Sales Qualified Leads: The Beginner’s Guide

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There are never enough leads when you’re in sales. The pipeline is never full enough, and the goals are always increasing. You’re waiting on them from the marketing team, you’re prospecting on your own, but how are you supposed to know which leads are ready for you and where to focus your time?


Dedicate your time to the right leads is by establishing a ranking standard— sales qualified leads (SQLs).

Sales Qualified Leads - A beginner's guide

What are sales qualified leads?

A sales qualified lead is someone that has been qualified as a likely prospective buyer based on a combination of implicit and explicit data determined by the sales and marketing teams. While similar to marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads usually have slightly different characteristics, which will differ from company to company.


For example, a marketing qualified lead may be a person you know has a certain job title and has downloaded certain assets and attended specific events. On the other hand, to be a sales qualified lead, it may require more information such as company name or annual revenue. If your lead qualification programs work correctly, sales qualified leads should be marketing qualified leads that are further down the funnel. Marketing qualification and sales qualification should never be at odds.

Setting the criteria for an SQL

The benchmarks to become an SQL will differ from company to company. However, everyone will determine the criteria and flow the same way. Look at your buyer’s journey. Determine the path your prospects typically take before converting to closed won. How do they interact with your brand? Which activities occur? Who are they?


Even though we’re talking about sales qualified leads, you must talk to marketing. Marketers spend a lot of time evaluating customer behavior and demographics. They need to ensure campaigns are targeted to the right people at the right time. The marketing department is likely monitoring the standard activities to conversion and can help you set your criteria.


Ask what types of content closed won deals were interested in or which pages they visited prior to close. Review the lead sources, job titles, and industries of your deals to look for common patterns. Don’t forget to evaluate your criteria occasionally. Your business will change over time, so your customers will, too.


Making it stick

The best way to make sure your process is followed is to write it down. If it’s written down, people can’t deviate. Put it in your onboarding. Schedule regular check-ins with your sales team to review the process. Make sure everyone in sales and marketing understands the qualification process for a sales qualified lead.

Exceptions to every rule

There are always exceptions. Your SQL standards are no different. While the exceptions should be rare, they will occur. Make sure you have a couple of ways to get those through. Two of the most common exceptions are by self-qualification and manager approval.

Allow leads to qualify themselves

Enable BANT questions (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) on high-value forms. Use context clues in inbound emails or during phone calls. Eliminate the wasted time by allowing your leads to tell you they’re ready to buy.

Manager Approvals

Sometimes, leads need to be qualified now. The SQL process should help you, not hurt you. Progress leads when they’re ready, not when you think they’re ready.


However, don’t abuse the system. Admit that not every lead is actually willing to buy. When you try to circumvent the system when it’s not a true sales qualified lead, you discredit the whole process and yourself. You’ll end up wasting your time on leads that aren’t going to convert and missing your goals.


Ready to start optimizing your sales process and not sure where to begin? We can help. Reach out today.



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