April 1, 2021

Marketing Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified Leads

Written by
Why is TechnologyAdvice Free?

Ever feel like you’re not generating enough leads?

You’re cranking out content, testing landing pages, and tweeting up a storm.

But you just can’t fill your sales funnel. Or maybe you can fill your sales funnel, but your conversion rate is abysmal.

You’re frustrated.

And you’re not alone. This is the plight many marketers face, until they learn the difference between a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead.

Every lead is different, so you must pinpoint where they are in the sales funnel. When you know where your prospects are in their customer journey, you can actually generate more revenue with fewer leads. Here’s why:

  1. Not every lead you generate is sales ready, or a fit for your product.
  2. This means your sales team spends their precious time sifting through dirt to find gold, rather than doing what they do best: selling.
  3. If you only increase the leads you generate, the sales team might find more deals to close, but they’ll also find more dirt.
  4. By forcing your sales team to hunt for opportunities, you’re actually making them less productive.

To improve the efficiency and performance of your sales team, give them fewer, higher quality leads. How do you know which leads are gold? It all starts with marketing.

Lead vs. Marketing Qualified Lead

computer with lead profiles

A marketing qualified lead is like a normal lead, but much, much better.

Why? Because it’s highly likely these leads will become customers.

You know they’re more interested in your product than other prospects are, based on specific demographics, activities, or behaviors. Qualifications can include expressing interest through information or guide requests, having certain job titles, site activity such as viewing your pricing page, or numerous other predetermined factors.

Of course, MQLs aren’t guaranteed to buy your product, but identifying them early helps sift through the dirt, which ensures both sales and marketing are only focused on prospects who meet specific criteria. Prospects who meet criteria tied to revenue.


Marketing qualified leads are hand raisers.

After an inquiry, they’ve taken action or done something to indicate interest. Simply put, an MQL is a lead who likely isn’t ready to buy — yet, but they will respond to being nurtured.

Moving down the funnel, a sales qualified lead (SQL) is further along in their buyer journey. They have specific questions and are ready for some one-on-one time with your sales department. Often this is the result of being nurtured by marketing, but they may have entered your sales funnel of their own volition.

Every company has different criteria for what an MQL and SQL looks like. What some businesses consider an SQL, others would merely consider an inquiry. Even worse, some departments within a single company don’t agree on the difference between the two, which creates disconnect between sales and marketing.

Some companies even fail to note any differing qualifiers. To these businesses, there is no MQL vs. SQL — simply all leads are created equal. We’ll explain why this is a recipe for failure.

Quality vs. Quantity

Lead management has a lot of moving parts. In an ideal world, a person would learn about your product or service and immediately open their wallet.

But in reality, a person must get to know, like, and trust you before they make a purchase. The greater the investment or more complex the purchase, the harder you have to work to earn their trust.

The real challenge is ensuring leads are not contacted before they’re ready or interested.

When businesses fail to recognize that only 5-15 percent of leads are sales-ready initially, they’re doomed to low conversion rates. With low rates, you need more lead volume to drive growth. So month over month, marketers struggle to increase volume using existing resources.

To break this cycle, focus on the quality of your leads.

Rather than the amount, consider the type of lead you deliver to sales. When you increase the percentage of leads who convert into customers, you don’t need to generate as many leads to grow your revenue.

Why Intent Matters

All leads are not equal.

If you send every single inquiry generated from your marketing efforts to a salesperson, you waste the sales rep’s time and create a poor customer experience.

Inquiries and leads are not synonymous. The quality of a lead who filled out your form matters.

After all, anyone could have filled that form out. A student seeking information for a paper, an analyst dissecting the market, a rival doing competitive research, or, finally, an actual person looking to learn more about your product.

Sending all of these leads to sales makes everyone’s life harder. The student and analyst just wanted to read your ebook; they were never going to buy your product. Neither was your competitor, they were only trying to steal your marketing strategy. And the person attempting to learn more about you might want just that —  to learn more about you, not to talk to a salesperson.

To overcome these quality issues, validate the intent of each buyer. A follow-up email that analyzes the prospect’s actions and interests, or “digital body language,” will help filter through the list and only send MQLs to sales.

Transitioning from Marketing to Sales Qualified Lead

increasing revenue chart

It’s critical to focus on how both MQLs and SQLs convert into revenue. To analyze these conversions, you need a strong partnership between sales and marketing. Knowing your target market and their behaviors will help you pinpoint which leads need to be nurtured, and who is ready for a sales call.

Marketing qualified leads have identified themselves as more engaged than other leads, but they’re not quite ready to buy. Depending on your sales cycle, you may have multiple levels of MQLs. Only very specific, high interest activities should trigger the promotion of a lead to an MQL. These include bottom of the funnel offers such as demos, free trials, detailed buying guides, or additional sales-ready actions.

Once sales has followed up with MQLS and found them high quality, they become SQLs. By aligning sales and marketing, the focus is on high quality leads, which increases conversions. If MQLs are passed to sales, the transition to SQL, opportunity, customer —  and eventually evangelist — will be smoother. When marketing helps sift through the dirt to find gold, sales can work on what they do best: turning it into revenue.


Looking for more advice on lead generation and marketing? Check out our vendor resources page.

Technology Advice is able to offer our services for free because some vendors may pay us for web traffic or other sales opportunities. Our mission is to help technology buyers make better purchasing decisions, so we provide you with information for all vendors — even those that don't pay us.