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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

What's a Marketing Qualified Lead? What's a Sales Qualified Lead?

sales qualified lead vs marketing qualified leadWhen it comes to lead generation, when does the marketing department’s role end and the sales department’s role begin? Very specifically, when should a lead be passed from marketing to sales?

As with most marketing and sales best practices, it’s not always a black and white answer.

Every organization is different, and it’s important that your organization have it's own marketing and sales agreement plan that outlines in detail how you will qualify, distribute, track, and ultimately close your marketing leads.

How To Classify Leads

One of the first, and most important steps is determining how you’ll classify leads and when they'll  be contacted, or whether they should be nurtured via automated email marketing before reaching out.

You need to develop your company’s definition of what is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and what is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). That decision should evolve from discussions among leadership and staff, from both your marketing and sales departments, to ensure everyone is in agreement and that expectations are clear.

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A new lead is anyone who identifies themselves for the first time, whether by filling out a form on your website, downloading something, or requesting additional information. When a new lead comes in, the first point person should evaluate the lead based on:

  • Information provided by the lead in a form
  • Information found through a little research (typically on Google and LinkedIn)
  • Behaviors on the website (How many times have they been to your site? How did they find your site? What did they download?) Remember, even a new lead may have an extensive history of activity on your website, but you didn’t know who that person was until they filled out the form and “lit up” all that information about their prior activity. Sometimes, you can know a lot about even a “new” lead.

Once this information is evaluated, the lead can be properly qualified in the following ways.

However, remember that these definitions are customized to every organization depending on its needs and organizational structure. For instance, a very small company might have one person handling both the marketing and sales duties, while bigger organizations might be staffed in-depth in both departments.

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead? 

A Marketing Qualified Lead is typically a lead of interest. It might not be a very “hot” lead (yet), but there are also not any red flags telling you they are disqualified from becoming a customer.

Many leads will initially fall into this category while you gather more information on them and observe what happens as they are exposed to your lead nurturing and other marketing.

For companies new to lead gen, that often have a pretty slow drip of leads coming, we suggest that the initial point person follow up with all MQLs. This should include a simple email and/or phone call to gauge interest level, to see if they have any questions you can help with, and most importantly, to continue that consultative approach that showcases your business as a credible resource. 

By following this method, you can then determine if:

  • They need to continue to be nurtured in order to learn more about them
  • They are ready to be handed off to a salesperson (i.e., they are a Sales Qualified Lead)

What is a Sales Qualified Lead?

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) are truly warm (or hot!) leads. These are the ones that fit your pre-determined criteria for what a hot lead looks like, and you want a salesperson to make contact with right away.

However, no matter how hot or qualified that lead may be, you want to ensure that the salesperson follows a consultative approach—including asking good questions, sending additional resources, and not going for the kill too quickly.

But neither should these leads be treated as a cold call. They are already warmed up and have started a relationship with your company via your website and blog, so it’s important that your salespeople are informed by that prior activity and use that information as a basis for their conversations. If necessary (i.e., if the lead is not responding to calls or emails), we recommend following the proven Don’t Give Up approach.

Other Ways to Categorize Leads

Not every lead is an MQL or an SQL.

Sometimes a new lead could be deemed an Evangelist or Partner of your company, or maybe they're actually an existing customer.

What’s key here is having a marketing and sales agreement and plan in place long before the leads start flowing in, so that everyone involved knows which leads are MQL, which are SQL, and which are neither. There should be specific workflows for each category so your company can maximize its sales and revenue.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2014, and has been updated.

Topics: lead nurturing lead generation inbound marketing lead scoring sales and marketing alignment