How do you define a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) vs Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) Criteria?

As I work with sales and marketing teams, a question I often hear is what is a marketing qualified lead(MQL) vs a sales qualified lead (SQL) and how do I define them? I am going to address both parts of […]

As I work with sales and marketing teams, a question I often hear is what is a marketing qualified lead(MQL) vs a sales qualified lead (SQL) and how do I define them?

I am going to address both parts of this question, and I’m sure this will be a big shock, but we tend to make it far more complicated than it needs to be.

First lets start with the Lifecycle stage in HubSpot and explain it. 

The Lifecycle Stage in HubSpot tracks the process of a person from when they first learn about you and subscribe (Subscriber Stage) to your blog, email, or some other communication, through to the holy grail of an Evangelist, someone that has purchased from you and refers others to your company. 

The HubSpot Lifecycle Stages Are:


A person that has subscribed to your content, but has not raised their hand with the intent to engage with you.


A person that has completed a form, engaged with your chat, or communicated a deeper level of interest with your company.

Marketing Qualified Lead:

A person that has expressed enough interest that we determine we should invest marketing resources specifically in nurturing this person with the hopes of getting them ready for a conversation with the sales team.

Sales Qualified Lead:

A person who has expressed interest in a conversation with the sales team, and a person that we want the sales team to invest resources in talking to. They are ideally a decision maker at a company that fits our ideal client profile (a company that is a good fit to buy from us)


This is a person that through a conversation with the sales team, has express interest in a conversation about a specific product or service that we provide, or a specific pain point they want to address or opportunity they want to leverage. At this point, they have a deal created in HubSpot and associated with their contact record.


A person that has completed the buying process and has purchased a product or service from your company.


Either a customer that refers other people to you or a person that refers people to you. It can be either


This is often used for vendors, employees, or other people in your database that will not be part of your buying process.

Digging deeper into MQL & SQL

Now that we have lifecycle stages laid out, let’s dive deeper into Marketing Qualified Leads vs Sales Qualified leads.

To start off, there is no clear definition of XYZ makes a person a MQL or SQL. The reason their is so much confusion, is there is a lot of nuance as well as each company will have a unique definition based on their customer acquisition process, what the staff make up of their departments is etc.

Marketing Qualified Leads:

These are people that we want to invest in specifically from a marketing standpoint, this is often one to many investments. Its blogs, email marketing, tradeshows, sending swag, social media marketing, direct mail, webinars, etc. These are people that are interested, but not ready to engage with sales.

Sales Qualified Leads:

In contrast to MQLs, Sales qualified leads are people that we want to spend time and resources engaging with on a one-on-one basis. Your sales team is engaged in conversations with them, and they are starting to explore if a deeper conversation makes sense. This is often where an exploratory or discovery call will happen. It’s the stage where you are ascertaining BANT/CHAMP/MEDDIC etc. We move someone from SQL to opportunity, when we are ready to create a deal for them.

As you can see, what these stages mean from different companies will vary drastically. What is important is that as a company, you define what they mean for you, and all teams agree and function on a shared understanding of what MQLs and SQLs are.

Managing MQLs & SQLs in HubSpot

Now that we have laid out what an MQL and SQL are, how do we manage them in HubSpot?

There are a three main ways to do this. 

Completely Manual

This is where I recommend companies start. We default to over-complicating things. If your staff can’t understand when a person moves from lead to MQL to SQL and then to opportunity, you aren’t going to be able to accurately construct either behavioral triggers or lead scoring.

To do this, you will manually change the lifecycle stage on a lead when they are ready to move to the next stage.

Behavioral Triggers

Behavior triggers are a simple version of lead scoring. A behavioral trigger would be something like scheduling a call through the meetings widget, completing a form requesting to talk to sales etc. To set this up, you will define what your behavioral triggers are for MQL and SQL and then build in automation to update the stage. This can be via hidden form fields, workflows, zapier, or other ways.

Lead Scoring

Lead Scoring is behavioral triggers on steroids. Lead Scoring is taking various things a person will do or who they are and assigning a positive or negative values to them. I.e. so many website page views = 10 points, an ebook download is 20 points, a job title that’s junior, or not relevant, is – 50 points. When a person gets to 100 points, they become marketing qualified, and when they reach 200 points they become sales qualified. This is highly simplified, but you can see that you need a clear understanding of what behaviors and persona information is a positive and what is a negative to build a model that will be accurate.

Find out more, schedule a call with Jon to discuss details

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