Quality vs. Quantity is a never-ending conversation in the marketing world. Businesses don’t want to pay for half-interested leads, who they feel were ‘never’ going to close. In an ideal situation, they would only be dealing with leads primed and ready to buy, who are able to afford for the services, and pass any additional qualifiers to purchase. They have the right insurance, credit score, legal case details, BMI, or whatever else is needed.

There’s good news: with digital ads, that’s achievable (and reliably so). However, depending on the niche, you can end up with a new problem: all of the leads are a perfect fit, but they are few and far between. There’s not enough of a lead flow! Instead of a steady stream, you have a slow drip.

At this point, many business owners feel their marketing efforts “just aren’t worth it.” They throw their hands up in the air, pause their ads, and give up.

While marketing needs to be results-oriented, it’s not your sales team.

To make matters more convoluted, both marketing and sales qualify leads differently. There is no standardized format for gauging interest in prospects.

There are both advantages and disadvantages, which is why teams usually include a mixture of both.

MQL vs. SQL

There’s a difference between marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL). Each department will have their own way of designating lead quality.

Each lead is in a difference place of the sales funnel.

Marketing qualified leads have a degree of interest in your product or service. By creating initial “hoops” for your prospects to jump through, you can qualify them as likely purchasers.

These hoops involve doing something which shows they have demonstratable interest in purchasing.

Marketing Qualified Leads

MQL’s are created by creating a value-added offer to your prospects which only they would want. For example, they can be presented with an offer for an e-book about your services.

One mistake business owners can make is to hold a contest for a generic item, like an iPad. This can easily attract a large response, however there is no established interest in your business offering. Your leads can all be “dead,” since they’re Apple fans with no need for your services.

Uninterested parties are not going to click on an ad for the e-book, and they’re definitely not going to sign up with their email address to receive it.  Free versions of these qualifying offers are called lead magnets, because they attract members of the audience group to your product or service.

Some companies will take this a step further. They use lead products, or lesser-value items requiring a purchase, to verify the customer is willing to pay for this information. This is one extra degree of lead qualification.

Examples of lead products could be one-time seminars, books, or a lower-ticket service offering. If you’re a pest control company, for example, your primary product is likely a packaged service – routine spraying for insects during big seasons, such as tick spraying during the summer. Lawns have to be sprayed more than once to keep things in order.

Your lead product might then be a small number of limited sprays, before the season really kicks into high gear. That way, your customer can see the benefit of the service, and may reach out for an extended package when they’re aware they need it the most.

Accountants, on the other hand, may be looking for regular clients in a specific industry or income bracket. By incorporating key phrases into their marketing efforts, they can guarantee the responding parties fit this description. An e-book or “do it yourself” guide to taxes for small business owners may be a suitable option. You can get even more specific, creating a few guides for particular businesses and the key nuances in their tax filing.

What this accomplishes is twofold – those who do not want to hire someone use the information to complete their taxes alone, and those who would rather have someone else do it are now aware you are an expert for their needs. The natural conclusion is them asking, “can you do it for me?”

Many marketers refer to this process as eliciting a “hand raise.” You are essentially asking a group of people, “who here is a small business owner and needs help on their taxes?” That’s not every person on the street, or driving past a billboard. That’s a specific audience you need to establish who would realistically consider your offer.

Your lead magnets and lead products allow you to collect data on your users, and shepherd them through the buyer education process. The more time you spend nurturing these leads, the more you can prime them to be ready to purchase before they ever speak to a sales representative.

One way this is accomplished is through e-mail marketing. After collecting a user’s contact information, they are sent instructions or the digital content they signed up for. Next, they might be given some additional helpful content – Youtube links, frequently asked questions, or blog articles.

What most of the general audience doesn’t know is that marketers are able to track their response to this data. Email marketing portals such as Constant Contact, ActiveCampaign, and MailChimp allow you to see which links the user clicked on. They even allow you to trigger sequences based on this new information.

In our earlier example for pest control, we may know our target audience lives primarily in wealthier areas of Suffolk County. They might own a boat, vacation in the Hamptons, and be looking to spray their summer home for ticks before they arrive for the season.

By placing a link to a blog article or Youtube title with a title like “How Far in Advance Should I Spray to Be Safe?,” we can establish a further degree of interest of the customer. If we lay out a handful of potential concerns, seeing which concerns the prospect actually clicked on can tip off a salesperson later down the line on useful talking points. Instead of discovering this user is interested in spraying in advance, they can save time and impress the customer with their efficiency. It’s now possible to leverage this data and begin the conversation on the customer’s exact concern, instead of cycling through a couple and having to “temperature check” for a reaction.

If your business has diversified solutions for a few different “styles,” you may place your primary customers into several different “buckets.” Knowing which bucket this particular prospect belongs to ahead of time can be incredibly useful.

Many of these programs also allow for automated follow-up based on the users action. After this user in our example clicks on a link about spraying for ticks in advance, they can be tagged with metadata and receive a tailored followup sequence.

The next few emails can remind them that time is running out – if they’re planning to catch that fourth of July celebration, they probably want to have their tick spraying in full effect by June. We may want to encourage them to book even earlier, creating a sense of urgency by saying something like “we usually run out of appointments the first week of June.” It may be in the customer’s best interest to reach out in May. Perhaps the full package (rater than the smaller lead product) guarantees they will have a certain number of sprays before July. Sharing this information at the right time, to the customers who demonstrated this concern, could be the difference between action and inaction.

Each industry, and furthermore each company, has their own specifications for what qualifies a lead. Broadly speaking, most marketing leads will have to move through several “hoops” or phases of consideration to be deemed ready for the sales team.

Where “cold” leads are reached out to without any indication of interest, a “hot” lead may have proceeded through this entire series of emails and called the business.

The degree of interest can affect how the sales team wants to approach this call, which is why sharing this metadata can be so useful for the company as a whole.

Sales Qualified Leads

Whereas marketing and MQL’s designate degrees of interest, SQL’s are those ready to make a purchase now. They may have a couple of questions before making a commitment, but they’re in the position where they are “ready.”

A sales qualified lead wants to make sure they are making the right decision. They already want to make decision. Their deciding factors will come down to key detail they may want to ask about, pricing, and a general sense of trust with their choice. In many ways, the sales team’s role is simply to confirm the customer is correct in going with them over a competitor.

One common model for sales is the BANT system (budget, authority, needs, timeline). Can the customer afford the product or service? Does the customer have the authority to sign off on the purchase, or do they need to run it by a decision-maker above them? This particular challenge shows up quite often with B2B industries.

“Needs” is one step of the process the sales rep is poised to deal with most commonly. Qualified prospects will want to make sure every aspect of their problem is being solved by your offering. They may ask technical questions, need niche-specific support, or otherwise want to know that no stone is left unturned. Prospects finding out they needed a deluxe version later, or that they overpurchased and only needed the basic model, will quickly go sour and repeat business can be diminished.

Finally, there is timeline. If the customer has a problem they cannot stand a moment longer, and your team needs a few weeks to get them the solution, you might not be the best fit for that prospect.

Top of Funnel vs. Bottom of Funnel Leads

Sales Qualified Leads are “bottom of funnel” leads – they have buyer intent. That is to say, they are willing ready and able to make a purchase fairly soon.

Trying to close a lead who is at the “top of funnel,” or still dipping their toes in the water, is not likely going to result in a sale. Even worse – it’s likely to cost a potential sale, which could have been completed down the line though buyer education.

Prospects move through this phase when they’re given the right information, and when they fulfill the BANT criteria.

The goal is to align the sales and marketing teams. Marketing “sets them up,” and Sales “knocks them down.” However, one cannot complete the customer purchase cycle without the other.

There is a common misnomer where people tend to ask if they should lean towards MQL or SQL. The reality is, you need both to create revenue. SQLs are MQLs who have completed the cycle and are ready to take action.

In certain industries, impulse buys do happen – but the more specific or high-cost the product or service, the longer the research and consideration phases. That’s where marketing shines, delivering this information and helping the prospect reach a decision.

Marketing-qualified leads become sales-qualified leads at a certain point in the process. Moving sales and marketing teams together, as a unified construct, leads to the best results.

Incorporating ways to “temperature check” an audience, and move them from cold to warm, and from warm to hot, is pivotal in the success of any digital marketing campaign. Without this, your leads will never convert into purchases.