What’s wrong with MQL and SQL?!

I was recently talking to a colleague about sales and marketing alignment when the question arose:

Why do we have Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified Leads?

This stopped the conversation, dead. The perceived wisdom is that having MQL and SQL is ‘best practice’. Somehow marketing has fallen into the trap of thinking that sales and marketing will work better together if they have a documented transactional relationship. Doh!

Transactional relationships are fine for external widget purchasing but don’t belong within an organisation. I’m not suggesting that a function such as sales or marketing shouldn’t have objective measures of performance, just that the lead generation process should progressively qualify at each step, from lead to prospect to opportunity, based on the value of the business. A BQL?

What’s the problem?

For the last few years ‘sales and marketing alignment’ has been a hot topic, with lots of experienced people wading in with their views on how the problem should be overcome and the traditional friction between the two functions removed. And then we end up with S&M QLs.


There are multiple definitions of MQL and SQL on the web but let’s just look a one:

Marketing Qualified Lead: Marketing Qualified Leads, commonly known as MQLs, are those people who have raised their hands (metaphorically speaking) and identified themselves as more deeply engaged, sales-ready contacts than your usual leads, but who have not yet become fully fledged opportunities. Ideally, you should only allow certain, designated forms to trigger the promotion of a lead to the MQL stage, specifically those that gate bottom of the funnel offers like demo requests, buying guides, and other sales-ready calls to action.

Sales Qualified Lead: Sales Qualified Leads are those that your sales team has accepted as worthy of direct sales follow up. Using this stage will help your sales and marketing teams stay firmly on the same page in terms of the quality and volume of leads that you are handing over to your sales team.

The key words here are ‘accepted’, ‘worthy’ and ‘hand over’…

What’s wrong with this? Well, its reminds me of my first job working at an international automotive components manufacturer. The relationship with our customers at that time was, to put it mildly, transactional. A truckload of components would be sent to an auto manufacturer. They would pull off a small sample, and if one item didn’t perform to specification they would send the whole truckload back. Thankfully that industry’s moved on. Clearly, that is not the relationship we want for sales and marketing.

What’s the solution?

Word Cloud MQL and SQL

It’s wrong to suggest there is a simple remedy, or that using MQL and SQL is completely bad practice. It’s not and it’s probably better than most ‘over the wall’ approaches. But it does support an unhealthy split between sales and marketing.

Here’re five suggestions that may improve the situation:

1 Qualify, qualify, qualify

Rather than just have a simple, rigid criterion for passing leads to Sales, ensure your qualification criteria is meaningful and regularly updated. It should be documented and include a mix of objective and subjective measures. Lead scoring may help, but it may also hide some subtle buying indicators.

2 Talk

Get close to sales, gather feedback from customer interactions, and feed this back into the lead generation process. This may be as subtle as adjusting the customer messaging, for example, ‘this requires a significant investment’ or as blunt as ‘don’t target existing XYZ users’. The interaction will help Marketing’s ROI and ensure Sales feel engaged with the process.

3 Consider Marketing as integral to the sales process

Rather than marketing passing leads to sales, think of marketing as supporting the ‘baton’ as long as possible within the sales cycle. Consider the lead in the context of the buying cycle. Decide whether it’s far enough through to commit valuable sales resources, or still capable of being nurtured solely by marketing.

4 Minimise the number of leads

As this article points out “Inquiries and leads are not synonymous.” One of the traps that Marketing falls into, and then tries to solve with MQL/SQL, is generating too many inquiries and classing them as leads. The aim of marketing should be to develop the minimum number of real leads. I know that’s a) difficult and b) goes against the grain, but it is the solution. We should use the marketing tools of segmentation, targeting and messaging to minimise the number, and maximise the quality, of ‘leads’.

5 Sales Enablement

Develop a Sales Enablement programme. This may appear a long way from lead generation, but the process of putting together the programme, and the required content, helps to clarify the proportion and the customer profile. It allows marketing to understand what a good lead looks like, and the information that helps Sales convert a lead to a sale.

Finally, …

If you can, get rid of MQL/SQL and try to find a ‘Business Qualified Lead’ (BQL) formula that gets refined as leads move through the sales cycle (or get rejected).

If you retain MQL and SQL, I’d avoid the ‘rule of thumb’ ratios as suggested in this article. This is just going to negate any improvements that you put into marketing – just think about it, you should be aiming for 1:1!