What Makes the Ultimate Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?


Written by Colby Renton

August 1, 2018

Welcome back to our blog series on lead management. In the overview of a successful lead management process, we saw a general, big picture overview of the seven key stages that make up the lead management process.

Here, we’re going to dive deeper into the first of those key stages: reaching an agreement on the definition of a qualified lead that can become a sales-qualified lead (SQL).

Stage 1: Reach agreement on the definition of a qualified lead or sales ready lead

A clearly-defined lead definition ensures that only high-quality leads are passed from Marketing to Sales.

All too often, however, Marketing is working with one definition while Sales has a completely different definition. It’s important for both to come to an agreement on what a sales ready lead is so that Marketing will pass only usable leads to Sales, which helps Sales as they don’t have to filter through junk to get to what they should be acting upon.

The value is in alignment. This value can’t be gained without doing the hard work of coming together in the same room and hashing out what is and is not a sales ready lead, which is defined by demographic and behavioral attributes.

A qualified lead is someone who demonstrates a pre-determined fit and buying readiness based on measurable demographic and behavioral attributes that Sales and Marketing agree on.

Again, it’s the agreement between Marketing and Sales that is important here!

Examples of sales ready lead definitions include the following:



Contact name Demonstrate known interest or need
Serviceable address Web page visits (frequency, high value key pages)
Phone number High value form fills (free quote)
Email address Content form fills
Role (owner, influencer) Cart abandonment
New logo or existing customer Attending events (local)
Employee size (flagged SMB) Email/Outbound engagement
Industry Inbound engagement

Behavioral examples: Inbound

Digital body language should be the foundation of your definition of a sales ready lead. Take note of how your customers behave online, from website visits and content downloads to searches performed, email responses and social interactions.

For example, behavior in inbound might include a prospect or a current client visiting your website. An action you might take would be to enroll them in a nurture campaign, but you would not pass them on to Sales just yet.

If, however, that prospect/client were to visit your website multiple times in one week and you note that they visit the same solution pages each time, you would likely do the following:

  1. Incrementally increase their lead score.
  2. Keep them in the same nurture campaign.
  3. Alternatively, enroll them in a specific (new) nurture campaign on a related topic – message to that persona, and that location in the buying cycle.
  4. If this is a key account, alert Sales of the activity.
  5. Send as an MQL to Sales.

Behavioral examples: Outbound

Let’s look at behavioral examples in outbound campaigns. When prospects open an email or click on links Marketing sends them, we would not automatically send them to Sales as sales ready leads. Instead, Marketing would simply increment their lead score and switch them to an accelerated nurturing campaign.

If a prospect was to download an asset, however, especially if they were to download multiple assets, Marketing should offer them related content and send them to Sales as an MQL. The same would be true for those prospects who attend live or virtual events and complete forms.

Creating the sales-ready lead definition

So how does a company create this unified definition? Sales and Marketing must come together in the same room together and discuss it.

Marketing can facilitate the discussion on the value of common lead definitions and provide proof points and value statements as well as examples of digital body language and demographics. In return, Sales can provide Marketing with information about what they are trying to sell and how they are trying to sell it.

Working together, Sales and Marketing can develop and validate the definition (or definitions) of a sales ready lead, which will ultimately lead to greater SQLs as sales focuses their efforts on the highest-quality leads.

These definitions should be reviewed quarterly and updated with key stakeholders as needed. They should be baked into the technology CRM, and it should be ensured they are continuously used by all stakeholders.

Barriers and Accelerators

There are several barriers to accomplishing these goals. Getting Sales and Marketing to work together in the same room can be difficult, not to mention getting Sales and Marketing to agree on behavioral data that matters. Whether or not Marketing can capture the behavioral/demographic data that Sales wants might also be difficult.

In addition, implementing the new sales ready lead definition with Sales and Marketing will be challenging. Both Sales and Marketing will need to be educated on what the new definition of a lead is and what they are doing with it. There will be differences of opinion between different marketing stakeholders, and some stakeholders won’t hold people accountable for doing something with a qualified lead.

To overcome these barriers, there are accelerators:

  • A desire and a strong business case for change (to see Marketing contribute to the Sales pipeline).
  • Executive support from Marketing to focus on the quality of sales ready leads over quantity.
  • Executive support from Sales to act on qualified leads that are passed over from Marketing.

As long as there’s agreement between Sales and Marketing on the new definition of a sales ready lead, and as long as executives hold people accountable for new behaviors, you will achieve success and drive more SQLs.

Next, we discuss stage two of lead management: seeking agreement on labels and definitions of customer acquisition/retention statuses.

You may also like: Our resource hub to learn more about lead management or learning how our lead management consulting can bolster your revenue!

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