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What's the Difference Between a Marketing Qualified Lead or Sales Qualified Lead?

3 mins read

An MQL is someone who is engaged with your team’s marketing efforts but isn’t ready to speak to a sales rep. An SQL, on the other hand, is someone who has indicated through their actions that they are ready for some sales attention.

See the main difference? An SQL is ready to make a sales decision while an MQL is not. Ready to learn more? This post will explore the key differences and how you should go about communicating with the two categories of leads.


MQL vs SQL: What are the Differences?

As we mentioned earlier, an MQL is someone who’s engaging with your marketing team’s efforts. They’re further down the Buyer’s Journey than subscribers (people who know of your business and have subscribed to hear more from you) and leads (people who have shown even more sales readiness e.g. downloaded your eBook).

But, they’re not quite ready to talk to your sales team.

In contrast, an SQL is somebody who has, through their actions, shown a clear interest and intent to buy one of your products. For example, they might have submitted a question via a form, querying about one of your products/services.

Because they’ve gone through the engagement stage of the process and is ready to be pursued into closing the sale, it’s time to convert them into a fully-fledged customer.

How to Talk to MQLs

The main aim of the game when talking to MQLs is to hopefully try and convert them into SQLs before handing over to your sales department. Each lead is different so will need different lead nurturing tactics. But, there are a few generic ways that can apply.

Drip Campaigns

Drip campaigns are useful for providing MQLs with further information that may encourage them further towards a buying decision. Drip campaigns are usually most effective when used in conjunction with tracking a lead’s engagement and making smarter decisions based on your findings.

Smart Content

Smart content and CTAs are a good way to target your MQLs. This is a good way of pinpointing your different personas’ needs and tugging on their pain points in hope that they’ll engage with the content.

Tip: Smart content changes based on who is looking at it, so if you have the capability, why not try and rotate CTAs as the lead works their way down the Buyer’s Journey? There’s no point in showing them a CTA for an eBook they’ve already downloaded, is there?


With MQLs, you can’t jump in with two feet straight away and presume that they’re automatically going to become an SQL. Most leads will be at a different stage of the Buyer’s Journey when they come across your content, so you’ve got to bear this in mind. Some leads might not be ready for a drip campaign, so targeting them in more traditional ways like newsletters may be more appropriate.

The beauty of newsletters is that you can split the content up by persona. Just as people are at different stages, people also stay engaged with your business in different ways too. Monthly and quarterly newsletters can still be a useful way of engaging with your leads if they’re not quite ready to be targeted with a drip campaign yet.  

How to Talk to SQLs

Like MQLs, each SQL is different and needs to be nurtured into making a purchase in different ways. Not only does the lead’s needs make a difference in how they’re spoken to at this stage, but it also depends on how the client wants to go about it too.

SQLs will usually indicate that they’re ready for a direct follow-up.

For example, they’ve filled in a submission form or requested a call back. Here, you can see that they’re clearly more interested so you can be more direct and more salesy. Whereas, with an MQL, you don’t want to lay it on too thick and potentially put them off by bombarding them.

At this stage, it’s important to scope for conversion. You’ll be able to tell the difference between an opportunity and a fully fledged customer after this point too.

Why is it Important to Know the Difference?

Understanding that there is a clear difference between MQLs and SQLs helps you place where your leads fall into the various categories. Understanding this criteria is crucial and could be the difference between making or losing a sale.

If you place the wrong customer in the wrong category, they’re automatically being sent to a wrong part of the sales funnel. This could end up derailing the sale as you’re approaching the potential customer in the completely wrong fashion.

For example, connecting with a prospect too early means sales might go in with all guns blazing and scare the fledgeling customer off.

On the contrary, if you act too late, it might lead to missed opportunities. By the time that the sales team try and act upon the potential lead, they may have made a decision to go with a competitor or have changed their mind about the whole situation.

Find Out More About Sales Enablement

The nurturing of MQLs and SQLs boils down to sales enablement, an approach that can be incredibly beneficial to your business, if done effectively. It’s essentially something that provides sales teams with enough material to successfully close deals.

Want to learn more about it, from the ins and outs to how to pull it off? Download our free comprehensive guide below. We’ll be covering everything from sales automation and lead scoring to creating SLAs between your sales and marketing departments.