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How to use sales-qualified leads for small business sales

Learn how to define sales-qualified leads for your business so you can identify them faster, prioritize nurturing them, and convert them into clients. 

Woman determining her sales-qualified leads

Identifying a sales-qualified lead (SQL) can help you save time while prioritizing the right potential clients. These types of leads are traditionally vetted by a sales team or have taken specific actions that show they’re more likely to convert and book with you. 

If you’re an independent business owner, the right criteria and tools can help you identify sales-qualified leads and nurture them in a timely manner. Learn everything you need to incorporate this strategy into your lead generation funnel

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What is a sales-qualified lead?

For independent businesses, a sales-qualified lead is a potential client who’s shown strong interest in your services and is a good client fit.

Your definition of an SQL will be unique to your business, and it’s up to you or your sales team to determine the actions that define one. For instance, they may have downloaded a whitepaper, scheduled a consultation, or joined your newsletter. These actions signal a higher level of engagement with your business than someone who has simply visited your website or followed your social media channels. 

What’s the difference between a sales-qualified lead and a marketing-qualified lead?

Compared to a marketing-qualified lead, or MQL, an SQL is further down your sales funnel. An MQL may have interacted with your marketing channels and expressed interest in your brand, but an SQL communicates more intent to buy and book with you. 

Once you determine a lead is an SQL, you can prioritize them for more one-on-one conversations about your services and follow-ups to get them to book with you. 

Defining the criteria for your sales-qualified leads

For enterprise-level companies, a sales-qualified lead is someone who’s ready to speak to the sales team. For your purposes as an independent business owner, these are leads who are ready to make a purchase (regardless of whether you have a sales team or not). 

Lead scoring is one method you can use to define your SQLs. Lead scoring helps you define the actions or criteria that signify a lead is ready to book with you. You can assign points to each of these criteria to determine how to prioritize each lead. The more points the lead has, the more you should prioritize reaching out and converting them into a client. 

Positive lead scoring metrics

  • They’re in your lead pipeline: Have they already downloaded something from your website or signed up for your newsletter? If so, they probably already have knowledge about your business and who you are. 
  • They follow you on social media: If the lead is already following you on your social channels they are more likely to book with you than if they haven’t seen or engaged with your digital marketing. 
  • They’ve contacted you for more information: Has a prospect already reached out to you? Inbound leads should be prioritized higher over leads from cold outreach. Bonus points if the prospect has already answered your discovery questions.
  • They’re a good fit for your business based on your ideal client profile: Have you captured their information via a questionnaire or contact form? Evaluating their timeline, needs, and business type or job title (if applicable) are some of the initial questions that will determine fit. 
  • They’re a referral lead: Our research found that referral leads are more likely to book, making these important to isolate as qualified leads. 
  • Their budget aligns with your revenue goals: Lastly, budget is one of the most important criteria for qualified leads. If their budget fits your range of pricing, they’ll be more likely to book. If their budget is too low, they’ll probably look elsewhere for a better fit. 

While building out your criteria for sales-qualified leads, you can also determine the criteria to score a lead negative. This might include: 

Negative lead scoring metrics

  • Unsubscribing from your newsletter or other marketing messages
  • Low engagement with your email marketing if they are still subscribed (no opens or clicks)
  • Location doesn’t fit the market that you service
  • Budget doesn’t fit with your pricing and packaging
  • Timeline or project date doesn’t fit your schedule 

All of these factors are indicators that your lead isn’t an SQL, and therefore, you can let them know you can’t service them, and/or archive them within your CRM. 

How to generate more sales-qualified leads

Successful lead generation always starts with targeting your ideal clients. First, start with understanding where they come from. If you use a system like HoneyBook, you can leverage lead source reports to determine where most of your clients hear about you. 

Once you know where your leads come from, you can focus more on those platforms. For instance, if most of your leads hear about you on Instagram, it’s time to start running paid ads there or increase your budget on the platform. 

You can also improve the way you vet leads. If you haven’t invested in vetting technology for your business yet, you could be missing out on tools that help you save time. With HoneyBook, for example, a lot of the qualifying leads work is taken off your plate. Every time you get a new inquiry, the platform considers your previous clients and how the new client compares. From there, it uses AI capabilities to let you know if the lead is more likely to book or more valuable for your business in terms of budget. 

How to nurture your sales-qualified leads

sales-qualified leads likely don’t need as much nurturing as marketing-qualified leads. They’re ready to speak with someone directly and move forward, so nurturing them is all about moving fast. 

They’re at the part of the sales process where they’re ready to hear your sales pitch and solutions for their pain points. 

Once you’ve identified SQLs, move forward with scheduling as soon as possible. Depending on how much information you have about them, you can even send a file that allows them to schedule a consultation and also view your project proposal. 

Pro tip

Automate the process for responding to leads by setting up a thank you email for each new inquiry. Our research shows that clients are nearly 10% more likely to book when you respond in an hour compared to 48 hours or more. 

Leverage technology to capture and qualify more leads

If you have a high volume of leads coming in each month and a robust scoring system, a CRM will help you stay organized and prioritize your outreach. 

Better yet, consider a clientflow management platform that will let you capture leads, qualify them, and convert them into clients. HoneyBook provides independent businesses with all the tools they need to manage their business–all in one place. 

When it comes to potential clients, HoneyBook will let you know when you have sales-qualified leads that are more likely to book and secure a high-value project with you. With timely notifications, you’ll know how to prioritize your new inquiries and save time booking more clients. 

Improve your clientflow from hey to pay

HoneyBook makes it easy to capture leads, qualify them, and book new clients.

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