MQL and SQL: What are the different types of leads and how to distinguish between them

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Many companies face the challenge of adequately segmenting prospects, which has a significant impact on conversion rates and the ability to close deals. The difference between a MQL (a lead that has shown interest) and a SQL (a qualified lead that is ready to buy) is determined not only by the level of interest, but also by behavioural indicators, methods of attraction and likelihood of purchase.

A lead is defined as any person or company that has shown a direct or indirect interest in your product or service. It's important to understand that not all leads are the same: two prospects with similar interests may be at different stages of the buying decision process. This heterogeneity in the treatment of prospects can lead to the risk of approaching them too early or too late. This in turn can alienate a potential buyer or lead to a loss of interest in the purchase if your offer comes too late and the customer has already turned to competitors.

Many organisations have a system of transferring leads from marketing to sales. This happens when a lead that was originally considered a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) meets the criteria to be recognised as a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

What is a Qualified Marketing Lead (QML)?

Qualified marketing leads (QLs) are potential customers who have shown a strong interest in your product or service, indicating a higher level of readiness to purchase than other leads. MQLs are generated through a variety of marketing activities, including search engine optimisation (SEO), paid social media advertising (PPC), content marketing, email marketing and more. MQLs are often referred to as "engaged leads" because they show an active interest in your offer. At the MQL stage, a lead shows interest and fits the profile of the target audience, but may not be fully ready to make a purchase.

Here are some examples of actions or interactions that can qualify a lead as an MQL:

  • Viewing products on the website, confirming interest in specific products.
  • Clicking on a link that shows interest.
  • Visiting your website at least once, indicating interest.
  • Subscribing to an email newsletter, indicating a desire to receive updates and information.
  • Subscribing to a company blog, indicating long-term interest.
  • Requesting additional information about the product, indicating a willingness to engage in dialogue.
  • Contacting the company via social media or chat, indicating an active desire to communicate.
  • Downloading promotional material, guides or other content
  • Attending webinars, which indicates an interest in learning more about a product or service.

What are Qualified Sales Leads (SQL)?

Qualified Sales Leads (SQL) are potential customers who have not only shown interest in your product or service, but also have a high likelihood of making a purchase. They actively engage with sales managers, are ready for in-depth discussions and participate in marketing activities that emphasise their readiness to buy. SQLs are considered 'validated' or 'prospective' leads because they have been assessed and validated by the sales team, who have determined their readiness to buy.

Here are some of the characteristics and actions that allow you to classify a user as SQL:

  • Interest in pricing, which may indicate consideration of purchase.
  • A desire to meet or contact a sales representative, which underlines the seriousness of their intentions.
  • Repeated visits to the website, indicating sustained interest.
  • Requesting a trial version of the product, indicating a desire to try before buying.
  • Active response to email campaigns and participation in social media campaigns with value propositions.
  • Receiving referrals from existing customers, which builds trust and interest.

SQLs play a key role in the sales process, as their high likelihood of converting into real customers makes them a priority for further communication and engagement by the sales team.

Why MQL and SQL should be combined

Understanding the difference between MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads) and SQL (Sales Qualified Leads) is critical to the effective operation of any business. The interaction between these two categories of leads not only allows you to optimise the sales process, but also ensures that your company's resources are used as productively as possible.

Without a clear distinction and interaction between MQL and SQL, companies run the risk of either over-investing in leads that are not ready to buy or, conversely, neglecting prospects that are ready to make a decision. Such actions can lead to unnecessary waste of time and money, as well as missed opportunities to increase revenue.

It's important not to pit MQL and SQL against each other, but to see them as stages in a single process that leads a prospect to purchase. By working together, marketing and sales can more accurately determine where each lead is in the process and provide the most effective service at each stage of the sales funnel.

Ensures effective interaction between MQL and SQL:

  • Increased resource efficiency, as each lead is nurtured based on its specific state of readiness to buy.
  • Increased conversion of leads into actual sales, as leads that move from MQL to SQL are better prepared and more interested in buying.
  • Strengthen relationships with prospects through personalised outreach and timely interaction at each stage of the sales funnel.

For a stable and successful business, especially one that runs active promotional campaigns, having a significant number of MQLs that gradually convert to SQL status is a key factor in revenue growth. Not only does this maximise the potential of each lead, but it also ensures that the sales funnel is constantly replenished with high quality leads.

The difference between MQL and SQL

The difference between MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads) and SQL (Sales Qualified Leads) is key to understanding the sales process in any organisation. These differences determine how and when leads are handled by marketing and sales teams, and how these teams work together to convert leads into actual customers.

  • Sales funnel: MQLs are typically found in the early stages of the sales funnel, where they are just beginning to show interest in a product or service. SQLs appear at a later stage, when there is a more concrete interest and readiness to discuss the purchase.
  • Speed of process: The transition of a lead to MQL status can take weeks or months, depending on the lead's interaction with marketing content. When a lead becomes a SQL, the process becomes more dynamic. The sales team must act quickly to keep the lead interested and close the deal before the customer moves to the competition.
  • Lead volume: Typically, MQL is much larger than SQL in an organisation. This is because not everyone who has shown initial interest reaches the stage of active sales discussion. Many MQLs remain at the level of information interest.
  • Engagement: MQLs tend to be more involved in interacting with a company's product, website and marketing materials. They are more active in researching information, indicating a higher propensity to buy.
  • Interest in the product: SQLs have a deeper interest in the product than MQLs. They not only seek information about products, but also evaluate their relevance to their needs, demonstrating greater brand loyalty and a higher likelihood of making a purchase in the near future.

A clear distinction between MQLs and SQLs, and effective interaction between marketing and sales teams, allows a company not only to manage its resources efficiently, but also to maximise the chances of successful transactions by optimising the sales process according to the customer's stage of readiness to buy.