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Posted by Joe McNeillJun 16, 20236 min

What Is a Sales Accepted Lead, and How Does It Differ From an SQL?

Too often, leads that are qualified by the marketing team end up on the sales team’s plate for follow-up — even if they aren’t actually sales-ready.
Joe McNeill
Joe McNeill
Chief Revenue Officer at Influ2

Instead of dedicating their time to warm leads that will generate revenue, your sales team has to spend time jumping on calls and weeding out these prospects themselves. But there’s a more efficient way to manage the middle of your funnel.​With an additional lifecycle stage called the sales accepted lead, you’ll realign your marketing and sales teams and keep your most qualified, high-intent leads moving swiftly through the funnel.

Sales Accepted Leads Help You Transition From MQLs to SQLs

A sales accepted lead (SAL) is one that’s already been qualified by your marketing team and meets predetermined criteria for interacting with your sales team. They’re ready to move further down the pipeline, learn more about your product or service, and have a preliminary conversation with a sales rep.​Sales accepted leads help bridge the gap in the middle of the buyer’s journey, where there tends to be a disconnect between sales and marketing teams. Marketing is responsible for lead generation and generally owns the top of the funnel, and sales generally owns the bottom. But within organizations, it’s less clear which team should take ownership over the middle. They end up defaulting to each other when, really, both teams should be involved.​​SALs also present sales reps with warm leads, so they can focus their time more productively. Without an SAL stage and a clear process for determining warm leads, sales teams tend to rely on activities like cold calling to reach prospects, which is time consuming. It takes 18 or more dials to reach a prospect with a cold call.​Every organization will have its own definition of a sales accepted lead based on specific criteria. At your company, you might qualify a lead as an SAL once they reach a certain lead score or once they submit a website form. At that point, they’re ready for a more direct interaction with your sales team.

SQL vs. SAL: Sales Accepted Leads Convert Into Sales Qualified Leads

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is the next stage of the funnel after SAL. Once the sales team has the chance to review or interact with the SAL, and they decide the lead meets their criteria to keep moving down the pipeline, the lead becomes an SQL. This not only helps your team prioritize prospects with high intent to purchase but also creates a better experience along the buyer’s journey for your customers.​Some organizations don’t have a formal SAL stage of the lead lifecycle, but it’s important to distinguish SALs from SQLs to ensure that:

  • The sales team is interacting with qualified, warm leads: At the SAL stage, business development reps (BDRs) can screen potential customers to make sure they’re the right fit for your company before they continue on in the sales process. As leads are vetted and become SQLs, they’re passed on to your most experienced sales team members to handle.
  • Marketing gains a good understanding of which types of leads convert: To successfully fill the top of the funnel with leads that are a good match, your marketing team needs to understand which leads are likely to convert into customers. The extra SAL stage provides some of that context. Keep tabs on your SAL-to-SQL conversion rate to confirm that marketing is regularly producing high-quality leads to nurture through the middle of the funnel.

Distinguishing between lead stages is also key to crafting your overall buyer’s journey experience. A prospect’s lead stage will determine how many marketing emails they’re receiving, the types of outreach they receive from your BDRs, and other activities that nurture them through the funnel. Formalizing the SAL stage — and the criteria for moving into that stage at the right time — helps ensure that your buyer’s journey is an enjoyable one.

The criteria for SALs should be based on a prospect’s readiness to move out of the marketing qualified lead (MQL) stage and shift further down the sales pipeline. To designate a lead as an SAL, there should be some signal that they’re ready for a light sales conversation with your BDR, whether it’s the amount of content they’ve consumed or they’ve submitted a request for more info.​From that conversation, you’ll determine if they should be qualified as an SQL. If not, you should continue to nurture them through the middle of the funnel with marketing activities. You don’t want to skip this step, as companies with strong lead nurturing “generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost,” according to Marketo. Instead of pushing these leads into sales conversations before they’re ready, you’ll create a warmer, more enjoyable experience by nurturing them with helpful content and lower-pressure activities.

Determine Your Criteria for SALs vs. SQLs to Move Qualified Leads Down the Funnel

Determine a clear process for following up with sales accepted leads to create accountability and ensure high-intent leads don’t get lost in the funnel. This way, you’ll smoothly push leads through the middle of the funnel and move toward closed deals and revenue won.

Moving SALs Through the Funnel

Once a prospect is in the SAL stage, you’ll need to perform some type of follow-up action to determine that they’re ready for SQL designation. This can be as simple as a short call with a BDR. The goal is to identify prospects who may have an intent to purchase. They’re ready to hear more explicitly about your product and how it can serve their needs.​Decide on the criteria for qualifying SQLs beforehand using a service-level agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales, as well as what your follow-up activity will be, like an email outreach or a 30-minute call with a BDR. This gives your team a clear framework to work with for asking qualifying questions to see if the SAL meets the SQL criteria or if they need to remain in the middle of the funnel for further nurturing.

If an SAL isn’t quite ready to move to the SQL stage yet, they shouldn’t just be forgotten about. Your marketing team can continue to send them emails, serve up personalized content, and track their intent data. And your sales team should also plan on following up in the future. Both teams should work together to continue nurturing SALs and move them down the funnel once they’re ready.

Determining SQL ReadinessThere are a few different methods your BDRs can use to flesh out sales readiness and identify if the prospect matches the SQL criteria. Although your final list of questions will be specific to your company and sales process, they should touch on these general topics:

  • Lead scoring: Which content have they read or what webpages have they visited, and what’s their reason for reading this content?
  • Ideal customer profile: What type of company do they work for, and what’s their role at that company? Does it fit your ICP?
  • Budget and product fit: Are they in the market for the product or service you’re selling? If so, how much budget have they allocated for a solution?
  • Buying role: Do they have the authority to make a buying decision? What’s their role within their buying group?

Use sales qualification tools like BANTMEDDIC, and MEDDPICC to frame the conversation and determine their intent to purchase. Your team should also set specific timeframes for follow-up.) so that you’re catching leads while they’re warm and engaged. For instance, if your sales team agrees to follow up with SALs within 48 hours after they hit a high enough lead score, you know you’ll likely be catching them after they’ve just downloaded and read a fresh batch of content.

Unstick the Middle of Your Funnel

The middle of the funnel tends to be a sticky place for many B2B brands. Long sales cycles mean that even highly qualified leads might sit there for months at a time, despite your team’s best efforts to push them along. In other cases, strong prospects are seemingly forgotten about because there’s no clear process to pick them out of the crowd, follow up, and nurture them along.

The sales accepted lead stage is a great way to clear up the middle of the funnel and ensure that those prospects are being correctly identified. But as you’re determining criteria, sales qualification tools, and timing for follow-up calls, always keep your prospecting journey front of mind. Nurture leads with personalized content and deliver what they need based on where they are in their journey.

Joe McNeill
Joe McNeill
Chief Revenue Officer at Influ2

Chief Revenue Officer at Influ2 and a B2B Technology Sales Leader. Joe combines an enthusiasm for client service delivery, employee empowerment, and robust revenue operations to position organizations to scale & grow. Whether overseeing commercial teams, accelerating profitability by boosting conversion rates & deal size, or increasing YoY revenue, Joe McNeil has a career of experience skyrocketing repeatable & scalable business growth.

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