Lead, MQL, Opportunity: Why You Need Shared Internal Pipeline Definitions

Digital, Strategy

If you don’t speak the same language going in, you won’t get a clear picture on the other side.

Although it might seem like 101-level advice to have the key elements of your sales and marketing pipeline defined and shared, it’s remarkably common for sales and marketing teams to use entirely different language to denote the stage of a deal or the likelihood of a purchase. Sometimes it’s the simplest actions – like literally writing out a key of your shared language – that remove the biggest roadblocks to clear and measurable success.

In this post, we’ll cover key elements to define and why having shared definitions matter – especially if your business model includes dealer distribution and other complexities.

Short on time? Watch the video version of this blog for the highlights:

Key language to define and stick to

Pro tip: it matters less that you define these elements the same way every other business does and more that you share the same definition as everyone else in your organization – from CEO to marketing to sales. 

You’ll want to have shared definitions for:


What you call a potential customer who hasn’t yet been qualified

Some businesses define this as a “contact,” some call it a “lead,” and others use words like “deal” and “opportunity.” How you define it might be determined by the steps you’ll take to qualify said potential customer.

What you call a potential customer who has been qualified

You’ve likely heard and used the terms “marketing qualified lead” (MQL) and “sales qualified lead” (SQL). In your world, what exactly constitutes an MQL? Is it that they’ve interacted with a piece of marketing and are moving into a different stage in the buyer journey? Is an SQL more ready-to-buy than an MQL? 

How a potential customer moves through the buyer journey/marketing funnel

Particularly for B2B organizations who sell via a dealer distribution network, it’s incredibly important to have a shared set of expectations about where potential buyers come from, where the handoffs happen, and what each facet of the team (marketing, sales, customer service) should expect and be responsible for.

If you’re looking for some starter definitions of the terms above (and more), our friends at Hubspot have a great post about it here

What happens when definitions don’t match?

Let’s dig into an example of a manufacturer/OEM who uses consumer marketing campaigns at the corporate level to build awareness and consideration. The OEM doesn’t sell their products directly to consumers; they have a dealer distribution network. 

What happens if their ideas about and definitions of leads and qualification stages don’t match from the OEM to the dealer? 

Example: Definitions don’t match:

  1. The OEM posts a gated shopping guide on their website with a form for users to fill out in order to unlock access.
  2. A website user fills out the form, which includes their contact information, and downloads the shopping guide. 
  3. The OEM considers this an MQL and passes it on to the dealer for further qualification and follow-up.
  4. The dealer considers an MQL as someone who’s ready to buy. So when they receive the OEM from the manufacturer, they call/email/contact the MQL as if the MQL is ready to buy that day. 
  5. The MQL, who might only be beginning their shopping journey, doesn’t consider themselves ready to buy and bristles at the dealer’s enthusiasm. 
  6. The dealer, who thought the lead was warm, feels frustrated that it was cold.
  7. The OEM, who thought the dealer would warm up the lead, feels their efforts were squandered.

A lack of shared definitions from the OEM to the dealer and back caused frustration at just about every step in the above example. And potential buyers feel it, too. 

Related Read: The Value of Content in Sales

Now, let’s take a look at what happens if the same organization had shared definitions from the start.

Example: Definitions do match:

  1. The OEM posts a gated shopping guide on their website with a form to unlock access.
  2. A website user fills out the form and provides their contact info.
  3. The OEM considers this an MQL, which to the organization means a lead who has engaged in educational or consideration-level content via a marketing campaign. An MQL in this organization is considered cold or nearly cold. 
  4. The dealer, understanding that an MQL is considered cold, uses this as an opportunity to engage the MQL in an email nurturing workflow to move them from “I just started shopping” to “I’m more seriously considering buying.”
  5. Once the MQL has interacted with the email nurturing workflow at least twice, they’re considered an SQL. An SQL in this organization is considered warm – ready to buy. 
  6. The dealer contacts the SQL directly, in a more one-on-one fashion, and offers to answer any questions they SQL has or set up an appointment for a walkthrough. 
  7. The SQL feels the brand as a whole understands their mindset and shopping process, and projects that feeling of trust onto the dealer, making the final sale easier.

The above example shows just how helpful a shared definition can be, and how it helps build a better relationship between different teams within the organization, and between the brand and the customer. So if you’re looking for an easy way to get the edge over your competition in the marketing and sales process, start with the low hanging fruit: get your definitions in order. 

Related Read: Building an Action-Oriented Scorecard

Element Three is a modern marketing agency for discernable brands. We build trusting, long-term relationships with clients whose destination is market leadership, fusing traditional, digital and inbound tactics to tell bold stories audiences can’t resist. We don’t rely on single tactics, stay loyal to any one medium, or favor one discipline over another. Instead, we go beyond the tried to find the truth about your customers. Using research and participation to deliver seamless brand experiences.

Related resources.

Dealer vs Manufacturer: Who owns the customer relationship?

Dealer vs Manufacturer: Who owns the customer relationship?

Planning the Right Marketing Activity When Entering New Markets

Planning the Right Marketing Activity When Entering New Markets

Why Brand Strategy is a CEO Responsibility

Why Brand Strategy is a CEO Responsibility


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