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How to use qualified leads to drive sales

Qualified leads: marketing and sales teams having a meeting

Key takeaways

  • Understanding the three types of sales leads—unqualified, marketing qualified, and sales qualified—can help you make the most of your lead generation efforts
  • Use emails and social media posts to build trust and educate qualified leads about what you offer
  • Prioritize where you spend your time and energy to maximize your chances of closing the deal

No business, big or small, can make sales—or a profit—without leads. Even if you don’t have a dedicated marketing team and sales team, it’s imperative to be strategic about how you handle sales leads, particularly qualified leads. Knowing what qualified leads are (and what they aren’t) can help you save time and increase your conversion rates, or the percentage of prospects who take a desired action. Learn how to get more qualified leads to move through your sales funnel and ultimately close the deal using the tips below.

What are qualified leads?

A lead is anyone who has interacted with your business in some way, even if they’re just passing through. A qualified lead meets the criteria of your ideal customer and has actively shown interest by taking steps to find out more, like signing up for your newsletter or following you on social media. 

The concept of lead qualification helps marketing and sales teams give the right amount of time and attention to new leads, depending on where they are in the sales cycle. As a small business owner, lead definition helps you understand exactly how to deal with each new lead most effectively so you don’t spend too much time and effort on people who might never buy from you.

What are the different types of leads?

Much like athletes go through qualifying rounds to get to the next tier, business leads follow a similar flow through the sales funnel. The three main types of leads are unqualified, marketing qualified, and sales qualified. 

Unqualified leads

Someone who has just encountered your business is an unqualified lead. They might be walking past your physical store or clicking through to your website from an advertisement. At this stage, your unqualified lead is right at the beginning of your sales pipeline and likely knows very little about your company. This is not a guaranteed sale, as they might move on immediately, but they also might move further into your sales funnel.

If they fit into the demographics of your target audience (such as age, income, level of education, or interests), you have the opportunity to qualify these leads further. 

How to qualify unqualified leads

At this beginning stage, it’s important to understand your ideal customer profile—that is, your buyer personas—especially their pain points. Use your website landing pages or store signage, plus your digital advertising campaigns, to highlight how your product or service can help resolve their pain points.

Then, issue a strong call to action like a website pop-up with language like “Sign up for our newsletter to receive tips and discounts” or an invitation on your website pages to “Follow us on social media” with links to all your channels. Your goal at this stage is to get their contact details so you can stay in touch and continue to build the relationship.

Marketing qualified leads (MQL)

Qualified leads: entrepreneur looking at sales reports using her phone and computer

A marketing qualified lead has taken some kind of action that shows interest in what you offer and is ready to find out more. For example, they might have:

  • Visited your website multiple times
  • Reached out to your business with an email or phone call
  • Provided their contact information on a form on your website
  • Attended a free webinar you hosted
  • Downloaded a checklist of tips or a whitepaper from your site
  • Followed you on your social media channels
  • Commented or posted a question on your social media
  • Entered a competition you’re running
  • Added some products to their cart or wishlist but didn’t check out
  • Signed up for a trial subscription to test your product or service

At this point, they have become potential customers, and you probably have their names and at least some of their contact details. They’re still not a guaranteed sale, but they’re much closer to it.

How to convert your marketing qualified lead into a sales qualified lead

Digital marketing tactics like email marketing and social media marketing work well to keep marketing qualified leads engaged and to educate them further about the benefits of your products or services.

With your target market in mind, consider what they might need to take the next step. Perhaps they have questions about how your product or service works. In this case, emails or posts on the features and benefits of different products or how to choose between them can help. Or they might need to get a better sense of your company and brand personality, in which case you can build trust by letting them know how you work, what you believe in, and introducing members of your team. 

Positive reviews on business platforms like Yelp also go a long way toward building credibility and trust. When you add or claim your Yelp Business Page, you can add your business information—including contact details, description, and high-quality photos—to make it easier for potential customers to find you, get to know you, and contact you. As your marketing qualified leads start to consider buying, they’ll move further along your marketing funnel.

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Sales qualified leads (SQL)

Sales qualified leads are close to the end of your pipeline. These are extremely high-quality leads because they’ve made a purchase decision and simply need to be encouraged to go through with it. In a larger company, the marketing department would turn these sales-ready leads over to dedicated salespeople.

How to close the deal with your sales qualified leads

Because these leads are ready to buy, it’s worth investing some extra time and energy into lead nurturing. How you close the deal in your business will depend on the products and services you offer, but the key lies in highlighting how you address their pain points. To support this, you could offer a free trial or share feedback from happy customers through reviews and testimonials. Research shows that nearly half of consumers trust customer reviews as much as recommendations from those closest to them. 

For big-ticket items or personal services, consider making a phone call to add a human touch to the interaction. For others, you could offer a discount or an add-on, like a warranty or a free gift, if they purchase by a certain date. Creating a sense of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out) can also be highly effective in getting them to the finish line. 

Business owner and customer shaking hands

What is lead scoring?

Lead scoring is a lead qualification process used by sales reps during the sales process to help them decide which leads to focus on.

A common way to score leads uses the acronym BANT, which stands for budget, authority, need, and timeline.

  • Budget: Does your pricing fit their budget?
  • Authority: Do they have the power to make a purchasing decision?
  • Need: Does your solution address their pain point?
  • Timeline: When do they plan to buy?

Each of these is assessed using the lead’s answers to some qualifying questions, which you can ask using a simple, multi-step contact form on your website. Every company’s scoring system will be different, but the closer the lead’s answers are to those of your ideal customer, the higher you score them. You can then focus your marketing efforts on those who score the highest since you know they’re more likely to convert.

How can automation help you gain more qualified leads?

If your company size is very small, you might be able to manage your marketing and lead qualification using spreadsheets and send your emails through a platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact. As you start to grow however, you may want to consider marketing automation to handle the increased workload.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems help you keep track of all your qualified leads so you always know where they are in the sales process and the next step to take with them. You can then set up automated email campaigns using templates so certain emails are automatically sent at each stage of the marketing funnel.

If you’re considering a CRM system, check out options like, Freshworks, or Zendesk, or try out free CRM software.

Qualify your leads to drive conversions and boost sales

Every small business needs a regular stream of leads that can be moved through the sales funnel, one step at a time.

Classifying each lead as an unqualified lead, marketing qualified lead, or sales qualified lead helps you use the right approach at each stage of the sales process. When you assign these categories, you can apply the right type of marketing strategy to nudge them to the next step.

Lead qualification also ensures you invest the most time and energy where you have the greatest chance of closing the sale because, bottom line, that’s what drives the success of your business.

As you increase your lead database, it’s important to manage your potential customers well. Learn more about lead management to help you take your business to the next level. 

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.