Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified Leads: Can MQL ever equal SQL?

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I had the pleasure of co-presenting a webinar with Dan McDade, CEO of Pointclear last week on “how to make the most of your lead generation efforts.”  One of the key topics we discussed was the importance of lead qualification and the hand-off between marketing and sales. And yes, we talked about two popular terms that have entered common lead gen parlance today: MQL, or Marketing Qualified Leads and SQL, Sales Qualified Leads.

Perhaps the most insightful question we received from one of our attendees was:  What is the difference between an MQL and an SQL and why does this difference exist? Dan’s clever answer to this question was that in an ideal world those two should be the same… But they never are.

That of course got me thinking about what it means for MQL to equal SQL and why that never happens, even in a “perfect” lead generation program. I think it’s because we have some immutable laws of lead gen just like we have the laws of physics.  Here’s my take on these laws:

  • Law #1:  There’s a fundamental difference in the activities that need to be done at the top of the funnel, where marketing leads are qualified, to the bottom of the funnel, where a prospect becomes a customer. At the top, you must focus on many parameters, such as does the contact fit the demographic and behavioral profile of a buyer. At the bottom you focus on only one: will this particular prospect buy soon?
  • Law #2:  It’s impossible to programmatically qualify a lead to a point that makes a human sales person accept it without at least one direct communication with the prospect. This is both a programmatic and psychological limitation. People buy for many different reasons. A person who fits the “perfect” profile may not truly be ready to buy. Someone outside the usual “look-alike” suspect might be a purchaser. Without human interaction, it’s impossible to know the “background” story of any particular individual. What’s driving them to take the behaviors they are taking?
  • Law #3:  The person qualifying marketing leads should not create the opportunities forecast, unless he or she is also responsible for closing the opportunity.

So until some quantum change occurs, we mere mortal marketing and sales people have to strive for Nirvana, but work hard to negotiate Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with each other to ensure we have goals that are achievable in the physical universe of demand gen.


Interested in learning more about the importance of SLAs and how to define the key components of SLAs to improve sales and marketing alignment? Check out the recording of “Build a Better Service-Level Agreement,” a webinar featuring guest speaker Jay Gaines of Sirius Decisions.