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SQL vs. MQL: What They Are and How They Differ

During high school, I never did well during my physical education class.

One of the main reasons? The track and field unit.

Every year during this unit, we’d have to do a high jump, hurdles, and baton racing. Needless to say, none of these activities were my forte.

However, baton racing has continued to be an apt metaphor in my career.

For example, most organizations have a process of passing a lead from the marketing team to the sales team. Typically, this is when a lead goes from being a marketing qualified lead (MQL) to a sales qualified lead (SQL).

Passing a lead from marketing to sales is kind of like baton racing, just without the physical activity (phew!).

Below, let’s learn more about SQLs and MQLs — what they are, what the differences are, and why they matter.

Here is the common path leads take in the Inbound Sales Methodology:

Now let’s discuss how SQLs and MQLs differ, and how they relate to one another within the sales process. 

So, how do you move a lead from an MQL to an SQL? Consider the following factors.

Lead Score

The process of moving a potential buyer from an MQL to an SQL can vary depending on the company, but often begins with a process called lead scoring.

According to Lindsay Kolowich, a HubSpot Academy content creator, lead scoring is the process of assigning values, often in the form of numerical “points,” to each lead you generate for the business.

You can score your leads based on multiple attributes, including the professional information they’ve submitted to you and how they’ve engaged with your website and brand across the internet. This process helps sales and marketing teams prioritize leads, respond to them appropriately, and increase the rate at which those leads become customers.

Lead scoring is a way to save salespeople time so they spend more time talking to leads that actually want to talk to them and are interested in your product or service.

Lead Behavior

Sales and marketing teams work together to determine which actions qualify a prospect as ready to move on to the sales process. You’ll determine what the ideal lead looks like and decide how much weight a particular action carries.

For example, these actions could be booking a meeting, taking part in a demo, or responding to an email. Then, you could assign higher point values to booking a meeting rather than responding to an email.

Without a defined set of actions, your marketing team might pitch leads that aren’t ready to move on to the sales process. Overall, this will slow down your sales team.

So, what type of behavior can move a prospect along? It could come in the form of engagement on your site. Let’s say a lead is engaging on your website, opening your emails, or downloading your lead magnets. That means that they’re interested in what you have to say. Depending on how much they engage with you and the type of engagement, they might be ready to move from MQL to SQL.

You could also include negative actions. For instance, if a lead has stopped engaging with you or stopped opening your emails, that could bring their lead score down.

Likelihood to Buy

Typically, for a lead to become an SQL, they have to have a need for your product or service, have the budget to purchase your product and infrastructure to use it, and your product or service solves their pain points.

This is the idea of the BANT system (Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline). While you shouldn’t use this system to ask a series of rote questions, it can give you an idea that you’re selling to a good fit customer. For example, you’ll still want to map out who’s involved, identify your prospect’s problems, and discover how quickly their organization moves.

Incorporating Leads Into Your Sales Process

Once your sales team gets a lead from the marketing team, it’s time to work on your sales process so that you can close as many deals as possible.

When talking to SQLs, salespeople should prepare just like always, but use the information gathered during the nurturing MQL phase to help close the deal. For example, you should know what a prospect has downloaded, and the path they took to become an SQL.

Then, it’s time to talk with them and learn their story so you’re aware of how your product can service them.

Why do SQLs Matter?

Understanding MQLs and SQLs is important for your sales team because the system can save your salespeople time so they spend more of their time selling to the right people at the right time.

At its best, the process of lead scoring and converting MQLs to SQLs gives your sales team more qualified prospects so they’ll have more meaningful conversations.

Additionally, tracking MQLs and SQLs gives your sales and marketing team insight into what’s working — what brings leads in and how likely are they to convert? Plus, how often is your sales team closing SQLs? Is your sales team having more meaningful conversations?

The MQL and SQL systems can help you determine how ready a lead is for a conversation. If your company isn’t using this system, you can use it to maximize your sales conversations, so you can make more sales.

Want to learn how to qualify customers? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.