When, exactly, should your marketing team hand off a lead to the sales team?
Not sure? If there’s any confusion around how to hand off leads, you’re likely losing out on a healthy amount of potential revenue.
The line between sales and marketing departments can sometimes be a little blurry (and a little competitive)—especially when it comes to time-sensitive and business-critical tasks like lead handoffs.
And the transfer between marketing and sales is definitely time-sensitive. It will have a significant impact on whether a lead eventually becomes a customer. Put simply, time kills deals.
Transfer leads too early, and your sales team will waste time with prospects who aren’t ready to buy and or are just not a good fit. Transfer to sales too late, you’ll likely end up losing deals to more timely competitors.
That’s why all your revenue-generating teams must work together to decide precisely when lead handoff should happen.
If they don’t know when to hand off a lead to the sales team, you can end up with lackluster customer acquisition rates, wasted time, and lost sales opportunities—whether that’s because the leads were handed off too early or too late.
It’s a fine line knowing when and how to transfer leads, and we can help you strike the right balance for your team.
Let’s dive in.
The Marketing-to-Sales Role in Lead Nurturing & Handoff
Marketing and sales departments will always be connected when they do their jobs well.
The marketing department will be responsible for attracting and generating new leads. They’ll then have a digital sales funnel to qualify leads better to identify high-value sales opportunities, which they’ll then pass on to your sales team.
The criteria for delivering MQLs should be evaluated continuously because your sales funnel requirements will need to adapt to your company’s changing needs as you grow and expand.
As leads move through that process, they’ll fall into the following categories:
- Marketing Leads (ML). These contacts have gotten in touch through a lead or subscription form. After interacting with your digital content, they’ve typically provided their name, email address, and/or phone number.
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). These marketing leads become “qualified” after indicating they’re interested in the product your business is selling. This might include booking a demo or subscribing to your email list.
- Sales Accepted Leads (SALs). These are MQLs that have been passed on from the marketing team and identified as having high enough intent for sales attention. This is often based on a combination of both how close the lead aligns with your ICP (aka “fit”) and their activity and interactions with your business.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). This is the gold standard of leads. Your sales team has qualified them through phone conversations, video calls, or email exchanges. Your sales team has deemed them as likely to purchase, and they’re ready to “officially” enter the sales process with deals, custom pricing, and more.
Let’s see how to optimize the marketing to sales handoff and ultimately increase conversions by:
- Clarifying terms and definitions in the sales funnel
- Defining the exact requirements for how to hand off leads
- Paying careful attention to the “handshake phase” between stages
- Explaining how leads enter the funnel in the first place
- Optimizing the criteria over time
How to Create a Strong & Effective Lead Handoff Process in Six Steps
The importance of knowing when to hand off leads from marketing to sales can’t be overstated.
If you wait too long, you could end up with disengaged leads who don’t purchase when they otherwise might have. And if you hand off the leads too early, it can waste your sales team’s time, giving them a long list of leads that may not be a good fit.
We recommend taking the following steps to create a robust lead handoff process.
How to hand off leads #1–Make sure your teams understand the different types of leads
It’s so important that everyone on your team is on the same page about the terms and definitions used throughout revenue-generating functions and processes.
For example, “lead” generally means something different to Sales than it does to Marketing. That’s why many customer-facing teams use more precise terms to specify which type of leads specifically.
Of course, each business may have its own definitions for sales funnel stages and how to hand off leads. Your team will have to decide on the terms and criteria that make the most sense to you.
Does your sales and marketing team understand what’s expected of them regarding lead handoff? Do they both understand the sales funnel’s intricacies and the different lead qualification stages?
If not, send them this post along with a breakdown of what MLs, MQLs, SALs, and SQLs look like for your particular business model and digital sales funnel. This can make it much easier for your team to identify high-quality leads earlier and get them to the right team members at the appropriate time.
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How to hand off leads #2–Know what qualities indicate “Sales-Readiness” & ICP Fit
Anyone responsible for revenue knows that timing is crucial when it comes to landing new customers. According to Salesforce’s “State of Sales” report, 76% of sales professionals surveyed considered timing to have “an extreme or substantial impact on converting a prospect to a customer.”
To get that timing right, sales and marketing teams must identify the criteria that indicate readiness for the sales process and know when and how to hand off leads.
This is something that your team will need to research, and ideally, both the marketing and sales departments will work together to determine.
Knowing your ideal customer profile (ICP) can be a game-changer.
Each business is unique, which means that your ICP and target audiences will be unique.
Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) Worksheet
Learn how to create an Ideal Customer Profile and build a successful sales strategy with this Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) Worksheet.
Common examples of indicators that many sales and marketing departments may use to assess the relevance and sales readiness of a lead include the following:
a. Job titles
In some cases, only the people in certain positions will have decision-making power when it comes to making an actual purchase.
For example, it’s not uncommon for employees in junior roles to do initial research.
Although their role is essential and you need to engage with them, some companies may decide that a lead must be a CEO or VP level.
Of course, depending on your product, the junior staffer might be precisely the person you want. It all depends on your target personas.
b. Vertical markets
If you’ve done an excellent job defining your ideal customers and markets, you’ll know which verticals are the sweet spot for your product.
Although there can be exceptions, it’s generally better to transfer leads to sales if the prospective company operates in one of the verticals your product serves best.
For various reasons, logistical, technical, and legal, some locations might not make sense to do business. If you’re offering a physical product, this can be even more important.
d. Existing tech stacks
If you’re selling software, integrations or dependencies can be significant sales-readiness factors. Ensure that you can support the integrations your prospect requires.
e. Company revenue or employee count
Even if an MQL seems to meet all the other criteria, an inability to pay is a hard disqualifier.
You’ve probably noticed that, essentially, we are using a modified BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing) approach. We are just doing it earlier to deliver better leads to sales sooner. This is a core component of our Revenue Acceleration Manifesto.
f. Level of engagement
This is a big one. Generally, a lead is “ready” for handoff when their interactions with your website, emails, and content are happening frequently and recently.
There is a ton of nuance here, including whether the interactions are with “high intent” content or not, what constitutes engagement, and reasonable recency and frequency thresholds.
This is a lot of data to sort through, so having the right tools in place can help. A strong CRM tool of your choice will be essential to collecting and tracking customer data. Contact scoring and analytics tools can also be a game-changer if they take into account the recency and frequency of your contacts’ engagement with your properties.
The reality is that baking recency and frequency into scoring models using traditional tools is challenging. Breadcrumbs can deliver that, and our models all account for recency, frequency, fit, and activity with different scoring model templates that are all entirely customizable.
Create your free Breadcrumbs account and hand off the right leads to your sales team today!
How to hand off leads #3–Don’t overlook the “Sales Accepted Lead” status
Overlooking the Sales Accepted Lead stage happens much too often.
SAL is the stage between MQL and SQL. It’s what we call a “handshake stage.” During the SAL stage, the sales team can take a closer look at leads to assess their actual quality against predefined criteria.
There will inevitably be the occasional false positives in the marketing funnel. Some leads that seem like they should go to sales based on set criteria might not be a good fit.
Ideally, leads will only be in SAL status for a very brief time. After being reviewed, likely by SDRs, these leads will become SQLs or revert to MQLs.
How to hand off leads #4–Clear criteria for qualifying marketing leads
So far, this post has been about the criteria for qualifying sales leads.
But there certainly can’t be any qualified sales leads if there aren’t also qualified marketing leads at the top of the funnel.
That’s why the sales team needs to be involved with helping marketing define what should be an MQL and how to hand off leads that have a higher purchase intent. Sales can even work with marketing to help develop messaging that emphasizes the use cases and functionalities that they know from experience appeal to ideal prospects.
Customer Support/Success can be a big help here too!
The importance of the alignment between sales, marketing, and customer success/support cannot be overemphasized. This alignment is crucial; if there’s any disconnect between targeting, marketing qualification, and sales qualification, the entire value chain is compromised.
If you’re still stumped, check out our article on how to use your lead-generation process to create better buyer personas.
How to hand off leads #5–Have a clearly documented process
Once your sales and marketing teams have collaborated, list what criteria need to be met for contacts to be “upgraded” to the following lead status.
For example, users who fill out a lead form to access a free lead book are marketing leads.
You get the idea.
Write down what fit traits (like job title, industry, and verticals) and what engagement activities (open emails, visit pricing page, request a demo, send an email) indicate that leads have moved from one stage to the next.
A formal and documented process means no guessing games are involved, and your team won’t miss high-quality leads.
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How to hand off leads #6–Analyze & optimize your process with Sales & Marketing input
The reality is that no process is guaranteed to be perfect on the first try. In fact, it’s very unlikely that this will be the case.
Maybe after working with your new documented process for a few weeks or months, you realize that you seem to be losing a niche of your target audience. For some reason, there’s a disconnect.
Maybe instead of waiting for users to complete a demo to be passed to your sales team, they need to be given to the sales department as soon as they sign up, so they engage with pricing content on your website.
You might need to adjust the fit or engagement criteria you’re looking for at different stages of lead qualification, essentially moving users slower or faster through the funnel.
Look at subscription numbers, conversion rates, and customer growth metrics. But above all else, look at revenue. Does your process seem to be driving more customers and sales? Is it leading to more revenue? If so, that’s a good sign, and if there’s a decrease, it means something needs to change.
After a few months with your new process, have your sales, marketing, and customer support teams sit down and look at the data. Are you targeting the right ICPs? Is your lead funnel working for your brand (and, just as importantly, for your leads)? Are there ways to optimize or improve it?
Together, you can decide to stay the course or optimize to find new potential opportunities to improve your lead funnel.
How to Hand Off Leads: Final Thoughts
Lead handoff can be tricky, but it gets much easier with a clearly documented process, the right tools, and a strong understanding of how your team can use fit and engagement activity to qualify leads. And more importantly, it becomes a lot more effective.
Following the steps above will help you develop a tailor-made lead handoff process for your business, and since your sales and marketing teams will be at the head of development, they’re sure to find a system that works well for them.
Book your free demo of Breadcrumbs and up your lead handoff game today!