October 7, 2020

How to Differentiate Between MQLs and SQLs

Marketing and sales alignment is a necessity for all companies who want to see real growth and offer prospects the best experience possible with your company. One of the main blockers of that alignment is the qualification of MQLs and SQLs.

MQL and SQL are stages in your conversion funnel. The funnel stages help you align your teams, metrics and efforts around the buyer’s journey that your prospects have when they interact with your company. 

New Breed Conversion Funnel

But, MQL and SQL are two of the more difficult stages of the funnel to set up, implement and stick to for your marketing and sales teams. They are also key elements in making sure your teams are aligned and working together to serve prospects to the best of their ability. 

Marketing Qualified Lead

In order to define an MQL, we need to start with the stage that occurs before someone becomes an MQL —  a lead. 

A lead is someone who essentially comes across your site, finds what you have to offer interesting and is willing to give up some level of information for the content or offer you provide. 

A lead is a person who’s expressed their interest in your product or service but has not been evaluated by your company to determine if they are a good fit for any type of targeted outreach from marketing or sales. 

When your company decides that a lead has potential to be a good fit and is worth further marketing outreach they then become an MQL. 

What dictates an MQL will depend on whether your company values fit or interest more when looking at leads. Understanding fit versus interest is a key part of being able to qualify prospects in your CRM system.

Download the Essential Guide to Demand Generation

Fit Versus Interest 

The purpose of qualification stages in the funnel like lead, MQL and SQL are to allow clarification during the prioritization of leads and make sure they are getting interacted with at the right time and with the right material or information. 


One of the key elements of understanding how to set up your own qualification stages is understanding fit and interest and how your company uses the two. 


Fit is how well a lead matches with your definition of the right type of customer for your business. This will depend heavily on the types of customers your business sees the most success with as well as the products that you sell. 

Your company should have ideal customer profiles (ICPs) built out. ICPs are a set of criteria that your company has determined are make up the best fit company’s for your product or service. Your ICP’s typically consist of information like company size, annual revenue, industry and other firmographic information. 


Interest is determined by the amount of interaction someone has had with your company, the amount of content they have consumed on your site or the amount of times they have engaged with your brand in general. 

When it comes to qualifying MQLs and SQLs, it is important to think about what is most important for your business — fit or interest. If you have a rigorous qualification process and are particular about the types of companies that you will work with or sell too, fit is going to be more important to you. 

If you have a product or service that can be sold to almost anyone in any industry, then you will prioritize interest when ranking leads and determining who is ready to speak to sales. 

Which of those you value more will determine what signifies an MQL and SQL in your system. 

Download the Essential Guide to Demand Generation

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) 

There are a few different actions that can signify an SQL for your company, but the sentiment behind the label is that sales has determined that that lead is qualified to receive sales outreach.

We use the signifier of booking a meeting. When sales has booked a meeting with the lead, we then also mark that lead as a SQL. But, for your company that may not be the case. What determines that a lead has moved to the sales outreach stage for your business could be a meeting, a demo, a free trial or even just that sales has done enough research to determine they are both interested and a fit for your company. 

Why Does it Matter? 

Having clear qualifications in your funnel helps your team serve your leads and prospects to the best of their ability. This means that they are going to have the best experience with your marketing, sales and ultimately customer success teams as well. 

Having clear expectations also helps your marketing and sales teams align around serving leads. It dictates responsibility and signals to sales when the right moment is for them to reach out to a lead. 

A lot of the qualification process behind MQL’s and SQL’s can be done with automation, like notifications, automated ICP labeling and email nurture campaigns, in order to help push those leads from one stage to the next. But, you cannot set up any type of automation for your company without having clear boundaries and rules set out for the funnel stages first. 

Once your teams are using the stages properly in your CRM and marketing automation platform, you will also be able to access data and reporting that will help you understand the opportunity for improvement among your current processes. That information will help align teams, reach goals and drive revenue for your business.

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Weslee Clyde

Weslee Clyde is an inbound marketing strategist at New Breed. She is focused on generating results using inbound methods and is driven by the customer experience. When not at the office, you can find her binging a docu-series on true crime or perfecting her gluten-free baking skills.


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