MQL vs SQL: How do They Differ for B2B Lead Generation?
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There seems to be some confusion in the terms Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

While many realize that the two terms signify different things, most people cannot truly distinguish between the two.

Many marketers have no trouble generating tons of leads. However, accurately assessing the quality of each lead is a whole different story. If you find this to be true to your situation, this article is for you. MQL and SQL are two categories of lead qualification based on various criteria.

In this article, we shall take a look at MQL vs SQL and how you can convert an MQL to SQL. But first, let us start with what MQLs and SQLs are.

What is MQL?

In a nutshell, a Marketing Qualified Lead or MQL is a lead that has shown interest in your services or products as a result of your marketing efforts. While they aren’t guaranteed customers, MQLs are likely to become customers in the future.

As the name suggests, these leads are open to more marketing. They may be open to your email marketing, videos, and other content forms. They are interested in your products or services but probably need to be convinced more before they are ready to talk to your sales reps.

What is SQL?

A Sales Qualified Lead or SQL is a prospective buyer who is ready for a call with your sales team. SQLs are at the bottom of the marketing funnel after having been nurtured for some time through marketing efforts. SQLs may have even signed up for a demo or free trial of your product.

MQL Vs SQL – Know the Difference

When you get leads, it can be tempting to jump the gun and pitch for sales immediately. However, this can backfire because some leads may not be ready for sales yet.

Presently, they may not need your product or service. Or, they may not have the budget for it. This is an example of an MQL. Such leads require nurturing before they can be ready to purchase from your business.

On the flip side, you will also have leads who are ready for a call with your sales team. Such leads do not need any nurturing and doing so will only delay your sales process or worse make the leads leave. This is an example of an SQL, a lead ready for your sales pitch.

The above is the difference between an MQL and SQL.

But the question is, why do you need to know this difference?

The simple reason is that knowing the difference between MQLs and SQLs will help you increase your conversion rate because you will know how to go about handling either type of lead depending on what stage of the marketing funnel they are at.

MQL vs SQL

How to Identify MQLs and SQLs?

Now that you know the difference between MQLs and SQLs, the problem now is how to identify and mark the leads as MQL or SQL?

Here are factors and ways to demarcate your MQLs and SQLs:

Lead Scoring

In a nutshell, lead scoring refers to assigning numerical values to your leads based on certain characteristics and then define them as MQL or SQL. You could consider a bunch of parameters – engagement with your website, demographic information, engagement with your emails and other marketing campaigns, etc., and assign scores accordingly.

For example, you can assign your leads positive scores if they open your website or emails, subscribe to your channel, etc., and negative scores if they unsubscribe, or your emails bounce.

Based on the final score of a lead you will be able to decide if they need nurturing or they are already ready for sales.

Ultimately, lead scoring is essential for the following reasons:

  • To identify the leads that need to be nurtured by your marketing team before they become qualified for sales.
  • To help your sales team quickly identify leads who are ready to purchase your product or service.
  • To avoid bothering leads with sales pitches who aren’t ready to be pitched yet.

READ THIS: 3 Steps to Developing a Smart Lead Scoring Strategy

Lead Behavior

Lead behavior helps you qualify your leads. Your marketing and sales teams work together to determine the quality of MQLs and qualify leads that are ready for the sales process as SQL.

But for that, you must first define the ideal action or set of actions your leads must take to qualify as SQLs. A lack of a predefined set of actions will cause your sales team to pitch to leads not ready yet for sales.

For instance, your lead could visit and engage with your website. Or they could open your emails or download your lead magnets regularly. But they might not have contacted you or showed interest in your products. So, you now know that they are interested in your content but not as much about your products. With such information, you can determine when to move ahead and hand them over as leads to your sales team or when to stay put and keep nurturing them further.

Likelihood to Buy

Another factor that separates SQLs from MQLs is their likelihood of buying your product or purchase. The difference, of course, is their need for your service or product, and their budget. MQLs might be interested in what you have to sell, but they may not need your product right away. Be sure to check if your product or service solves your prospect’s pain points.

Or, they may want to make a purchase but do not have the budget for it currently. If your lead needs your product or service and has the budget for it, they qualify as a SQL.

The B2B Growth Blueprint

MQL & SQL – Importance of Aligning Marketing and Sales Team

The ultimate aim is to have as many SQLs as possible but you cannot ignore MQLs. After all, you do want to make sales consistently, and MQLs are your future SQLs. So, it is the marketing team’s responsibility to keep bringing in as many MQLs as possible and then nurture them towards becoming SQLs.

Having said that, it is vital to understand that the points given above are just factors that can help you define your MQLs and SQLs. But there are no straightforward demarcations to identify any leads as MQLs and SQLs. For instance, even if a lead enquires about your product, they might still just be in a consideration stage and not really ready for purchase yet.

This is why it is important that your marketing and sales team work together closely. When your sales team receives a lead from your marketing team, your sales representatives must use the information they have on your leads from the MQL nurturing efforts to facilitate the close.

For example, if your prospect regularly downloads your lead magnets, you must know which lead magnets they’ve shown interest in to know how they became an SQL. Once your sales team has this information, they can talk to these leads and show them how your product or service can help them.

Similarly, if the leads are not yet ready to make a purchase, they can be handed over to the marketing team for further nurturing unless they qualify for sales.

RELATED: 15 Smart Ways To Get Marketing And Sales Teams On The Same Page

Streamlining the MQL to SQL Handoff Process

Now that you know what MQLs and SQLs are, and how the two teams – marketing and sales – work together to generate, nurture, and qualify leads, it is time you understand how to hand over leads between marketing and sales teams.

Firstly, to streamline this handoff process, consider using automation tools.

For example, a lead scoring tool would help you gauge the overall engagement of the lead, thus helping you understand the impact of your marketing efforts. It would also automate the process of timing the handover of leads from your marketing to the sales team.

Another such important automation tool is CRM. It is important to pass on the relevant information to the sales team so that they have a clear idea about the lead’s behavior and thus create the best sales pitch. A CRM that can be accessed by both teams can make the process much easier and smoother.

But to utilize the tools properly, here are a few handoff essentials that you must have in check to ensure the process is streamlined:

Define your leads – Your marketing and sales departments are likely to be confused and have conflicts if you do not define your MQLs and SQLs properly. The automation tools you use would be pointless too in such a scenario.

Here’s how you can successfully define your leads:

When leads come their way, the sales team generally compares them on two factors – fit and interest. ‘Fit’ refers to how well your business can serve your lead as well as the quality of the leads, and ‘interest’ refers to how interested your lead is in purchasing your product or service.

It is vital to know how to categorize the leads according to the factors mentioned above. Both the teams must have a clear understanding of how to handle your lead categories based on the aforementioned factors so as they know when an MQL qualifies to become an SQL.

The clarity in information about leads – Oftentimes, sales representatives and other team members attend meetings with inadequate or irrelevant information on their leads, making the handoff process incredibly inefficient. Having a CRM solves the problem somewhat, but it is better still to have regular meetings between the teams to ensure both are on the same page.

Build rapport. Building rapport with your leads is often one of the best and most seamless approaches to closing them, especially when it comes to B2B. Start building a relationship with leads as soon as they become MQLs. Send personalized emails if you cannot arrange for your teams to meet face-to-face to make direct calls.

The point to note is that don’t confuse your leads by having too many different people contacting them. Have your teams work together so that the handover process creates no hiccups for the leads.

The B2B Growth Blueprint

What is the MQL to SQL Conversion Rate?

The MQL to SQL conversion rate refers to the percentage of MQLs that get qualified by the sales team. So, what is the ideal conversion rate for MQL to SQL?

Here is the metric used to gauge the efficiency of your marketing team in qualifying leads.

MQL to SQL Conversion Rate

How to Increase MQL to SQL Conversion Rate?

Here are a few things you can do to effectively convert more MQLs to SQLs:

Define & Document Your Goals

Want better results, more clarity, and an efficient process? Carefully define and document your goals and strategies.

It may seem blatantly obvious, but it is vital to define and document your goals. Based on these goals, you can come up with strategies to drive results. In your document, be sure to define both terms – MQL and SQL and the processes you plan to employ to handle both categories of leads.

Doing this will bring clarity to each team, helping them better understand their respective roles. Your document must state how your sales and marketing teams will contribute to your goals.

Qualify Your Leads Efficiently

Qualifying your leads efficiently is critical to saving time and resources. The two things that define quality SQLs are their need for your product or service and their budget. If your leads do not show that they need your product or service or have the budget for it or both, it would be a waste of time, money, and efforts to nurture them or qualify them as SQLs.

Consider Your Sales Cycle

Remember that every business has a different sales cycle, which means there is no fixed strategy that you can follow to get results. You will have to figure out what strategy works for you based on your business to maximize your MQL to SQL conversion rate.

Analyze Your Lead Sources

Evaluating your lead sources is a crucial part of maximizing your MQL to SQL conversion rate. The leads you get from sources like contact forms are easier to convert to SQLs because they were convinced of your product and brand and wanted to talk to your sales team.

On the flip side, the leads you get from blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, etc., may contact you to get more information. In other words, they will need more lead nurturing before they are ready for a sales call.

This is why it is imperative to consider each lead source as you attempt to convert MQLs to SQLs.

CHECK THIS TOO: Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Audit

Personalize Your Interactions

Personalization is everything in today’s world of marketing. You can expect your leads to want to interact with you once you turn them into SQLs, which is why it is essential to follow up with them quickly. Automation plays a vital role here, considering how marketers manage to generate more leads with marketing automation, according to a study.

Monitor Your Scoring and Messaging Metrics Regularly

This should go without saying, but you ought to constantly keep track of your messaging, offering, and scoring metrics and change your strategies based on the response you get from the market. Doing this helps you stay relevant, helping you get the best results.

Besides, doing this will give you a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the MQL and SQL phases. Ultimately, you can gauge the probability of your SQL conversions.

Ensure Your Sales and Marketing Messaging are Aligned

As you know, your leads pass through a sales funnel, with your MQLs situated in the initial stages and your SQLs at the bottom of the funnel. You must ensure that both the sales and marketing teams send congruent, consistent messages throughout the sales cycle.

Sending your leads inconsistent messages at any point during the sales cycle will create a great deal of confusion, potentially causing them to stop trusting you. If you want more MQL to SQL conversions, make sure your sales and marketing teams are aligned in their messaging.

Final Words

There are several key takeaways from this article.

For one thing, MQLs and SQLs are primarily different because they are at different stages of the sales funnel. This is why it is vital to distinguish between them so as to increase your conversions and also save your time and resources on nurturing poor quality leads.

Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of automation. As pointed out by Windward Studios, “Sales automation has helped B2B marketers to improve their sales pipeline by an average of 10 percent.”

Automation would help you streamline your handoff process. For example, using a lead scoring automation tool will help determine the overall engagement of your lead and a CRM will assist in storing and transferring important information about the leads between your marketing and sales teams.

Finally, there are several steps you can take to effectively convert your MQLs to SQLs depending on your business and sales cycle.

Hopefully, this article will help you to convert more leads into sales. If you need further assistance, do contact our team at OneIMS.

The B2B Growth Blueprint

Written By Samuel Thimothy

As the Chief Growth Officer, I provide leadership, direction and resource stewardship to the organization’s sales and marketing function. I also collaborate with our digital marketing strategy team in developing and executing growth marketing campaigns for our loyal clients.

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