MQL. SQL. SDR. BDR. Oh my, what’s it all mean?

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We do lead generation in the complex, high-ticket B2B tech space. A year back I had an argument with a (former) client. The Sales Manager called me after his first meeting we arranged for him and complained that this meeting was a total waste of his precious time. So, what happened?

We had reached out to the right buyer persona within the ideal customer profile (target group), exchanged some emails and ultimately agreed to have a short DISCO/DEMO call (stands for discovery/demonstration). I did the call, qualified him by asking 2-3 very basic questions, he qualified us and expressed that he wants to learn a bit more about the offer. So he was “interested to take the next step.” This sales-qualified-lead (more in a second) was handed over to our client’s VP of Sales and ended up on the Sales Manager’s desk. Obviously his expectation was to get a meeting with the true decision maker further down his buyer journey discussing a prominent sales opportunity…

… that didn’t happen immediately, hence the argument.

So, what is a lead, what is a prospect, what is an opportunity? Let’s figure that out here.

Some terms you need to embrace

The intersection of marketing and sales and in our example the intersection of external sales development and internal sales execution sometimes gets tricky because people don’t always understand all the terms and roles — or, worse yet, everyone is operating according to a different perception of what’s supposed to be happening, and there’s no universal standard. 

People and their personalities and perceptions are always a little bit messy — that’s why we are racing to automate more functionality in business — but we can help you out a little bit here with some standardized definitions, then explain how we can help a sales ecosystem beyond those titles.

What is a MQL?

That’s a marketing-qualified lead. It is different than a sales-qualified lead, which we will discuss next. A MQL is not — repeat not — ready for the buying cycle. They are ready to learn more about what you do, which can be assets, email drip sequences, social media targeting, etc. They are a potential future customer, yes. But they are not yet there. A sales principal should not be picking up the phone on a MQL yet. You determine MQL from website visits, form downloads, and other targeting. But just because someone did one form download doesn’t mean sales should be grabbing the phone.

What is a SQL?

That’s a sales-qualified lead, as we discussed above. This is someone who has engaged enough that sales is ready to try their first contact. Normally you get from MQL to SQL with some form of lead scoring. 

In a marketing driven environment and transactional sales lead scoring is a process where leads get “points” for doing higher-value items, i.e. looking at a sales guide or spending a lot of time on a request demo page, etc. Higher lead scores move someone from MQL to SQL. 

In a sales driven environment like high-ticket B2B “lead scores” translates into the few qualification questions in the DISCO/DEMO call a SDR or BDR does.  

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How Software And Services Companies Double The Number Of Mid-Market Customers In 180 Days.

What happens if you have no distinction here?

Familiar with the ship called the Titanic?

Nothing good happens if MQL and SQL aren’t separated. Usually what happens is this:

  • Sales says “These leads are old/cold.”
  • Marketing says “You aren’t using the great assets we produce properly.”

Lots of in-fighting and political bullsh*t. Nothing gets done.

What is not a SQL?

A sales-qualified-lead might still need nurturing. (This is what’s happening in the story at the top of this post. We delivered a sales-qualified lead and the client wanted the end, the ultimate decision-maker immediately. That’s almost never how it works.) In complex B2B space this can take 6 to 12 months. But it can also happen immediately that you have a Sales Opportunity.

Ok, now what is a Sales Opportunity?

By definition, an opportunity means that you have a chance of selling a customer — not a guarantee. 

An opportunity is a lead or a company who has pain, interest in solving that pain, and fit. 

A salesperson can pick up on the budget, timeline, and authority throughout the sales process to further qualify (or disqualify) the opportunity.

Now, what is a SDR?

That’s a sales development representative. Normally a more junior member of a team who does a lot of cold-calling and cold outreach, i.e. social media messaging and emails. Typically SDRs spend more time on outbound leads, i.e. prospects you need to reach out to instead of those who arrived at some high-funnel, low-ticket offer you have.

So what is a BDR?

That’s a business development representative. Some organizations use SDR and BDR as the same thing. In more nuanced companies, a BDR focuses more on inbound leads, i.e. people that arrived at your website, looked at an offer of yours, downloaded something, etc. SDRs and BDRs are both crucial roles, and actually, at a recruiting conference in 2018, we heard a 30-year recruiter say they are the hardest roles to place for, up to and including executives. Why? The base pay is not that good, usually, although the opportunity for commission is there. But if you whiff on SDR and BDR hiring, your funnel starts to crater a little bit, and opportunities aren’t getting to the main sales principals. When that happens, to save their own behind, the main sales principal usually goes off-process and works their own leads, which hurts their relationship with the SDR/BDR. Again, politics and BS lead to less productivity and selling. That’s why it’s important to understand these terms and distinctions and find clear lines for them.

And finally the Account Executive?

The Account Executive is the senior sales executive that take over SQLs from SDRs and BDRs. They know the full value proposition of the product, they know their own sales playbook and they can drive the sales process and adjust to the buyer journey. They are the quota-carrying closers. 

Now how do we help?

We can do inbound lead generation, outbound lead generation, and total DACH market sales packages. So, essentially, all these terms above? We handle everything for you so that you don’t need to deal with the potential misses of hiring as you try to go-to-market with a product or service. It’s a more efficient approach to all of the above because typically, companies get the lines between sales and marketing very, very blurry, and that hurts sales output. If you keep all that stuff under one roof, it’s a lot easier to focus on the other aspects of your business. Then, when you start getting predictable sales, either ride with us for a while longer or start hiring in-house. No hard feelings. We love to help!

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