B2B Marketing Zone

Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified Leads: Can MQL ever equal SQL?

Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified Leads: Can MQL ever equal SQL?

Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified Leads: Can MQL ever equal SQL?

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a webinar with Dan McDade, CEO of Pointclear last week on “how to make the most of your lead generation efforts.”  One of the key topics we discussed was the importance of lead qualification and the hand-off between marketing and sales. And yes, we talked about two popular terms that have entered common lead gen parlance today: MQL, or Marketing Qualified Leads and SQL, Sales Qualified Leads.

Perhaps the most insightful question we received from one of our attendees was:  What is the difference between an MQL and an SQL and why does this difference exist? Dan’s clever answer to this question was that in an ideal world those two should be the same… But they never are.

That of course got me thinking about what it means for MQL to equal SQL and why that never happens, even in a “perfect” lead generation program. I think it’s because we have some immutable laws of lead gen just like we have the laws of physics.  Here’s my take on these laws:

  • Law #1:  There’s a fundamental difference in the activities that need to be done at the top of the funnel, where marketing leads are qualified, to the bottom of the funnel, where a prospect becomes a customer. At the top, you must focus on many parameters, such as does the contact fit the demographic and behavioral profile of a buyer. At the bottom you focus on only one: will this particular prospect buy soon?
  • Law #2:  It’s impossible to programmatically qualify a lead to a point that makes a human sales person accept it without at least one direct communication with the prospect. This is both a programmatic and psychological limitation. People buy for many different reasons. A person who fits the “perfect” profile may not truly be ready to buy. Someone outside the usual “look-alike” suspect might be a purchaser. Without human interaction, it’s impossible to know the “background” story of any particular individual. What’s driving them to take the behaviors they are taking?
  • Law #3:  The person qualifying marketing leads should not create the opportunities forecast, unless he or she is also responsible for closing the opportunity.

So until some quantum change occurs, we mere mortal marketing and sales people have to strive for Nirvana, but work hard to negotiate Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with each other to ensure we have goals that are achievable in the physical universe of demand gen.


Interested in learning more about the importance of SLAs and how to define the key components of SLAs to improve sales and marketing alignment? Check out the recording of “Build a Better Service-Level Agreement,” a webinar featuring guest speaker Jay Gaines of Sirius Decisions.


Atri is responsible for all things marketing at Act-On and has been CMO since early 2012. He's been associated with Act-On since its founding and was an early customer as well as an adviser to the company before he joined. Atri has over 20 years of experience in marketing, product management, business development, and engineering at high-growth innovative companies, from start-up ventures to large public companies. Prior to Act-On, he was VP & GM of the User Authentication business at Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC). Before that, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing at McAfee, Inc. (now part of Intel), and CMO of Secure Computing until its purchase by McAfee. Atri was also the first head of Marketing at Responsys, where he helped create its initial business plan, raise several rounds of funding, and establish that company as a pioneer SaaS application for email marketing. He has also held senior marketing roles at CipherTrust, Netscape, and Clarify. Atri holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer science from Washington State University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Atri, I really agree with and like law #2 specifically as you say that people buy for many reasons. As someone who spend many years on the “front line” there is no such thing as the perfect profile and with that said and as you stated, the only way for sales to know for sure is to have a conversation about the clients needs, understand what they are trying to fix or change and why do they or others want to make that change.

    Law #3 equals “ownership”. This is the time that sales makes a determination to accept the MQL as an SQL creating an opportunity to close. Actively listening, matching the client needs to your solution, taking ownership to create that for your client and closing the deal. This, I feel, is the true art of sales.

  • hariharan s

    very interesting marketing team should work in close co-ordination with sales team to design MQL and the sales team should use MQL as per the customer behavior to convert it to a SQL.

    Law #3 I agree. A person qualifying marketing leads can never be in a position of forecasting.

  • Great Article.Thanks Paul. I really enjoyed your article.