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Lead Terminology - MQL, SQL, tbc?

Tom Perry
by Tom Perry - April 26, 2019

colleagues croppedMarketing is overflowing with acronyms. ABM, SEO, B2B, B2C, CMS, CRM…the list goes on. And as Marketeers, we are used to dealing with the shortened form of these important marketing terms. However, the issue comes when these acronyms mean different things to different people. 

An example of this is when it comes down to lead qualification. There is a huge amount of discussion about marketing and sales alignment across the industry at the moment, and what we can do to create a blended team. However, how can we create sales and marketing harmony when we are speaking different languages? We as marketeers spend our time trying to generate MQLs and nurture them down the funnel to pass on to sales, so that they can become an SQL. However, there is going to be some serious confusion and time wasted if the criteria for lead terminology is not agreed upon from the outset. 

According to TechTarget, “A marketing-qualified lead (MQL) is a website visitor whose engagement levels indicate that he is likely to become a customer” and a “sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospective customer that has been researched and vetted - first by an organisation's marketing department and then by its sales team – and is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process”.

This all seems pretty standard. Let’s all adopt that terminology shall we? Well, this is a good definition, but is actually quite vague when it is put in to practice. And this is where may companies stumble. What engagement levels? What does ‘deemed ready’ actually mean? These terms are all too subjective.

According to Marketingsherpa, 61% of b2b marketers send all leads directly to sales; however, only 27% of those leads are qualified. This is crazy. But also understandable, if the criteria of an MQL is not nailed down. Marketing may think that actually this is a great lead and fits their interpretation of what an “MQL is”, however, sales may have a completely different view of an MQL and therefore see the leads as unqualified. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to nail down what classifies as an MQL and an SQL from the start of a project. And this may vary from project to project – a web visit may not be suitable if your campaign has another objective – marketing is dynamic, and therefore so must you be, but this must always be agreed upon before pressing go. In fact, the classification of MQL and SQL should certainly form part of the SLA that you put in place between sales and marketing teams…this in itself will establish a shared responsibility over lead nurture. Both sales and marketing then have shared onus on guiding the customer to the required outcome, through end-to-end campaigns, delivering the right message, at the right time for the customer and maximising the likelihood of closing deals. In fact, “organisations with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions experience 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates” according to MarketingProfs.

This should not only be the case when running campaigns internally. As an agency, we run concurrent campaigns for numerous clients and have learned that clear definitions from the outset, prevent miscommunication, unrealistic expectations and promote good results. We are lucky in the fact that we have an internal sales resource, which means that our marketing function is very much blended with our inside sales team. This certainly helps bridge the gap some companies experience between marketing and sales, but there is still the issue of linguistics between our teams and our clients’. Thankfully we have the experience to insist on the MQL/SQL definition being clearly established during campaign briefs. 

The benefits of having agreed criteria are obvious, but one thing that it does promote is the next step of sales and marketing alignment. At Sherpa, we harp on about blended sales and marketing…and as we are talking semantics, I will further explain what we mean by this. Alignment still implies two teams working side by side towards the same goal. We do not think this is enough. Often as a marketeer you rely on content to qualify leads…this is bad practice. Content cannot qualify leads. Instead there should be some human touch throughout the lead nurture, overlapping marketing and sales to help qualify leads efficiently, humanly and customer-centrically. This blended approach causes marketing to be more sales orientated in their approach and sales to become more marketing orientated.  A perfect mix for lead nurture. 

So, if you came to this blog looking for a succinct MQL/SQL definition, then I’m afraid I cannot help you – as I mentioned – this is dependent on your business, the campaign and who you are working with. But, if you take anything away from this, then let it be this….make sure however you qualify leads, that the criteria is clear, communicated and agreed upon by all members of the team. This way you can continue using confusing acronyms, until COB, as your increased ROI will be demonstrated in your POE due to the increase in MQLs driving your SQL number through the roof. Phew.


If you would like to discuss how Sherpa can transform your marketing, please get in touch… 


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