The business and marketing worlds love acronyms. In the alphabet soup of jargon, abbreviations and portmanteaus, some mean more than others. Two, in particular, have a special resonance with inbound marketing and serve to make an important distinction—sales-qualified leads (SQLs) and their marketing-qualified counterparts (MQLs).
The coalescence of the marketing and sales departments within B2B companies is what makes this differentiation necessary. The sales journey is longer, the amount of interaction required for a sale is greater and the two departments have to work in tandem to progressively move a lead towards the purchase. Calling engaged prospects “leads” doesn’t quite cut it—we need to separate those leads which need further marketing attention from those ready to be closed.
What’s the difference between an MQL and SQL?
Let’s define our terms before delving into this any further. Despite the usefulness of these acronyms for communicative purposes, it can be easy to equivocate when one company has a different set of criteria for an MQL or SQL than another. That’s crucial to remember—the standards for the hand-off or graduation of leads from MQL to SQL status varies from company to company.
Marketing-qualified leads are prospects that have:
- expressed interest through interacting with inbound material; or
- offered some piece of their information in response to a call-to-action.
The overarching theme here is that MQLs are prospects that aren’t ready to commit to a sale but are on your radar. They need to be further nurtured to become sales-qualified.
Leads become SQLs once they:
- are directly responding to lead-nurturing workflows; and
- have met the revenue and contract size qualifications and are asking to be contacted to have an involved discussion about the offering; and
- have expressed the motivations behind making their decision (pain points, budgetary restrictions and the like) and have a present need.
Tailor these definitions to your business in specificity. Marketing-qualified leads aren’t always good fits if they’re interested and vice versa, only you can define what a “good fit” means for your company in particular.
When (and how) should the hand-off occur?
This is the part that you can’t define with a one-size-fits-all solution. Knowing the proper procedure for graduating MQLs to SQL status begins with having well-defined stages in the lead-nurturing process. A clear and detailed process will emerge from having stages for categorizing leads.
The beginning of this process will, of course, be marketing’s purview, just as the end will be under sales’ jurisdiction. In between, the two will work together to guide a lead toward becoming a customer. With both working from the same playbook, communication and agreement on when an MQL becomes an SQL is easier.
Sales should get involved once marketing can confirm the lead fits the definition of an SQL, specific to your criteria for a proper fit and level of interest. Marketing can stay involved for as long as their interactions with the lead aren’t redundant with the efforts of sales. You can keep producing content for them, but take care not to have too heavy a touch when they’re already at the opportunity stage.
Have a defined workflow in service of the process helps immensely to prevent redundant efforts. Keep detailed account of what marketing-qualified leads have responded to so that sales can pick up right where marketing left off. The end goal is to have a cohesive, repeatable process for every one of your leads.
With communication and collaboration between marketing and sales, the process of moving a lead from marketing-qualified to sales-qualified to customer becomes clear and more manageable. Once the method becomes routine, then differentiating and properly nurturing your MQLs and SQLs will be as easy as reciting your ABCs.