At many companies, marketing and sales exist on two separate planes, each exclusively concerned with its own agenda. But is this a sustainable business model?
As digital marketing becomes a larger, more influential part of the business world, the balance is shifting. The reality is that the best marketing teams focus strongly on sales techniques to craft killer marketing strategies. And on the other side of the spectrum, the best salespeople incorporate a steady marketing message in every communication with leads.
And of course, there’s the undeniable fact that, in many ways, the two need to interact with each other at some point or another.
Without efficient communication, marketers can’t know what qualifies as a good lead, therefore they can’t know how to focus their campaigns and might end up passing along time-wasting duds. And if a salesperson doesn’t know how hot a lead is by the time they receive them, they run the risk of over- or underselling.
Running a Successful Race
Ideally, marketing and sales must seamlessly integrate their efforts to achieve their common goal of conversion. The process of attracting, nurturing, and converting leads into profitable customers can be compared to running a race.
Picture for a moment the runners in a relay race. In order to achieve their goal of winning, each team member must put forth a concerted individual effort. But that is not all. The team must also act as a unit. What each team member does must harmonize and support every other member of the team for mutual success.
It is much the same with achieving success for marketing and sales teams. Therefore, closing the gap between marketing and sales is not just a good idea; it’s the only way to fully utilize the talents of both departments and meet your business goals.
So how can this gap be closed?
The Purpose of Marketing-Sales SLAs
One of the most effective ways to ensure that marketing and sales are on the same page is the creation of a marketing-sales service level agreement (SLA). What is an SLA in this context?
Simply put, an SLA is a covenant or formal agreement between your marketing and sales departments which clearly defines the role of each department in the process of attracting and converting leads into customers.
Why is such a formal agreement needed? Hubspot's "2015 State of Inbound" report indicates that there is a strong relationship between establishing a marketing-sales SLA and achieving higher ROI for marketing efforts.
In fact, 47 percent of companies with formal SLAs in place between marketing and sales experienced higher ROIs last year, as opposed to only 35 percent of those companies without SLAs. Considering the need to make good use of every marketing dollar in stretched budgets, it is easy to see that having a formal SLA between marketing and sales is a good idea.
Speaking of tight budgets, the report also highlights a correlation between the presence of an SLA, and budget and staff increases. 57 percent of companies with formal SLAs increased their marketing budget, whereas only 45 percent of companies without SLAs did the same. This makes sense, as better budget allocation typically results from some evidence of greater ROI potential.
Additionally, the report notes that 52 percent of companies with formal SLAs in place increased the size of their sales staff, whereas only 36 percent of companies without an SLA did so.
These statistics well illustrate the advantages of bridging the gap between marketing and sales with a formal SLA.
What Is Included in a Solid Marketing-Sales SLA?
There is no one-size-fits-all template for creating an effective SLA. Each company must craft its own service level agreement based on established business protocols and processes.
Input from both marketing and sales will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your SLA. Aligning departmental goals with the overall company goal of conversion and retention of loyal customers is essential.
Here are some components of a well-designed SLA:
1) There must be a clear definition of what a qualified lead is.
Many of the typical complaints between marketing and sales revolve around the definition of a qualified lead. Marketing is often frustrated when they hand off leads to sales and then feel that sales does nothing to follow up with them. Conversely, sales is often frustrated with marketing when leads are handed over before they are truly qualified, thereby wasting the time and energy of the sales force.
An SLA does much to eliminate this point of contention by clearly establishing the defining characteristics of a qualified lead. Input from both departments leads to a consensus, resulting in better communication and efficiency.
2) There must be a defined process for the hand-off of leads.
Once a qualified lead is identified, it must be handed off from marketing to sales. Remembering our analogy of the relay race, this is perhaps the most critical time in the process of conversion.
Just as a relay team may drop the baton and lose valuable seconds in a race if they are not well-coordinated, so too leads can be lost if the hand-off from marketing to sales is not smoothly orchestrated.
An SLA can clarify this process by establishing a set of protocols and processes that ensures that no qualified lead is lost in the shuffle.
3) There must be a way to measure the results of SLA implementation and compliance.
An SLA is only effective if its results are measured and compliance with its covenants is enforced. Therefore, your SLA must contain a well-designed way to measure the performance of marketing and sales. Without this benchmarking process, your SLA loses much of its power to effect change in your organization.
While marketing and sales may once have been cast as adversaries, the reality of today's consumer culture makes it imperative that marketing and sales bridge the gap to win the race for better conversions.