Digital Smiles logo

Digital Smiles

How to create an automated marketing-to-sales hand-off process

One of the classic jokes in business is that your marketing and sales teams each have a problem. Marketing has a sales problem. And sales has a marketing problem. 

In other words, the sales team feels that the marketing department isn’t generating enough leads. The marketing team, on the other hand, believes that the sales department isn’t doing enough to follow up with the leads they’re given. For many businesses, it’s funny because it’s true. The two teams often work in such silos that they rarely find themselves on the same page about each other’s performance. 

It’s a topic that’s always fascinated us at ESM Inbound. We are suckers for anything that helps align teams, break down silos and brings groups of people together to become more than the sum of their parts. 

So, when I was reviewing the agenda for INBOUND 2020, one talk caught my eye. Charles Elmer, the Director of Sales Enablement at Bayard Bradford was scheduled to deliver a talk titled ‘Hacking the Marketing-to-Sales Handoff: Guarantee That Sales Takes Action On Your MQLs’. Charles delivered a fabulous session, and what follows combines some of his insights with ESM Inbound’s own best practices on the topic of improving the marketing-to-sales hand-off process. 

In this post, we will cover: 

  • Why sales and marketing alignment matters
  • How to establish shared goals with a Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • Defining lifecycle stages
  • What is an MQL? 
  • How to create your marketing-to-sales hand-off
  • How to create an MQL Alert

Why sales and marketing alignment matters

Before we explore the ‘how’ of marketing and sales alignment, let’s make sure we understand the ‘why’. It’s not just about bringing people together and protecting everyone’s workloads. There are some definite financial benefits to be gained from bringing these teams together. 

In Charles Elmer’s talk, he identified three specific benefits: 

  • Misalignment of sales and marketing costs B2B companies 10% of their revenue.
  • Companies with good marketing and sales alignment generate 208% more revenue from their marketing efforts.
  • Customer retention is 36% higher for companies with strong marketing and sales alignment.

Charles shared that his source for this data was MarketingProfs. 

There’s a lot to be gained and, at least to get started, the process doesn’t have to be overly complex.

Establishing shared goals with a Service Level Agreement

The first step to aligning your sales and marketing teams is to give them a reason to be aligned. Marketing teams are typically measured against traffic and leads. Sales teams by number of deals and revenue. 

While these numbers can work together, it will only happen if you’re deliberate about the process by which the numbers are set. The fastest way to do that is with a Service Level Agreement (SLA). 

An SLA will define each department’s responsibility when it comes to delivering the other team’s needs. Typically, this will include: 

  • The number of qualified leads the marketing team will hand over to the sales team.
  • How quickly and how often the sales team will follow-up with the marketing department’s leads. 

Ideally, you’ll work the leads goal back from your revenue goal. Knowing how many deals you need to close to hit your revenue goal lets you figure out how many opportunities you need, which allows you to calculate the number of qualified leads that need to be worked. Now you know how many leads you need in order to meet your goals. That becomes the marketing team’s SLA to the sales department. 

Those leads, however, need to be worked. Your company’s marketers need to be confident that those leads are spoken to. And, if those leads are a poor fit, then they need to know why – so they don’t send more like them! 

Defining lifecycle stages

If those SLAs are going to be effective, you’ll want to agree the lifecycle stages you use when referring to a lead’s journey in their relationship with your business. 

HubSpot features seven lifecycle stages, which are: 

  • Subscriber
  • Lead
  • Marketing-Qualified Lead
  • Sales-Qualified Lead
  • Opportunity
  • Customer
  • Evangelist

While you can’t edit this list, you are free to define them however you want (but you can find ESM Inbound’s standard definitions in the table below). 

You’ll also want to define what your shared marketing and sales definition is for each stage. This will allow you to objectively identify when a lead reaches a specific lifecycle stage, and has the added bonus of allowing you to automate much of the lifecycle-stage identification process. 

If you’re looking to plan your lifecycle stages in detail, then you can use the table below as a starting point or find more information in our dedicated lifecycle stages support article

lifecycle stages table

What is an MQL? 

A Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL) is a contact who is identified as a good fit for your business and has demonstrated behaviour that suggests they would be open to a sales conversation. 

When a lead becomes an MQL, the marketing team is, essentially, handing the lead over to sales. At this point, the sales team can either accept the lead by marking it as a Sales-Qualified Lead (SQL) or reject the lead and hand it back over to the marketing team for further nurturing. 

How to create your marketing-to-sales hand-off

A marketing-to-sales hand-off is the process by which leads get handed over to the sales team for action. 

At ESM Inbound, we’ve long been advocates of a strong marketing-to-sales hand-off. When we first work with a client, one of our initial steps is to define and implement a standard hand-off process. 

If you want to quickly implement a basic marketing-to-sales hand-off process, then you can use our default process. The diagram below represents the hand-off mechanism that we use as a starting point. Many of the clients we work with will use this exact process but, for others, we modify it as appropriate. 

Take this 

marketing to sales process

How to create an MQL Alert

Creating an MQL alert is a straightforward process. In HubSpot, this can be either an internal email or a task (the latter is often the better choice because it can be both tracked and managed). 

Looking to quickly create an MQL alert? Here’s some code that you can deploy in an email: 

<h2>MQL Alert: there of


<p><strong>Email address</strong>:&nbsp;</p>


<p><strong>Telephone Number:</strong>&nbsp;</strong></p>

<p><strong>Contact's HubSpot record:</strong>&nbsp;</p>

This code will give sales people a quick overview of who the lead is and a direct link to their contact record in the CRM. 

Remembering the people

The tips in this article will put you in a position to get started with your marketing and sales alignment. Whatever you do, don’t allow the process to obscure the people. All the business processes in the world won’t achieve alignment if you aren’t putting people first. 

Make sure you’re aligning people’s interests rather than just the metrics and you can’t go far wrong

Our content includes affiliate links. This means that we may receive a commission if you make a purchase through one of the links on our website. This will be at no cost to you and helps to fund the content creation work on our website.