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MQL vs. SQL: What's the difference and do they still matter?

MQL vs. SQL: What's the difference and do they still matter? Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Director of Content and Curriculum, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

January 8th, 2021 min read

Before we start unpacking the difference between MQL vs. SQL, we need to first go back to the beginning. A lead is a person who has indicated interest in your company's product or service in some way. (And everybody wants leads.) But how does a lead show their interest?

Essentially, a lead is generated through information collection, for instance through a form after they have downloaded a piece of content that caught his or her eye. Let’s dive a little deeper into the different stages of a lead, namely, marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL).

But a lot has changed, says IMPACT Director of Demand Generation Kristen Pecka:

"The concept of MQL and SQL are certainly still important today. However, the terms in themselves assumes that marketing and sales are separate entities. One Google search will bring up pages of content like “MQL vs. SQL,” so in essence, Marketing vs. Sales. Which is the exact wrong way to look at the buying journey.

Should we have a way of defining a lead based on where they are in their journey? 100%. Should sales and marketing be working together throughout that entire process. Also, 100%. For that reason we choose to define these stages simply by where the customer is. Not by which department is responsible for them. Sales and marketing work as one, and we want our customers to feel that, too."

Why knowing the difference matters

Now that you’ve got your leads, you’re excited (rightfully so) and may want to jump the gun by sending these leads straight to sales. DON’T. Stop and consider where each lead is in the buyer's journey. 

Determining an MQL from an SQL is an important relationship between sales and marketing. This initial step of differentiating one from the other is the ultimate foundation for the lead hand-off.

So let’s break it down.

So, let's break down the differences

MQL refers to a lead that is more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence and is usually conveyed by closed-loop reporting. This is tracked from looking at specific behaviors or level of engagement, such as website visits and content offer downloads.

Ideally, only certain forms should trigger a lead to the MQL stage, such as direct business offers and other sales-ready CTAs.

SQL is the next stage. This means that the sales team has qualified this lead as a potential customer. The SQL is in the buying cycle, while the MQL is not ready for that buying stage just yet. 

Once you know what differentiates the two, you can practice lead scoring, for instance giving higher lead scores to those who visited high-value pages (sales guides), filled out high-value forms (direct sales demo requests) or viewed your site multiple times. More on that later.

Come Together, Right Now

Marketing and sales alignment is the largest opportunity for improving your business performance. When marketing and sales teams are unified around a single revenue cycle, they greatly increase marketing ROI, sales productivity and growth. Sounds easy enough right?

It can be, but with both teams having different goals and varying expectations of each other, it is imperative that marketing and sales come together with the same revenue-generating goals in mind - and hold each other accountable.

When sales and marketing are on the same team, everybody wins.

With this collective strategy in place, you will be well on our way to success. The bottom line is that if two teams are holding each other accountable for the same goal (i.e. revenue), marketing has to deliver quality leads and sales has to follow up on said leads. Together, marketing and sales turn these leads into new customers, driving more TOFU leads and ultimately closing an increasing number of deals. Both must understand the importance of lead scoring.

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is essential to strengthening your revenue cycle, but it is only effective if sales and marketing work together. Lead scoring lets you assign a value to each lead based on the information they have provided you and how they have engaged on your website. This score helps determines which leads to target by highest priority.

Lead scoring is important for three reasons:

  • To avoid your sales team bothering leads before they are ready to buy
  • To identify which leads require more lead nurturing from your marketing team
  • To allow your sales team to more easily identify leads who are ready to buy

5 Qualifications

There are a number of ways you can qualify your leads - either by contact properties or by action. Below are the five most common ways you can begin scoring your leads:

  • Demographic information
  • Company information
  • Online behavior
  • Email engagement and subscription status
  • Social engagement

Based on your own business, you can use any of these qualifiers - weighted at your own discretion - to score your leads. (And if you use HubSpot, you know how easy it is to create a custom scoring algorithm for your inbound leads.)

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