MQLs, SQLs, SALs — Lead Qualification Basics Every B2B Marketer Must Know

Lead qualification helps B2B marketing teams focus their efforts and resources on serious buyers and prospects that are likely to take the next step. It’s about prioritizing quality over quantity while delivering a personalized customer experience.

In this article, we’ll explain the lead qualification process step-by-step. But first, the why.

Why Is Lead Qualification Critical to Marketing Success?

The lead qualification process is a strategic and systematic approach to evaluating whether prospects are able, ready, and willing to make a purchase.

It answers questions like:

  • Do they need your product?
  • Do they have the authority to make a purchasing decision?
  • Do they have the budget to make a purchase?
  • Are they ready to make a purchase?

The goal is to minimize your lead pool and maximize sales. You should have a process that sets your sales team up for success by allowing them to talk to the most qualified leads at the exact moments when they can be primed to purchase.

Without an effective lead generation strategy, businesses waste their efforts on prospects that, even when face-to-face with marketing genius, aren’t going to take action. That means less revenue and decreased efficiency.

The lead qualification process also enables marketing teams to craft personalized experiences that deliver the right information to the right prospect at the right time. According to one report, 98% of marketers agree that personalization advances customer relationships, with seven out of 10 claiming that personalization allows them to deliver better customer experience while increasing loyalty and ROI.

The 3 Components of Lead Qualification

The lead qualification process follows prospects through three distinct steps: marketing qualified leads (MQL), sales accepted leads (SAL), and finally, sales qualified leads (SQL).

Let’s examine how this process unfolds in more detail.

1. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

An MQL is a lead that has, after analysis by your marketing team, been labeled as fit for targeting as a potential customer.

This analysis might be something as simple as a lead magnet, such as a free downloadable, trial, or consultation. If the prospect takes that initial action, you can be sure they have at least some interest in your product or service and are ready to be nurtured into a sales accepted lead.

2. Sales Accepted Leads (SAL)

A SAL is a lead that has been qualified and passed secondary, more nuanced evaluation.

For example, let’s say you run a social media advertising campaign that promotes a webinar showcasing your product. A lead registers to attend – they are now an MQL.

Next, your sales team will connect them via phone, email, or even a retargeting campaign. The goal is to determine their “sellability,” their interest in your product, and their readiness and authority to buy.

3. Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)

An SQL has progressed through the first two steps of your lead qualification process and is now ready to be sold to. Before that happens, marketers and sales reps should conduct what’s known as a BANT analysis:

  • Budget: Do they have the finances?
  • Authority: Are they the decision-maker?
  • Need: Do they have an urgent need or desire?
  • Timing: What is the timeframe within which they need a solution?

The BANT analysis is fairly basic but should give you a rough idea of a lead’s quality. Depending on the product or service you offer, you can expand and tweak the above questions.

If a lead passes this final test, they are ready to be converted into a satisfied, loyal customer.

A Step-By-Step Lead Qualification Process

Let’s see how the above process might look in practice using an example.

Step 1 – Your marketing team crafts and launches an email marketing campaign. The goal of the campaign is to get those in your mailing list that haven’t made a purchase to sign up for a seven-day free trial of your video editing software.

Your campaign results in a 30 percent conversion rate.

Step 2 – Your marketing team launches a secondary email marketing campaign targeting the 30 percent of users that took up your free trial offer. This email campaign is delivered two days before their trial is up and asks them to complete a two-minute survey.

The survey is designed to assess whether or not your product is the right fit for their needs, as well as shed light on any pain points they have experienced.

Step 3 – Half of the 30 percent of users complete your survey. You can then undergo a BANT analysis on this segmented group.

Following analysis, your sales team reaches out to the most qualified leads to seal the deal.

The qualified leads might only represent 5 percent of the original group targeted in Step 1, but it’s about the quality of leads, not the quantity. Think about it this way: a prospect that isn’t prepared to trial your product for free is unlikely to purchase it.

Why waste your time trying to convince them when there are perfectly good leads available that are interested, have the funds, and are ready to take the next step?

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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