How to Generate More Sales Qualified Leads

A huge part of b2b marketing is becoming an expert on human behavior and assessing people’s perceived excitement levels and their overall behavior as it’s geared toward decision-making. Inbound marketers are the watchmen of the digital marketing sphere, always tailoring experiences and providing education to those within earshot.

So, the ultimate goal of a good marketer is to engage and excite their target audience to confidently lead them down the sales funnel to a point where they feel confident in making a purchasing decision. If we’ve done our job well, we make sure to build a good relationship with our prospects, constructing trust before we can make a sound judgement call when we observe our readers and visitors are good and ready for the next stage of their journey.

Picture this in your mind’s eye: it’s a beautiful day and the surf is pumping at Tofino’s infamous Chesterman Beach. You’ve been up since dawn teaching a friend of yours the ins and outs of surfing small northwest pacific breaks. They seem to be enjoying their time, asking you questions and taking your advice – they’re beginning to trust your expertise. In a few hours, they’ve managed to catch a small wave at the sandbar. The time has come for you, as an observant surf instructor, to make the call whether they’re ready to tackle the outer break.

As someone who cares about this person, you want to see them feeling empowered and making confident decisions for themselves. You’ve connected with them, shared your insights, given them reason to trust you, and now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. As you watch them paddle out, you begin to ponder: can they handle it? Are they ready? Could you have done anything better to help prepare them for the next swell?

If you’ve done your job well, you should feel confident that your friend is going to use the knowledge you’ve given them to successfully catch a wave and buy-in to the coastal surf lifestyle. If you’ve not done it well enough and they eat foam, chances are they’ll look elsewhere for a similar hobby.

Welcome to the world of sales qualified leads (SQL), a persona of the inbound marketing methodology that dictates when our readers identify with content and progress through the paces of making a purchasing decision. In this post, we’re going to break down the fundamental aspects of SQLs, how they differ from marketing qualified leads (MQL), and how to generate more sales qualified leads.

SQL vs MQL; What’s the Difference?

Remember our surf student? They represent our readers. Paddling out represents their progression through the inbound methodology from visitor to lead, and the outer break represents the decision to make a choice on what you were so eloquently selling back on the beach; the surf lifestyle.

Marketing Qualified Lead

A marketing qualified lead is a prospective customer typically found in the ‘Connect’ stage of the inbound methodology. Here, your prospect connects with your content, learning and building trust thanks to your expertise. As Nadim Hossain, CEO of BrightFunnel would say, an MQL has “raised their hand” by taking action or showing interest in what they’ve read or seen. Alternatively, an MQL is a lead that’s more likely to become a customer than other leads based on their behavior.

Sales Qualified Lead

By contrast, a sales qualified lead occupies the next stage wherein a marketing development representative decides they’re ready to be handed off to the sales team. This is when a qualified lead will be presented with opportunities to make a purchase. In short, a MQL likes what’s in front of them, while a SQL likes it enough to do something about it. SQL’s are the ideal type of lead to expose to your sales team because it takes a considerable amount of time to determine which leads are a good fit for the product you’re selling. When marketers pass any and all leads through to a sales team, the abundance of contacts can make them less effective over time – hindering revenue. Instead, a sales-qualified lead takes some the guesswork out of who the sales team should pursue.

Businesses want more sales qualified leads because SQLs equate to more revenue for the company and are more easily converted into customers by a great sales team. The entire concept of differentiating between MQLs and SQLs is arming your team with the ability to speak with and build better customer relationships with better prospects.

In Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2017, it’s important to consider that 71% of companies agree that closing more deals is their top sales priority, and 70% of marketers say that converting qualified leads is their top priority. Meanwhile, BrightTALK tells us that an overwhelming 80% of marketers feel that their lead generation tactics are only somewhat effective. This is a problematic set of polarizing statistics, because despite having similar goals, the importance of meaningful differentiation between MQLs and SQLs is falling short somewhere.

In short, knowing the big differences between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads helps your team streamline and prioritize your prospective customers by sending them to the right internal department; sales, or marketing. Knowing who would benefit from some advanced or extended marketing content and who is ready to be introduced to the next step of the inbound methodology is critical to boost the percentage of generated leads and closed sales.

The Power of Marketing Automation

The very title of marketing automation lends a welcome feeling of calm and of reassurance, doesn’t it? It sounds as though it’s a knight in shining armor – a vessel of communication and of workflow that needs minimal, or no intervention. It sounds, well, automatic. That’s about half true. Let us explain how marketing automation can help increase the efficacy of your marketing and lead generation efforts.

So, what is marketing automation? According to Hubspot, it’s any type of software that exists with the lone goal of automating your marketing actions; tasks like updates to social media and other website actions, repetitive tasks like emailing newsletters, etc. The goal of marketing automation is to make these tasks easier and less stressful. When marketing automation works well, it’s able to nurture prospects with useful content geared at converting them into delighted customers. In a perfect world, this is completed by reducing the hours required of generating and distributing highly personalized content and increasing interaction between your company and prospective clients who have provided you with contact information. The gurus at Moz add that marketing automation can be hugely useful in assisting both sales and marketing departments reach their goals.

B2B Marketing automation allows your company, business or organization to deliver content and messages to customers and leads, all predetermined according to insider information you’ve already collected, like:

  • What their spending habits are
  • Where they fall in the buyer’s journey
  • Past interactions they’ve had with your site

Where marketing automation really shines is building stronger relationships with leads that helps to increase lead conversions and, hopefully, revenue. Moz tells us that companies that employ use of marketing automation software typically enjoy 53% higher conversion rates than those that don’t. All of those conversions help to translate into 3.1% higher business growth annually.

It can also help to reduce that conversion time overall; when Thomson Reuters implemented a marketing automation plan, their lead conversion time reduced by 72% helping them to achieve a 175% increase in revenue. This could be thanks to the results of a study from the Harvard Business Review that states businesses are up to 60X more likely to qualify a lead when they follow up with them within 1 hour, compared to waiting 24 hours.

With marketing automation, you’re able to follow up and connect with qualified leads quickly and efficiently, without having to have a staff member of marketer at a desk answering inquiries and responding to requests. Automation allows your business to provide auto-responses to inquiries and interact with leads immediately, 24/7, by automating the communications process.

Qualified Lead Nurturing Made Easy

After communication has been established with your lead, you’ll need a process in place to help your business develop a meaningful relationship with that buyer, at every stage of the buyer’s journey. Marketo tell us that lead nurturing focuses marketing and communication efforts on actually listening to the needs of your prospective customers, providing answers and insights according to their specific questions. Why is that important? Because almost 80% of new leads never become sales, according to MarketingSherpa.

This idea of listening to your leads is integral to the conversion process, because multiple studies show us that people enjoy knowing that their being heard!

So what should you be asking and listening for?

  • The most pressing issues and how your leads are dealing with them
  • The resources and solutions they turn to to help solve these issues
  • The buying process and who/what is involved
  • What kinds of info and content help shape the decision to buy?

Think about this: when customers voice their concerns, give businesses insights, and provide valuable feedback, they want to know that their voices carry weight and that they matter to the company they’ve chosen to trust. ReturnCustomer says that when customer care becomes a priority, it’s a win/win situation, because everyone walks away happier.

Lead nurturing means effectively establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships, and using the information you’ve collected about your target market to build a strategic framework dedicated to engaging them throughout your content-based inbound marketing campaign.

Sales & Marketing Qualified Lead Scoring

Lead scoring takes your lead nurturing efforts one step further by introducing a methodology designed to rank your qualified leads and organize them into an order of priority – resulting in whether to pursue them as SQLs or MQLs. Lead scoring is essential to generating more qualified leads because its sole responsibility is gauging and establishing an accurate representation of perceived value. The result of an effective lead scoring model helps to:

  • Boost sales efficacy
  • Increase marketing effectiveness
  • Integrate and align sales and marketing departments to work more closely together
  • Increase revenue through engaged scoring and organization of qualified leads

In a sense, lead scoring helps to generate more qualified leads by ranking the worthiness of leads, according to SearchSalesForce – but it also must include multiple different kinds of information to help prioritize the state of each of your prospects.

Explicit scores take into account info like company size, job title, geographic location and industry type to help organize a perceived readiness to purchase. Meanwhile, implicit information is organized according to behavior; ebook or whitepaper downloads, website visits, email click-through rates, etc. Justifiably, the more active a user has been on your website, the higher their overall score will rank, and the more probable they are to become a sales qualified lead.

Having these two distinct types of info ranked and formulated in order of readiness helps a business to customize their approach based on the interest level and buying stage of the lead.

Fill the Marketing Funnel!

When not enough contacts are being generated altogether, it’s critical that marketers and their clients act to fill the sales funnel with potential leads. To massage and groom these prospects into SQLs, it’s essential to build and maintain a plethora of fresh and attractive content like brochures and eBooks with gated offers to collect contact information. Feeding the broader inbound machine with a steady stream of opportunities helps by building assets that incentivize contact info collection.

A typical sales funnel consists of three major stages:

  • All opportunities
  • Opportunities that are closer to closing
  • Opportunities that will close

To put the importance of a full sales funnel into perspective, our very own inbound marketing team leader, Michael Bergen, tells us that the sales funnel can easily be likened to an engine.

“Once you’ve built a strong sales funnel (engine), you’ll need to keep it fueled with new prospects (fuel). Just like an engine, it will need the odd tune-up and upgrade, but without fuel the engine can’t be used, and will remain ultimately untested until it can be fueled and revved up. You can have the fastest and tuned engine, but without fuel you’re going nowhere!”

B2B Conversion rates are hugely dependent on their own unique industry, and vary as such. The conversion masters at Unbounce recently published the findings of their Conversion Benchmark Report in March of 2017, finding that on average, a variety of industries spanning business consulting, real estate, travel, health, education, legal, home improvement and more should aim to expect anywhere from 2.8-6% conversion rates. Of those rates, Unbounce states that conversions from 2.9-5.3% should be considered average to very good – so while those percentiles may seem low, they’re right on par with the going rate.


Our surfer friend from Chesterman Beach showed interest in surfing when they agreed to head down to the shore with you. Their behavior suggested they were primed for some engaging marketing content to help get them into a wetsuit. When you caught their attention, they began to trust your expertise and you were able to nurture and build a relationship with them based on a common topic – catching waves as a lifestyle and hobby. You listened to their concerns and answered them to the best of your ability.

They got a taste and were ready for more.

When you scored their interest based on the relationship you built, and their behavior that morning, you were able to teach them about the power and joy that surfing could bring them. You could recognize their readiness to paddle to the outer break.

The sun begins to rise, and the swell picks up; your friend turns and paddles back towards you with the energy of the ocean behind them. They grip the rails and pop up – they’re riding their first wave, all thanks to the time and effort you invested in making sure they were happy and had the tools they needed to succeed.

You’ve successfully converted them to a life of perpetually salty hair and wave-forecasting – and gifted them a zest for the sea. They’ll be back for more tomorrow morning.

Picture of Todd Mumford

Todd Mumford