A sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospective customer that has been researched and vetted -- first by an organization's marketing department and then by its sales team – and is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process. An SQL has displayed intent to buy a company's products and has met an organization's lead qualification criteria that determine whether a buyer is a right fit. The label is applied to a prospect that has gone past the engagement stage and is ready to be pursued for conversion into a full-fledged customer.
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What constitutes an SQL varies among and even within companies, marketing and sales teams often don't agree on how to qualify leads. Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) are often identified by the marketing department at the start of the process when the company wants to foster interest in its products. MQLs are typically passed on to sales teams once they have shown intent to buy, thus becoming SQLs.
An SQL is determined by the company's lead management process, which is often indicated by which actions a prospect takes that indicate intention to buy. Companies employ a lead scoring process to target serious buyers, which is designed to save salespeople time and expedite quota attainment. Ideally, sales and marketing teams will collaborate to determine which qualities and actions a prospect must take in order to advance to the next stage of the process. Many lead quality issues originate when marketing sends off leads to sales that have no intention of buying, slowing the sales process down.
The difference between MQLs and SQLs is readiness to buy. Companies assign different priority to various prospect actions, such as website activity or responses to marketing materials. Companies will place an importance on each action during the lead-scoring process to differentiate between a customer who has a passing interest in a product and one who is serious about buying. Repeat visitors to a company's website hold more weight than a first-time visitor, for example, and certain actions, such as downloading a whitepaper or filling out a form, could move a prospect closer to being deemed an SQL.
Demographics are an important factor in the makeup of an SQL as companies aim to use techniques such as customer profiling to determine whether a lead is ready for the sales department. Information such as a lead's industry, company size and job role are critical to determining how interested and serious they are in purchasing a company's products. As the prospect moves closer to being labeled an SQL, information such as pain points or budget become relevant to the salesperson before he directly contacts the prospect.