The Difference Between Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads

by Jordan Doll

 At Red Caffeine, we’re all about generating qualified leads. We also know “qualified” is a tricky term and could use a descriptor (or two). Converting a qualified lead to a customer depends on meeting prospects where they are in the buying process. It matters, probably more than you think, whether a prospect is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) or a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). Understanding the distinction and having a defined internal definition and strategy for each enhances the efficiency of both your sales and your marketing team, and, best of all, converts more prospects to customers.

Think about the difference between MQLs and SQLs as leads at different stages in their buying journey with SQLs further along than MQLs.

Or, here’s a technical definition from LeadFuze: A marketing lead is a lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.

Maybe this MQL shares characteristics of current customers. Maybe they have dropped by your website several times or joined your webinar. But, the crucial difference between them and their (hopefully) future persona, the SQL, is how close this lead is to typing in the credit card information or signing the contract.

A sales qualified lead is further down that path. They’ve shown continued interest in your product and intent to buy, and may only need that final push to transform this lead into a customer.

An SQL is ready for a direct follow-up with your sales team.

While companies and organizations have unique approaches to defining an MQL and an SQL, having a definition and distinct communication tactics for each is critical to turning lead generation into customer acquisition.

If your organization doesn’t differentiate between MQLs and SQLs, this situation may sound familiar: the marketing team is confused why the sales team isn’t converting more of the leads funneled to them; the sales team is irked the leads continuously appearing in their inbox aren’t qualified.

This disconnect leads to internal frustration, a drawn out buying process and is crazily inefficient. It’s a poor use of your sales team’s limited and precious time to pursue dozens of leads who are not ready to buy or may have no intention of buying.

Bad news all around, right? Here’s the solution:

Defining MQLs and SQLs as different creatures with distinct needs and quirks should be a tenet of an aligned sales and marketing strategy. Both sales and marketing teams need an agreed definition of who is an MQL and who is an SQL, and strategic communication tactics for each.

Once a definition is in place, the marketing team should have a process for nurturing MQLs instead of tossing them over the fence to sales. Softer nudges and cues than a cold call from the sales team will push MQLs closer to becoming customers, if the lead turns out to be a good match. These softer cues are less resource and time intensive than a sales follow-up. Think automated emails and targeted CTAs on your website as effective communication tactics for MQLs.

Meanwhile, the sales team, with newly freed up bandwidth, can pursue properly vetted prospects far more likely to buy. With fewer leads, the sales team can concentrate their limited time on delivering an exceptional experience to prospects, which will lead to a higher customer conversion rate.

Through just putting a few descriptors on “qualified” you’ve generated more business, and vastly cheered up both your sales and marketing team! (OK, maybe there was a little more work than that. But, you get the idea.)


Ready to learn more about lead generation and converting prospects to customers? Get in touch with us to supercharge your approach to sales and marketing, and fuel strategic, long-term growth.