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In the wide world of sales, there are so many acronyms to learn, understand, and master. MQL, SQL, IQL, KPI, CRM, etc.  

In this article, we’re going to focus on two of those acronyms (with a little peak at a third), MQL and SQL, or Marketing Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified Leads. These are the two kinds of leads your team is going to come up against. The important thing is knowing their differences, how to differentiate between them, and how to know which prospects fall at which point in the sales funnel.

But before we get too far into it, let’s first take a look at what Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads are.

What Is An MQL?

A Marketing Qualified Lead is a prospect who shows more potential to become a customer than other leads. They have engaged with your brand or website, submitted contact info, downloaded a free webinar or demo, visited your website more than once, added items to their wishlist, and other sorts of engagement. They are interested in your product or service, but have not yet made any concrete moves towards a purchase. 

An MQL will need further nudging before they can be moved through the sales pipeline to become an SQL. They have taken the first step towards being a customer, but are not yet ready to be sent to the sales team. This is where your marketing team comes in and is why a seamless hand-off between your marketing and sales teams is paramount to successful closings. We’ll touch on the hand-off more later. 

In short, however, a Marketing Qualified Lead turns into a Sales Qualified Lead, which then turns into a customer.

What Is A SQL?

An SQL, or Sales Qualified Lead, is a prospect who has graduated past the Marketing Qualified Lead junction in the sales pipeline, and is now primed for your sales team to convert them into a customer.

At this point in the sales funnel, the SQL has a high lead score, has engaged with your website numerous times by completing things like decision-stage demo forms, or clicking on a CTA and asking that you call them. 

Steve Brancale, Head of Sales for Instapage, defines a Sales Qualified Lead as, “any lead that we’ve accepted, reached out to (based on company size, role, ad spend, page requirements, demo request message), and booked an initial discovery meeting with.”

Though what exactly constitutes a Sales Qualified Lead will vary greatly depending on your company, the gist of it is that SQLs are typically ready to start the buying process and hear your sales team’s pitch.

SQL | What is an SQL?

What Is The Difference Between MQLs and SQLs?

There are many articles out there that give you the run around when this question is asked. They speak to you in technical jargon that is not easy for everyone to understand. But even though Marketing Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified Leads can be a highly debated topic in the sales industry, it’s not actually that difficult of a concept to grasp.

MQLs have a higher chance of becoming a buyer than other leads, but they are not at the point in their buying journey to hit that “Buy Now” button just yet. SQLs were once MQLs who spent time with your marketing team and were convinced that they needed your product or service. So they’re sent down the pipeline to your sales team, who will then do what they can to turn them into paying customers.

And while yes, not all Sales Qualified Leads start out as Marketing Qualified Leads – some companies just know what they’re looking for without need of a pitch – the vast majority of SQLs were once MQLs.

Why It’s Important To Differentiate Between The Two

There are many reasons why it’s important to differentiate between Market Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified Leads, but the biggest reason is to promote smooth hand-offs from your marketing team to your sales team. If these two parts of the whole are not working together, they’re working against one another. 

When your marketing and sales teams don’t have a set program in place for the hand-off, it can make turning MQLs into SQLs even more difficult. This can then lead to loss of revenue/sales if the prospects slip through the cracks or are handed off too early. If your marketing team believes an MQL is ready to be handed off before they actually are, or if they’re just trying to turn as many Marketing Qualified Leads into Sales Qualified Leads as quickly as possible, the results can be disastrous.

Differentiate Between MQL & SQL

These catastrophic consequences can include:

  • Loss of revenue
  • Loss of qualified leads
  • Giving the customer a poor impression of your company
  • Wasted time, effort, and budget on unqualified leads
  • Reduces overall positive customer experience

Another type of lead that’s talked about less often is the IQL, or Information Qualified Lead. This lead comes before MQLs and SQLs and may turn into one, but they also may not. An IQL is someone who is at the beginning of their research stage, and has entered their contact information into your website to learn more about it. If your marketing team handles IQLs properly, they can turn them into Marketing Qualified Leads, which will then, in turn, become Sales Qualified Leads.

Though IQLs are important to focus on, they’re not the most important part of the sales process.

How To Interact With MQLs

here are many ways to interact with your Marketing Qualified Leads. One of the most important things is that you know your potential buyers. If you understand where their pain points are, or what they’re looking for, or even what you can do for them, you have a greater chance of turning them into SQLs. 

Creating a buyer persona, says 310Creative, is imperative to successful closing because it allows you to have specific information about each MQL that comes your way. 

You can use anything at your disposal to interact with your MQLs. Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to engage potential leads. As of 2021, more than 4 billion people worldwide use email, and 86% of professionals say that they prefer to network and create connections through email, according to Labs. So if you’re looking for a way to begin networking and engaging with Marketing Qualified Leads, your best bet is through email marketing.

Social media and targeted advertising are also high on the list of best practices for interacting with MQLs.

The Conversion Of MQL To SQL

Converting your Marketing Qualified Lead to a Sales Qualified Lead with proper finesse will take some practice. It will likely also take some meetings between the two teams to determine what factors each believes qualifies an MQL to be converted into an SQL. These meetings are key in having a successful marketing to sales pipeline. 

As mentioned above, if your marketing team and sales team aren’t actively working together, they are working against one another. This may seem dramatic, but it’s not. Without proper teamwork from both sides, potential buyers could be lost or turned away due to improper action from either side of the pipeline. If an MQL is converted to an SQL too early, they may get frustrated with the lack of understanding or time spent expanding that relationship on the marketing side, and opt to go with a competitor. On the other hand, if a prospect spends too much time on the marketing side, despite being ready to purchase, they might grow bored and tap out.

You can calculate your MQL to SQL conversion rate using the formula of [# of Sales Qualified Leads / # of Marketing Qualified Leads] = Conversion rate. Keep in mind that a very high percentage isn’t always a good thing, but a low percentage is definitely something to look into. John Hughes at Plezi explains this, “Having a high conversion rate from MQL to SQL is great. But if it’s too high, it could mean that your criteria for qualifying a prospect as an MQL are too strict, and that you are possibly missing good targets for lead nurturing.”

Handing Off Leads To Sales

Now that you’ve learned what both Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads are, and what the difference is between MQLs vs SQLs, it’s time to learn about handing those leads off to the sales team.

We’ve previously discussed the importance of a seamless hand-off between your marketing and sales teams in our article entitled How A Lead Management System Can Help You Generate New Potential Business, but we’ll get into it a bit more here.

An improper or disjointed hand-off between marketing and sales teams can wreak havoc on your sales pipeline. As stated earlier in the last section, MQLs converted too early or too late both come with their own sets of problems and consequences. 

Think of this hand-off as Olympians running a relay race. If the baton is not handed off perfectly, it can ruin the entire race. But those teams that have perfected the hand-off are the ones that cross the finish line in first place more often than not. Also just like Olympian relay racers, your sales and marketing teams have to work hard to get to the point of flawlessly handing off an MQL. This will take practice and weekly or monthly discussions to determine what works and what doesn’t – and it’s normal that as your company evolves, so, too, will their hand-off strategy – but it can be done. And the better they get at it, the happier your customers will be, and the more likely they’ll be to recommend you to others.

How To Turn An SQL Into A Paying Customer

There are three main ways to turn your SQL into a paying customer.

Reaffirm brand strength

Of course, your marketers would have already been selling your prospect on the strength of your brand. But once they’re funneled through the sales pipeline, it’s time for your sales team to jump into their best pitch. That’s why they’re in sales, afterall. They need to ensure your prospect that your product or service is exactly what they need to address their pain points or issues.


Once your SQL has been convinced of the strength of your brand and what you can do for them, you can really sell them on your product by giving them limited-time offers or proposals. Everyone likes a sale, and if you find your prospect hemming and hawing over the price of your product, give them a discount if possible. Throw in something for free, like a webinar or exclusive demo. Propose a bonus for signing right now. Incentivize your SQLs to turn them into paying customers.


The final stage of converting your SQL into a paying customer is the follow-up. Whether you decide to do that through emails or phone calls is up to you, but letting your prospect know that you’re there for anything they need or any questions they may have can go a long way toward brand loyalty. Conversely, if they haven’t signed yet, a follow-up may help nudge them in the right direction.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of blogs and articles out there about Marketing Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified Leads, but we’ve aimed to give you the ultimate guide to help you understand and compare the two. For further reading and information on how to ensure your staff is the best out there, check out the rest of our articles here.

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