Most startups today use some variation on the now fairly standard terms SAL (sales accepted lead) and SQL (sales qualified lead). Below see the classic  lead funnel model from marketing bellwether Sirius Decisions that defines this.
One great thing about working as an independent board member and consultant is that you get to work with lots of companies. In doing this, I’ve noticed that while virtually everyone uses the terminology SQL and SAL, that some people define SQL before SAL and others define SAL before SQL.
Why’s that? I think the terminology was poorly chosen and is confusing. After all, what sounds like it comes first: sales accepting a lead or sales qualifying a lead? A lot of folks would say, “well you need to accept it before you can qualify it.” But others would say “you need to qualify it before you can accept it.” And therein lies the problem.
The correct answer, as seen above, is that SAL comes before SQL. I have a simple way of remembering this: A comes before Q in the alphabet, and SAL comes before SQL in the funnel. Until I came up with that I was perpetually confused.
More importantly, I think I also have a way of explaining it. Start by remembering two things:
- This model was defined at a time when sales development reps (SDRs) generally reported to sales, not marketing .
- This model was defined from the point of view of marketing.
Thus, sales accepting the lead didn’t mean a quota-carrying rep (QCR) accepted the lead – it meant an SDR, who works in the sales department, accepted the lead. So it’s sales accepting the lead in the sense that the sales department accepted it. Think: we, marketing, passed it to sales.
After the SDR worked on the lead, if they decided to pass it to a QCR, the QCR would do an initial qualification call, and then the QCR would decide whether to accept it. So it’s a sales qualified lead, in the sense that a salesperson has qualified it and decided to accept it as an opportunity.
Think: accepted by an SDR, qualified by a salesrep.
Personally, I prefer avoid the semantic swamp and just say “stage 1 opportunity” and “stage 2 opportunity” in order to keep things simple and clear.
# # #
 This model has since been replaced with a newer demand unit waterfall model that nevertheless still uses the term SQL but seems to abandon SAL.
 I greatly prefer SDRs reporting to marketing for two reasons: [a] unless you are running a pure velocity sales model, your sales leadership is more likely to deal-people than process-people – and running the SDRs is a process-oriented job and [b] it eliminates a potential crack in the funnel by passing leads to sales “too early”. When SDRs report to marketing, you have a clean conceptual model: marketing is the opportunity creation factory and sales is the opportunity closing factory.