When SLAs Between Sales and Marketing Are Really Just Marketing Selfies
- There is no real success for marketing without active engagement with sales
- If sales is not fully engaged in defining lead qualification criteria and SLAs, the results are likely to be less than optimal
- By reaching an agreement and holding each other accountable, the two teams create a meaningful contract
If you think you can create a service-level agreement (SLA) for lead handoff between sales and marketing without sales involvement, you are probably talking only to yourself. The following story illustrates what happens when process definitions and KPIs are created without collaboration by both teams.
In a recent SiriusDecisions Consulting engagement, we asked our client, “Have marketing and sales agreed to the definition of a qualified lead and established an SLA for action by the sales team?” The answer from marketing was a resounding chorus of “Yes!” accompanied by pride in the fact that marketing sourced leads comprised more than 95 percent of the pipeline. Sounds like nirvana for a sales team, but like the old adage says, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Upon inspecting the pipeline and interviewing sales leaders and reps, a very different picture emerged:
- More than 65 percent of the reportedly qualified and accepted leads had been in the same early stage of the sales process for more than 90 days.
- Business development reps in marketing were compensated based on quantity, not quality of leads passed. This led to informal agreements with sales reps to accept almost all leads with little inspection in order to keep the business development rep focused on spending more time on the sales rep’s territory.
- Reps were cherry-picking from this seemingly endless pool of leads, especially at the beginning or end of a quarter when they felt they needed some fresh prospects in their pipeline.
- To top off this scenario, there was a rule built into the integration between the marketing automation platform (MAP) and sales force automation (SFA) system that automatically promoted a sales accepted lead (SAL) to a sales qualified lead (SQL) if no action had been taken by sales during the 14-day SQL timeframe!
Needless to say, the rest of the funnel performance, including pipeline and forecast quality, velocity of deals through the sales funnel and close ratios, were well below competitive benchmarks and desired outcomes.
The SiriusDecisions team worked with the client to quantify the effects of these findings, identify root causes and define corrective actions to address the issues. At the heart of the matter was lack of agreement between sales and marketing on what represented a quality lead. Marketing had defined what it considered adequate. Given the focus on quantity instead of quality, sales was happy to accept a bunch of poorly qualified leads because they could easily find some good ones somewhere in the bucket. The lack of qualification, inspection of SLA compliance and consequences for non-conformance were additional drivers behind the performance issues at hand.
Once the problem was identified, sales and marketing leaders acted together on the solution:
- They collaboratively defined what constituted a qualified lead.
- Business development rep compensation plans were shifted to emphasize quality and revenue impact.
- The “auto accept” rule was reversed to “auto reject.”
- SLA compliance became part of the weekly one-on-one sales forecast meetings between reps and managers.
The new atmosphere of collaboration, accountability and tracking the improvement of relevant metrics has boosted both morale and results across the organization.
The lesson here for marketing teams is that there is no real success without active engagement with sales. While all of the upstream conversion rates in the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall® are important, the handoff between sales and marketing is the most common point of failure in the process. If sales is not at the table and fully engaged in defining lead qualification criteria and SLAs, the results are likely to be less than optimal. The “A” in SLA stands for agreement, not assignment, and it takes two to tango. Marketing teams tasked with defining SLAs will improve outcomes and deliver higher value to the organization by involving their sales colleagues in the definition process. By reaching an agreement and holding each other accountable, the two teams create a meaningful contract and demonstrate true commitment to executing the SLA. Now, go get that selfie stick so you can include all your new sales friends in the photo!
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