Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)

Passing the baton. A right of passage in both track and field and sales and marketing.

The two must be in harmony to be successful. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into the sales and marketing relationship, specifically within the lead qualification process.

Keep reading to learn more about sales qualified leads (SQLs), the difference between SQLs and marketing qualified leads (MQLs), and how to bolster your SQLs to score more prospects and customers.

Table of Contents

What is a Lead?

Before we dive into SQLs, let’s set the stage by defining what a lead is.

A lead is a person who has a potential interest in your product or service.

Interest is typically shown by providing their contact information in exchange for a digital asset on your website (eBook, etc.), signing up for a free trial, approaching your booth at an industry event, or requesting a demo of your product or service.

To learn more about leads, read our Leads glossary term.

Once the lead has been established — this is where the fun begins.

Not all leads are created equal. Someone who signs up for your newsletter might not be as far along in the buying process as someone who approaches your booth at an event or requests a demo of your product.

Your sales reps may not want to jump on a lead that came from a newsletter signup, but they’ll definitely want to call up the individual who requested a product demo.

In short, each lead that enters your sales funnel must be qualified accordingly, so your sales team knows who to focus on first.

Which leads us to SQLs.

What is a Sales Qualified Lead?

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is a lead that has been vetted and is ready to speak to the sales team as someone who is highly interested in purchasing your product or service.

Sales teams treat SQLs as high-value leads because these individuals are far more likely to convert into customers than a marketing qualified lead.

Further, many companies vary in how they measure and qualify leads.

There’s no gold standard in measurement, however, we recommend developing a sales funnel for your own prospects and ensuring that your sales team understands how you define each stage of the funnel.

sales funnel example

Sales Qualified Leads vs Marketing Qualified Leads

While everyone measures just a little bit differently, a general rule of thumb is that an MQL is less qualified than a SQL, and an SQL is less qualified than a prospect.

Depending on your qualification process, this could be defined by the following:

  • The type of asset they requested. Demos, pricing, and spec sheets typically indicate that a person is more “ready to buy” than an eBook or webinar replay.
  • A conversation with a sales rep. Sales development representatives (SDRs) may be the first line of defense to determine if a potential prospect is ready to buy. This may be through a conversation or online chat, where the SDR or sales rep asks questions to better qualify the lead (current challenges, potential budget, etc.)
  • The buyer level. If a senior-level executive is requesting more information (pricing, etc.), then they likely have more “buying power” than a manager or knowledge worker. Depending on the length of your sales cycle, having executive buy-in early in the sales cycle can help to streamline the process tremendously.
  • The size or industry the lead is within. If the lead is within your ICP (ideal customer profile), then they may be more apt to purchase your product.

Some sales reps may have “happy ears,” where they believe the large majority of leads are SQLs. However, it’s important to have a specific system in place so your sales team is not spending too much time on leads that aren’t likely to convert.

Having a clearly defined process also allows you to measure conversion rates (more on lead conversion here) and see what’s working or not.

For example, if there is a certain type of asset that is generating more SQLs, then your marketing team may want to develop more campaigns around that asset.

Not only should sales and marketing be working together to define the lead qualification process, but it is also imperative to have sales-marketing alignment throughout the sales cycle.

Establishing open communication between sales and marketing will lead to more leads, prospects, and eventually customers.

Speaking of more customers, how can you get more SQLs? Let’s dig into how to acquire more SQLs to eventually score more customers.

How to Get More Sales Qualified Leads

Acquiring more SQLs is far more nuanced than just re-assigning leads as SQLs in your CRM system.

We’ve mentioned a few strategies to better qualify leads throughout this article, and many of these can be utilized to acquire more sales qualified leads.

If you understand the type of leads that are most likely to become customers, then you can develop strategies to best reach this type of lead, including qualification stages, lead scoring, and more.

1. Develop a Standardized Qualification Process

Having clearly defined stages throughout the sales cycle means sales will know which leads are “hot” and which are not. Team members can have a clear understanding of where they should spend their time, whereas marketing can continue to nurture other leads until they are qualified.

Understanding gaps also allow marketing and sales to work together to develop strategies to better market to their target audiences.

For example, if there are tons of leads coming in through a landing page but none are converting, perhaps the messaging on that page should be adjusted to better showcase what the product offering can do.

2. Create Lead Scores

Mature marketing and sales teams score each and every lead that comes into the pipeline.

You should gather as much information as possible to provide the most accurate lead score, including job title, company size, industry, location, revenue, and more. HubSpot does an excellent job of breaking down lead scoring, models you can use and the type of data you should collect to accurately score your leads.

3. Leverage Automated Tools

While several of these strategies can be manual, there are ample tools on the market that can automate these processes, like customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation tools.

Better yet, many of the top tools, like Salesforce and HubSpot, have both CRM and marketing automation baked in, meaning you can get more bang for your buck in the early days of your business.

4. Align Content With Buyer Personas

Sales should work with marketing to create buyer-specific campaigns to best target ICPs and drive more SQLs.

Multi-pronged marketing campaigns that include a variety of channels can ensure that you are making the most of your content strategy and reaching your target audience most effectively. Utilizing forms in front of some of your best assets can also help to identify SQLs quickly, so sales reps are ready to do what they do best — sell.

Drive More SQLs & Score More Customers

A healthy sales pipeline is a good sign of an effective sales function. And sales is the first line of defense in driving revenue.

All startups must start somewhere with customer acquisition. Defining MQLs, SQLs, and prospects is a great place to start to align sales and marketing, and measure future growth. Now start prospecting!