MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads)

MQLs demonstrate initial interest in a company’s products or services through various engagements, signaling their potential to become customers. These leads are more likely to transition into customers than those with lesser engagement due to their active interactions with marketing efforts.

Characteristics of MQLs

Marketing Qualified Leads exhibit certain characteristics that increase their likelihood of progressing further down the sales funnel compared to other leads. These MQLs show tangible interest through their actions and engagement levels, indicating a readiness to explore the company’s offerings more in-depth. With the right nurturing strategies, including targeted follow-ups and personalized content that aligns with the lead’s interests and needs, MQLs have a higher probability of moving towards becoming SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads). Their engagement is informed and purposeful, reflecting a deeper consideration of the product’s benefits and features, and they typically have a strong understanding of their needs and how the product might meet those needs.

Key engagement actions

  • Content downloads: Leads frequently download whitepapers, eBooks, case studies, and other insightful content. This strong lead generation tool produces over three times as many leads as outbound marketing at a cost 62% lower.
  • Webinars and events: About 73% of B2B marketers view webinars as the best method to generate high-quality leads, with participation showing a keen interest in learning more about the industry or product.
  • Website interaction: Regular visits indicate research and consideration of the product’s value. Tools like Google Analytics show that repeated visits suggest higher engagement.
  • Email engagement: Opening, reading, and clicking through emails demonstrate active interest, with average open rates in B2B marketing between 20-30%.
  • Product exploration:
    • Demo requests: Asking for demos indicates a strong intent to understand product functionality.
    • Using interactive tools: Tools like calculators and configurators engage leads deeply, showing the product’s potential impact.
    • Social media: Following and interacting on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook shows interest in the company’s updates.
  • Direct communication:
    • Online chats: Using chat functions suggests leads seek immediate answers and are highly engaged.
    • Video viewing: Watching informational videos indicates a desire to understand the product better.

Criteria for lead identification

Businesses use lead-scoring models to assess and identify Marketing Qualified Leads based on their engagement actions. These models assign points to each type of interaction based on its perceived value and the likelihood of leading to a sale. For example, requesting a demo might be assigned 50 points compared to downloading a general content piece, which might be scored at 10 points. A lead is classified as an MQL once they accumulate enough points to meet a predefined threshold, which is commonly set around 100 points. This threshold is strategically established to identify leads who have demonstrated sufficient interest to warrant additional marketing efforts.

SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads)

SQLs are advanced leads that have moved beyond the initial marketing stages and are now prepared for direct sales engagement. These leads are ready for deeper sales conversations, potentially leading to purchases. SQLs show various behaviors that indicate their readiness to engage in the purchasing process.

The qualification of SQLs involves direct interactions with the sales team to assess the lead’s readiness to make a purchase. This process is essential for gathering detailed information about the lead’s needs and preferences.

Key indicators of SQL readiness

SQLs exhibit several behaviors that signal their preparedness to buy:

  • Expressing purchasing intent: SQLs clearly state their intent to buy or show behaviors that indicate they are close to making a purchasing decision.
  • Completing detailed needs assessments: These leads often complete assessments or engage in detailed discussions to define their specific requirements.
  • Meeting and communication: They are ready to engage more actively in the sales process, demonstrated by:
    • Agreeing to sales meetings or calls.
    • Providing detailed contact information which suggests openness to further discussions.
  • Budget and authority: Understanding a lead’s budget and decision-making authority is crucial for tailoring the sales approach. SQLs often:
    • Disclose their budget, helping the sales team understand their purchasing power.
    • Confirm their authority to make the purchase decision, ensuring efforts are directed toward the decision-makers.


5 key differences

Stage in the sales funnel

MQLs: At an earlier stage in the sales funnel, Marketing Qualified Leads show interest in a company’s content or products but are not yet prepared to make a purchase. They are in the discovery and education phase, where they gather information and gain an understanding of how a product or service could potentially meet their needs. Businesses track these leads to make sure they receive the right mix of informational and educational content to move them further down the funnel.

SQLs: Positioned further down the sales funnel, Sales Qualified Leads have gone through additional scrutiny and are now ready for direct sales engagement. These leads have passed several qualification stages, indicating their readiness to engage in detailed discussions about pricing, implementation, and purchase. Sales teams focus on these leads, aiming to convert them into paying customers by addressing their specific needs and closing the sale.

Qualification criteria

MQLs: Identified through their engagement with marketing activities, these leads typically interact with content such as downloads, webinars, and site visits. Marketing teams use these interactions to score leads, determining which ones show enough interest to warrant further nurturing. For instance, a lead that downloads several whitepapers and attends a webinar might score highly on a lead-scoring model, indicating strong potential interest.

SQLs: Qualified based on more explicit actions that signal a clear intent to purchase, such as requesting demos, engaging in detailed pricing discussions, or specifying product requirements. These leads often interact directly with sales teams, providing clear signals like budget availability and purchase timelines, which help sales teams prioritize their efforts. A lead entering a product trial or asking for a customized quote is showing definitive interest in proceeding towards a purchase.

Engagement level

MQLs: These leads show their interest primarily through engagement with marketing content. They might frequently visit the company’s blog, download various resources, and interact with online tools, but they typically do not engage in actions that indicate an immediate readiness to buy. Marketing teams monitor these behaviors, using analytics to guide the development of further content and outreach strategies that aim to deepen the lead’s engagement and interest.

SQLs: Demonstrating actions that show a strong intent to buy, SQLs often involve behaviors like providing detailed contact information, discussing specific needs with sales representatives, and requesting detailed proposals or quotes. Their actions go beyond passive content consumption, indicating a readiness to discuss terms of sale, negotiate prices, or finalize contracts. Sales teams work closely with these leads, often using CRM systems to track and facilitate the necessary follow-up activities to convert them into customers.


MQLs: Marketing teams nurture these leads until they demonstrate sales-readiness. Through a combination of targeted content, personalized email campaigns, and strategic follow-ups, marketing professionals work to move MQLs to a point where they are ready to engage with sales teams. Effective nurturing strategies involve understanding the lead’s interests and pain points, providing them with relevant information that addresses these areas and gradually building their interest and engagement.

SQLs: Once a lead has been identified as an SQL, the responsibility shifts to the sales team, who take over to close the deal. Sales professionals are in direct communication with these leads, offering personalized demos, detailed discussions, and negotiations that cater to the specific needs and concerns of the lead. The goal is to convert the lead into a paying customer, using all available information to present the product or service as the optimal solution to their requirements.

Content focus and purpose

MQL Content: Designed to attract and educate potential customers, the content aimed at MQLs covers a broad range of topics relevant to the top and middle of the sales funnel. This content includes blog posts, infographics, introductory webinars, and basic guides that help leads understand industry challenges and potential solutions. The purpose is to engage leads at a basic level, sparking interest and establishing the brand as a thought leader in the space.

SQL Content: More narrowly focused, the content for SQLs targets individuals who are considering a purchase and are at the bottom of the sales funnel. This content includes case studies, product datasheets, advanced webinars, and detailed user guides that address specific use cases and purchasing concerns. The aim is to provide the lead with all the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision, demonstrating the value and effectiveness of the product or service in meeting their needs.

5 key similarities

Both MQLs and SQLs play integral roles in the sales process, despite each being different stages in the buyer’s journey. MQLs are leads that have shown enough interest to be deemed potential future customers, requiring marketing efforts to move them closer to a buying decision. SQLs are further along the journey, having passed the necessary thresholds to warrant direct sales efforts. Both types of leads are essential to the overall sales strategy, contributing to the funnel that moves leads from initial awareness through to purchase.

Along with this, both MQLs and SQLs demonstrate interest in the company’s offerings, though at different levels of engagement and intent. MQLs might show a passive or general interest, often seeking to learn more without yet indicating a readiness to buy. In contrast, SQLs show a more active and specific interest, often seeking detailed information that can lead to a purchase decision. Recognizing and responding to these different levels of interest is key to effectively moving leads through the sales process.

“Both MQLs and SQLs play integral roles in the sales process”

Another similarity is that both MQLs and SQLs require nurturing, but the approach varies according to their stage in the sales funnel. MQLs are nurtured with the goal of deepening their interest and engagement, preparing them for eventual sales contact. Marketing teams use a variety of content and communications to build this relationship, gradually guiding MQLs towards becoming SQLs. SQLs, meanwhile, receive more focused nurturing from sales teams, who aim to convert their interest into a purchase by addressing specific needs, answering questions, and overcoming objections.

Both MQLs and SQLs are potential sources of revenue, with their effective management directly influencing the company’s bottom line. MQLs represent the broader pool of potential customers who might purchase in the future, while SQLs are the more immediate opportunities that sales teams aim to convert. Companies measure the conversion rates from MQL to SQL and from SQL to purchase to understand the effectiveness of their sales and marketing strategies and to identify opportunities for optimization.

One final similarity is the alignment between marketing and sales teams is essential for the smooth transition of leads from MQL to SQL status. Marketing teams need to provide sales teams with all relevant information about the leads’ interests, behaviors, and engagement history. Similarly, sales teams need to communicate their needs and feedback to marketing to make sure that the leads generated are of high quality and fit the criteria for successful sales follow-up. Close collaboration and consistent communication help ensure that leads are effectively nurtured and converted, maximizing the efficiency of the sales process.

How marketing & sales see leads and prospects

Marketing teams

Use initial interest to categorize individuals as leads: 

Marketing teams observe initial interest from potential customers to categorize them as leads. They track interactions such as website visits, newsletter signups, and social media engagement to identify individuals who show interest in the company’s products or services. These leads are then further classified based on their actions and engagement levels.

Employ strategies to nurture leads into MQLs:

Marketing professionals use a range of strategies to nurture these leads into Marketing Qualified Leads. They deploy targeted content, run email nurturing campaigns, and engage leads through various digital channels. The goal is to increase the lead’s interest and engagement to a level where they are considered ready for more direct sales efforts.

Sales teams

Use ‘prospect’ for potential buyers, regardless of marketing engagement: 

Sales teams refer to any individual or business in their target market who could potentially buy their product or service as a ‘prospect’. This category is broader than that used by marketing teams and includes anyone who fits the business’s ideal customer profile, regardless of their engagement with marketing efforts.

Lead enters sales process after expressing purchase interest:

A prospect becomes a lead for the sales team once they express direct interest in making a purchase or are identified as a high-potential contact through outbound sales activities. Sales professionals then engage these leads, aiming to convert them into customers by addressing their needs and guiding them through the sales process.

Importance of Distinction.

Aligns marketing and sales efforts:

Understanding the distinction between how marketing and sales view leads and prospects helps align the efforts of both teams. Marketing knows what information and leads sales need to close deals, and sales understand what marketing is doing to attract and nurture potential customers. This alignment is key for the transition of leads from marketing to sales.

This clear differentiation aids in developing targeted strategies for nurturing leads and prospects through the funnel. Marketing focuses on creating broad engagement and education strategies, while sales develop personalized persuasion and closing strategies. Each team can tailor its approach based on its role in the sales process, leading to more effective lead conversion.

The distinction also influences the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that each team uses to measure success. Marketing might look at lead generation and qualification metrics such as conversion rates and engagement levels, while sales focus on conversion rates, average deal size, and closed deals. These metrics help each team measure and optimize its part of the sales process to improve overall performance.

Best practices for managing MQLs and SQLs

For MQLs

Businesses need to provide MQLs with valuable content that addresses their pain points and educates them about potential solutions. This content should subtly position the company’s product as a viable option. For example, sharing whitepapers that explore industry challenges or detailed guides that explain product features can help leads understand how their issues might be resolved.

Content types such as blog posts, infographics, and eBooks are particularly effective. They help in laying the groundwork for understanding the product’s value proposition. For instance, a company selling CRM software might offer an eBook titled “10 Ways to Improve Customer Relationships,” which  educates potential customers about common pain points and subtly introduces how their software addresses these issues.

Another tip for managing a MQL is personalization which involves customizing communications to address the specific needs and interests of each lead. Marketing automation tools can help send personalized emails based on the lead’s previous interactions with the company’s content. For instance, if a lead has downloaded content about a specific topic, follow-up emails might include additional, related resources or a call to action to discuss the topic with a salesperson.

Businesses should also increase engagement levels by inviting MQLs to participate in webinars, sending them case studies, or offering free trials, depending on their engagement level. A lead showing interest in a specific product feature might be invited to a webinar where that feature is demonstrated, or they might be sent a case study showing how another customer successfully implemented the same feature.

Webinars are particularly effective as they allow real-time interaction and can address specific questions or concerns leads might have. They also provide a soft transition from educational content to more product-specific information, helping leads move down the funnel.

Free trials or product demos are offered to leads who show a high level of interest and engagement. These trials are an excellent way to showcase the product’s capabilities and help leads see how it could work in their own context. For example, offering a 30-day free trial gives the lead a hands-on experience with the product, increasing the likelihood of conversion to an SQL.

For SQLs

Once a lead has been classified as an SQL, sales teams engage in more direct and personal communication, such as one-on-one calls or meetings, to understand their specific needs and how the product can meet them. During these interactions, sales representatives ask targeted questions to uncover detailed requirements and preferences.

For example, during a call, a sales representative might ask about the lead’s current challenges, their timeline for implementation, and any specific features or capabilities they are looking for. This direct communication helps build a relationship and provides the sales team with the information needed to tailor their sales pitch.

Sales representatives absolutely must prepare to address common objections or concerns SQLs may have, showcasing the product’s value proposition and how it stands out from competitors. For example, if price is a concern, the sales representative might highlight the long-term cost savings and ROI of the product. If the lead is worried about integration with existing systems, the representative might discuss previous successful integrations with similar systems.

Effective objection handling involves anticipating potential concerns and having ready responses that turn these objections into reasons for proceeding with the purchase. Training and role-playing can be effective ways for sales teams to prepare for these interactions, ensuring they can respond confidently and accurately to any concerns raised.

The AARRR framework


At the acquisition stage, similar to attracting MQLs, businesses focus on bringing potential customers into their funnel through various channels and strategies. This includes online advertising, content marketing, networking events, and social media engagement. The goal is to capture the attention of potential leads and encourage them to engage with the company’s content.

For example, a business might use targeted Facebook ads to drive traffic to a specially designed landing page where leads can sign up for a free webinar. This initial engagement serves as the first step in qualifying leads as MQLs.


This stage aligns with nurturing MQLs, where businesses aim to increase their engagement and interest in the product. Through a series of strategic interactions, including personalized emails, targeted content, and interactive tools, companies help leads explore the benefits and features of their offerings more deeply. Activation efforts aim to move MQLs to the point where they demonstrate clear purchase intent and meet the criteria to become SQLs. 

Retention and Referral

While retention and referral go beyond SQL management, applying nurturing techniques used for MQLs can help in retaining customers and encouraging referrals, contributing to long-term growth. After a purchase, businesses focus on keeping customers satisfied and engaged, providing excellent customer service, regular updates, and new offers that add value. Happy customers are more likely to refer others, expanding the customer base and creating a virtuous cycle of engagement and conversion. 


The ultimate goal with SQLs is to close sales, directly contributing to the revenue stage of the AARRR funnel. Sales teams work to convert SQLs into paying customers by finalizing the terms of the sale, processing the transaction, and ensuring a smooth onboarding process for the customer.

For example, once an SQL agrees to purchase, the sales team might work with them to complete the necessary paperwork, set up an implementation timeline, and provide initial training or support to ensure they get the most out of their purchase.

Incorporating elements from the AARRR funnel into MQL and SQL strategies can improve lead management and customer acquisition cost and improve overall customer lifecycle management, leading to better customer retention and revenue growth. Businesses that effectively manage this funnel see higher conversion rates, more efficient sales cycles, and greater customer loyalty, all of which contribute to sustained business success.

Alexander Procter

May 22, 2024

16 Min