The sales department wants the marketing department to provide more leads. But they want them to be “better qualified”. The real question is, “qualified according to whom?”

We all know the cliché that a suspect is not a prospect. If someone fills out a form at a trade show it doesn’t mean they are interested in your products or services – just that they visited your stand or gave their contact details in order to pick up a trinket for the office.

The big issue is that Sales and Marketing are not looking in the same direction. Their view on what makes a qualified lead is different. And so it should be. Let’s take a look at qualified leads from both sides.

Marketing-qualified leads, or MQLs

One of the most important steps in qualifying a lead is the amount of good information you are able to gather about the potential customer and their needs.

Going back to our trade show example, we probably know that the person attended, but not much else. We do not know who they do business with, the size or shape of their business, their views on your company, or whether they accept that they have the problem that you solve.

This is not to suggest that trade shows or competitions can’t be used to generate leads – only that this tactic alone is not enough.

A Marketing-qualified lead has four characteristics:

  • They work for a business that meets your ideal customer profile (ICP) for this campaign, as agreed with Sales

  • They hold a role that has been identified for this campaign

  • They have confirmed they are troubled about the problem that you identified for this campaign

  • They are willing to meet with or hear from someone from your business.

Note how frequently we used the term ‘for this campaign’. You can have a standard definition for MQLs for your business, but it needs to be ‘tweaked’ for every campaign.

All Marketing-qualified leads should be promptly assigned to a salesperson to progress to the next step.

The next step should be slightly more proactive, seeking level of interest, offering a needs analysis or some other activity that will flush out the truth. You may need more than one approach.

Sales-qualified leads (SQLs)

Sales needs more information before it will agree that an opportunity exists. Remember that salespeople think in terms of what goes into the sales forecast, not what goes into the campaign review report.

A Sales-qualified lead:

  • Is an MQL that Sales believes has met the agreed MQL definition for that campaign

  • Is one where Sales has determined that this buyer has the wherewithal to proceed (budget and authority agreed with Marketing for that campaign)

  • Has been sent to the sales department and accepted by its lead-tracking system.

A final word

Watch the leakage between the Marketing-qualified lead and the Sales-qualified lead.

  • Leakage that is too high indicates a disconnect between Marketing and Sales. Either Marketing is qualifying poorly, or Sales is under-performing. Either way, there is a gap between what each of them expects and what is actually happening.

  • Leakage that is too low suggests that Marketing is not pushing hard enough, and might need to widen the net or execute more aggressively. If leakage is too low, the likelihood is that you might be constraining sales.

Make sure that you get Sales and Marketing to explicitly agree on the definition of a Marketing-qualified lead for this campaign and in this geography. What makes sense in one market may not work in another.

Sales and Marketing alignment is the key to success. If you don’t reach agreement before beginning execution, what chance do you have after the campaign is under way?

If Sales is expecting something different from what Marketing is able or is planning to deliver, you are doomed before you start.