How to Nail the Hand-Off Between Marketing and Sales

May 3, 2018

Hand-Off Between Marketing and Sales

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Dave Karel, Principal, OutLeap Marketing. The orginal version of the post first appeared on the OutLeap blog

"We have way too much pipeline!"

Words never heard at any sales quarterly business review since the dawn of time. Quite to the contrary.

Fortunately, today’s marketing teams are better equipped than ever before to help sales teams rise to the challenge of fast-growing revenue targets. But, in the quest to scale the demand generation and broader go-to-market efforts, the sheer number of levers that a marketing team with limited cycles and budget should be testing, optimizing and fueling can feel pretty daunting.

In the quest to scale the demand gen effort, these are just some of the questions keeping marketers up at night:

  • Are we investing in the right channels? Are they reaching the right audiences?
  • Do we have enough of the right content to fuel our programs?
  • Is our website optimized to efficiently convert traffic?
  • Has the SDR team been sufficiently equipped to engage, educate, and qualify prospects?  
  • How do we more tightly attribute, measure and optimize our programs? And, what does our marketing tech stack need to look like to get this done?
  • Are we thinking about account-based marketing the right way? Is our current strategy firing against the right accounts?   

And the list goes on. Responding to each one of these questions requires a ton of work that marketing needs to execute to keep up with the field sales team’s voracious appetite for more pipeline opportunities that they need to make quota and help the company hit its growing quarterly revenue targets. The work effort implied can be almost paralyzing, especially for smaller teams.  

Yes, there are a lot of demand gen levers to pull but the great news is if you focus on the biggest one of them all, you'll get more out of every program you run.

What does a qualified prospect look like?

The breakdown in sales and marketing alignment can be summed up in the following exchange:

Sales leader: “My team is just not getting enough opportunities, and the quality of leads that the marketing team is passing over is not good.”

Marketing leader: “The reps are disqualifying perfectly good opportunities and aren’t following-up with the early stage deals that they do accept into pipe.”

What’s happening here? Simply put, everyone likely has a different picture of what a “good-fit” prospect looks like in their heads. There’s either not a clearly codified definition of a “qualified opportunity.” Or if one exists it hasn’t been adequately operationalized.   

This is a BIG problem. If you ask two sales reps to describe what a great opportunity looks like, I’d wager their responses will be at least somewhat different. Now, extrapolate that across a large sales team, and you’ve got yourself one muddy pipeline. Especially with a growing middle layer of sales managers, each who brings his or her own biases from previous experiences to the table.

The critical “moment” in your demand gen effort

A prospect was sourced and/or engaged by a marketing program. An SDR manages to connect, do initial qualification, and set a meeting for an account executive. In that meeting, the AE needs to make a call whether or not to accept the opportunity into his or her pipeline.

This hand-off is the critical moment that will determine whether your demand gen engine and larger GTM effort will scale -- or struggle. It’s the root cause of many sales and marketing alignment issues, and a key point of failure because it’s often the moment accountability transfers from one team (marketing) to another (sales).   

Here’s what happens when you don’t nail the hand-off:   

  • The sales team is likely burning a lot of cycles on the wrong opportunities
  • Good-fit opportunities get filtered out or shrivel on the vine
  • It gets really hard to diagnose why the teams are struggling to hit pipeline goals
  • It’s hard to determine which marketing programs should be fueled, optimized or cut

Perfecting the hand-off: An action plan

The great news is the solution to this problem that plagues many a B2B business (both large and small ones) is very straightforward. With focus and some rigor any team can perfect the hand-off.

Based on my own experiences taking on this challenge with my sales partners, here's an action plan that can set you on the path:

  • Make it a joint priority: The leaders of both sales and marketing need to come together with a single voice to put a spotlight on the hand-off, making it clear why it’s important the joint team gets it right
  • Debate, then codify.  Bring together a team including, at minimum, the heads of sales and marketing, the demand gen lead, and some front-line sales managers to define in very objective language the criteria every sales rep should use to qualify an opportunity in or out of their pipe. Somewhere along the way, CEO alignment on the definition of a qualified opportunity is also key.
  • Operationalize it. This is not something you roll-out to the sales team through an email or weekly web conference. It requires high-touch enablement (e.g., roll-playing, certification) to simultaneously signal how important this is, and to change behavior.
  • Revisit often.  The hand-off requires ongoing TLC. The definition of a qualified prospect will likely evolve based on learnings and success in the field, as your product footprint expands, and/or your business strategy shifts. Also, as the marketing team expands and new sales reps and managers join the team, things can get muddy again quickly — so ongoing reinforcement and enablement is key.

There are dozens of levers you can pull at any given time to optimize your GTM effort. The biggest lever of them all is arguably this hand-off from marketing to sales. If you own this critical moment, it’ll be a big leap forward to putting marketing in a position to support your company’s next level of growth.

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Photo: Brian Cantoni