Successful Sales and Marketing Alignment, Part 5: The Lead Handoff Process

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This post is part of a series to help B2B organizations understand and implement sales and marketing alignment. Part one was about getting started. Part two showed how to identify the target buyer and their journey. Part three outlined the steps to designing a successful lead process. Part four described what defines a qualified lead. Now we’ll talk about the lead handoff to sales, and take a look at the reporting and feedback loops you should put into place.

Once a qualified lead has been identified, the next step is to create a lead handoff process where marketing hands the qualified lead to sales so that sales can follow up on it.

A standard lead handoff from marketing to sales

By hand:
The typical arrangement in most organizations is that marketing is responsible for ensuring that the qualified lead reaches the appropriate contact on the sales team. There are a number of common practices to ensure a seamless handoff. Some companies have a single point of contact on the sales team who receives all qualified leads and then assigns them to sales reps; others have a tele-qualification team that sets appointments; many just use email notifications.

By technology:
Most marketing automation, sales force automation, and customer relationship management (CRM) technologies can automatically assign qualified leads to the correct sales rep. For example, if sales reps own geographic territories, then the CRM system can automatically route qualified leads from these geographies to the appropriate sales rep. It’s also important that marketing deliver the contact data (primarily name, phone, and email) when delivering a qualified lead to sales, along with the activity history, which should tell the sales rep why marketing considers this lead sales-ready. You can create an automated process to alert sales that they have a new qualified lead.

A standard follow-up process for all qualified leads

As part of the qualified lead definition process, sales should sign a service level agreement (SLA) detailing how quickly they will follow up, the number of touches a lead will receive, how long they will work on a qualified lead, and what happens to the lead after sales has worked it. Sales reps should also be required to update the status of each qualified lead they receive as they go through their follow-up process.

Here’s an overview of the handoff process.

  1. Determine who on the sales team will receive the qualified leads.
    Some organizations pass the qualified leads to a single point of contact on the sales team who then routes the leads to the proper sales rep. Other organizations pass qualified leads directly to sales reps.
  2. Develop a process for passing qualified leads to sales.
    Once you have determined who will receive the qualified leads, create a process for getting the qualified leads to sales in a timely fashion. The best way is to have your marketing automation platform pass qualified leads to individual sales reps via the CRM system. The marketing automation system can create a prioritized list of hot leads based on lead scores. This can be accessed in the CRM and is a huge help to reps for time management.
  3. Specify a standard lead follow-up process for sales.
    A service level agreement should be created that requires sales to follow up quickly on leads and guarantees a certain number of phone and email touches per lead. The first step is to alert sales that a newly qualified lead has been created. Sales should then reach out to these leads within a certain amount of time, as specified in the SLA. Sales should make an agreed-upon number of touches in an agreed-on amount of time.
  4. Create a process for recycling qualified leads back to marketing.
    Many qualified leads will not become a sales opportunity for any number of reasons. For example, sales may not be able to reach the lead or the timing may not be right. Create a process to recycle qualified leads back to marketing, so they can be nurtured until they are ready to engage.
  5. Use a closed-loop process to optimize the program.
    Sales should provide feedback to marketing on the status of all the qualified leads that were passed to them. This activity requires that sales update the status of every qualified lead that is passed to them. This feedback may indicate that lead scores need to be adjusted or lead qualifications be redefined, or it may point the way to new opportunities, such as when one category of leads begins to outperform the others.

Your in-house terminology and number of stages may vary. Generic examples of status updates include: “qualified” for leads that sales confirms conform to the qualified lead definition; “recycle” for leads that marketing should continue to work on; “trash” for leads that are not qualified and will never be; and “could not reach” for leads that sales could not connect with.

Reporting and Check-ins

Sales and marketing cooperation is an ongoing process. The best way to foster cooperation is to agree to a set of metrics, create a regular feedback loop, and then work together to optimize the process. Shared metrics allow both sides to agree on expectations for what will be delivered. Regular feedback meetings facilitate communication to improve the process.

Critical sales and marketing metrics

There are a handful of metrics you should track to make sure sales and marketing are collaborating. Your business goals will determine what those are. Here are examples of common ones you might choose:

  • Qualified leads passed.
    Leads that have met the “qualified lead” definition and have been passed by marketing to sales.
  • Follow-up times.
    The amount of time sales takes to follow up on leads.
  • Sales-accepted leads.
    Leads that sales agrees fit the qualified lead definition.
  • Opportunities from qualified leads.
    Leads that have become sales opportunities.
  • Revenue generated from qualified leads.
    The amount of revenue generated from qualified leads.

You should also create conversion rates for each metric. For example, a common conversion rate to track is qualified leads/sales-accepted leads. If this conversion rate changes radically in a given time period, then you should review the qualified lead definition or lead follow-up process.

Hold regular feedback meetings

Feedback meetings should occur frequently, ideally weekly or twice a month. Review performance against target metrics at these meetings. For example, you could review marketing’s progress against the target number of qualified leads. There should also be a review of any wins or losses generated from qualified leads, and you should gather feedback from sales. Finally, marketing should share with sales any new upcoming campaigns.

Besides accountability and visibility into progress, the other purpose of creating metrics and feedback is to optimize your process. Shared metrics and expectations allow both sides to work together toward the shared goal of growing revenue and to avoid finger-pointing when things don’t go well.

Learn more about how to measure the metrics that really matter to the success of your business in this eBook.