them with valuable information and maintaining a connection until they reach a more advanced stage. Example: For leads that didn’t reach the point threshold or didn’t fit the BANT criteria, the center could continue sending monthly newsletters or offer free one-day passes occasionally. Keeping these leads in the loop maintains brand awareness and keeps the door open for future engagement, should their circumstances or interests change.
Converting MQLs to SQLs is a process that requires a mix of data-driven insights, personalized engagement, and a clear understanding of the lead’s journey. By effectively nurturing and converting MQLs, you increase the likelihood of building lasting customer relationships and driving business growth.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is an MQL in marketing?
MQL stands for “Marketing Qualified Lead.” It’s a term used in marketing to describe a lead that has been deemed more likely to become a paying customer based on certain criteria and their interactions with marketing efforts. MQLs have shown a certain level of interest or engagement with a company’s marketing materials, such as by downloading a whitepaper, attending a webinar, or repeatedly visiting specific product pages on a website. While MQLs have not yet reached the stage of being ready for direct sales outreach, they have displayed behaviors that suggest they could potentially become customers with the right nurturing and further engagement.
What is an SQL?
An SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is a lead that has progressed further in the sales process and is considered ready for direct sales engagement. It has shown a strong potential to become a paying customer based on specific criteria such as budget, authority, needs, and timeline. This transition from an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) to an SQL marks a crucial stage where sales teams can provide personalized solutions and guidance to increase the chances of conversion.
MQL vs. SQL: What is the Difference?
MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) indicates leads showing initial interest through marketing interactions. SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) signifies leads that meet specific criteria and are ready for direct sales engagement due to their higher intent and alignment with the company’s offerings. MQLs are in the early funnel, while SQLs are further along and closer to conversion.
What is MQL to SQL conversion?
MQL to SQL conversion refers to the process of transitioning a lead from the “Marketing Qualified Lead” (MQL) stage to the “Sales Qualified Lead” (SQL) stage in the sales funnel. This process involves evaluating and nurturing leads based on their engagement, behaviors, and specific criteria. When an MQL meets the established criteria indicating their readiness to make a purchasing decision, they are upgraded to an SQL. This transition signals that the lead is now considered a stronger prospect for direct sales outreach, with a higher likelihood of converting into a paying customer.