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  • Writer's pictureLucas Paz Saffi

MQL, SAL, SQL and PQL: Apply Lead Qualification Strategy

What is qualified leads?

Not every lead is good. Some are much more likely to buy from your company than others. Some will be regular customers and the vast majority will never make a purchase.

Os dois principais motivos para isso são:

  • Leads possuem características completamente diferentes de outros e negócios diferentes podem ter clientes com perfis complementamente distintos.

  • Alguns leads estão no início da e apenas em busca de conhecimento, enquanto outros estão na etapa decisiva de escolha do produto ou serviço.

The two main reasons for this are:

  • Leads have completely different characteristics from others and different businesses can have customers with completely different profiles.

  • Some leads are at the beginning of the buying journey and are just looking for knowledge, while others are in the decisive step of choosing the product or service.

Generating leads is essential for finding potential customers, but just as important as generating a large volume of leads is knowing how to differentiate leads with a greater chance of buying from others.

For this reason, there is what we call a qualified lead. A qualified lead is nothing more than a lead that:

  • Has characteristics that indicate that he has a greater chance of buying from you;

  • Showed a greater interest in your product or service.

The definition of these characteristics and criteria for showing interest that indicate leads that are more likely to buy is part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA). The quantification of how likely a lead is to buy or not is called Lead Scoring.

Having a well-defined SLA is essential for efficiency and a good relationship between the marketing and sales teams, as we will see later in this post.

Why You Need to Qualify Your Leads

By differentiating leads, it is possible to direct the efforts of both the marketing and sales teams, making the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) lower.

Imagine a company that sells a product for $ 5,000. If she directed her marketing resources equally to low-income people and high-income people, it would certainly take her much longer to find a customer and would need more resources.

This applies in the same way to the sales team. If a company that generates 10,000 leads a month forwarded all those leads to sales, the company would need an army of salespeople to service them all, which would greatly increase the expense relative to the additional revenue generated.

That is, for companies that want to grow, having a lead qualification strategy is not an option. It is necessary to ensure the profitability of the business.

For this reason, in this post, we are going to talk about 2 main points to help you apply a lead qualification strategy:

  • The different stages of lead qualification: Marketing qualified leads (MQL), Sales accepted leads (SAL), Sales qualified leads (SQL) and Product qualified leads (PQL).

  • Criteria you should consider to define what a qualified lead is.

Difference between MQL, SAL, SQL and PQL

First, let's go to the concept of each of these acronyms:

Marketing qualified leads (MQL): these are marketing-qualified leads, that is, leads that met the established qualification criteria and were passed on to the pre-sales team.

Sales accepted leads (SAL): these are MQLs that have had their eligibility criteria reviewed by the pre-sales team and have been accepted to continue in the sales process. The answers given by the lead are not always true or interpreted correctly by the SLA verification systems, which is why this review is necessary.

Sales qualified leads (SQL): these are SALs that have received a first contact from pre-salespeople, usually by phone, and who have indicated that they can effectively become a customer. In this qualification conversation, the SDRs assess whether the lead has a pain that can be solved by the product or service, whether he is open to contracting the solution and, once again, whether he really meets the established SLA criteria.

Product qualified leads (PQL): Product qualified leads are the qualified leads through the product. In this case, it is necessary for the company to have initial or free plans, with fewer features, but which still allow the customer to see the added value of the solution. This lead is usually qualified through high usage of the free or starter plan or when they signal themselves that they want to purchase the premium plan.

From the definition of these qualifications, we have a sales funnel in this format:

lead qualification funnel

Lead qualification criteria

In addition to a lead qualification process with defined steps, as we saw earlier, it is necessary to define which criteria will define whether a lead is qualified to become an MQL, SQL or PQL.

These criteria, in addition to defining the qualification and evolution of leads along the funnel, are essential for the marketing team to ask the right questions on landing pages and also create targeted campaigns for their qualified audience.

A framework used to identify potential customers and that we can use as a basis is BANT Sales, developed by IBM. It consists of 4 criteria:

  • Budget: Does the customer have the financial resources to buy the product or service? The higher the value of the product, the more crucial this factor will be. It is not very appropriate using forms to directly ask the lead how much money he has to invest, but asking how many employees he has or what the average revenue generated annually can already give good indications whether or not he can hire your solution.

  • Authority: Does the lead have the authority to decide to buy or not? If you are a B2B company, trying to sell to a lead who is an analyst can be much more difficult than a coordinator, manager or director.

  • Need: Does the customer really have a pain remedied by the product or service? The answer to this question will be much clearer when talking directly to the lead, but it is possible to get a prior idea from the pages they visited, the types of content they converted or also through a multiple choice question on the landing pages questioning what is the main challenge faced and related to the problem your company solves.

  • Time frame: Time required for the product or service to generate value for the customer. This criterion will depend a lot on the company's situation, the plan it wants to hire and the challenges it will face during implementation.

To make the relationship between MQL, SAL, SQL and PQL and lead qualification criteria clearer, let's look at an example.

Example of how to apply a qualified lead strategy

Imagine a SaaS B2B company that generates approximately 10,000 leads per month and has a premium plan with an average ticket of $ 1,500. In addition to this premium plan, the company also has a free plan with fewer features and limited resources.

Taking into account the characteristics of its business, the company defined its qualified lead criteria to generate MQL or PQL as:

  • The lead's company must be in the field of education;

  • The lead's company must have at least 10 employees;

  • The lead must have a corporate email;

  • The lead must not be a student;

  • The lead must have filled in the phone information;

  • The lead must have converted through the free plan, the contact page or downloaded material with product details.

3 leads that have the following characteristics converted:

lead qualification example

Lead "B" did not become MQL because it did not meet all the criteria established by the company, but the others did.

Leads "A" and "C", which became MQL, had their qualification data reviewed by pre-sellers and both were in agreement, were soon accepted by the team and became a SAL.

Pre-salespeople then called these leads to qualitatively assess whether they were likely to become customers.

After verifying that they had a pain and were interested in the solution, one of the questions asked was whether they had the financial resources to make the purchase.

Lead "A" commented that there was a limit of BRL 1,000 just to invest, while lead "C" had the BRL 1,500 necessary to hire the premium plan. That way, only the "C" became a SQL.

After becoming a SQL lead was contacted by the sales team, which brought much more detail regarding the solution, implementation and proposal.

Qualifying leads is not an option

Did you notice in the example above how the team saved time by doing the correct checks from the entry of leads into the sales funnel?

If these qualifications did not exist, all leads would be handled by both pre-salespeople and salespeople.

Companies that want to grow sustainably need to establish their qualification criteria to define whether a lead has a good chance of becoming a customer or not.

These criteria can and should change over time, especially after product developments, new plans offered and different types of conversion created.

The point of attention is for the measurement and analysis of the results. If the company changes the criteria frequently, this will make it difficult to analyze historical marketing and sales performance, so it is necessary to have a clear approval process for this.


Brazilian graduated in Civil Engineering from the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM). Worked as a management consultant at Falconi on projects in the public sector, automotive retail, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, focusing on the application of PDCA to improve operating results. He is currently working as a Mkt Ops Business Analyst at RD Station, the largest SaaS company in Latin America.


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