When sales are scarce, it is tempting to make the most of every lead you have by sending each straight to your sales team. This is never a good plan. Know your QLs instead.

 All it does is ruin the image of your company in the eyes of your leads and waste your sales team’s time on bad marketing leads.

Equally problematic is waiting too long to send leads to sales. You need to bear in mind that a lead may be considering more options than just your company. If leads are ready to convert and hear nothing from your sales team, they may turn to one of your competitors instead.


The trick, then, is finding middle ground. This comes down to figuring out where a lead stands in the buyer’s journey.

Establishing a Lead’s Position in the Buyer’s Journey

Before you can place leads in your buyer’s journey, you need to know the stages of inbound lead generation.

– Awareness — when a prospect realizes the need for a product or service

– Consideration — the lead weighs his or her options

– Decision — when a lead makes a final decision about what to purchase

You then need to determine which behaviors or activities show where a lead is in the sales funnelCriteria to consider include the number of times a lead visited your site and conversion count. Also bear in mind if leads from particular sources are more likely to become customers.

Defining an MQL

Those at the consideration stage are marketing qualified leads (MQLs). They are interested in what you have to offer, but they need more time to decide if they are going to make a purchase. They have likely completed at least one conversion.

When a lead is at this stage, you need to draw up a buyer profile and assign the lead a buyer persona. This will ensure that you only work with leads who have the demographics of your target audience. It will also help you decide what type of content is likely to be effective for nurturing. In all cases, you want to avoid content that describes your products or services and their benefits. If you push for a sale too early, you risk losing the lead entirely.

Defining an SQL (Opportunity)

Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are approaching the decision stage in the buyer’s journey. When dealing with SQLs, you must use Smarketing: sales and marketing alignment. This will ensure that sales never need to hand a lead back to marketing. You will need to present leads with all the information they need to make a decision, including pricing and personalization options.

Qualifying leads for sales is a process where you should consider a lot more than bouncing ideas and trying strategies. Knowing your sales funnel and performing thorough competitors analysis are a good place to start to make the most of inbound sales intelligence.


Understanding the Path

A final thing to do is understand how a user takes the journey from visitor to customer via MQL and then SQL. Ideally, you want to add an extra stage to the path: retention. This is particularly important if you are offering a subscription service that requires a customer to renew on a regular basis.

Visitor to Lead

A visitor is a user checking out your website or blog for its content. The visitor is likely looking for entertainment, wants to learn more about a topic, or was just attracted by a headline. As yet, a visitor will have no interest in your specific offerings.

To turn a visitor into a lead, you need to provide CTAs that guide the user down the funnel to free content (such as a newsletter) that requires contact information to access. Such content must be relevant and high-quality if it is to maintain the visitor’s interest.

Lead to MQL

At this point, you know little about your leads, other than what content they have consumed and what action they took to convert to a lead. Plus, these leads are still more interested in your content than your offerings. To turn them into MQLs, you need to provide the opportunity to access more in-depth, targeted content, like white papers, ebooks, or templates.

The act of downloading any of your content will show you where your leads’ wants and needs lie. You can use this information to direct subsequent marketing efforts. For instance, you could utilize marketing automation to add the lead to an email workflow, invite the lead to relevant webinars, or offer a free trial or demo session. Acceptance of any of these will turn a lead into an MQL.


An MQL who continues to consume gated content and takes advantage of offers is showing an interest in your company. These are the types of leads who have the potential to convert to SQLs.

At this point, the MQL is still unsure about becoming a paying customer but is likely aware that your brand offers potentially useful services. For your marketing team to succeed in the final challenge of nurturing an MQL to SQL, you need to supply leads with branded content that addresses specific pain points and desires.

SQL Conversion

The time for an SQL conversion comes when a sales qualified lead has reached out for more information about a particular product or service. Now, marketing needs to hand the lead over to sales.

Your sales team needs to be prepared to answer specific questions about relevant products and services. Plus, even more importantly, the sales rep needs to be aware of what solution would be most suitable for the SQL. Your sales team should also know what is most likely to sway the individual, which may involve offering a discount or limited-time offer.

All this shows why it is crucial that sales works closely with marketing until the very end. Only by providing the right information at this stage will you ensure that the SQL converts instead of choosing a competitor.


As soon as you’ve converted an SQL into a customer, you move to the last step in the path: retention. This is up to both sales and marketing, but also to customer service. All three need to ensure that the customer is having a great experience and will want to continue purchasing from your company.

For customer service, this means responding to issues in a timely manner and resolving problems to the customer’s satisfaction. For marketing and sales, it means letting the customer know about other offerings. If you are providing a subscription service, sales and marketing need to be yet more involved — you’ll need to maintain your nurturing efforts throughout the customer’s lifetime.

Applying Everything to Your Business

What indicates that a user is ready to move from one stage in the path to the next is different for every business. You will need to develop your own lead scoring process to make sure you always push for a conversion when a lead is ready, but not before.

If you are using accurate lead scoring and your lead profiles are well-documented, marketing should almost always be right when determining whether a lead is an MQL or an SQL. However, this is still only half the battle: it is also critical that you develop communication and collaboration, a.k.a. sales enablement between sales and marketing. Only then will sales know what tactics are necessary to push the SQL to complete the conversion.