Sales and marketing departments have historically been at loggerheads, tossing insults at one another like children fighting over a blanket fort. Sales usually complains that marketing doesn’t generate enough of the right leads. Marketing is usually frustrated that sales doesn’t call the leads they generate in a timely manner.

Who is right?

Every situation is different, but no one wins when sales and marketing don’t figure out how to work together toward common goals. In reality, no lead is usually a 100% perfect fit, but both teams often have valid complaints against the other.

To make this partnership really profitable, a solid Service Level Agreement is necessary.

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What Is a Sales and Marketing Service Level Agreement?

A Sales and Marketing Service Level Agreement is an agreement between the two teams to work together toward the common company goals.

Marketing commits to generating a certain quantity of quality leads, and sales agrees to perform adequate research before trying to connect with leadsattempts to connect with leads with the appropriate context and persistence, and works to identify needs with an effective connect call.

In short: Both sides work together, put equal effort into the process, and are held accountable for the results.

Here are six tips to ensure your SLA sets you up for smarketing success.

1) Build Your Audience First and Foremost, Always and Forever

Many marketing departments are investing in marketing automation these days. It’s one of the fastest-growing SaaS markets, as a result. But, many of these marketers realize that this investment was premature -- that they should have invested in systems that help them generate more traffic and leads each month, instead of systems that try to turn their existing database into customers.

Based on HubSpot’s data and experience, time and money are often better spent building an audience to generate net new leads. Nurturing works best when marketing already has a large opt-in database and systems in place to generate large amounts of net new leads. Creating educational, top-of-the-funnel offers for lead generation is often the best use of marketing resources.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t create content that helps market your products to your existing leads. You definitely should. But, as an example, HubSpot’s ratio of inbound marketers to product marketers is about 5:1, meaning we have 5x as many marketers focused on creating, optimizing, and promoting educational content than we do creating content about our product.

When in doubt, grow your reach. Focus on turning strangers into visitors and visitors into leads. If your product is complex or a higher-price point, let sales carry the load of turning qualified leads into happy customers.

2) Create Interest in Your Products and Services

Creating lots of educational content to grow the very top of your funnel will engender prospects to your brand. It will create lots of interest. It will make prospects more likely to respond to your sales' teams emails, answer their calls, and engage in dialogue about their needs with less resistance.

This doesn’t mean marketing is off the hook in terms of creating awareness and interest in your products and services. However, it’s not as simple as launching “request consultation forms” or “start a trial” calls-to-action. You need to do that.

Unfortunately, though, this is where most marketing teams stop. The problem is that these kinds of offers have relatively low visitor-to-lead conversion rates. For most companies, less than 1% of site visitors will ever complete these forms. This may be an even smaller percentage for your great-fit leads. These leads are obviously gold. Your sales team will want more of them. But, sales and marketing teams have to be realistic: most of your quality leads will not request time with your sales team.

3) Determine the Best-Fit Leads

So, how can marketing help sales connect with the best-fit leads? The next challenge is to make sure your sales team is focused on the best-fit prospects for your products and services, when those prospects don’t request a demo, trial, or consultation.

Growing your audience will generate interest from companies who aren’t great fits for your products and services -- there’s no way to avoid it. The key is to ensure that your sales team can quickly identify the best-fit companies among your leads. The best way to do this is to work together to define the characteristics of an ideal customer.

At HubSpot, marketing surveys the sales team to determine the factors that describe an ideal lead. We also ask our services team to tell us what makes a good-fit company, and we ensure that these same factors are in line with our company’s strategic direction by reviewing it with our management team.

Next, we work together to make sure we’re capturing and gathering that information about our leads. These could be simple things, like the number of employees at a prospect’s company or the prospect's title, or it could be more specific things, such as what solutions they use now that your product might replace or skills that your prospect has or doesn’t have.

4) Continually Redefine What Constitutes an Ideal Lead

A little tip on defining what a best-fit lead is: Don’t let the "best-fit" definition get stagnant or become out of sync with the rest of the company’s strategy. Revisit the definition of what constitutes an ideal customer periodically.

Also, defining the perfect fit is dangerous without constant consultation with key strategists in your company. Keep tweaking the "best-fit" profile by interviewing current customers, your executive team, your competitors’ customers, and your sales team. Learn who works best with which leads. Do some team members work better with the novice prospects? Do others prefer to deal directly with prospects who are more advanced? Keep working at creating that perfect fit and you’ll help your sales team be more efficient.

Now that you have a system for defining the ideal fit, it’s time for marketing and sales to get creative and figure out how to capture and gather more information about your leads.

5) Marketing Can Determine Fit by Using Progressive Profiling

The more information your marketing team can arm your sales team with about each lead you generate, the easier their job is to research, prospect, and connect.

Salespeople -- rightfully so -- optimize for efficiency. Fighting that is futile, and usually wrong. It’s great that they focus on efficiency. Marketing has scale to it. So, tasking marketing to nurture your leads with great educational content so that they can collect more information is a smart use of resources. Marketing can collect lots of information about lots of leads quickly and this information will help sales be significantly more efficient.

How, you ask? Well, one of the easiest ways to begin collecting more information from your leads is to practice progressive profiling.

Each time a prospect visits your site to download another offer, require that they share information. You can determine a company's size and industry, their need for your product, and maybe even things like their yearly revenue by requiring new information every time they download something new. As that information is gathered, you can then use it to create a fuller profile for your potential customers, which helps you score your leads better and helps your sales team focus their efforts on the most qualified leads.

One expert tip you could implement is to integrate your marketing team’s landing page software with your sales team’s CRM contact database. This allows your landing pages to be smarter in two ways: progressive profiling hides fields if you’ve already collected that information from that lead and it adds new fields to collect information about that lead that you haven’t collected yet.

6) Task Sales With Capturing Research in a Structured Way

Marketing won’t get every one of your leads to reconvert, and your sales team shouldn’t wait for the perfect lead to fall into their lap. Great salespeople do research before they pick up the phone or reach out via email. They use this research to prioritize which leads they pursue more persistently and think through what questions to ask when they reach out. Smart salespeople utilize the context they’ve gathered and the context that marketing has given them about their leads and their lead’s company to connect with their leads at a higher rate and have better conversations once they connect. 

Most sales teams don’t capture this information in a structured way. If they do, though, marketing can use this information to target messages better to each individual product through lead nurturing, smart content, and smart calls-to-action. This should provide enough incentive to your sales team to start capturing this info in your CRM.

Getting this information has another very important benefit of helping your organization prove what is an ideal-fit customer. How? Once you collect this information, you can correlate it to close rate and customer success.

Effective Relationships Require Constant Communication

If you set your SLA and forget it, the agreement will quickly stale. If your market is constantly changing, competition is continually attacking, and products are evolving, your SLA must adapt to these realities. Keep analyzing what works best and be ready to make the switch if you discover new correlations.

As you can see, a Service Level Agreement is a very important part of successful sales and marketing. Bickering between the teams should stop and they should start working together. You’ll only see great success if everyone is doing their part.

Image credit: Alan Turkus

sla template
 sla template

Originally published Oct 1, 2013 2:34:00 PM, updated January 22 2020


Sales and Marketing Alignment