Qualifying Leads – MQL and SQL Explained

Qualifying leads is an essential part of the lead generation process. As technology systems have been adopted the level of sophistication of lead qualification has increased significantly. So this blog has been developed to explain lead qualification processes and how these can be integrated into the lead generation programmes and technology platforms. While there can be a lot involved here, our advice for SMEs is to be practical. You have to pick the lead qualification methodology that suits your business and the markets you operate in.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

Let’s begin with a definition:

A Marketing Qualified Lead is a lead that has met some basic ‘benchmark’ for having enough potential to justify focused marketing effort.

You need to consider two scenarios in order to understand this fully. The first scenario is that you are building your cold target prospect list. In this scenario you are effectively using criteria to select potential buyers to target. The second scenario is that you have an inbound enquiry. In this scenario you are choosing criteria to determine whether this enquiry is valuable and relevant to your business. So the benchmark criteria you would use could include:

  • Profile: i.e. who is a relevant buyer of your product and services. There will be some minimum acceptable data required here, depending on your business and markets. For example you might target Engineering Managers and Operating Directors of pharmaceutical organisations, but you’d be happy to engage with more junior level people within the right departments within those organisations
  • Channels: i.e. you might decide that the channel that triggered the engagement as more or less relevant e.g. Industry Events or web enquiry forms
  • Actions: i.e. you might choose to look at the relative importance of key actions, e.g clicking on a marketing email link, registering for a webinar etc
  • Undesirables: i.e. you might choose to establish criteria to filter out negatives, e.g. an email address denoting academia rather than industry

The exact benchmarks and criteria you choose to adopt will depend on your business, your sales & marketing processes and your customer’s buying journey. The purpose of the exercise is to ensure you invest your marketing and sales resources where you can be most successful.


Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)

Continuing on from the MQL, let’s begin with a definition of an SQL:

A Sales Qualified Lead is an MQL lead that has been sales qualified using agreed criteria where there is a real identified business opportunity.

This is probably a form of qualification that is more familiar to many and there are several different types of Sales Qualification methods. One that is quite commonly used is BANT criteria:

  • Budget: i.e. has the prospect got agreed and assigned funds for the purchase?
  • Authority: i.e. is the prospect at the right level in the organisation to authorise or influence the authorisation of the purchase?
  • Need: i.e. has there been a validation of the requirements and confirmation/acceptance of the need in the buying organisation?
  • Timescale: i.e. does the prospect have a commitment to a timeframe or deadline that they are working towards?

The purpose here is to build some diligence into the sales process and help to improve the effectiveness of how your sales resources are deployed. It is extraordinary how many times we have had conversations on lost opportunities with clients where there never really was an opportunity there at all, if these criteria had been applied fully.

Lead Qualification – The Do’s and Don’ts

Qualification Do’sQualification Don’ts
Agree on common lead definitions, descriptions and
Overly simplify numeric scoring methods return false positives
Use sales and marketing automation and
CRM platforms
Build a model based on BANT criteria in forms -asking budget and timeframe questions online is not best practice
Cross reference demographics and firmagraphics against lead scores to provide better predictabilityUse qualification criteria for vertical segments where you have no sales history
Only track relevant variables that fit your business
and target markets
Guess/make it up, use experts to help get it right
Engage prospects with fresh content that’s appropriate
for specific buyers and phases
Include key digital body language that identifies engaged prospects.

Like a lot of aspects of sales & marketing you need to be systematic here in building an appropriate lead qualification process for your business. If in doubt, get some advice from experienced professionals.

Lead Scoring

The issue of lead scoring and designing a lead scoring mechanism is driven by the adoption of Technology systems in sales & marketing. Most CRM and Sales & Marketing Automation software now includes lead scoring functionality, which if deployed correctly can be a valuable means of identifying warmer leads in the sales pipeline.

There are two Lead Scoring mechanisms:

  • Explicit: i.e. demographics, firmographics, BANT (budget, authority, needs, timeline); submitted voluntarily by the lead
  • Implicit: i.e. observed behavioral information (sometimes referred to as “digital body language”) e.g. includes site browsing activity, email engagement, downloads, clicks, social media shares, etc.

An example of a scoring methodology is illustrated below and this is reproduced from Hubspot as an example of the lead scoring mechanism that they would use .

Explicit Implicit Lead Scoring

As you can see from the table, lead scoring can become quite sophisticated and useful to the business. This is key to achieving higher sales productivity, more sales conversions and delivering Marketing and Sales Alignment.


Lead qualification has an essential role to play in your lead generation processes. How sophisticated you get in this area is down to you. Our advice has always been to start with a basic framework that works for your business and get used to it before you move towards increasing levels of sophistication. In research by the Aberdeen Group it was identified that 80% of the top performing companies use lead scoring and lead qualification methodologies. What is probably more surprising is that between 66-81% of businesses have not yet deployed it. So if you want to improve your sales performance, contact us and we can help you implement a lead qualification process and lead generation engine in your business.