By definition, a sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a potential customer who has displayed a deep interest in buying a product or service. The SQL has shown considerable intent to purchase and has met the defined criterion of lead qualification that determines they are a good match for the product or service. An example would be a person who visits the website and requests a demo of the product or service, goes through the pricing sheet or compares the different offerings and service packages. They display clear signs of readiness to make a decision and might be looking for a final nudge to convert. Although the lead qualification criterion might differ depending on the company, in general, an SQL:
· Has a need for the product or service
· Has expressed genuine interest in the company, products, or services
· Has evaluated the product/service, offering, and pricing
· Has the budget to purchase the product
Sales-qualified leads often come from different sources such as organic search, social media, paid ads, proactive outreach, or even transitioning marketing qualified leads (MQLs). For salespeople, an SQL is the highest-ranking lead. Although they may not make a purchase they would check off all the qualities of an ideal customer profile.
A marketing qualified lead or MQL is someone who has shown considerable interest in the company’s product or service. The MQLs often meet certain preset criteria to move a step ahead in the sales funnel such as following the company on social media, signing up for an email list, downloading free resources, dwelling on the website, etc. The qualifying criteria for marketing qualifying leads can vary depending on the company size, however in general they:
· Browse the website and view the products/services or signed up by email
· Followed or interacted with social media posts
· Are not sales-ready but have taken actions that indicate they are likely to make a purchase such as a request for a free demo or signing up for a webinar
· Are open to nurturing
The key takeaway is that the MQLs show more interest than other leads in the company and are in the process of gaining more information and prospecting. From the perspective of the salespeople, they are ready to be nudged into the sales pipeline and nurtured into an SQL.
The ultimate goal of marketing and sales teams is to take leads and convert them into customers. Businesses often have hundreds of leads interacting with them across various channels and most of those are irrelevant. The marketing team needs to make a distinction between prospective customers and the rest to nudge the right ones into the sales funnel. Since the MQLs are yet to move further down the funnel it would be a mistake for the sales reps to sell to them at this stage. Distinguishing high-quality SQL leads from the marketing qualified leads enables sales reps to focus their efforts on selling to the right people at the right time. With the right process of categorizing and converting people into SQLs, the sales teams can get better-qualified prospects that have a high conversion rate.
Sales qualified leads are also important to track the prospects and better understand the marketing efforts that are working well and which need improvement. By maintaining wide data on the MQLS and SQLS, managers can assess the performance of marketing and sales teams, including individual sales reps.
Recognizing the difference between MQL and SQL is essential to categorize different types of leads. While both categories of leads have a number of overlapping behaviors, it is possible to differentiate the two using various qualifying criteria. Here are some of the differences that can be used for identifying each and applied in lead scoring:
1. Frequency of site visit
The number of times a lead visits the website, what they do, and for how long they linger is a good indicator of their interest. By definition, any first-time visitor who browses through different pages and categories can be classified as an MQL. The marketing department can leverage a number of analytical tools to find:
· The pages and products visited by the lead
· The length of time spent on a product or page
· The last page visited and most visited page
· When they returned after a previous visit
As a general rule, the higher the frequency of visits the more likely they are to become an SQL. If a prospect doesn’t go any further beyond the landing page, they have bounced without having shown interest.
Businesses that publish useful pieces of content such as expert articles often find MQLs visiting multiple pages over a period of time. Creating bulk content helps gauge the engagement of a lead and makes it easier to predict its transformation into an SQL. The more content they consume and the longer the leads stay on the website the more likely they are to convert into an SQL. It’s essential to remember that SQLs have shown a strong interest in buying and hence they’re not here only for the content. Setting up web pages to guide them through the sales funnel is a reliable way to separate the MQLs and SQLs. When sales reps find that the lead dropped out just before purchase, a follow-up can be carried out to address the failure to convert.
The term conversion means different things based on the type of leads. For a sales-qualified lead, conversion means a purchase while for a marketing-qualified lead; conversion could mean a sign-up or business inquiry. Setting up lead scoring can help clearly differentiate one from the other. Someone who downloads a free eBook can be considered an MQL, while an SQL would request a free product demo or a brochure of the newest products. Similarly, the two leads tend to score differently on a range of attributes.
Most businesses have multiple marketing channels for the leads to flow in such as organic searches, email and paid marketing, guest posts, or social media posts. Over time the difference between leads becomes apparent and the MQLs and SQLs can be discerned with higher certainty.
5. Contact requests
One of the strongest differentiators of an SQL over an MQL is a contact request. If they have submitted their contact information with a request for further communication, it typically involves the salespeople setting up a demo or a call with the lead. Leads who request to be contacted show a strong sign of interest in the product or service and are sales-ready. However, it’s important for the sales team to do their due diligence before the lead generation to check they have the authority to make the purchase.
Both the MQL and SQL constitute different stages of the buyer’s journey. From the sales funnel perspective, MQL is how it starts, and SQL is what it evolves into as the marketing efforts nurture the leads. Since the sales-qualified leads are the quality leads targeted by the salespeople, the bottom of the funnel should ideally consist of SQLs.