What Are Sales Qualified Leads and How Do You Convert Them?

sales qualified leads

Sales qualified leads are a necessity for B2B businesses that want to convert customers at a high rate (and let’s be real — that’s what every business is trying to do). The thing is even successful companies often struggle with funneling leads through the sales cycle.

Marketing and sales misalignment can lead to bottlenecks. The wrong qualification criteria can leave you with leads that are unlikely to convert. Sales teams can waste a lot of time chasing the wrong prospects.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. But the real question is: how do you change it? How do you put the right processes in place so that your sales qualified leads are more likely to convert?

In this article, we’re going to cover just that. We’ll start with the difference between marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads (an important distinction). Then, we’ll walk you through specific ways to successfully convert your leads into paying customers.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Takeaways

  • Marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads have separate qualification criteria.
  • B2B companies can use lead nurturing emails and lead scoring to convert MQLs to SQLs.
  • Many companies use the BANT system to finalize sales qualified leads.
  • Response speed, persistence, data-driven lead management, content marketing, and social proof are 5 effective tactics for converting sales qualified leads. 

Marketing Qualified Leads vs. Sales Qualified Leads: What’s the difference?

Your marketing and sales team have different criteria for qualifying leads, and it’s important to make clear distinctions between these two categories.

Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are typically defined as leads that have shown interest in your brand by taking a particular action, like downloading a lead magnet or subscribing to an email newsletter. Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are leads that show a real need for your solution and the ability to purchase.

Here’s a visual summary of the primary differences between SQLs and MQLs:

Differences between marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads.

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Exact criteria for an MQL or SQL varies by company. The important thing is to clearly define your criteria so that your teams can effectively categorize leads and move them along the funnel. 

How to convert MQLs into SQLs

After a lead is qualified by your marketing team, the next step is to move them into sales qualified territory. So how do you do it? One of the most effective ways is with lead nurturing emails, which continue to demonstrate the value of your solutions in ways that are highly relevant to specific customer segments. You can use the information you collect through your initial lead generation process to target your messaging and customize lead nurture emails. 

Lead nurturing emails get your MQLs to share more information and/or take further action, like starting a free trial. Research shows that companies that effectively nurture leads generate 50% more sales ready leads at a 33% lower cost than companies that don’t.

Another way to turn MQLs into SQLs is with effective lead scoring. Lead scoring is the process of assigning a numerical score to your leads based on the data you collect about them. Attributes you might consider in your lead scoring include company size, job title, location, and more. Here is a good overview on lead scoring from HubSpot:

As you continually determine which of your MQLs meet further criteria for sales readiness, they can often be categorized as sales accepted leads. These leads have been accepted by the sales team but still require final qualification from sales. Many companies use the BANT system to finalize sales qualified leads.

BANT stands for budget, authority, need, and timeline. It asks four important questions:

  • Can this prospect afford your solutions?
  • Who are the decision makers at this organization?
  • Have their pain points been identified?
  • What is their potential timeline for implementation?
BANT framework for identifying sales qualified leads.

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How to convert SQLs into paying customers

If you’ve managed your leads well up to this point, they will be poised for conversion. So how do you get them to take the final step?

Here are X best practices for converting your sales qualified leads into happy paying customers.

Speedy response times

Buyers are more in control of the buying process than ever before. They have direct access to nearly all of the information they need right on the internet. Most consider several providers during their search for a solution. If your response times lag, you’re likely to lose your lead to a competitor.

Put the right processes and systems in place to position your sales team for success. Set the standard, too. Let your reps know your expected response time to lead inquiries (should be less than 24 hours) and hold them accountable.


It takes an average of 8 interactions for your sales team to convert an SQL into a final sale. The thing is, most sales reps give up well before this. Train your sales reps to be persistent. Give them multiple channels through which to reach SQLs. Continually evaluate which channels are most effective at converting and optimize their use. Have a process for reviving old leads to see if the opportunity has changed.

Data-driven lead management

If you’re not using a CRM system to manage your leads, the time to start is now. CRMs enable data-driven lead management that provide full visibility into every lead’s buyer journey and most recent actions. They prevent leads from falling through the cracks, streamline processes, and keep your reps accountable for follow-through.

High-value content

Content marketing is a non-intrusive, popular, and effective way to connect with customers and demonstrate your brand’s value. You can utilize your content to convert sales qualified leads by building it into your communication plans. Some ideas:

  • Link popular blog posts in your email signature
  • Refer them to content that answers their questions
  • Use content to explain product features and benefits (i.e. how-to articles or videos, webinars, etc.)

Social Proof

Nothing convinces a buyer of your value like a current customer’s testimonial. Almost every buyer is looking at online reviews for insight into your customer experience. Make this easy for your leads! Showcase testimonials and case studies prominently on your website. Share them through your lead nurture email series. Include them in sales enablement materials. The more your leads see real-world examples of your solutions, the better able they are to envision their own use cases.

Our outbound email software and lead generation services are custom-built for startups, consultancies, marketing agencies, and other B2B organizations. Schedule a quick call with us and find out how we can help you win more clients.