MQL vs. SQL: What Are They and What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 22, 2022 | Published May 17, 2021

Updated June 22, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A person connecting the stages of a sales pipeline.

Generating and nurturing leads are essential parts of the sales cycle. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs) are two key stages of leads at different points in the buying process, and they have different roles. Understanding the differences between MQLs and SQLs can help you improve a company’s lead handoff process and close more sales.

In this article, we define MQL and SQL, explain the differences between them and review why they’re important.

What is an MQL?

An MQL is a type of lead in the sales cycle that may turn into a sale after interacting with the company’s marketing and sales departments. Leads are potential customers who have expressed some level of interest in a company or its products or services. You may work with an MQL in the early stages of the sales cycle. These leads have often engaged with the company in some way but aren’t ready to make a purchase yet, though they may buy in the future.

An MQL can move to the next stages of the buying process after the marketing team nurtures them. Lead nurturing is the process of forming relationships with potential customers and encouraging them to move through the buying process. Marketing teams can nurture leads by:

  • Adding them to an email list

  • Engaging with them on social media

  • Showing them how the company can solve their problems

  • Sending them personalized content

  • Providing newsletters to introduce products or share other information

  • Sending them case studies and testimonials from other customers

Read more: Marketing Qualified Lead: Definition and How To Use Them

What is an SQL?

An SQL is a lead that's ready to engage with the sales department. Typically, the marketing and sales departments vet leads to determine whether they’re ready for direct interaction with the sales team. Once MQLs are ready to advance through the buying process, the marketing department can send them to the sales department, turning them into SQLs. A lead may also immediately become an SQL if they match the company’s customer persona or quickly express direct interest in making a purchase.

Once the sales and marketing departments categorize a lead as an SQL, the sales team can interact with the lead one-on-one and guide them through the buying process to close the sale. When communicating with an SQL, the sales team can use the information that the marketing team collected during the lead nurturing phase to connect with the lead and persuade them to make a purchase.

Read more: What Is a Sales Lead? (And How To Qualify One)

MQL vs. SQL

MQLs and SQLs are both types of leads in the buying process, and an MQL can transition to an SQL over time. Understanding the difference between these leads can help your company move them through the buying process seamlessly. Here are some of the key differences between MQLs and SQLs:

Lead scoring

One of the key distinguishing factors between MQLs and SQLs is how you score the leads. Lead scoring is a method of categorizing and prioritizing leads by assigning them points. The number of points you give to each lead can depend on their engagement with the company, their demographics and their buying habits.

To score leads effectively, ensure that your company has collected a sizable amount of data on the individuals. Once you have enough data, you can score leads manually or download a software program that can score them automatically.

Read more: What Is Lead Scoring? A Complete Guide to How It Works

Lead behavior

Lead behavior is the way that leads engage with a company, website or product. Understanding a lead's level of engagement with your organization can help you determine whether the lead is an MQL or an SQL. Tracking the lead's engagement can also show you when it's time for a lead to transition from an MQL to an SQL.

Here are some examples of behaviors you can monitor:

  • Downloading files from the company’s website

  • Clicking links in emails

  • Filling out online forms

  • Participating in demos

  • Accessing the company’s website through another channel

  • Engaging with the company on social media

Related: What Is Customer Engagement? Definition Plus Strategies

Purchase likelihood

The chance of a lead making a purchase is another key difference between MQLs and SQLs. The likelihood that a lead eventually buys a product can depend on several factors, including the lead's budget and needs. Vetting your leads can help you gauge their likelihood of making a purchase, which can help you score and categorize them.

Related: Lead vs. Prospect vs. Opportunity: What’s the Difference?

Lead demographics

You can also categorize and score leads based on their demographics. To do so, determine how much the demographics of a lead match the demographics of your company's main customer persona. If a lead has the characteristics of this customer persona, you might pass the lead to sales as an SQL. Alternatively, if the lead doesn't match the persona but has expressed interest in the company, they might be an MQL.

For example, if the company's target customers are small, social media-based retail businesses, you might categorize these leads as SQLs quickly. In this case, a small business without a social media presence might be an MQL, but it could transition to an SQL after engaging with your organization and showing significant interest in purchasing your product.

Related: How To Find Your Target Audience

Why are MQLs and SQLs important?

MQLs and SQLs are important because a clear understanding of their roles can improve a company's lead handoff process and encourage a strong relationship between the marketing and sales teams. When you know how to identify MQLs and SQLs, you can also learn about their needs and other information that can help you create meaningful conversations with both types of leads while you guide them through the buying process. Streamlining the lead handoff process can also increase the number of leads that the sales team closes and simplify the sales cycle, which can ultimately boost the company's revenue.

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