Marketing Qualified vs Sales Qualified Leads – Move MQL to SQL

mql vs sql leads

The buyer’s journey has never been more complex. With new technologies are drastically revolutionizing the way we market and purchase products, it’s no longer as simple as a customer walking into your store and buying something they need.

Nowadays, consumers are inundated with ads on their phones, laptops, TVs, and, of course, billboards. More choice for them means more competition for you. To stay competitive, businesses need to be highly strategic about how they identify and interact with their prospects.

That’s where MQLs (marketing-qualified leads) and SQLs (sales-qualified leads) come in. It’s highly probable that you’ve heard of these two acronyms before. But what differentiates the two? And why do they even matter?

Throughout this post, we’ll also explore why lead qualification and lead scoring are such critical business practices, the nitty-gritty criteria which set MQLs and SQLs apart, and how to nurture an MQL into an SQL.

What are MQLs?

If you haven’t already, read our detailed guide to MQLs here. But if you’re short on time, here’s the gist of it.

marketing qualified leads

Marketing-qualified leads have demonstrated an interest in your company and your products. They’ve usually intentionally interacted with your brand by taking part in some sort of quid pro quo exchange — they leave their contact details in exchange for promotional emails, a resource download, or a webinar sign up.

But not everyone who demonstrates an interest in your company automatically becomes an MQL. In some instances, they’re not the right leads to be going after (more on this later).

However, if they do fit your lead qualification criteria, then they can be accepted into the sales funnel and classified as a marketing-qualified lead.

Once a marketing-qualified lead has been identified, it’s now the marketing team’s job to lead them further down the funnel until they’re ready to speak directly with the sales team (and hopefully purchase).

What are SQLs?

SQLs are further down the funnel than MQLs — they’ve usually been nurtured by the marketing team’s efforts and are now closer to purchasing than they were previously.

sales qualified leads

Once they’ve demonstrated a significant interest in your products, it’s now the sales team’s job to close them. Simple as that.

Of course, not all SQLs are created equal. Someone who fills out a form immediately requesting a demo is probably a hotter lead than another prospect who visited your website multiple times but over a long period of time.

It’s also useful for a salesperson to know which particular pain point their leads are trying to solve. Usually, this information can be gathered by analyzing the lead’s interactions to date with your organization.

Which of your social media ads did they click through on? Which of your marketing emails did they open? Which website pages did they visit? Which forms did they fill out?

This, provided with some general lead qualification data (industry, age, position, etc.) should give the salesperson all they need to contact the prospect with confidence.

Differences between MQLs and SQLs

Essentially, MQLs (Marketing qualified leads) and SQLs (Sales qualified leads) aren’t much different. Both MQLs and SQLs describe a prospect who’s shown interest in your business but with varying intents.

The primary difference between MQLs and SQLs is how far along their buyer’s journey and which of your teams (marketing or sales) has to play its role in pushing them further down the lead conversion funnel.

The marketing team is responsible for dealing with MQLs. They involve prospects at the top or middle of your lead generation funnel. They need a softer and more generalized approach than the prospects further down the lead generation sales funnel.

At this stage of the lead generation funnel, you need to educate and inform them about your organization and drive their interest in your product or service. You’re also fetching valuable data so that you can determine what they need and push your marketing strategy.

Once a prospect is found to be investing high interest in your offers can be classified as SQLs. They’re then forwarded to the sales team to convert them into sales.

What is the lead qualification?

Lead qualification is the process of exploring whether a prospect’s demographics and interests match your desired customer profile. If yes, it means a particular lead holds a high probability of converting into a successful sale and, most importantly, has a high potential of being a loyal and consistent customer.

What is lead scoring?

Lead scoring means allocating a numeric value to your leads based on the particular data or information. Typically, a score assigned based on the prospect’s behavior, interests, and demographics signifies a qualified lead.

Consider an example of the lead nurturing process. A random consumer’s email address is one of the demographic attributes assigned against a lower score than those registered with their business profiles.

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.

What is 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 book 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 of MQL to become an SQL

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.

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.

How to Move Marketing Qualified Leads to SQL?

  1. Prequalify your prospect
  2. Assess drop-offs
  3. Optimize your lead nurturing process

Prequalify your prospect

Few cold contacts end up converting into MQLs. Often, that’s because they aren’t a member of your target audience. Before you overinvest resources in an attempt to sell to leads who may never convert into paying customers, prequalify your prospects to determine if they meet your criteria as an MQL or SQL. Then, provide your qualified leads with collateral that can move them closer to purchase.

Assess drop-offs

Visitors abandon the sales funnel at various stages of the process. When you identify where the leaks are and what their main causes are, then you can progressively decrease the number of visitors you lose and personalize your remarketing efforts to keep them in the sales funnel.

Optimize your lead nurturing process

On a regular basis, revisit your buyer personas, analytics, and all your marketing and sales enablement assets to improve the way in which you qualify leads, engage with them, and sell them on your products and services.

Why do MQLs and SQLs matter?

Without obvious signals and explicit attributes revealing who’s an MQL or SQL, the entire sales process would become complex, with different teams approaching the same prospects from various channels.

It’s not a sane idea to keep your marketers busy closing sales. Their core responsibility is to raise awareness of your brand, identify prospects’ pain points, and keep them engaged throughout their journey.

Similarly, you don’t onboard sales personnel to raise awareness or drive engagements. Your sales team is intended to compile all the necessary information about prospects, make offers accordingly, and lock a sale.

You can align and synchronize your marketing and sales teams by ensuring lead qualification practice. Both teams must figure out which prospects to go after and at which stage of the lead generation funnel. By properly scoring and attributing leads, you can easily align your sales and marketing towards the main goal – conversion.


When you qualify leads at each stage of the customer journey, you can better allocate resources that are more likely to help that prospect move toward a positive purchasing decision. This ensures you provide them with marketing and messaging that speaks to their current appetite for your proposed solutions, making it easier for that customer to seamlessly transition from an MQL to an SQL and, finally, an opportunity won.

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