sales qualified lead sql

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By Jeremy Balius
13 September 2021

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs): Everything you need to know

Sales Qualified Leads take on unique meanings for different organisations.

Lead definitions and qualification criteria need to be agreed on by Marketing and Sales to clearly define the right leads. This is a crucial part of the lead management process to ensure leads progress through different buyer’s journey lead stages toward sales conversions. 

When it comes to sales, one of the relevant lead stages is Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).

What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?

Sales Qualified Leads are leads who have been qualified to a point where the Sales team can work with these leads directly by nurturing them into Opportunities, and then converting those Opportunities into sales. 

An SQL has already expressed interest or intent as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), and also meets additional lead qualification criteria relevant to Sales. 

Sales Qualified Leads represent an important stage of a lead lifecycle. The SQL stage generally comes after the MQL and before the Opportunity stage.

What is the purpose of an SQL?

The purpose of SQLs is to enable focus for your Sales team. 

Effective qualification based on criteria relevant to your business means that a Sales team can focus their attention on the right leads to determine the likelihood of converting to an Opportunity or likelihood to buy.

Correctly qualified SQLs should shorten the sales cycle in time. Tracking MQL > SQL > Opportunity conversions will deliver insight into target prospects, buyer personas, lead qualification criteria effectiveness. Understanding the quality of conversations Sales are having with SQLs delivers insights to Marketing to continuously improve prospecting and MQL qualification.

What an SQL is not

There are common misconceptions about SQLs. 

1. SQLs aren’t automatically sales

SQLs represent a lead stage in a funnel and do not guarantee sales outcomes automatically. It is the responsibility of the Sales team to identify Opportunities and nurture those Opportunities into Sales. Determining lead velocity between the stages can provide a clarity.

2. SQLs aren’t automatically Opportunities

An SQL is still considered a lead or prospect. While they are strong candidates for sales opportunities, it is the responsibility of the Sales team to uncover those opportunities. 

3. SQLs are not SQLs forever

Lead cannot stay in SQL stage indefinitely. Having displayed some form of interest or intent at MQL stage, and having met additional criteria to enter SQL stage, it is important to have a system in place for these leads to be interacted with by Sales in a timely manner. 

How to qualify MQLs to identify SQLs

The strongest indicator of an SQL is still their willingness or likelihood to buy. There has to be an identified set of qualities to know their purchase intent.

In qualifying leads, here are some attributes to help determine where the qualified leads are:

  • They have identified their needs. They perceive the business as a solution to their problem.
  • They are the decision-makers, that is, the ones in authority buy or commit. 
  • There is a clear sense of urgency to make a decision. 
  • They have established trust with the business.
  • They are invested in listening to an actual pitch from sales managers.

How to track Sales Qualified Leads using a CRM and lead scoring

Identifying lead activities is one thing, but tracking leads shouldn’t just end in MQLs. The most important strategic goal of a business in tracking SQLs is to amplify its marketing automation strategy, which increases lead nurturing and ultimately sales revenue. 

A CRM will unlock the ability to determine key metrics, such as lead conversion rates and lead velocity.

Mapping out a lead scoring strategy and assigning points depending on the leads’ stage can further narrow down the sales qualified leads and determine their readiness to buy. 

Using your marketing automation platform and CRM, prospects increase in lead score progressively as they take action on your website, interact with content and interact with your people. Setting lead scoring thresholds means that once a lead passes a score, they advance in lead lifecycle, for example transition from SQL to Opportunity.

How to define an SQL in your business 

SQLs, like any other lead, need a clear definition for the business that is agreed on by both Sales and Marketing teams.

Here are some ways to get started:  

  1. Set up a point system and criteria within your marketing automation platform. Assign specific points on the platform so that the contacts get automatically scored based on the criteria set through the level of interaction. 
  2. Set up an automation rule to push SQLs into automated lead nurture to scale up Sales team interactions. The automation rule can help avoid oversight of contacts to move toward the sales pipeline and reduces friction. 
  3. Consider the BANT (budget, authority, need, and time) technique to qualify sales leads. Ask questions using this framework to gauge their level of commitment to purchase. 
  4. Be open to changes — revisit the SQL definition regularly.

Don’t forget that it is crucial to complete multiple follow-ups with SQLs, with each interaction representing an opportunity for more information to be gathered or more qualification to occur. When nurturing leads, reaching out to them will help further segment the level of purchase intent of the SQLs. This discovery call aims to understand their interest about the products and provide a window to ask all the questions to know if they are sales lead material. 

Remember that SQLs are halfway through the sales funnel. They need to pass through the sales opportunity before they can be converted to an actual customer. 

How many MQLs do I need to find to uncover an SQL?

There isn’t an exact figure to determine the number of MQLs you need to find an SQL. Every business is unique and setting your targets is pertinent to reaching a definite number of SQLs. 

With the right strategies and tools in place that are relevant to your sales cycle, investing in identifying and tracking SQLs to achieve highly qualified leads, shorter sales cycles, and more closed deals is well worth the investment.

Want to discuss how SQLs can help your sales?

Contact us to discuss how we can help you take a strategic approach.

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