When Does an MQL Become an SQL?


If you have Sales and Marketing departments, the terms “MQL” and “SQL” may get bandied about quite a bit. If they’re not, that’s ok, because we’re about to learn what they are and how these terms can help you grow your business.

What is the Difference Between an MQL and an SQL?

We’ve talked quite a bit about the wonderful things that happen when Sales and Marketing become BFFs (best friends forever). But we’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to categorize leads that come in from either department and there seems to be some disagreement on the definitions of MQLs and SQLs.

Both “MQL” and “SQL” are labels used to determine the quality of the lead and what actions you should take to engage with them, but not all leads can be labeled as an MQL or an SQL. Don’t make a face yet, we’re about to explain.

What is an MQL?

Simply put: an MQL is a Marketing Qualified Lead. Your marketing team should designate a lead as an MQL when they believe that the lead’s behavior indicates that there’s a good chance that they will become a customer, but they aren’t quite ready to make a purchase yet. You can decide what actions a lead has to take to qualify as an MQL (this is where lead scoring comes in handy!).

Note: You need to have automated tools set up in order to help track, grade, and nurture an MQL as they move through your sales process. Without automation tools, it becomes tricky, if not impossible, to track a lead (or a hundred) across your site, social, and ads to determine their levels of interest.

Goals: If you’re able, take a look at how many MQLs you’ve gotten per month for the last 6 – 12 months. Take the average of this and make that your benchmark goal. Try to stay at or above this number for another 6 months and then create new benchmarks to replace the original. This will help ensure you’re setting realistic goals and giving your team a chance to succeed. If you’re starting an inbound program from scratch, know that it can take up to 6 months for the pipeline to get full, so help your team out by setting realistic goals.

What is an SQL?

Simply put: an SQL is a Sales Qualified Lead. An SQL is a lead that was previously labeled as an MQL that has been nurtured to the point where they are ready to make a purchase. An SQL can also be a lead that was brought in through outbound marketing and ready to convert. Once a lead has been identified as an SQL, they are ready to engage with a direct sales push.

Note: You don’t necessarily need any automation tools to track your SQLs, but a tool like a CRM will help your sales staff keep everything all together. SQLs can come in through both outbound and inbound means, so having marketing automation tools becomes more critical if your goal is to grow your lead list.

Goals: SQLs can come from a few different places. One type of SQL is just an MQL that’s gathered enough lead points to qualify as ready for action. The other type of SQL is the direct result of an outbound action: your salesperson emails 100 cold prospects and 10 of those prospects responds. Out of the 10, maybe 1 to 3 will actually be interested in getting a pitch. The prospects that are interested in that pitch will be SQLs.

Depending on the size and experience of your sales team, your SQL goals may be dependent on both MQL conversions and outbound initiatives. If you’re starting from scratch with this program, let your salespeople work for a few months on their campaigns and use the results from those to help set benchmark metrics that will help you move forward.

How Do You Identify MQLs and SQLs?

First of all, your marketing team needs to work together with your sales team to create a lead intelligence strategy. Yeah, that’s bolded because it’s important! We’ve talked before about the importance of Sales and Marketing working together and that’s a theme that’s not going anywhere.

Lead Scoring

This strategy should involve the use of a lead scoring solution. Lead scoring adds and subtracts points based on the information you have on your leads as well as the actions that they take. If a lead or prospect notes in their opt-in form that they are from an area that you serve, this adds a point. If they visit your blog, this could add a point. If they come to your website multiple times, you may add a point for each visit. Your sales team should help identify what traits make a lead more likely to make a purchase. You can then come to a specific lead score that identifies leads as MQLs.

Nurture Campaigns

When a lead is identified as an MQL, then your marketing team can engage with them and nurture them, whether it’s through automated email content, special offers, or social media interaction, to name a few. Your marketing team will then be responsible for identifying when those MQLs turn into SQLs, at which point they will hand them over to your sales team. A lack of collaboration can result in a significant number of MQLs never converting into SQLs. If your marketing team and sales team aren’t on the same page, it can also result in the marketing team handing over leads that aren’t accurately identified as SQLs. This, of course, will make it very difficult for your sales team to close.


We love reporting…a lot. But, so do our clients because how else do you help measure and track the efficacy of all of the things you’re doing? Reporting is another way you can track your MQLs and SQLs. Several marketing automation tools have contact and lead reports that will allow you to aggregate your leads from the year, month, week, day, etc. so you can see what your lead flow looks like.

If your tool doesn’t specifically allow you to label a lead as an MQL or SQL, that’s ok! If you’ve implemented lead scoring, you can create a line of demarcation that can help you identify who is ready for a pitch and who still needs some time in the nurture phase.

MQLs and SQLs can help you track not only the number of leads you’re getting but the efficacy of your inbound and outbound campaigns. Having and utilizing lead scoring, nurture campaigns, and a CRM can really help boost your team’s ability to get more qualified leads which helps you close more business. If you haven’t implemented it yet, now is the time!


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