Marketing Qualified Leads vs. Sales Qualified Leads: the Reality Gap

There are a lot of acronyms out there used to describe leads. I’ve worked in places that used terminology like HQLs (highly qualified leads), AQLs (automation-qualified leads), TALs (teleprospecting-accepted leads), TQLs (teleprospecting-qualified leads), TGLs (teleprospecting-generated leads), SGLs (sales-generated leads) and SALs (sales-accepted leads). The differences between them boil down to one important factor (how qualified the lead is) and one not-quite-as-important factor (where the lead came from). Qualified Leads To avoid a TLA salad (that’s “three-letter acronym,” not some other terminology for a lead), smart organizations recognize that leads are leads. The important differentiation is about whose criteria is used to judge them as qualified. MQLs and SQLs (marketing- and sales-qualified leads) are the most common descriptors of leads, and the most critical. MQLs are defined as leads that look enough like ideal prospects or match client descriptions that continued communication, qualification and inclusion in the pipeline report or forecast makes sense. SQLs, on the other hand, are typically defined as leads that are likely to close. In a perfect world, these definitions would overlap. An MQL and an SQL would be the same thing. Marketing would deliver hot leads, sales would close them and we’d all skip around the office singing “We’re In the Money.” Unfortunately, we’re not in a perfect world, and the desires and goals of the two sides of the customer acquisition organization tinge the definitions of leads. MQLs are colored by what marketing thinks works: leads that exhibit certain behaviors or have certain demographic traits (or a combination of both) that are indicative of a lead that’s nearing a decision based on some predictive criteria. SQLs are colored by sales’ pragmatic need to get deals closed fast. In other words: Marketing is delivering a guess. Sales is delivering a guess. Each guess reflects the personalities of the people involved. And, as a result, we get conflict. SQLs will always seem to be the more valuable of the two – after all, all leads that close were SQLs at one point, while all MQLs that didn’t became SQLs fail to close. As a result, it’s easy to conclude that marketing is letting sales down, or that its processes are bad. But, in reality, it’s often another case of sales and marketing misalignment. It’s much, much easier to blame someone else for poor outcomes than it is to sit down and talk through the problem. But a good sit-down is just what a lot of organizations need. In order for marketing to deliver MQLs that are as close to SQLs as possible, and to do it every time over an extended period, the two need to communicate, collaborate and organize – together, not within their own departments. First, the two sides have to agree on some common definitions, starting with an agreement about what a qualified lead looks like, period. This should be driven by sales, since sales knows first-hand what these customers look like. Working backward, this agreement should give marketing a better ability to create a predictive process to tease these leads out earlier and more accurately. Next, as marketing develops its lead scoring and other processes, sales need to be involved. This is not an exercise designed to display marketing’s uncanny ability to predict which leads will close. The ultimate goal is to identify those leads, period. Sales can help define and refine the scoring process; sales reps are marketing’s ultimate research team, and when sales and marketing can swap data and anecdotal evidence freely the two sides will each perform better. Finally, leadership in the two sides of the equation must create a culture of constant communication. It’s not enough to mollify the CEO with a one-time confab that temporarily improves results; the market changes, your customers change, and to keep up sales and marketing need to change as well. If communications are sporadic and only take place in moments of crisis, you’re failing to fully take advantage of the skills of your people, you’re costing your sales team commissions, you’re leaving your marketing team exposed and you’re letting down your business. If you can get common definitions and work together on marketing processes once, you can continue that collaboration into the future. Regularly scheduled meetings are crucial to this. Are you not quite to this point yet? Do sales and marketing continue to operate in their own vacuums in your business? Does the definition of an MQL look entirely different from an SQL? If so, you aren’t alone; this is a common malady. That just means that getting to grips with it is that much more important, because doing so will make your sales organization more efficient, raise revenues and give you a competitive advantage. The time to bridge the MQL-SQL reality gap is today.


Even though lead scoring’s effectiveness is well documented, only 21 percent of all B2B marketers have established a lead scoring system, according to Marketing Sherpa’s 2013 B2B Benchmarking Report. How do you avoid remaining part of that unfortunate 79 percent?

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By Chris Bucholtz | August 25th, 2015 | Marketing

About the Author: Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz is the content marketing director at CallidusCloud and writes on a host of topics, including sales, marketing and customer experience. The former editor of InsideCRM, his weekly column has run in CRM Buyer since 2009. When he's not pondering ways to acquire and keep customers, Chris is also an avid builder of scale model airplanes.