Sales-Qualified Leads.

In the B2B sales funnel, they’re the key that unlocks the door to a sale. They’re the leads that have been carefully and skillfully nurtured. They’re the ones, that with the right discussion points, could turn a prospect into a sale.

Or at least they should be.

But, in the world of modern marketing – with dozens of digital and traditional channels – it can be challenging to build a lead gen funnel that delivers quality – and that’s an important clarifying adjective – quality sales-qualified leads (SQL).

Study after study tell this story:

  • Only 25% of the leads marketers generate are high enough quality to immediately advance to sales.
  • 61% of B2B marketers name generating high-quality leads as their biggest challenge.
  • Two-thirds of lost sales are as a result of sales reps not properly qualifying their potential customers before taking them through the full sales process.

For more very telling lead gen stats, check out this post, but I think you get the point. Developing a reliable demand gen funnel that’s rich with sales-qualified leads is a common pain point among marketing and sales teams.

In this post, we’ll outline four steps to help up your game on sales qualifying performance. Let’s dig in:

1. Know What You’re Looking For: Define Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

At a high-level, sales-qualified leads are prospects that have indicated a serious interest in purchasing your products or services. An SQL has been researched and evaluated by both the marketing and sales teams and determined that the individual has serious potential to convert into a paying customer. They are bottom-funnel leads.

In order to improve SQL performance, the first step is to clearly define what you’re looking for in a SQL. We’ve discussed sales and marketing alignment in depth in other posts (here and here and here). This step is about bridging the gap between sales and marketing, getting the teams on the same page, and then using that framework to put strategies into place that accomplish shared objectives.

The target audience for every company will be unique, but there are certain criteria that is generally defined for SQLs. A common framework used is budget, authority, need, and timeframe (BANT). In other words, answer the following questions:

Budget. What is the budget necessary for your solution/product? You don’t want the sales team to waste time engaging with leads that don’t have the budget available to become customers.

Authority. What are the job titles of your target customers? For existing customers? Creating buyer personas for your solution can be helpful here to narrow in on your target audience.

Needs. What are the needs your product or solution solves? Identify the capabilities and differentiating factors of your solution. The goal is to match your product with sales qualified leads that have articulated that need.

Timeframe. B2B sales funnels are typically longer and more complex. Obviously, SQLs should have a sense of urgency and be ready to buy, but depending on your solution, that timeframe could vary from implementation next week to six months out. Know when is the right time to start engaging with SQLs.

2. How Ready Is Your Lead: Identify Sales Funnel Stage

Determining how ready a lead is – how close a lead is to potentially converting — is tricky business. The traditional method of understanding where a lead is along the funnel used to mean marketers bombarding prospects with messaging, then picking out the few that engage with those efforts the most and tailoring future marketing efforts accordingly. It’s pretty inefficient – and incessant emails (or phone calls) can irk promising leads.

sales qualified lead

Potential customers are busy, and they’re taking time out of their day to research solutions or view content because they want something. Building a buyer journey that provides valuable information at every stage of the funnel accomplishes two things. First, it provides the prospect with the means to progressively engage with your brand as they research solutions to their problem. And second, having content designated for particular parts of the funnel helps inform the sales team’s understanding of the where the prospect lands in the sales funnel.

3. Understand Your Prospect: Motivations, Challenges, and Budget

If you want to make a new friend, ask them about themselves. We’ve all heard that advice. And the same principle applies in demand generation marketing. Use the sales funnel to get to know your prospects. Provide them with opportunities to interact with your company and self-identify key criteria that ties back to your SQL definition.

With strategic engagements in place, marketers can better facilitate engagement down the sales funnel, score leads accurately, and send the right leads to sales teams.

Use this roadmap to identify your company’s specific sales-qualifying questions that could be incorporated into your content and demand gen efforts.

4. Close the Deal: Tailor the Sales Conversation with Data

In order to determine whether or not a lead is ready to convert, marketers first have to recognize whether prospect behavior indicates interest in the product or service, or intent to make a purchase.

interest vs intent


As the graph above shows, specific behaviors indicate different prospect intentions. Using content marketing, relevant and fluid engagements can be incorporated into the sales funnel to hone in on the engagements that indicate intent to purchase.

From there, marketers can quickly and accurately separate leads that indicate they’re ready to be connected with a sales rep from the leads that are still researching a product or service.

Take this scenario: You’re trying to qualify two separate leads based on the behaviors they’ve made while engaging with the brand. One lead downloads several ebooks, attends a webinar, and engages with numerous top-funnel blog articles. The other lead has visited your pricing page several times and spent the majority of engagement efforts looking at case studies related to that lead’s industry.

It’s clear which one is researching and which is showing intent to purchase. The latter is your more likely your SQL.

The next step is to to reflect your knowledge and understanding of the customer, which has been gained through their various interactions with your company. Sales should use this information to have more insightful and relevant discussions with prospects.

Where Interactive Content Fits into Sales Lead Qualification

Modern marketers are taking an automated, highly targeted approach to the way they interact with their leads, and as a result, the lead qualification process is changing. The days of marketers taking a “more is better” approach to their qualifications is over. Now, marketers have to focus on generating the right leads—leads that are ready for sales and have a high chance of converting.

So, where does interactive content fit into all this?

Interactive content is a tool that provides marketers with more opportunities to engage prospects, which in turn, gives them a more opportunities to understand those prospects better throughout the nurturing process.

Interactive content enables a two-way dialogue between a business and a potential customer. It can have a place in each of the steps described above – and can play a supporting role in improving SQL performance.

For example:

With the SQL framework developed in step 1, create a top funnel asset, such as an ROI calculator, that provides value to the audience, while answering some of your key sales-qualifying questions. In a traditional sales funnel, it getting to those answers could take a dozen emails or multiple phone calls.

An interactive assessment can give you key insights to help demand gen marketers identify where a potential buyer is in the buyer journey.

A straightforward form fill on a whitepaper download gives you a lead’s contact information, but something like an interactive PDF gives you a chance to ask your prospects more relevant questions that help to quality – or disqualify leads.

With all the insights gained in a nurturing process with interactive content, sales teams go into a customer discussion with a deeper understanding of the prospect’s specific situation and challenges. With better insights, come better conversations – and improved chances of turning SQLs into conversions.