How to Maximize MQL to SQL? A Complete Guide for 2024

Rohit Rajpal

Senior Writer

MQL to SQL: Your Lead Qualification Checklist

Generating leads is crucial for business growth, but not all leads are equal. While marketing qualified leads (MQLs) show initial interest in your product or service, only some convert to sales qualified leads (SQLs) – those ready to have a sales conversation and move towards a purchase.

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The average conversion rate for MQL to SQL is around 13%. However, with the right strategies, you can increase this number significantly. 

In this blog, we’ll not only cover the basics of MQL and SQL but will also share proven strategies that we use at SoftwareSuggest to drive more conversions. Let’s get started!

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs, are contacts who have identified themselves as more extremely engaged, sales-ready leads. When a lead signs up for offers like buying guides, demo requests, or has attended a webinar/event, they are marked as MQLs. Then, these MQLs are passed on to the salespeople to be reviewed by them.

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In the dynamic landscape of lead qualification, remember that speed and personalization are your allies. Respond swiftly to leads, aiming for the golden window within the first four hours, and tailor your communication to address their specific needs. Stay agile, prioritize these elements, and watch your conversion rates soar.

Some key characteristics of MQLs:

  • They have consumed higher-level educational content like ebooks, blogs, and guides showing research behavior.
  • Completed a form to download gated assets, self-identifying with contact information.
  • Attended a product webinar or event demonstrating interest.
  • Expressed intent through actions like site searches for solutions to their problems.

While MQLs signify potential opportunities, further qualification by sales is needed to determine buying readiness and fit. The next step is nurturing MQLs to become SQLs.

What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)? 

Sales Qualified Leads, commonly known as SQLs, are MQLs that your sales team has identified as ‘ready and able to buy.’ They want you to contact them, and they have very specific questions about your products or services.

Key indicators that mark an MQL becoming an SQL:

  • They raise their hands for a product demo, signifying a deeper evaluation.
  • Ask detailed questions about pricing, integration capabilities, etc.
  • They have meaningful conversations with sales teams
  • They score highly on lead scoring models accounting for engagement and firmographic fit.

SQLs signify aligned interest, budget availability, and buying authority. They require timely follow-ups and demos to translate into revenue. Fast response times to SQLs can help you stand apart from the competition.

MQL to SQL Process By SoftwareSuggest

Moving leads from MQL to the SQL funnel is pivotal to ensure your pipeline has enough near-term potential deals. Focus lead nurturing efforts towards guiding MQLs to the SQL stage.

The Difference Between an MQL and SQL 

Here is a table highlighting the key differences between MQL and SQL.

CriteriaMarketing Qualified Lead (MQL)Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
DefinitionA lead that is likely to become a customer based on marketing efforts.A lead that has been analyzed and is considered ready for direct sales engagement.
Criteria for QualificationTypically based on engagement metrics, such as website visits, content downloads, and form submissions.Requires additional criteria beyond marketing engagement, such as budget, authority, need, and timeframe (BANT).
ResponsibilityManaged by the marketing team.Handled by the sales team.
GoalTo identify leads interested in the product or service and nurture them until they are ready for sales engagement.To focus on leads that meet specific criteria and are more likely to convert into customers.
CommunicationUsually nurtured through targeted marketing campaigns, email sequences, and content.Involves direct sales outreach, personalized communication, and relationship-building.
Conversion StageConsidered in the earlier stages of the sales funnel.Considered in the later stages of the sales funnel, closer to making a purchase decision.
Handover ProcessPassed from marketing to sales when the lead shows sufficient interest or engagement.Transferred from marketing to sales after meeting specific qualification criteria.
MetricsMetrics include engagement rates, lead scoring, and marketing attribution.Metrics include conversion rates, sales cycle length, and revenue generated from qualified leads.
ExampleA lead who has downloaded an eBook or attended a webinar.A lead who has requested a demo, has a specific budget, and is the decision-maker.

Why Differentiating Between MQLs and SQLs is Important? 

Clearly understanding the difference between MQLs and SQLs and tracking them separately is important for multiple reasons:

  • Resource Optimization: Sales teams have limited bandwidth to pursue new opportunities. Aligning sales outreach to only SQLs allows them to focus on the highest potential deals instead of cold calling any net new lead from marketing.
  • Conversion Metrics: Analyzing the ratio between SQLs to MQLs provides a funnel conversion benchmark to optimize. Poor conversion might signify ineffective nurturing. Tracking this also helps set data-driven lead goals.
  • Lead Scoring Models: The profile of what constitutes an SQL versus MQL can inform lead scoring frameworks. These models then allow you to identify and double down on the hottest leads.
  • Sales and Marketing Alignment: Ensuring both teams are aligned on definitions and lead hand-off criteria is crucial. Misalignments cause leads to fall through the cracks between marketing automation and CRM.

Moving a Lead from MQL to SQL 

Moving a lead from MQL to SQL funnel involves a transition from marketing efforts to more direct sales engagement. Here’s how you can do that.

Steps to move MQL leads to SQL By SoftwareSuggest

1. Lead Scoring

Creating a comprehensive lead-scoring framework is essential for identifying high-potential SQLs eligible for sales outreach. This involves assigning point values to various actions prospects take and the content they engage with. Regularly analyze the correlation between lead score ranges and actual conversion rates. Refine point assignments for different actions to reflect observed conversion patterns. This allows your model to continually get smarter based on real customer data.

2. Define Criteria for SQL

Ensure collaboration between marketing and sales to clearly define the specific criteria that qualify a lead as an SQL. Focus on critical factors like budget availability, decision-making authority, alignment with product or service needs, and a clear timeframe for making a purchase decision.

3. Behavioral Triggers

Identify behavioral triggers that indicate a lead is ready for direct sales engagement. These triggers may include repeated visits to pricing pages, interaction with high-value content, or explicit requests for product demos. Utilize these signals to gauge a lead’s intent and readiness for sales outreach.

4. Lead Handover Process

Establish a streamlined process for handing over MQLs to the sales team. Utilize a CRM system to ensure a seamless transition and effective tracking of lead interactions. Provide the sales team with detailed information about the lead’s engagement history, interests, and any specific actions that triggered the transition to SQL.

5. Sales Engagement

Equip the sales team with relevant content and insights to facilitate effective communication. Leverage the information gathered during the lead nurturing phase to tailor sales outreach. This ensures that the transition from MQL to SQL is smooth and results in meaningful interactions.

6. Feedback Loop

Establish a feedback loop between sales and marketing teams for continuous improvement. Regularly review the performance of leads that have transitioned from MQL to SQL and use insights gained to refine lead qualification strategies. This iterative process helps optimize the effectiveness of the transition.

7. Monitor Conversion Metrics

Track key conversion metrics, such as conversion rates from MQL to SQL and SQL to closed deals. Analyze these metrics to identify areas for improvement in the overall lead qualification and conversion process. Use the data to make informed decisions and enhance the efficiency of the entire sales pipeline.

How to Create Your Lead Qualification Checklist 

Creating a lead qualification checklist is essential to save your sales reps’ time and for them to focus on converting highly-qualified prospects. As you can see in the infographic below, more sales representatives miss their quotas than meet them.

Are sales reps meeting their targets By SoftwareSuggest

Let’s understand how to create your lead qualification checklist. 

  • Define Ideal Customer Profiles: Map out the common qualities of your best-fit customers, like industry, company size, job roles, etc. This profile will be the baseline for vetting leads later.
  • Understand Buyer Personas: Develop detailed buyer personas that outline the key attributes, pain points, and goals of your target audience. Also, go beyond basic demographics to explore what motivations, pain points, and goals drive your best customers’ buying decisions.
  • Collaborate Between Sales and Marketing: Have open conversations between the sales and marketing departments, generating and nurturing leads to those closing deals to align on lead criteria. Leverage both views to build a well-rounded checklist.
  • Identify Lead Characteristics: Determine the characteristics that indicate a lead’s potential to become a customer. This may include factors such as company revenue, industry-specific needs, decision-making authority, and budget availability. Clearly define what makes a lead a good fit for your products or services.
  • Establish Lead Scoring Criteria: Develop a points-based lead scoring system that assigns higher values to interactions reflecting a lead’s buying potential per the criteria determined.
  • Incorporate Behavioral Triggers: Identify behaviors that strongly suggest a lead is entering a sales-ready stage, like requesting proposals, asking about implementation needs, etc. Incorporate these explicit triggers into the checklist.
  • Set Qualification Thresholds: Define rules for when leads officially become qualified based on gathering enough points or conducting key behaviors. Ensure marketing and sales teams are aligned on thresholds.

Five Tips to Move More Leads Through the Sales Funnel

Getting more prospects to transition through each funnel stage to become marketing-qualified, sales-qualified, and ultimately won deals lies at the heart of a scalable customer acquisition strategy. Evaluate your current process against these five tips to maximize conversions.

How to move leads down the sales funnel? By SoftwareSuggest

1. Rethink Your IQL Strategy 

When defining what constitutes an Initial Qualified Lead (IQL), resist the urge to cast a wide net, hoping to attract more prospects. Instead, carefully evaluate demographic or firmographic factors that represent your best-fit customers. For example, target specific titles, company sizes, or business models that you already successfully service. Tightening IQL qualifications this way sets your funnel up for higher-quality output down the line. Evaluate historical deals won and assess common patterns in terms of tangible IQL attributes you could require upfront through lead forms to replicate success.

2. Employ Lead Magnets

Developing valuable “lead magnet templates” collateral like guides, calculators, or whitepapers that provide immense utility to your prospects can pay dividends in capturing contact info and gauging buying interest. Gate access to these assets behind forms requiring key details you want to qualify on. Moreover, aligning content to top-of-funnel, middle, or late-funnel nurturing tracks allows you to reveal more value in each asset and qualify interest at each stage accordingly based on what pieces prospects engage with.

3. Pre Qualify Your Prospects 

Rather than immediately passing all marketing qualified leads to sales, build in a pre-qualification questionnaire first. This allows marketing automation to continue nurturing outreach campaigns to only those matching core requirements. For example, survey-style questions allow prospects to self-identify as fitting key customer criteria and can be low-commitment filters before sales dedicate higher-touch efforts. This helps ensure that SQLs are accurately flagged to the CRM for immediate sales bookings.

4. Assess Drop-Offs 

Diagnosing where your conversion percentages dip in the progression from IQL to MQL and then SQL is pivotal for exposing ineffective strategies. Analyze metrics diligently around key transition stages. If particular content offers or messaging fail to compel prospects to transition into purchasers at expected rates, those weak points need refinement. Reporting that tracks these subtle conversion differences can inform targeted improvements.

5. Optimize your approach 

An aligned approach between marketing automation and sales team CRM processes is imperative to a scalable model that accurately qualifies and then captures more customers. Establish open cadences for both teams to exchange notes on which messaging resonates with prospects at different funnel phases and continuously refine content strategy and lead scoring models accordingly together. No static approach will be universally optimal – collaborate to constantly evolve based on real buyer signals.

Some Proven Strategies to Close MQLs Into SQLs by SoftwareSuggest 

We’ve covered everything from what MQLs and SQLs are, the difference between them, and how to move leads from the MQL stage to the SQL stage. Now, let’s look at some proven strategies that we use at SoftwareSuggest to move leads down the funnel.

1. Respond ASAP 

Attempt the first call within 4 hours of receiving the lead to maximize conversion potential. Our analysis of thousands of leads has shown that response times under an hour can dramatically increase the chances of making first contact. The quicker the response, the higher the conversion rates.

Important note – From our current survey, we have found that calling within 7 minutes of receiving the lead improves the chances of conversion.

How to increase MQL to SQL conversion rates? By SoftwareSuggest

2. Persist With Organized Follow-Ups 

Make too many calls, and the prospect will get irritated. Make too few calls, and the prospect will forget you. At SoftwareSuggest, we have seen results when we follow this schedule. 

  • Second call by day 2-3, 
  • Third call by day 4-6, 
  • Fourth call by day 8-10 and 
  • Fifth call by day 10-12. 

Sending multiple calls shows persistent interest in helping the lead, and a structured timeline prevents repeated efforts from being seen as “pestering.” Spreading out calls allows leads time to digest information, too.

3. Personalize Conversations

Tailor the conversation to each lead’s specific requirements to show genuine interest in their needs. Personalized communication displays understanding and builds a trust-based relationship critical for lead conversion.

4. Log All Call Attempts

Recording lead response metrics is vital for tracking performance over time. Compare conversion rates across agents, campaigns, and segments. It aids in identifying issues and opportunities in the lead response process. 


Mastering the MQL to SQL process in 2024 demands a strategic and adaptive approach. Respond promptly, follow an organized cadence, and prioritize personalized communication. At SoftwareSuggest, our lead qualification checklist is based on proven strategies to boost conversion rates. Stay agile, respond instantly, and have a follow-up schedule to exceed your conversion goals. And don’t forget to measure your marketing and sales efforts with MQL to SQL conversion rates!

Frequently Asked Questions

MQL to SQL conversion benefits businesses by ensuring a more focused and efficient sales process. It helps prioritize leads with a higher potential for conversion, leading to increased sales effectiveness and improved overall revenue.

The criteria for MQL to SQL conversion vary by business but often include factors such as lead engagement, demographic information, budget availability, decision-making authority, and specific needs aligned with the product or service. These criteria help identify leads ready for direct sales engagement.

Lead nurturing plays a crucial role in the MQL to SQL process by maintaining engagement with leads until they are ready for sales interaction. It involves delivering relevant content, building relationships, and addressing potential concerns. Effective lead nurturing helps move leads through the sales funnel, making them more likely to convert to SQLs.

After a lead is converted from MQL to SQL, it is passed on to the sales team for direct engagement. Sales representatives work on further qualifying the lead, understanding specific needs, providing additional information, and ultimately progressing toward a potential sale. The goal is to convert SQLs into paying customers.

MQL to SQL conversion is not a one-time event; it requires ongoing monitoring and refinement. Markets change, buyer behaviors evolve, and business strategies must adapt accordingly. Regularly reviewing and adjusting qualification criteria, lead scoring models and conversion processes ensures that the approach remains effective and aligned with current business dynamics.

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