MQL vs SQL: The lead handoff between marketing to sales

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One of the hardest challenges for many businesses is to ensure a streamlined transition from marketing to the sales department. Ideally, the process should not have any inconsistencies, but only a few organizations achieve that. In most cases, the misalignment of priorities conflicts with the definition of a qualified lead. Someone who just discovered your brand and became a ‘lead’ isn’t necessarily ready to buy today. That’s why it’s crucial to analyze the indicators that define MQL vs SQL and by doing so you can avoid a disconnect between marketing and sales.

According to a study, 63% of marketers see lead generation as their toughest challenge. Generating leads is a time-and-resource-intensive job with numerous moving parts. If the sales department does not agree with what you consider a lead, all that time and resources would be wasted. To prevent that, it’s crucial to create an effective system with distinct responsibilities.

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MQL vs SQL: What’s the difference?

Before moving on to learning the qualities of an effective lead handoff process. It’s crucial to be aware of the key differences between what defines a marketing and sales-qualified lead. A lot of people don’t understand the importance of properly defining MQLs and SQLs, and that’s where the problem begins.

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is someone with the potential of becoming a paying customer down the line. These prospects understand your product/service and are interested in it. However, they’re not ready to make a purchase. Teams usually deal with MQLs by presenting additional marketing information and other targeted strategies to convert them.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) are potential customers who have shown real intent to buy your product/service. Any SQL gets thoroughly analyzed by both marketing and sales departments and then proceeds to the next stage in the sale process. In simple terms, a SQL is a potential customer right at the end of the marketing funnel and needs only a small nudge to become your paying customer.

Through proper understanding, you can create an effective process that delivers the best results. To get an idea, check out this template based on the lead handoff system we use at Step-Up. It follows the best practices established by industry leaders and ensures alignment by properly defining the responsibilities of both teams at different lifecycle stages.

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5 essentials you must achieve with your MQL to SQL handoff process

It’s marketing’s job to maintain alignment between the departments and ensure a smooth process without any inconsistencies. By having a comprehensive system in place, you can avoid the most common issues and create an effective system for everyone. The following sections will take a look at 5 activities you can perform to create a seamless handoff process that leads to a better conversion rate.

1 – Establish common lead definitions

The definition of the lead is perhaps the biggest source of conflict between marketing and sales, so naturally, it should be addressed first.

A universal definition, agreed upon by the concerned department and C-suites, allows the department to monitor their performance on a company scale, and effectively implement control measures.

2 – Develop a vocabulary and define SLAs

Generally, sales teams compare any incoming leads against two essential factors; fit and interest. The Fit measures how well your business can serve the lead. On the other hand, interest determines how much of a priority your service/solution is for the lead. Marketers are responsible for defining lifecycle stages based on the above criteria. They also have to create lead categories and come up with the procedure of handling them. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is an important document that contains all that information. It ensures alignment and connects both marketing and sales through a structured approach.

3 – Ensure proper documentation

Another common reason why leads slip is an inefficient exchange of information between the sales and marketing teams. Awkward meetings, where sales members come with little or irrelevant information about the lead, can be avoided through a detailed documentation process.

4 – Get your timing right

Navigating in the B2B environment requires finesse and impeccable timing. You can have the most seamless handoff process and still fail to convert a lead due to bad timing. Generally, sales teams should initiate contact within 24 hours of qualifying a lead, but depending on the condition, this process can be expedited.

5 – Build a rapport with your lead

Another excellent approach with some leads is to keep the marketing team involved in the first meeting. Most B2B sales require a nurturing relationship before conversion, and the marketing team will already have a rapport with the lead. Moreover, this approach is more seamless and the progression seems more natural, which can be a plus point for some potential clients.

Key takeaways

The average lead acceptance rate in B2B companies is only 42%, and the main reason behind it is the misalignment between marketing and sales. Both of these departments are the cornerstone for any business’ success and the proximity of their operation can create conflicts. However, the successful execution of a handoff is necessary for your survival.

As a marketer, you are responsible for creating an effective blueprint of this execution process. With a universal vocabulary for both marketing and sales along with detailed responsibilities of each team. You’ll be able to successfully execute your strategies and start getting a return on your investment in the form of better conversion rates.


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Matan Abramovitz
Deputy CEO @ StepUp. A marketing expert, with more than a decade of demonstrated history of working with high-level brands in the Marketing, Advertising & Communication industry. Passionated about Digital media, Offline advertising, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Editing, Public Speaking, and content management.
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