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Lead Qualification

MQL and SQL: Know the Difference to Improve Bottom-line Results

Written By:

Stephanie Lanik;  Strategic Marketing Coordinator
The objective of all marketing strategies should be to generate revenue. The first step in generating revenue is generating leads.

But “more leads” don’t always equate to success. Why? Because leads don’t pay the bills, customers do.

So in order to convert those prospects into profit, you need to know you’re generating the RIGHT ones. Unfortunately, several studies show that 68% of B2B marketers struggle with generating quality leads. Moreover, even when they do generate them, they find it difficult to tag those leads for a salesperson to convert. In the end, you’re just wasting time and money on leads that never buy. Instead, you want to pinpoint the ones most valuable to your brand and know exactly where they’re at in the sales funnel.

Now more than ever, the buyer’s journey is extremely complex. Meaning you need to be highly strategic about the way you identify and interact with your prospects. This process all starts with lead qualification.

There are two main types of lead qualification you need to know about:

  1.  MQL: Marketing qualified leads
  2.  SQL: Sales qualified leads
MQLs and SQLs both have specific positions in the buying cycle but require a fundamentally different approach to closing them. This is why aligning your marketing and sales is crucial. Both teams need to work closely together to clearly define what classifies an MQL and SQL and their hand-off process. By understanding where they fit into the sales funnel and how to properly route them will help increase your ROI.

Before we dive into MQL vs. SQL, let’s explain what lead qualification is, in case you’re new to the concept.

What is Lead Qualification?

Lead qualification is a process that enables you to assess the quality of your leads. At its most basic, lead qualification will qualify or disqualify leads, based on the criteria you define. It also helps prioritize your most important leads so you’re not wasting resources on prospects that don’t meet the requirements.

With that said, let’s get started by looking at the key differences between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads:

MQL and SQL: What’s the Difference?

Every organization is different. This is especially true when it comes to establishing what an MQL and SQL are. The exact definitions vary based upon a business’ unique customer lifecycle and the agreement that’s made between marketing and sales. However, here’s our general definition of each to help you understand the difference between the two.

What is an MQL?

The acronym MQL stands for “Marketing Qualified Lead.”

These are leads who have expressed interest in what your brand has to offer based on your marketing efforts. It’s someone who has responded to your inbound marketing in a way that indicates they are a potentially interested buyer. In other words, they’ve taken the first step into the buying cycle and are ready to receive additional information. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re at the point where you should send a salesperson to close the deal!

Examples of Marketing Qualified Lead actions:

  • Filling out an online form
  • Downloading an ebook (or other material)
  • Signing up for a webinar
  • Emailing you to request more information
  • Submitting an email address for a newsletter or mailing list
  • Repeatedly visiting your website
Simply put, these leads are the hand-raisers. They’re open to the idea of a sale and have taken an initial step to engage with your business—without buying. It’s your job to offer a solution to whatever it is they need.

How are MQLs Qualified?

At this point, it may not be clear what level of interest the contact has in your product or service. So, in order to utilize this stage effectively, you must decide which contacts warrant the most effort from your marketing. You should also target high-fit individuals that will benefit the most from your offering. More specifically ones that will provide your company with the highest customer lifetime value.

To help with this process, we suggest implementing a lead scoring system. Doing so can help identify your leads’ behaviors and separate the qualified from the unqualified. It also ensures your sales team gets delivered the highest-quality leads—improving productivity in both sales and marketing.

Nurturing MQLs to become SQLs.

Although these leads are of better quality, they still need the “human-touch” follow-up to determine specific lead qualification criteria. More broadly, they require additional marketing assistance before they’re ready to receive a sales call. Once a lead fits the qualification criteria, they are entered into the sales funnel and classified as a marketing-qualified lead.:
After identifying an MQL, it’s the marketing team’s responsibility to guide them further down the funnel. That starts with a scalable, yet personalized lead nurture program that sends the right message, at the right time. When done properly, a well-designed lead nurture program makes it easier to turn marketing qualified leads into sales qualified leads. However, the conversion between the two can’t happen until the lead voluntarily commits to something more concrete than reading content. This transition is the part where bridging the gap between marketing and sales is the most critical.

Key Note:

When MQLs are handed off to sales and are deemed to be high-quality leads, they then become classified as SQLs.

What is an SQL?

SQL stands for “Sales Qualified Lead”.

As the name implies, SQL is further along in the sales funnel. They’ve progressed past the engagement stage, and have been deemed ready for the next step in the sales process. In other words, they’ve shown intent to buy, met the qualification criteria, and are now on the path to purchasing.

Ultimately, an SQL means that the sales team has qualified this lead as a potential customer. All they need now is more lead nurturing (by the sales rep) for conversion into a paying customer.

How are SQLs Qualified?

As we mentioned earlier, the qualification criteria vary from business to business and are based on your ideal customer profile. The criteria often include details related to demographics, company size, geographic location, etc. All of which can be used as a foundation for developing a list of qualifying questions.

Using lead scoring to make this process seamless and more effective.

Lead scoring gives you a quantifiable, standardized measurement for classifying each lead. Once you have a tangible measurement outlining where a prospect is in their buying journey, hand-offs become easier and seamless. Need help with this process? Visit to see how we can take your lead scoring system to the next level.
Typically, the best way to ensure that leads are meeting your sales qualification standards is by scheduling a “discovery call”. The goal of this initial follow-up call is to gain an understanding of the prospects’ level of interest in buying. More specifically to determine if they are truly sales-ready.

But remember, this initial call isn’t meant to be a direct sales pitch. Why? Because contacts in this stage are still in the discovery phase of the sales process. At this point, both parties need to gather more information about each other before moving on to true sales conversations.

MQL vs. SQL in a Nutshell

Yes, an MQL and SQL are both qualified leads. So what are the key differences between them? It really boils down to where they’re at in the sales funnel, and which team is responsible for handling them.

Marketing Qualified Leads

  • Responsibility = Marketing Team
  • These are top- or middle-of-funnel prospects who aren’t as far along in the buyer’s journey.
  • Not ready to be contacted directly by a sales rep
  • Require additional marketing assistance to move them down the funnel

Sales Qualified Leads

  • Responsibility = Sales Team
  • These are middle- or bottom-of-funnel prospects who are farther along the buyer’s journey.
  • Ready to be contacted by a sales rep
  • Considered hot/strong leads and should be followed up on quickly to maintain interest.
The bottom line is if you want to successfully transform inbound leads into revenue, you must move fast. More importantly, both sales and marketing need to be prepared to engage with them effectively and consistently. And, with the right sales engagement, before you know it, an inbound lead will quickly become your newest customer.

We can Improve Your Bottom-line Results

At Techtonic Sales, we help businesses like yours keep up with your leads. Not just from the time they show interest, but to the time they’re a closed/won deal. Our highly trained experts work as a direct extension of your sales team—connecting, engaging, nurturing, and qualifying your leads.

We simply bridge the gap between your marketing and sales, making sure no leads are lost, dropped, or tossed.

Our clear and consistent engagement process reduces the likelihood of missed opportunities, thus improving conversion rates and generating more revenue. It’s specifically designed to optimize your marketing and sales efforts—maximizing the probability of sales success… And we can prove it!

With that being said, don’t miss out on any sales opportunities and talk to one of our experts today! Or simply click the button below to learn more.

[Contact us directly at (612) 455-7100 or toll-free at (888) 326-6118]

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