November 1, 2023

SQL vs. Opportunity Leads: The Ultimate Guide for Sellers

Albert Finder

This is an updated article diving deep into the distinctions between sales-qualified leads and sales-qualified opportunities. Sales-qualified leads (SQL) vs. sales-qualified opportunities (SQO) — what's the difference? Is qualifying leads all that important?

The short answer is yes. If you want a thriving business, you've got to have consistent traffic coming in. 

And if you're looking to turn traffic into sales, you'll need more than just a great pitch.

As a sales rep, your success depends on reaching out to the right leads when they're ready to learn more about the brand. 

You can't just directly message the prospect and hope to make a sale. Well, you can, but it won't get you too far.

The good news? Timing the sales pipeline is not a matter of luck.

Just like some people are window shoppers while others are already at the checkout counter, SQL vs. opportunity leads are at different sales cycle stages.

So, let's explore what sets a sales-qualified lead apart from a sales-qualified opportunity. Then, we'll show you how to convert those window shoppers with simple tips and a top-notch tool.

Recap: The Buyer's Journey Explained


The buyer's journey consists of distinct phases. It begins the moment someone hears about your brand for the first time and ends with them becoming a paying customer.

The three stages of the sales pipeline are:

1. Awareness (Top of the Funnel). During this stage, leads first learn about your brand. Hence, marketing teams work hard to promote a brand and get its message across. 

In a world where attention is such a valuable commodity, lead generation advertising reached 4.6 billion U.S. dollars. So, if you've managed to capture your lead's interest, nurturing them is a top priority.

2. Interest (Middle of the Funnel). The next stage of the sales pipeline is where visitors take a stroll down the lane. They're exploring your website, blog content, and even signing up for your newsletter. This is where a casual website visitor turns into a marketing-qualified lead (MQL).

3. Desire (Bottom of the Funnel). This is where the game gets exciting. Your potential customer is comparing options. They're scanning reviews, looking for more information. They’re trying to sort out the little details. 

During all these stages, both the marketing team and the sales team should have a clear understanding of each buyer's journey.

To do so, these teams practice lead scoring and monitor customer lifecycle stages. Companies use variations on these stages, but a classical structure would look like:

  • Visitors. Any real user (bots excluded) who lands on your website is a visitor.
  • Leads/ contacts. When visitors exhibit interest in your company, they become leads.
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs). Leads become MQLs when they resemble your ICP (ideal customer profile) and continue to show interest in your product or service. 
  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs). When an MQL is ready for a discovery call or other sales contact, they become an SQL.
  • Sales qualified opportunities (SQOs). They're ideal matches among leads. Sales opportunities show strong interest and readiness for conversion.
  • Customers/ buyers. SQOs become customers in the final stage when they sign the deal or purchase. 

What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)?


A Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is a prospective customer who meets specific criteria, indicating a high probability that they will make a purchase. They have a clear need for the kind of product or service you're offering, and the means to close the deal.

Here's what else you should know about sales-qualified leads:

  • They're high interest, meaning that they're the engaged shoppers, not the window shoppers
  • SQLs have a pain point that your product or service addresses
  • They're browsing, but also ready to talk business
  • They're the dream of every sales department

So, how do SQLs become a sales opportunity?

It starts with actions like a discovery call and answering their high-level questions. Some SQLs may move quickly to purchase.

Others take their time to explore and compare, making sure they choose the best solution for them. That's why assessing the fit of each SQL is crucial, considering factors like company size, location, and industry.

If you market your brand with a buyer persona (ideal customer profile) in mind, you may have some of these data points ready to go.

What is a Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQO)?


An SQO represents a potential customer who has progressed further in the sales funnel towards making a purchase. Unlike sales-qualified leads (SQLs) who may still be exploring, SQOs show a stronger intent to buy your product or service.

Characteristics of SQOs:

  1. Macro-level Fit. SQOs have gone beyond showing general interest. Their pain points and needs are a strong match for what your offering provides.
  2. Detail-Oriented. These leads are thorough in their evaluation. They already explored your product features, pricing, and reviews in depth.
  3. Active Engagement. SQOs are actively engaged with your sales team. They've likely had one or more interactions, such as product demos, negotiation discussions, or meetings.
  4. Relationship Building. There's a rapport between SQOs and your sales team. They trust your representatives and see value in the relationship. Still, they need to figure out the details of the deal.

Lead vs. Opportunity Decisions: Are You Converting or Letting It Slip?


It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of new leads and lose sight of the fact that if they don't turn into customers, they're a time and resource-waster.

The challenge is knowing when it's time to pass on a lead and when it's time to double down on prospect engagement.

You can't just ask "Are you interested in buying?" or "Are you ready to buy today?"

You have to dig deeper into what kind of company they are and what makes them tick. Nurturing leads is like tending to a garden. You need patience, care, and the right strategies.

That's where sales qualification comes in. Sales qualification helps determine the value of each lead by asking probing questions about their needs, pain points, and preferences.

The Role of AI in Identifying SQLs and SQOs

LiftAI’s Intuitive Tool Helps You Uncover the Buyer’s Intent in Real Time. Try It Here

Going from Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) to SQOs is a big step. While SQLs are potential customers in the making, SQOs are close to converting.

Still, sales teams only follow up 20% of leads correctly. In other words, 80% of your potential deals are left on the table. That's a huge missed opportunity!

So, how can you tell where each of them is in the sales cycle? And most importantly–how to convert them further down the funnel??

Whether it's a discount code, additional information, another demo, or increased customization, knowing what piques your lead's interest is critical.

Fortunately, there is a way to identify what they’re looking for. You still need to qualify leads and go through the lead scoring process - but now you can let AI do it for you.

How exactly?

Lift AI can predict the likelihood of every visitor converting to a customer as they engage with your website (known as “buyer intent”), even if they are completely anonymous (and up to 98% of them could be). 

Here's the issue: 

  • Because most of your website visitors are anonymous (meaning, you cannot get meaningful data or insights on them from your existing tools), you cannot create the optimal conversion experience for each visitor 
  • Before you know it, those leads can leave your website without giving you the chance for further engagement. 
  • Hence, knowing how to determine their buyer intent is critical for finding and engaging possible buyers before they leave the site

When a high-intent visitor comes to your website, Lift AI can trigger actions from your other engagement tools - such as a sales qualification playbook in your chat tool. Then, it can connect leads directly to your Business Development Representatives in your live chat platform. 

Visitors with low interest can then be delegated to a nurturing bot or a self-help guide instead, preserving the efficiency of your sales team so they’re not wasting time engaging the wrong visitors

Here's what happened when we followed this exact approach with our customers:

👉Want to see results like these for your website? Get started with Lift AI to get buyer intent scores on your own traffic .

Practical Tips for Converting SQLs to SQOs


Converting sales-qualified leads is challenging, but not impossible. Just like sales reps follow a lead management process, companies have their own qualification criteria to meet before buying.

Their decision-making process is complex and often time-consuming.

If you want to make sure that your brand is the go-to option for your leads, follow these tips:

  • Offer Valuable Content. Your website’s content should guide your prospects through the sales funnel. Did you know that valuable content makes leads 2.8 times more likely to find the purchase process easier?
  • Prioritize High-Fit, High-Intent SQLs. These leads are your low-hanging fruit. They're close to making a decision. Still, don't neglect those low-fit, high-intent leads either. They might surprise you by turning into customers.
  • Consider AI-Powered Tools. AI-driven solutions like Lift AI can predict a visitor's intent in real time as they navigate your website. It ensures your sales team targets high-priority leads that are ready to convert.
  • Nurture and Engage. Keep the conversation going (especially with the high-interest qualified prospect) using real-time engagement tools such as Drift conversational marketing or similar. Nurture emails generate an 8% CTR compared to general emails. Thus, personalized follow-ups can improve the sales process.
  • Gather Feedback. Seek feedback from your sales and marketing teams. They should be in sync from the initial stages regarding buyer personas, who are your marketing-qualified leads, and where they are in the qualification process. 

Why Time Spent as SQLs Matters


Ever wondered why some leads transition into loyal customers in a snap, while others take forever to convert or stop replying to you all of a sudden?

That's because time spent as a sales-qualified lead is valuable for both the potential customer and the sales rep, and here's why:

Setting the Stage for Success


In the sales funnel, an SQL sits somewhere between interest and desire. They're exploring branded resources and comparison sites. 

They’re using this time to examine your business and form a knowledge base to engage with your team.

Protecting Valuable Human Resources 


The SQL stage filters out casual leads from serious shoppers. It's saving you precious opportunities by ensuring your sales team's efforts are focused where they truly matter.

Without clear boundaries between stages, chances are you'll face a lot of missed opportunities. 

That’s because knowing who has a clear interest in your solution is just as important as knowing who the unqualified leads are.

Confusion can lead to improper allocation of resources, frustration, and a drop in the conversion rate.

Pro Tip: What you need to do to speed up the sales process is to give your leads all the information they need while browsing. 

Make sure to address their questions during this stage. Show them why you're the right solution to their problem.

Wrap-Up: Arm Your Sales Team with the Right Knowledge


SQLs and SQOs are all about browsing and buying. Treat them well, and your business will thrive. Offer them valuable content, prioritize high-fit and high-intent SQLs, and nurture each relationship.

As they go through awareness, interest, and desire, lead scoring can aid in qualifying leads and targeting winning deals.

Lift AI can help you streamline this process and ensure the sales team engages only with high-priority leads. Save time and improve ROI by up to 18% with the only sales intelligence tool that can accurately predict the buyer intent of fully anonymous visitors in real-time..

👉Get started with Lift AI to streamline your lead-scoring process, uncover valuable insights, and improve conversion. Get in touch with us to get started. 


Is SQL the same as an opportunity?

No, SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) and an opportunity are not the same. An SQL is a potential customer showing interest, while an opportunity is a lead actively considering a purchase. You should target your efforts to convert SQOs, as they pose the strongest chance of buying from you.

What is an SQL vs. SQO?

An SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is a potential customer that’s in the process of exploring your products and services but is not yet fully committed. An SQO (Sales Qualified Opportunity) is a lead further along in the sales process, closer to making a purchase. They require consistent nurturing to convert.

What does SQL mean in marketing?

In marketing, SQL stands for Sales Qualified Lead. It’s a lead that shows a high likelihood of purchasing if the sales and marketing teams align their efforts correctly. They are a prime target for sales efforts.

What is the conversion rate for SQL to opportunity?

According to Gartner, the conversion rate from SQL to opportunity sits at an average of 59%.

However, this rate can vary depending on factors like industry and company. Therefore, this number can fluctuate from business to business.

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