MQLs Vs. SQLs: What's The Difference

Studies show that 68% of B2B marketers struggle with generating quality leads. And lead generation strategies are successful for only 13% of marketers in the space.

All in all, only a mere 5% to 10% of B2B leads actually turn into paying customers. So what can be done to boost these numbers?

First, industrial marketers must understand that not all leads are created equal — and the industrial buyer's journey is actually pretty complicated. 

The B2B Buyer's Journey Is Complex

Take a look at the industrial buyer’s journey below. This is a simplified version of the complex B2B buyer behavior that buyers go through when sourcing new products and suppliers, and it is important to keep in mind when it comes to managing your leads. That's because, people in the early stages of the journey have very different goals, and very different expectations, than those further along in the process — but each step is an opportunity for you to meet their needs.

The Industrial Buying Process

Think about when you go grocery shopping. When you first step foot in the store, you wouldn't want a cashier to run up to and ask if you are ready to check out — that just wouldn't make sense! In the same sense, it would pretty annoying for an employee to let you know about a particular sale or promotion after you've already taken all your items out of the cart and loaded them onto the conveyor belt. Context and timing are crucial. 

The same concept holds true with your B2B buyers. You need to align how you treat each contact with their specific needs and expectations — more on that in our free research study, How To Meet The Needs Of Your Buyers. The industrial buyer's journey is the basis of the B2B marketing funnel, and there are five different stages of the funnel that you should be familiar with:

  • Subscribers: These are the least engaged individuals. At this stage, it’s likely someone in the prospective company is simply looking for regular content updates about a particular topic and has signed up to receive newsletters and other materials.
  • Leads: Now the trail gets warmer. Leads get on your email list with a specific intention. That intention may be to submit a form and read an eBook or a checklist. Leads indicate strong need awareness. Research is likely underway to find a solution for their specific problem.
  • Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs): These are leads who fit your ideal customer profile and look like a promising potential customer on paper. MQLs correspond to the Evaluation Stage of the buyer’s journey. They are solution-aware and on their way to becoming product-aware.
  • Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs): SQLs are music to your sales teams' ears. In a B2B setting, SQLs are the people with authority. They are less likely to disappear midway through a sales negotiation — if you provide them with valuable content that makes you stand out against competitors.
  • Opportunities: Once SQLs are ready for serious negotiations, they are termed Opportunities. Opportunities land squarely in the Purchase Stage and establish regular contact with your sales personnel.

A lot goes into being a buyer. Along the way, they encounter challenges and goals — each one an opportunity for you to make their lives easier. Understanding where each of these buyers are in their buying journey will help you provide the right type of content at each stage, keeping you top-of-mind and more likely to win their business. 

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Here’s an overview of how MQLs and SQLs differ.

MQLs are people with some authority in the business you're looking to partner with — at first glance, they look promising to close as a sale. MQLs become SQLs when all important stakeholders are involved with your conversations. People who actually sign off on the deals are present. They are invested in your proposed products and services and may also be active buyers who have worked with you before.

When buyers are downloading an eBook or signing up for a webinar, they are typically in the Research Stage of the buying journey. They are still a MQL because they are still determining which products to consider. Send them content that is educational yet easy to consume. For example, if you offer CNC machining services, now is the time to talk about why CNC is the ideal approach.

These MQLs transition to a SQL when they request a custom quote or a demo. They are typically at the Evaluation Stage where they have created a shortlist of potential partners based off of their prioritized criteria (like certifications, industries served, and how sustainable you are.)

Learn the 26 aspects buyers critique you on in the guide, How To Make The Industrial Buyer's Shortlist.

SQLs in the later stages of the buying journey are ready to talk to your sales team and determine an ideal product and budget fit. This presents an opportunity for you to transition your content marketing from educational to providing value about why the buyer should choose you over competitors. How are you different and how can you solve their problems now and in the long-term? For example, if you offer CNC machining services, now is the time to go over the specs of your machines and your customer service stats.

A small, growing business with a limited number of leads can distinguish between MQLs and SQLs by keeping track of their actions in a spreadsheet. But this approach is inefficient the faster you grow and the more you tap into new industries. Invest in technology and digital tools (like these!) to keep your internal systems organized and the leads flowing — and nurtured!

Related Resource: How To Convert Website Traffic To Leads

B2B buying habits change almost daily and they will continue to shift sales and marketing trends. It's important to 

Marketing As A Service

Timing Is Everything To Nurture MQLs to SQLs

If you pull the trigger too early and have your reps contact prospects who are merely browsing for information, you run the risk of putting them off. However, if you let hot SQLs idle for too long, they might choose to go with your competitors.

This is where lead scoring and marketing automation come into play. Through lead scoring, you can assign "points" to different actions (e.g., visiting a page, downloading an eBook, or requesting a demonstration). A marketing automation tool, like HubSpot, lets you keep tabs on these actions for all of the contacts in your database. When a prospect amasses a certain amount of points, they move from subscriber to lead, then from lead to MQL, from MQL to SQL, and finally from SQL to opportunity. 

As they cross these different points thresholds, the marketing automation platform will trigger nurturing emails for MQLS, or notify account executives to initiate conversations with SQLs. Hubspot also lets you know which assets, pages, and offers are performing best and to which prospects — so you can tailor your campaigns accordingly, rather than just playing a guessing game. 

Ready To Align Your Sales And Marketing?

Understanding the difference between MQLs and SQLs can help you track ROI, align your marketing and sales teams, and ensure that your prospects are receiving communications and messages that are right for them. If you are interested in learning more about transforming your sales and marketing to more effectively reach and engage buyers, reach out to our team today. We'll help fill your pipeline with more qualified leads — CJ Winter's sales increased by 60% in just one year after partnering with our industrial marketing experts. 

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