The difference between MQL & SQL: And why it matters for education marketers

January 25, 2023

Roxanne Denman

Leads are everything in marketing. Why? Without them, it will be a massive challenge to maximise your educational company's growth and revenue. The lead generation process is the one aspect you must prioritise, particularly in education marketing. Targeting the right lead builds credibility and visibility, establishes brand trust, and garners interest from a targeted group of potential prospects. We identify a lead by using collected data.

If you have done the work and have the leads, you may be excited and want to send them straight to sales. But wait - take some time to assess where each lead is in the buyer's journey. Your sales team needs to understand the difference between MQL (marketing qualified leads) and SQL (sales qualified leads).

Does it matter? It sure does.

Let's explain by using an example of a relay race. Stay with us for this one. (We love winning). You see, being fast is essential to winning any race. But how you execute your sales handoff in the marketing race makes the difference between earning first place or disqualifying your work. Perfecting the sales handoff, like the relay race, requires perfect timing, trusting your team, and communicating effectively. If you want to surpass sales records, you need to prepare, make adjustments, and be prepared to change your strategy again.

Getting mixed up between an MQL and SQL may have you reaching the lead at the wrong time and in the wrong way, leading to the erosion of your relationship with someone who could have potentially been a student.

So what is the main difference between MQLs and SQLs? Their readiness to buy.

Here we dive deeper into defining the two different lead stages and how to approach each of them to optimize communication, leading to converting your leads into clients.

The Fail-Safe Way to Tell an MQL and SQL Apart

MQLs are already interested in your brand but aren’t ready to take the next step and make a purchase decision. Your SQLs are ready to talk to your sales team and work towards making a purchase from your company.

But what are the best ways to tell them apart? It’s all in the way they act.

MQLs may resemble any potential prospect, but there is a big difference between an MQL and a plain prospect. MQLs have journeyed further down the funnel and may have taken supplementary action. Your MQL may have browsed your website to get information or could even have provided their email address to access resources.

Here are a few ways to identify an MQL:

  • they interact with your content;
  • they have willingly provided their contact details;
  • they spend time reading your content;
  • they have signed up for your newsletter;
  • they have requested details via a contact form or a live chat.

Not all MQLs will become customers, even if they actively engage with your content. Don't expect an MQL to make an instant purchase. Focus on consistently supplying engaging, interactive content instead, and reach out to them when they move further down your funnel. Pushing sales too fast can chase them away.

Talking about the funnel, your SQL is further down on its purchasing journey. They have researched your product or service, have engaged with you, and are ready to buy. Basically, they are considering purchasing right now.  

Depending on your education company, you have an idea of your perfect SQL. You have unique criteria to define SQLs for your business. If not, you should! Update these qualities regularly as your company and products develop. Your idea of a prospect, especially an SQL, may change according to varying purchasing patterns.

Having enough SQLs impacts your inbound and outbound sales. Lead generation is most effective when your conversion rates are high in the middle of your funnel. We show you how to identify an SQL, and once you recognise the behaviour in your own purchasing traits, you'll understand.

Here are the ways to define your SQLS:

  • they enquire about pricing and discounts;
  • they want to try out demos;
  • they have added products to a shopping cart;
  • they interact with your sales team willingly;
  • they have completed several forms on your website.

SQLs are more active. They know your brand, and more importantly, they trust it.

Nature vs. Nurture

As an education company, you must establish in-company tactics to handle each lead, depending on where they are in the buying process. If you hand an MQL to the sales team too early, you could scare them away. If you take too long, the lead may lose interest.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and you - the ed marketer are the performing artist.

Whether an MQL will become a customer comes down to the nurturing process. Fully understanding where the lead is in their process of the marketing funnel, using different target communication points, and personalising content will keep the prospect engaged. The more human your approach – the better your results will be.

The way to handle an SQL is entirely different. They have passed the nurturing and engagement phase. They have gone through the marketing funnel, and your team has deemed them an SQL. They are ready for that last sales push. They may need to clarify final details like discounts, costs, or extra information. This is where your sales team can shine by giving them friendly, knowledgeable, and outstanding service to finalise the sale.

What We Think

Differentiating your leads and where they are in the funnel allows us to engage and sell to them appropriately. Push sales on an MQL too fast and they may get turned off, losing brand trust. They may even still end up making a purchase - from your competitor. The same goes for an SQL - wait too long to push sales or to get back to them with information, and you may lose them. Identify your leads and make sure you differentiate your MQLs from your SQLs.

We have all been there - ready to make a purchase, but the salesperson catches you on a bad day, pushes a sale, and being unwilling to budge because they have badgered you too early in your buying journey - you may get turned off the brand. On the other hand, you could be ready to buy, have the budget, but want some more information, or maybe you are enquiring about a discount, and they don’t get back to you fast enough - they may have missed their chance, giving you enough time to investigate another educational institution who have engaged with you at the right time.

It’s all about reading people, knowing people, watching for the key signs, and then pushing the sale when the time is right. It goes back to The Theory of Persuasion - "It's all too easy to think of practising marketing as a skill rather than an art, but the truth is that you'll be much more successful if you take the time to understand more about how people behave. The psychological theories of persuasion provide a firm foundation for people to hesitate and consider what they're buying, but also, theoretically, feel better about their decision."

Reach your MQL and SQL at the right time in their journey down the funnel, and strike marketing gold.

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

Or do you want to tap into our expertise to sharpen your tactics? Look no further than our free downloadable resources. We work hard to research our content - and offer it to you - free of charge.

Want to know more about getting that pot of gold at the end of the marketing funnel?

Get our free resource: Education marketing metrics checklist to ensure you don't miss the target.