I don’t normally write articles on sales – in case you couldn’t tell. But why? Simply put, I don’t work in sales. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to sell – in fact sales bleeds into almost every aspect of what I do as a marketer be it copy, emails, messaging, branding – marketing is really sales in the digital form. And safe to say having founded numerous companies I’ve been selling things since the day I was born.This article is going to provide a magic formula – I’m not that kind of sales coach. But I do want to be descriptive about what I see – working with many dozens of companies in an equally numerous number of industries, I’ve noticed some core, global commonalities. Identifying patterns is actually the root of what makes my insight valuable as a 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐭𝐞𝐫. What we are going to do is identify 3 types of leads in two different stages – MQL and SQL. Identifying these types is critical not only to closing the deal as a sales rep or account exec but actually to 80% of your marketing campaigns.https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-marketing-plan

If you’re our typical tech marketer or startup founder reader, you’ve probably incidentally come into contact with Hubspot’s content marketing LINK – specifically their blogs – at many points. Their penetration into the startup world is nothing short of astounding – they practically invented content marketing. It’s quite likely, if you manage a sales team, that you are either using hubspot or have been sold in and are thus familiar with its terminology and standard pipeline – which I will Co-opt here.

MQL Leads

My operational definition of a marketing qualified lead is informed by my heavy focus on targeting this segment; I think it’s better to go broad here rather than tie MQL merely to leads generated from lead magnet forms collecting email. For me, an MQL is any lead who has expressed interest in the product – whichever way that interest is expressed and in whatever domain. But they must be interested in the product – not just general content. For example, I consider a lead who clicks on a product demo ad, visits the site and whose account is then identified by an ABM tool. (yes this exists) leadfeeder.com

I do not, however, consider a person who registers for a webinar a lead, regardless of how much information or contact fields they give you. You simply can’t distinguish if they are actually in the market. Well, not reliably at least – unless your webinar is really just a mass demo – which in a lot of cases it can be. Even if you think you can identify them by demographic info (company size, job title) this does not make them a lead of any type.

QUOTEif a target prospect don’t know about your product, who knows what kinds of conflicts they can have – budget or not,to prevent them from becoming customers. These areWe NOT leads, by any reasonable definition.

Ok enough of my ranting. Let’s break down the 3 types:

“Push” Leads:

A core example here is someone who fills a demo request form or asks for pricing in first communicae. Your main goal? Ensure they show up. Focus all your ad copy and sales emails at creating that meeting – avoid content/webinars or other things that would delay your sales process. These people are interested and you are doing disservice by not ensuring they see your product up close. Very rarely are these people turned off by persistence and in most cases their non response is related to being busy or not using the medium (email/fb) Technology can help you validate whether they’ve read or not (Vocus.io) – we did this audit a year back for our company and were surprised at how robust this conclusion was.

”Pull” Leads

These leads are interested in your product but may not be currently able to make a decision. Maybe they are junior and doing research for their boss – maybe they’re considering switching from another product – maybe they’ve already decided to buy your product, and they are just waiting for some budget to open it.

To understand this lead type deeply, try to recall the last sizable SaaS product you purchased that you had known of for a while before you purchased. Identify your reasons – likely you’ll find a similar kind of judgement was in your head, and you actually decided to buy, after significant research, months before you actually had the cash or time to buy.

During that phase, a lead of this type is going to be drawn buy more product info. Once they’ve exposed themselves as a pull lead, you have to avoid “selling” until they qualify themselves again through their actions.

It is your job to identify at what point they are ready to buy – in some cases, they might tell you explicitly in an inquiry; or you might be able to guess by the company size, fiscal quarter, or season – if it’s education. Two quick ways to do so

  • promote webinars, other opt in content that gets more and more product focused; increment the lead score based on their activity and trigger a promo (email or ad) based on some lead score threshold.
  • Simply track their activity and the pages they visit on the site, frequency etc for a crucial velocity.
  • Email or LinkedIn connect with them and ask them qualifying questions point blank.

We’re proactive about these ongoing qualifying tests – while you don’t want to sell (I.e “push”) in this phase, you do need to remind them you exist. The best way to do is to provide valuable content in many different formats (videos, posts, emails) and distribute on multiple channels in a way that isn’t too aggressive but is consistent with their level of interests

So you’re putting yourself constantly on their radar – giving them useful info for free, making them grateful and positioning yourself as an expert (ehem, your’s truly) – subconsciously, that little anxiety or nagging that they might be missing out will eventually overcome them; or it will simply be the right time and they’re ready to go.

Just make sure to keep the product accessible through CTAs, pop ups, shout outs etc in your content so it’s easy to do when they’re ready. We’re big proponents of long term marketing, and the warm up customer education process is always important but in many cases it’s actually critical; the majority of your customers may ONLY come from the pull path.

Which is extremely true for startups that don’t have “need” products

“Discard” Leads

Some leads are just not qualified for your product despite expressing interest. Maybe you sell to businesses – but an individual is looking to buy – maybe it’s someone who doesn’t have a job and is just looking to keep extending trials. Maybe they misinterpreted the purpose and target audience of the product and are actually not in a compatible industry.

Whatever the reason, unless the marketing you have is perfect and highly developed (check out youdontneedacmo.com/discover) this is going to make up a large constituency of your pipeline. Ideally, you should have figured out a way to remove them in the prospecting stage – but if you’re doing inbound marketing or PR, you didn’t select them directly in the first place to target.

Most companies these days, even the marketing light companies, are remarketing to website visitors – generally in a non sophisticated way. If you’re like a lot of our clients, you might have acquired a solid web traffic source – perhaps some SEO from some great content or a fun widget. But your conversion rates and ROI are in the sewer. You can’t figure out why FB isn’t tracking conversions for you (because you don’t have any!)

This group is not worth wasting ad dollars or email cache on to qualify. Your best move is to find some correlating factors, and use it to narrow your advertising audiences. Examples include creating audiences that exclude visits to specific pages, visits before a certain time, # of visits, geography, or a Boolean combination of several.

With respect to email, if you use Pardot or a similar tool you’ll be able to apply the same filters to the pipeline as they’re tracked.

SQL Leads

Let’s define an SQL as someone who has expressed a explicit interest in buying the product – as opposed to merely expressing an interest. Not just that they’ve booked a meeting – but they’ve expressed in their submitted contact forms, SDR cold calls, LinkedIn or emails – verbally – that they are considering buying your product. For most traditional companies (as opposed to SaaS) SQL activity will actually occur on the first call (generally a demo or discovery by junior sales person) – but the same principles (verbal expression of intent) apply.

A quick aside – with a lot of companies there isn’t an SQL stage – these companies are called “ecommerce”. (duh) SaaS products that have a freemium model, public pricing, single user products, or all 3 have an instant process from MQL (interested visitor) to SQL.

Here are the three types extended for SQLs – we will go back to front:


Best example: You get on a demo, and immediately start hearing negative comments. If you’re doing anything right https://www.youdontneedacmo.com/ydnacmo-leads/ you have a ton of leads. Having done hundreds of sales calls, I have never eventually closed someone who expressed disdain or disqualification for my product. You will know these people when you see them; maybe they’re mining you for your information (very common in the marketing world) or maybe they know they can’t qualify your product, are trying to negotiate – or maybe even sell you on THEIR product.

This does not equate to someone casting doubts or questioning your products efficacy – this is a normal part of sales, objections, to be answered accordingly. The discard SQL is mostly intuitive, but the dead giveaway is a verbal tell that they’re intentions with the product we’re misrepresented.

If you waste your time on this group, or even worse – try to cater your messaging to them – it will be fatal over the long term. Senior sales people easily have this covered and programmed into them – set a criteria, and enforce it seriously. Losing one or two okay leads is a fine sacrifice to make in lieu of losing hundreds of hours. If you look back at your records, I’m sure you will find very few of these “discards” that had any potential to be big customers/clients in the first place.


Much like with the MQLs, this group is one of the larger ones and the most critical to growth. It’s relative distribution depends on niche but generally speaking, we are talking about positive but tempered interactions. A perfect example is a junior manager at a company who loves your demo, and promises to bring it up at the next board meeting. Or a demo request who responds to a confirmation email by saying they’re extremely interested in the product but have to wrap up a fundraising cycle.

Just the like the MQL subtype, you need to keep engaging this group without being pushy – we find monthly blog recommendations, social engagements (commenting on posts) referrals and advice work best. You might be tempted to start throwing out discounts or trying to lock them in, but selling to this group too soon is a mistake. You see, they actually did you a service by expressing their hesitations – they essentially “revealed” their hand to you. You know their timeline is not immediate; but you know that they’re highly interested.

So make a note, and create some recurring networking tasks in your CRM of choice. When the time comes you’ll be sure to dig, catch up – see what’s going on. You might be able to occasionally plug the product – better in a subtle way like we suggested with the MQLs (ex: CTA at bottom of email, referral to another customer) – but don’t act to soon.

By being upfront with you, they’ve given you an opportunity (no salesforce pun intended) to create a relationship where there was none. Head their signals and take advantage of it to nurture and build rapport.

Like with all SQLs, keeping track of and following up on information is critical here. Ensure your sales team knows how to use the CRM and how to log everything – it could come in handy.


A push SQL is fairly obvious in all cases to identify; not necessarily obvious to convert. A typical push lead is one who has one specific question or set of questions; or perhaps has revealed or asked about the differences between pricing – or my favorite, is framing questions in a future tense – I.e “when we use x how can we y?”

This choice of wording is an unconscious reflection of the decision they’ve already made in their head. From basic training in life, you’ll probably notice and capitalize on it intuitively; but if you pay attention to the words you can ensure success and speed up sales.

When explaining sales concepts I like to use dating examples; if someone is already considering being with you, the only threat torwards that outcome is you – specifically, your inability to recognize and act on this.

Whether it’s giving a discount or offering a personal setup – you should do whatever you can to close – before they are introduced to someone else who might have a better product. Rarely does this backfire and like with MQLs these folks if not quick are probably not seeing your messages or communicae.

Keep hitting them and if they’re comparing you against a competitor they will probably tell you – because they don’t want to lose you.


Hopefully you now know how to identify these types effectively at any sent; there are many triggers you can automate for this purpose, no just sales people inputting data but perhaps having custom fields that are monitored for a change. In other words, to derive value from adopting a methodology such as ours, you must somehow squeeze into your operations

If you can do this, you can drastically increase your yield, effectiveness, and rate of return on campaigns – outbound email, remarketing -virtually anything that is connected or triggered by your lead’s status -> something called dynamic marketing which hopefully you’re already using.

In any case, hopefully you sales people or hubspot reps aren’t offended by misappropriation of your jargon. I like to look at things a different way, to tie into my processes and outcomes – whether you choose to use those terms in the same way has no bearing on the truth of these conclusions.

Like this article? Stay tuned and subscribed to my podcast for my upcoming podcast on selling as a founder and if you need more significant help sign up for our slack channel at youdontneedacmo.com/community where we release templates, scripts, even sample calls weekly

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