Without buyers for an enterprise’s products or services, it cannot survive. It’s critical to create a strategy to inform enough of the right people about what you offer and to intentionally nurture relationships to increase the likelihood that they will decide to purchase what you offer.

You’ll experience a greater return on your investment in sales and marketing if your team’s energy can be focused in a systematic way on those most interested in buying. “When you know where your prospects are in their customer journey, you can actually generate more revenue with fewer leads,” says Jenna Puckett in her article for Technology Advice.

Instead of tracking steps along the customer journey, leads have traditionally been referred to as if someone has taken their temperature. Hot leads are for sure interested in buying. Warm leads have given some reason to believe they might be interested. Cold leads? They’re not really leads at all — at least not yet.

The most effective lead qualification system is not based on a subjective hand on the forehead, but rather on specific metrics. Thermal hide-and-seek descriptions do not accurately reflect this systematic approach. The most effective way to sort your leads is to put them into three distinct categories: marketing qualified leads (MQL), sales accepted leads (SAL), and sales qualified leads (SQL).


“The most effective lead qualification system is not based on a subjective hand on the forehead, but rather on specific metrics. Thermal hide-and-seek descriptions do not accurately reflect this systematic approach.


Lead qualification definitions

Let’s start with the most basic: What is a lead?

Lead

A lead, used generally, is contact information about someone who might buy your product or service. Did you meet them at a networking event? Did they sign up for a drawing at your expo table? Did they view your website? They’re a lead. They are at the wide opening at the top of your sales funnel.

MQL

A marketing qualified lead is much more likely to buy than a just plain lead. They have raised their hand in some way to indicate interest and moved down the funnel a bit, but they’re not ready to buy – yet. They need more nurturing before you should even think about making a sales contact.

What do their raised hands look like? According to Puckett, “Qualifications can include expressing interest through information or guide requests, having certain job titles, site activity such as viewing your pricing page, or numerous other predetermined factors.”

SAL

A sales accepted lead is in the place where the handoff occurs between marketing and sales. These two teams often think of leads differently, but that disconnect has to stop here. Without unity, according to marketing engineer Achinta Mitra for the Industrial Marketing Today blog, “a bulk of the leads generated will fall through the cracks.”

Marketing can look at analytics on things like website engagement and specific social media interactions. Sales will examine things like the lead’s job junction, company size, and industry classification. When they, together, determine that based on these factors, the person with a raised hand is ready to be called on, the lead is sales-accepted.


“Quite often, the decision maker will delegate to someone on their team the task of researching information on your product or service (and your competitors). So while the person you are interacting with might not be the final decision maker, they should be considered an influencer.


SQL

A sales qualified lead has shown definite interest in something you can provide. You can tell because they are asking specific questions. They are ready for a rep to call. The sales goal with leads at this point is to convert them into a customer.

lead qualification funnel

Click image to enlarge

The takeaway?

Looking at the whole spectrum of lead qualification, “the key takeaway here,” says Mitra, “is that you may be making a very costly mistake if you treat all your leads the same, put them in a common bucket and toss it over to sales to qualify and close.”

Find more gold by focusing on the ones whose hands are raised, give them a great customer experience appropriate to their interest, and hopefully you’ll create not only customers but evangelists for your brand. Think of that return on investment!

BANT is your BFF for lead qualification

The acronym BANT indicates four common lead qualification criteria: budget, authority, need, and timing.

Budget: Can they afford what you’re selling? Do your homework here by looking at public records and industry news for financial insights.

Authority: Is the person you’re contacting the decision maker? Or will you need to talk with someone else? Hint: Quite often, the decision maker will delegate to someone on their team the task of researching information on your product or service (and your competitors). So while the person you are interacting with might not be the final decision maker, they should be considered an influencer. Whether they have the authority or not, whatever you do, relate to each person along the way with respect and courtesy, or it will come back to haunt you.

Need: Do they have a problem for which you can offer a solution? Are they reaching for a goal that you can help them achieve? Ask plenty of questions, listen to the answers, and always frame your presentations around how you can address the deepest needs you perceive them having.

Timing: Is their need immediate, soon, or eventual? An eventual need does not disqualify them; it just means you need to plan how and when you will maintain contact with them and continue to nurture the relationship.

Effective marketing strategies can and should be designed to gain and qualify leads

As inbound marketing specialists, we work with our clients every day to create specific engagement activities that give you good data on where leads are on their customer journey so that you can interact with them and make more sales. Could your strategy use some refinement? Call us at 720-722-2987 or click the blue button below to request a meeting with our team.