This article is the ultimate guide explaining the difference between an MQL vs SQL and insights to perfect you MQL to SQL process for for handing off leads to your sales team.
This guide will give you actionable insights to reducing friction in your sales funnel in support of increase pipeline velocity and refine pipeline forecasting accuracy.
Most B2B buyers are already over 75% of the way through the buying process before the first meeting with a representative. (Accenture)
Not having your sales and marketing team aligned on what internally is defined as MQL vs. SQL is a disaster waiting to happen that can have negative consequences on revenue growth in 2021.
Different Type Of Leads
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) refers to a lead that is more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence and is usually conveyed by closed-loop reporting. These are customers who have visited your website but not yet made a purchase. Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) means that the sales team has qualified this lead as a potential customer. Conversely, effective SQL marketing requires a deeper level of sales and marketing alignment, given that the core objective is pipeline velocity from the middle through bottom of the funnel.
The SQL is in the buying cycle, while the MQL is not ready for that buying stage just yet. In other words, marketing qualified leads are more than just regular, non-qualified ones, but aren't ready for the sales process yet. SQLs are targeted as a potential customer, much more closer to the finishing offers.
If your marketing and sales teams aren't working together, they are working against each other. Knowing when to hand leads off from marketing to sales is vital to sustainable sales qualified leads being generated each month. Sales and marketing alignment is the holy grail when it comes to measurable and scalable growth.
1. What is a marketing qualified lead exactly?
The criteria for what constitutes an MQL differs from company to company. MQLs match your particular buyer personas and industries. You don't want to target everyone. That will be a complete waste of resources, resulting in poor and random conversions.
If you have mapped content to each stage of your sales funnel, then you can leverage mql vs sql HubSpot sales reporting to get clear insights into which persona has the higher conversion rates.
If you haven't created your buyer personas yet, you need to get that done right away. Your entire marketing and sales process depends on having great information from specific buyer personas.
Creating content or trying to make sales to people that you don't know anything about is more difficult than making sales to people when you understand their motivations.
However, once you spend time on creating your ideal buyer persona, the whole marketing/sales experience will become much more smooth. You'll be able to judge each step of the process by applying it to your buyer persona, making sure every step of the way is leading towards a positive experience and closer to a sale.
2. Focus On Properly Converting
By clearly defining protocol for internally MQL to SQL handoff will significantly increase highly qualified leads to be passed onto your sales teams, which will help improve your lead to conversion rates.
57% of B2B marketers reported their biggest challenge is getting targeted prospects to engage.
Leads that fail to convert into sales qualified leads (SQL's) is an indicator that your persona-driven content at the top of your funnel is not speaking to the readers' pain points. This is the writing on the wall telling your marketing team that top of the funnel content needs to be refined in order to draw MQL's down into the middle of your sales funnel.
It Takes Two To Tango
This is where sales and marketing alignment comes into play. High quality leads that get handed off to your sales teams are great, but ultimately the way your sales team operates leverage inbound selling methodologies and best practices will affect how many sales qualified leads turn into actual paying customers.
Continue reading to learn five impactful rules for handing leads off to sales. Learn when your leads progress from marketing qualified leads to high quality sales qualified leads. Having internally agreed upon sales playbook in place for when to hand off leads to sales will decrease uncertainty in your marketing team and allow them to do their job effectively.
Rules for an Effective Lead Hand-off Process
1. Don't Always Hand Leads Off to Sales Immediately
If you have a trigger happy marketing team, often times your MQL scoring is fluffed up to give marketing teams ability to convert more MQL's into SQL's t padding their performance. This becomes more evident when your company is funneling too many MQL's over to sales reps too soon. Ideally highly qualified leads are more than half way through tier buyer's journey prior to being passed to sales reps One of the sure signs you shouldn't hand your leads off to sales right away is if there is a substantial cash or time investment.
If people know they have to commit a large amount of time or money for their purchase, they often take more time to make a decision.
Before sending leads to sales reps, they should be appropriately vetted based on effective lead scoring criteria.
You need to figure out why they filled out the form, what state of mind they are in, what outcomes they are seeking, and what stage in the buying process they are.
There are several MQL lead scoring qualifications to consider including demographics, online behavior data, company information, market cap, funding, content engagement, among other criteria. These are some more general criteria that apply to most businesses, but don't be afraid to niche it down for your particular sales needs. Zeroing in on quality leads will significantly improve conversions.
Most top-tier marketing softwares will help you leverage lead scoring best practices help you with many parts of the customer journey, and lead scoring is one of them.
That doesn't mean every lead marked as "ready" is going to be a closed sale, but the numbers will give you a reasonable estimate that you should pay attention to that person, and let your sales team members decide if they should send the lead to sales.
If you don't know this pertinent information, you are wasting your sales team's precious time trying to sell leads that just aren't there yet.
On the other hand, if they spend too much time in the marketing funnel, they might lose interest, which will lead to lost sales. That will mean your marketing department will waste money, and your campaign will be less effective.
The sweet spot is to send them to sales when their interest is about to peak. They will be anxious to hear the value proposition, which will make the process smooth, and your conversion rates very high.
Of course, some leads are immediately ready to hear the offer. If you hear from a lead that is the personification of your ideal customer, go for it, and send it directly to your sales team. There is no need to waste their time and your resources with marketing, as it can only make you look sleazy and unprofessional.
2. Prune Low Quality MQL's
If leads submit a demo request or free assessment on your sales-ready website and you never hear from them again, you shouldn't waste time enrolling them into some content drip workflow. If you are only marketing to them to check a box in hopes that they will someday become interested in the future, you are wasting your resources and efforts are not aligning with MQL to SQL handoff procedures.
There are always going to be those leads that have no intention in turning into customers, only wanting to get the "freebie." They often use fake contact information and temporary/spam email addresses. Trying to convert them will only be a waste of your efforts. These leads are often referred to as "suspects" as they are on your site for many different reasons, and buying is certainly not one of them.
Conversely, "prospects," on the other hand, have a genuine interest and are looking to get information about you, your company, products, and services. If you convince them, they will talk to you, as they have the right intent.
Given that buyers these days get more than halfway through the buyer's journey before they ever speak to a sales rep. As a result, they were researching your company and your competitors and your content. However, your content was not compelling enough to make their shortlist of companies being vetted to partner with.
Sometimes people are simply not qualified to be in your lead nurturing campaign, and that is a good thing. Think about it, you do not want your sales team wasting time on dead leads that are not a good fit. But, all this requires careful consideration and constant tracking, which is why the whole MQL vs SQL topic is so exciting.
3. Not All MQLs Should Go to Sales
Once you've figured out which leads are MQLs, it isn't time to send them over to sales just yet. When you know leads are MQLs; it is time for your marketing team to go to work. The marketing team needs to put these leads through your company's lead nurturing system.
Types of marketing qualified lead actions:
- Downloading trial software or gated content offer
- Using software or assessment demos
- Filling out online lead generation forms
- Submitting an email address for a newsletter or mailing list
- Favoriting, sharing or adding items to a wishlist
- Adding products to the shopping cart
- Repeating site visits or spending a lot of time on your site
- Clicking paid ads to reach your site or landing page
- Contacting you to request more information
Make sure your lead nurturing system is following best practices to get the best results and turn more leads into SQL leads. Sending your MQLs high-quality content like white papers, webinars, and relevant blog posts will build trust and educate them on the benefits of your company. When you are sending this content, keep the buyer's journey in mind as well as the particular person you are marketing to.
It's important to realize that although the end goal is to make a sale, your leads should not be reminded about your services all the time. Make genuinely helpful content that will solve their problems. Make it in-depth, showing the processes step by step, giving them valuable and actionable information to help them make an informed decision
There's no need to mention in every second sentence how your company is the best there is when it comes to solving that type of problems. The point is to show that you care about your potential customers, but also to show that you know what you're talking about, which will position you as the expert. Later, when they realize they could use professional help, you will be the first that comes to their mind.
4. Not All SQLs Will Turn Into Sales
When it comes time to make a sales call to an SQL, use this call to qualify or disqualify the lead. It would help if you had precise lead scoring criteria about what SQLs are. If you let unqualified leads make it into the sales process, you are doing your sales team and your company a disservice.
Most sales teams know about the BANT qualifying system – checking to see if leads have the budget, authority, needs, and timeline to go into the sales process. While BANT has served sales teams well, there is more your company needs to look at before giving these leads the green light.
Using BANT from IBM and GPCT from HubSpot together will help you get the results you want. GPCT stands for Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline. Don't put leads into your CRM if they aren't going to turn into opportunities.
Still, no matter how good the tactics and the sales strategy are, some leads that got all the way through are still going to be "suspects." Others will still need more marketing, and you will need to send them demos/freebies, and return them back into the funnel.
However, that doesn't mean your whole B2B marketing strategy is a failure. Its entire purpose is to optimize conversions, making sure the least amount of "suspects" gets to your sales personnel.
5. Retention Is Harder Than Conversion
Congratulations on your new customer but now it is time to send them back to marketing. When there is a healthy marketing relationship between marketing and sales, you will get the best results. Marketing needs feedback from sales after closing the customer.
Measuring conversion rates and seeing what SQLs turned into customers allows you to improve your buyer personas. You may notice marketing trends in the information that will allow you to change the persona to be even more effective and helpful to the marketing and sales processes.
Your customers still need to be nurtured, which is why you send them back to marketing. You should have a plan to continue providing value to your customers. It would help if you created special offers for your customers, so they feel like your client engagement playbook makes them feel delighted and improves the likelihood that they will refer other customers to you over time.
Whether it is customer events, discounts, in-depth information, or some other special offer, they will appreciate that you appreciate them.
What makes sending customers back to marketing incredibly fruitful is the fact that you already gained their trust. After all, they already bought from you, and if you have quality products/services, they will be more than likely to hear what else you have to offer. Sending them discount codes for special events will only tighten this bond even further, turning them in a lifelong fan of your brand, and not just a random customer.
Optimizing Your Marketing and Sales Teams
The more information you have on your current marketing and sales systems, the easier it will be to optimize them. Gathering data and analyzing it should be an essential part of your schedule. Scheduling when you will analyze your data will make sure that it takes place correctly. If traditional approaches to your sales operations are not hitting your growth goals, it makes sense to work with an inbound sales agency.
Don't assume that every MQL will turn into an SQL. Even if they are indicating interest, you can't assume a lead will always proceed down the sales funnel to customer status. If a lead is clearly not ready to make a purchase and you approach them as if they are, you will likely scare the lead away entirely.
How can you know for sure if you are sending leads to sales too early, or too late? You can't know, this is all done based on experience. But, it is a good idea to opt for a less aggressive approach at first, until you feel things out. Then, if you notice that your marketing/sales tactics are ineffective, you can turn up the dial a bit and sharpen those sales swords. But it is better to be more cautious at first, as you don't want to scare people away, as most are tired of sleazy salesman calls.
Make It Official
It is important to create a real document that will contain all of the rules that your marketing and sales teams should follow. SLA or service -level agreement is this document that clearly defines the criteria. In this case, it will describe the stages in which your marketing strategy should push the lead to your sales team through a frictionless MQL to SQL handoff process.
However, making it official doesn't mean it should be set in stone. You should hold meetings with your marketing and sales teams, separately and together, discussing how you can improve the SLA. Worlds of marketing and sales frequently change, especially in the digital marketing era, with new inbound sales strategies and technologies launching every year. With all that, customers are becoming educated, and it is imperative not to get stale.
Of course, don't change things for the sake of changing things, but always be on a lookout, critically rethinking and looking to improve the whole MQL to SQL conversion experience. Having the meetings once per month is probably the best approach, as it will give you enough time to see if the change of tactics worked.
And trust your employees. Yes, playing by the book is generally speaking the right approach. But if you have an experienced marketing and sales teams, sometimes they will make better decisions acting upon instinct, which will lead to closed sales and forming bonds with customers. They should respect the rules, as they give a solid foundation, but thinking outside the box is beneficial, and make sure your teams are aware of that.
Every Company Has Its Own Playbook
Running a marketing campaign and converting leads requires careful planning and unique strategies. Sure, you are probably not going to reinvent the wheel and come up with whole new ideas from scratch. But, be extra careful not to go completely the other way, and blindly applying the marketing strategy of some other company, no matter how successful. Here, cookie-cutter solutions won't work, at least if you want to see measurable increases in your lead to conversion rates and increased velocity through your sales funnel
As you can see, recognizing the importance and the right time to handoff leads from marketing to sales teams is vital. Can you make sales without all of this? Sure, but your results will be random, and you will leave a considerable amount of profits on the table. Doing it right will tremendously influence the effectiveness of your MQL to SQL conversion and handoff process, and will make a significant difference in your earnings.
But, setting up the whole process without professional help might be challenging. Until you get it right, you are losing potential customers, or you are wasting money on ineffective B2B marketing. If that is the case, and you can't figure things out within your team, you will need to hire experts.