Marketing Qualified Lead vs. Sales Qualified Lead vs. Sales Accepted Lead: What’s the Difference?

Updated January 4, 2023

Marketing qualified leads (MQL), sales qualified leads (SQL) and sales accepted leads (SAL) allow a business to define clear stages of the customer life cycle process. A business that establishes clear metrics for these leads can more accurately implement positive changes in marketing and sales strategies. Understanding more about the differences between them can make a big difference when keeping a customer interested and closing a sale. In this article, we explain the definitions of MQLs, SQLs and SALs, the differences between them and tips to increase MQLs, SQLs and SALs.

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What is a lead?

In marketing terms, a lead is any customer who has signaled they may purchase. These individuals may follow through with a purchase, but it's helpful if the marketing or sales department is aware of their needs and helps in the process. They may have requested additional information, have questions about options or need help in the checkout process. The lead moves through a sales funnel based on their likelihood of purchasing.

Related: What Is a Sales Funnel?

What is a marketing qualified lead?

A marketing qualified lead is a potential customer identified as being more likely to complete a purchase. A marketing team looks at a lead's history, including what parts of a website they visited, to make this determination and attempt to convert the lead into a sale. Many companies use automated software that automatically assigns a score based on a customer's website usage.

What is a sales qualified lead?

A sales qualified lead is a potential customer who has shown immediate interest in buying a product or service. An SQL is usually an individual or organization with both the need for your product and the mindset to make a purchase. After being identified as a potential customer, the sales team works with the lead rather than the marketing team.

Related: Learn About Being a Sales Manager

What is a sales accepted lead?

A sales accepted lead is an MQL customer who's been evaluated and transferred to the sales team. As an MQL moves to purchase, the sales team approves the opportunity and accepts the transfer. There should be an agreement between the marketing and sales departments before a potential customer moves to the SAL stage.

Related: Sales Job Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

MQL vs. SAL vs. SQL

The difference between a marketing qualified lead, sales accepted lead and sales qualified lead often varies depending on the industry and internal criteria unique to each company. Consider the following differences and similarities:

Basic criteria

The identification process of these three lead types are different. To qualify as an MQL, a company usually has identified contact information or demographics that signify the potential customer is more likely to be interested in the product. An SQL is a lead who interacts with your marketing material continually and shows signs of purchasing, like placing items in an online shopping cart. An SQL is eventually turned into a sale or lost as a customer.

The defining criteria for an SAL differ from organization to organization, but it's the most flexible metric of the three. As mentioned before, because an SAL is a developed MQL lead who's been evaluated to become a credible sale, the marketing department transfers responsibility for the lead to the sales department. Its criteria can be subjective and dependent on priorities.

Lead scoring system

Most companies employ a scoring system to rate the specific actions of a lead. The type of scoring system and its value assignments can be customized to each company, but each system assigns point values to a variety of actions taken by a prospect. These scores range from low values attached to actions like webpage visits or emails opened to high values given for actions such as information requests. The company can then create assigned divisions of points to help qualify leads as MQLs, SALs and SQLs.

For example, a company may assign their lowest grouping of points, from zero to 25, to the prospect category, 26 to 50 to MQLs, 51 to 75 to SALs and 76 and over to SQLs. A company's scoring rubric should clearly define the conditions an MQL needs to meet in order to move to an SAL and transition into the sales department.

Lead nurturing

Giving the correct type of attention to the lead at each stage is essential to gaining them as a customer. When an MQL asks for more information about your product, offer support and develop their interest to prepare them for the sales department. Once the customer becomes a sales accepted lead, the process of selling a product is accelerated. When a potential customer is an SQL, they often want to be contacted by a sales representative who can answer questions or offer assistance. Nurturing an MQL requires patience and understanding of the client's budget, timeframe and needs.

Tips to increase market qualified leads

Consider these tips to increase your MQLs:

  • Create supplemental material: If a customer doesn't understand your services, they're less likely to make a purchase. Increasing your website's educational content in a variety of mediums like blogs, podcasts, webinars and videos can help the customer make a decision.

  • Improve your relationship with customers: Give the customers a reason to trust and believe in your services. Methods to do this online include providing a live chat feature, supplying applicable content or featuring satisfied customer testimonials.

Related: Email Sales Funnel: Overview, Benefits and Setup Guide

Tips to increase sales qualified leads

Consider these tips to increase your SQLs:

  • Research customer data: Marketing and sales departments need customer behavior data in order to better understand their customers and find higher quality leads.

  • Encourage collaboration between teams: When the sales and marketing departments cooperate, it's easier to align expectations. Teamwork is essential to handling the time-sensitivity of leads and moving a lead from prospect to sale.

  • Create intentional content: Ensure that your website design and content is optimized for processing a customer from lead to sale. It's important to drive the customer along the marketing funnel by showing them persuasive resources.

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Tips to increase sales accepted leads

Consider these tips to increase your SALs:

  • Keep excellent documentation: As marketing passes an SAL to the sales department, keep documentation of every step. Then, both marketing and sales can examine and evaluate their performance to see where improvement is needed.

  • Educate the customer: The sales accepted lead status is a tipping point for the customer, and often they're still not ready to complete a purchase. At this stage, focus on educating the customer by providing your company's solution to their problem.


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