What’s the Difference Between Marketing-Qualified Leads and Sales-Qualified Leads?

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Consumer on phone interacting with company website as a marketing-qualified lead.

After earning their Master of Business Administration degree, graduates may find themselves working on either the sales or marketing side of business, encountering the leads they can turn into valuable customers. However, not all leads are worthwhile, and it takes a savvy business professional to determine which ones are beneficial to pursue. This qualification process happens as both the marketing and sales teams move leads along the funnel.

With that said, how do the qualified leads that reach the marketing team compare with those that sales professionals handle? Here’s a look at the difference between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads:

What is a marketing-qualified lead?

An MQL is a lead that is more likely to become a customer when compared to other leads. Marketers determine that likelihood by the consumer’s activity, such as web page visits, number and type of content downloads, social media interactions and other engagement with the company’s content. This activity indicates an initial interest in the organization’s product or service.

MQLs have not yet interacted with the sales team, but once identified, they can be passed on. The idea is for marketing to generate higher-quality leads so the sales team spends less time trying to find those leads on their end. Instead, they can get right to selling.

MQLs differ between companies, based on an internal analysis of typical leads and customers. As such, the exact definition of an MQL depends on the business.

What is a sales-qualified lead?

Already researched and reviewed by the marketing team, an SQL is ready for the next stage in the buyer’s journey. SQLs have already displayed an interest or intent to buy, which means the sales team can provide the extra push needed to convert them into customers.

As such, the main difference between MQLs and SQLs is how ready they are to make their buying decision.

How do companies generate MQLs and SQLs?

The marketing team is ultimately responsible for generating a healthy amount of leads to help the sales team sell the product or service to more customers. Lead generation marketing gathers leads from various sources, especially through digital means like social media, online advertising and website content. Marketers optimize their content with relevant keywords to ensure the brand comes up in search engine results and reaches the right people. The more targeted these efforts are, the higher the chance that MQLs will become promising SQLs that are easy for the sales team to convert.

Marketing engages interest, gathering audience information from click rates, contact forms, newsletter sign-ups and more. After this initial contact, the leads must be vetted to determine how interested they really are in purchasing the company’s products or services. The marketing team will conduct the first stages of this process, and then send the qualified leads on to the sales team.

What does the lead qualification process look like?

Companies must consider certain factors to not only determine the difference between sales and marketing leads but to also streamline their lead qualification processes.

The marketing team must conduct their review of the leads in question before handing them over to their sales counterpart. Lead behavior and demographics, for instance, are important characteristics to consider. Companies often have a system in place to label and organize leads, typically part of their customer-relationship management process. A simple checklist can help the marketing team determine if leads meet the right requirements to become an SQL, but some companies may benefit from a more robust reporting process. Developing a lead scoring system is another way for companies to efficiently distinguish and prioritize leads.

Once the marketing team deems a lead worthy of becoming an SQL, the sales team begins to develop a relationship with the prospective customer. To do so, they must ask the right questions to further determine how likely it is for the lead to become a customer.

While companies can create qualification frameworks unique to their own business goals, the Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline is a trusted foundation across a variety of industries. BANT is designed to unveil the answers that determine if a lead is worth pursuing further. This includes:

  • Budget: Can the prospect afford the product or service?
  • Authority: Is the prospect a decision-maker?
  • Need: Can the product or service fulfill a need or solve a problem for the prospect?
  • Timeline: When is the prospect planning to make a purchase?

With BANT in mind, companies can tweak the process to develop their distinct sales qualification framework and implement effective interactions with qualified leads.

It’s important for the marketing and sales teams to have a close working relationship to ensure leads are efficiently generated, qualified and pursued. Additionally, both teams should be aware of changes in target audience or product offerings so they can work together to make necessary changes to their lead qualification approaches.

Learning about sales and marketing at the Smith School of Business

The Online MBA program from the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business helps students broaden their knowledge of the diverse world of business. From there, students can enroll in courses that offer detailed examinations of the business areas that are most applicable to their interests and professional aspirations. This includes everything from making managerial decisions to building brand identities to scoring leads with enhanced business acumen.

If you’re interested in advancing your career in sales and marketing, reach out to an advisor to learn more about how the Smith Online MBA program can prepare you for future success.

Recommended Readings:

What is the online MBA marketing specialization at the University of Maryland?

How to upgrade your career with an online MBA in marketing



HubSpot, Definition of Marketing-Qualified Lead

HubSpot, Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification

SmartBug, Handing Leads off to Sales & the MQL vs SQL Difference Salesfusion, Defining Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads

Adstage, MQL vs. SQL