What makes a lead sales qualified?

Having a clear definition within your organization for what makes a sales qualified lead is so important. Why?

  1. To create a clear definition and hand off point between sales and marketing in organizations with both
  2. Receiving salesy content from a brand too soon can kill the trust (looking at you, software companies who email me immediately after I read one blog)
  3. A clear funnel is the best starting point to create a robust lead nurturing system

Clear buyer stages are the key to happiness (and effectiveness) as a digital marketer. But how do we get to that aspirational level of consumer clarity? You’re about to find out!

What is a sales qualified lead? 

A sales qualified lead (or SQL as we call them in marketing jargon) is a person who’s been deemed qualified to be sold to and become a customer. They become qualified as SQLs by either being prospected from a sales person (we call these cold leads) or by signifying through their interactions with a brand that they are ready to buy.

To further understand the definition of an SQL (as the qualifications of them do differ organization to organization) let’s take a step back and look at the overall buyer lifecycle stages.

The buyer lifecycle

The buyer lifecycle journey (or buyer’s journey) can loosely be defined as when a person first realizes they have a problem to when they are actively solving that problem with your product or service, and then becoming a brand advocate. You might notice that the buyer lifecycle starts when the potential customer realizes they have a problem, NOT when they find your solution. This is also where your marketing efforts *should* start to come into play.

A buyer might go through the entire journey and not ever interact with you until they purchase (or don’t). Creating content or ads to address all stages of this buyer journey can help to move them from a person with a problem, to an active promoter of your brand.

All of these stages will differ brand to brand and person to person but by and large, all people go through similar stages in the buyer journey.

What are the buyer lifecycle stages?

I want to first make an important distinction between the buyer lifecycle journey and buyer lifecycle stages. The lifecycle stages as they relate to your contact record management system (or CRM as we call it) are what we are discussing in this article. The lifecycle stages often overlap with buyer journeys, but these stages are used to define where in the buyer's journey your individual contacts are.

The buyer journey is often broken into five stages:

Awareness (I have a problem)

“I’m hungry”

Consideration (What are some ways I can solve this problem?)

“What do I want to eat and what is easy to order in my area?”

Purchase (This product/service will solve my problem)

“I will buy this pizza”

Retention (I will return to this product or service for this problem going forward)

“This is good pizza and it came quickly”

Loyalty (I feel a personal affinity to this product/service)

“This pizza is delicious, the staff always remember my name, and I want to tell all my friends about it”

Lifecycles stages are broadly defined as:

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

These are contacts who have given you their information and agreed to accept helpful/interesting/promotional content from your brand. They convert on pages with low buyers intent (i.e. informational content and not sales pages like “book a demo”).

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)

These are contacts who have either expressed directed interest to buy or shown signs they are qualified to buy.


These contacts have active and engaged sales conversations going on with your brand.


I think you get the gist on this one.


These are super customers, the ones that are so happy with your brand they’ll shout your praises from the rooftops (or in a Google review).


You can get really into the weeds here but it is an important lifecycle stage (or stages depending on if you want to separate them all out) to define. Other includes employees, job applicants, competitors, or any other contact in your system that isn’t on the direct buyer's journey.

What makes a lead sales qualified for your organization?

Now that we have all our bases covered on buyer lifecycle journeys and stages, let’s get to it—what makes a lead sales qualified for your organization? If we go back to our definition up top, we know that folks become qualified as SQLs by either being prospected from a sales person or by signifying through their interactions with a brand that they are ready to buy. Sales people will have their whole-on prospecting methodology but for us as marketers, we need to clearly define and outline the signals of a sales qualified lead.

Sales qualified leads can either come into your CRM as such (submitting their contact information on high intention pages like demo/price/consultation requests, case study forms, etc.) or they become SQLs over time and nurturing as an MQL. You can tell when this happens if you have clearly defined lead scoring in place.

Let's talk lead scoring

In an ideal world, we would be able to evaluate every lead that comes into our system on a case by case basis to make sure no good leads are falling through but that's just not scaleable. Enter lead scoring.

Lead scoring is a methodology wherein leads in your CRM are continuously graded and assigned a numerical score to determine their likelihood to buy (the higher the number, the more qualified to buy the lead should be). Points are added or removed based on the point valuation of certain properties or activities. 

Let’s take a look at an example:




Contact has opened 3+ marketing emails (+30 points)

Contact has unsubscribed from all emails (-50 points)

Contact has filled out any forms on PCO download pages (+20 points)

Contact has filled out a form on the careers page (-40 points)

Contact has viewed 5+ case study pages (+40 points)

Contact is associated with a competitor company (-50 points)


While this can be done manually, I do NOT recommend it. A good CRM (like our favourite, HubSpot) should be able to do this for you. You’ll need to set the criteria, but once it’s in there, it will score your leads in the background.

How does lead scoring translate to SQLs?

The whole purpose of lead scoring is to determine your lead’s level of interest in your brand or product. It stands to reason that the higher the score, the more likely they are to be a sales qualified lead. To make the best use of lead scoring, associate a lead score to each stage of your buyer's journey. Maybe any lead with a score of 100+ is an SQL and anyone with 75-100 is an MQL. Then make sure that you’re using a workflow to associate these scores so that you can start to see when your MQLs become SQLs by engaging further with your brand.

MQLs are just SQLs waiting to be nurtured

No matter how you define your organization’s SQLs, just remember that they don’t pop out of nowhere. They become SQLs as a result of nurturing by your brand. Knowing how to define an SQL is just the first step in the process of figuring out how to create content, deliver value, and generate interest to lead MQLs down the path of becoming an SQL. Know this, and you’re already on your way to being a better marketer/sales enabler.

Want to learn more about how you can grow your relationship between sales and marketing? Join us for our free, live webinar on Tuesday, June 14 at 11am MST! Register below.

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