Building a Successful Lead Handoff Between Sales & Marketing

May 4, 2020

The lead handoff process is one of the biggest bottlenecks for every company trying to grow their sales pipeline. Marketing has invested money and resources to generate qualified leads, but they are not always properly assigned to the Sales team and followed-up with.

The lead handoff process is one of the biggest bottlenecks for every company trying to grow their sales pipeline. Marketing has invested money and resources to generate qualified leads, but they are not always properly assigned to the Sales team and followed-up with. 

On the other hand, account executives (AEs) complain because leads are too cold, not qualified, or they haven't been notified on time. Here we explain the different variables and factors that impact your lead handoff process, and walk you through the steps to implement a streamlined lead handoff and qualification process.

The Lead Handoff

sales lead handoff

What we call “lead handoff” is the process of efficiently transferring qualified leads from the marketing team to the sales reps, in order for them to be qualified, nurtured, and converted into customers. When your company raises money, you can build a decent demand generation budget and start transferring some of the customer acquisition responsibilities to the Marketing team. In theory, when Marketing generates a qualified lead, it is assigned to the account executive, who qualifies it and converts it to a new customer. 

Unfortunately, the reality is often very different. The most common reason for low conversion rate and high acquisition cost is a broken process during the handoff and qualification stage.

Lead Handoff Challenges

These are common scenarios often encountered when working with SaaS startups:

  • Scenario 1: Marketing generated hundreds of leads from paid campaigns, nobody followed-up (ever!)
  • ISSUE: Either the lead quality wasn’t good enough, or there wasn’t a strong system in place that accounted for lead quality and Sales team availability. Also, nobody implemented a report to monitor lead statuses.

  • Scenario 2: The AE has a meeting scheduled with a very junior professional who is “just curious”
  • ISSUE: The MQL definition was too broad, or the scoring process wasn’t implemented correctly.  A salesperson's time is limited, so they don’t have the bandwidth for unqualified meetings. This can also make them stop trusting marketing’s leads.

  • Scenario 3: The Enterprise field rep is having to deal with a large volume of “content leads” to follow-up with on a daily basis
  • ISSUE: Marketing and sales didn’t take into consideration all the variables when they designed the lead handoff process. Enterprise reps are constantly traveling and they have to focus their time on the open opportunities. Content leads require frequent follow-up and nurturing, and it’s not the field reps’ responsibility to do it. Pair them up with a SDR who will filter and nurture leads until they are ready to have a productive conversion with the sales rep.

  • Scenario 4: Leads are still being assigned to Sales after months of silence. None of them is receiving content or updates from marketing.
  • ISSUE: You haven’t implemented a trigger for leads to be reassigned to marketing after X number of days. 

A Story of Misalignment

sales marketing misalignment

Company A was investing $120k/month in paid acquisition programs, and generating about 4,000 inbound leads per month. Their leads were coming from a variety of channels (organic, content syndication, email marketing, webinars, Adwords, LinkedIn), and they had 6 sales development reps (SDRs) divided by territory. They assigned leads based on zip codes, routing all content leads to SDRs and “hot” leads to AEs. 

The result? Over 200 “hot” leads were never followed-up with by anyone (including a few senior prospects from F500 companies), and over 6,000 content leads were stuck in “limbo”, never nurtured after months. The key to an effective sales process is making sure that Marketing and Sales are aligned, and that there is a mutually agreed upon process to handoff and/or nurture these leads.

Map Your Variables

To build your handoff model, start by mapping your variables. Which components do you need to account for to design this process? Always start from the sales team when building your model.

  • Sales team composition - Inside sales? Field reps? Both? 
  • What is the SDR team structure?
  • How are leads assigned? Round robin vs Territory vs ABM? 
  • What is the sales capacity for your leads? 
  • How many leads/demos can your reps follow up with at a time?
  • Sales process? How many months/calls involved?
  • What is your business model? 
  • What is the volume of leads per week? Lead sources? Scoring criteria?

The “Marketing Qualified Lead” (MQL)

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead who has expressed interest and has the right demographic (industry, title, seniority). The threshold for when a lead becomes an MQL is a combination of demographic criteria (first) and intent. Most importantly, this threshold must be built in collaboration with Sales and signed off by both Sales and Marketing. Consider both demographic and behavioral aspects, but make sure to filter out any leads that are unqualified based on demographics. Intent won’t matter if it’s not the right person or account, since you won’t be able to sell to them. As for behavior, you need to track the lead’s actions to come up with a score: have they requested a demo? Attended a webinar? Stopped by your booth at a trade show?

Connect with Sales to identify the minimum level of intent they are interested in following up with, as well as the volume of leads their team can handle. Leads above that score will be passed to Sales, while leads below that threshold will continue to be nurtured by Marketing.

Sales capacity also affects your MQL threshold. If you only have a couple of reps and no SDRs, assigning them a high volume of leads would only create noise and confusion, with the risk of missing the high-value opportunities. But when your team grows, and you have several reps waiting for qualified people to call, you need to readjust your model and lower the intent requirements for lead handoff (not the demographic!).  The lead scoring automation can be used after building this model. 

What to do with Content Leads?

When a lead downloads a whitepaper from LinkedIn or from your website, they are considered a “content lead”, which is usually below the “hot lead” (demo request) threshold. However, if the lead comes from a target account, it is more valuable than your average content lead, even if it didn’t make an explicit request for a demo. Be careful with these leads, because if you pass them to Sales too soon they might not be ready to buy and your reps will spend too many hours sorting through them. It’s better to add them to a lead nurture sequence and warm them up before they get routed to the account executives or SDRs. Find an agreement with your reps about when to send leads to Sales. When reps are hungry for leads (or content leads from certain accounts), they should ask Marketing to be assigned to them, and determine how they will be routed.

Base Agreement & Service Level Agreement (SLA)

You’ve mapped your variables and understand the different kinds of leads that are coming in, now the marketing and sales teams need to generate a Base Agreement to determine the answers to these questions:

  • What kind of leads will be passed to sales? 
  • What are the demographic and intent minimum requirements?
  • How will you pass this information to Sales? (Real-time notifications, CRM, etc)
  • Will they be able to see which campaign/asset this lead came from?
sales alignment

Next, make sure there is a Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place. This SLA is a contract that defines certain key performance metrics as well as the working relationship between Sales and Marketing. In this agreement, you will want to answer these questions so that there is consensus between both teams as to 1) who the leads are assigned to, 2) how they are followed up with, and 3) how everything is tracked in the CRM. Other things to consider:

  • How quickly will sales follow-up with each type of leads?
  • What are the follow-up methods? How many touches? (how many emails? calls?)
  • How will Sales show they have followed up? (e.g. tag lead statuses in CRM)
  • What happens if a lead is unresponsive or closed/lost?
  • How will Marketing nurture their leads?

The “Sales Accepted Lead” (SAL)

The SAL is basically just a quality control process to ensure that Marketing is actually handing off quality leads. It’s based on the rules defined in the Base Agreement. Once the lead is accepted by Sales and becomes a SAL, the lead is formally handed off and becomes the responsibility of the Sales team -- what happens next is based on your SLA (not to be confused with SAL). Make sure your CRM has a Lead Status field to track the lead’s progress, and that all relevant parties are updating this status as the lead moves through the sales funnel. This is particularly important since the Marketing team is often measured and compensated based on the number of SALs and opportunities sourced.

Lead-to-Opportunity Flow

lead opportunity flow sales marketing

This is what the lead-to-opportunity flow should look like. Once Marketing deems a lead qualified enough to be assigned to Sales (MQL), Sales can decide if they want to accept or disqualify the lead. If the SDR or AE accepts the lead, they should create a “Stage 0” opportunity for this account in the CRM. Make sure to track every step of the flow on your CRM at each stage -- tag the correct campaigns so you can always attribute your pipeline to the right sources. If a lead is Closed-Lost or becomes unresponsive, it should go back into nurturing.

Lead Assignment

When assigning leads between your Sales reps, remember to keep it as simple as possible. These are the most common types of lead assignments:

  • Round Robin: Leads are randomly assigned to the next sales rep on the list
  • Account-Based: SDRs and AEs are assigned to a list of target accounts
  • Territory: Reps are divided by region, state, zip code, area code, etc (avoid for as long as you can, useless complexity)
  • Segments: Reps are assigned to a specific company size or vertical (Mid-market, enterprise, , etc)

Closed-Loop Process (Nurture)

sales funnel

You don’t want to let leads go cold over time. Even if they are not ready to buy you still want to share content from Marketing and keep them engaged for when they are ready to engage. Keep a closed-loop process where leads can be added to a nurture workflow (sharing content, updates, etc), if they are not ready to engage with Sales, have become unresponsive for X days, or have become a closed-lost opportunity. You can set up a workflow within your CRM or marketing automation software so that leads are automatically changed to a “nurture” status if they meet any of these criteria, and then are automatically enrolled in the nurture sequence (until they engage and their status changes again). 

5 Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Stay away from vague or simplistic qualification criteria (i.e. “must have a budget”). Be as specific as you can!
  2. Don’t design overly-complex lead assignment rules.
  3. Don’t let your reps ignore the SLA, it’s in place for a reason (ignoring it will cost you money). Build a dashboard and a “wall of shame” for the reps that are slow at responding to new leads.
  4. Don’t spend too much time on the scoring model before you define the handoff requirements.
  5. Make sure to create the MQL definition with input from both Marketing and Sales.


The key to building a successful lead handoff is to make sure there is alignment between Marketing and Sales. Map all relevant variables, and come to an agreement on how leads will be scored, handed off, followed up with, and tracked. With the correct processes in place, you will ensure that all the expensive new leads will be properly followed-up, and you’ll be able to effectively scale and increase your sales pipeline.

Looking to scale demand generation?


Join our Demand Generation community


Check these other blog posts:

June 3, 2021
How to Nurture Enterprise Accounts with a Multi-Channel Strategy

Nurturing enterprise accounts requires continuous education through multiple channels before they might see a need for your solution. Here we discuss the most effective ways to use multiple channels to nurture your target accounts.

January 14, 2021
How to Build a Demand Generation Budget for FY2021

The shift to virtual events in 2020, along with uncertainty about when live events will resume, makes this year’s budget planning a bit tougher than others. However, you can use the same methodology to set your team up for success in 2021.

October 22, 2020
Running Integrated Marketing Campaigns in 2020

If you’re targeting mid-market or enterprise companies, you can't rely on a single channel to drive engagement and qualified leads. Here we share examples of campaigns with solid ROI and show how to integrate different channels into a unique workflow.

October 15, 2020
Marketo vs HubSpot vs ActiveCampaign

HubSpot and Marketo are considered the #1 and #2 marketing automation softwares in the world. ActiveCampaign, on the other hand, is a powerful and easy-to-use marketing automation & sales CRM platform designed for small businesses on a budget. How do you decide which is right for you?

September 21, 2020
How to Run an ABM Initiative Without Buying an ABM Solution

You might have a golden list of accounts that the sales team wants to focus on, but you don’t have the budget for a shiny new ABM platform. Jasmine Chung, Demand Generation Manager at Openprise, showed us how they are doing it at their company and the results they are seeing.

September 3, 2020
How Intellimize Leveraged B2B Direct Mail to Generate $4.6M in Sales Pipeline

Intellimize used SaaSMQL’s expertise to launch targeted ABM campaigns, integrating Direct Mail with automated emails and LinkedIn ads to engage with 800 accounts within their ideal customer profile. Their investment generated $4.6M in ARR pipeline.

August 12, 2020
SEO Strategy: 5 Tips to Scale Your Organic Traffic

Looking for some no-nonsense SEO tips to boost your site’s search engine rankings? We sat down with Aaron Moskowitz, Director of SEO at Golden Hippo, and covered 5 easy-to-implement tactics that help increase your website's ranking and boost inbound traffic.

August 5, 2020
The 9 Most Important Metrics for B2B Startups

By tracking and taking action in improving essential metrics you can position your team for better performance and productivity. Here we provide some insights into what we believe are the most important KPIs every young B2B SaaS company should track as soon as revenue streams arise.

July 1, 2020
How We Generate $1M in Sales Pipeline with Direct Mail

Here we explain step-by-step how at SaaSMQL we are able to consistently generate over $1M in new sales pipeline every month by using a targeted direct mail approach. We also discuss mistakes to avoid during the process and how to track the campaign performance.

June 23, 2020
7 Steps to launching your first B2B Direct Mail campaign

Direct mail is the best-performing direct response channel, bringing in results “10 to 30 times better than email”. Most companies don’t leverage direct mail because it's hard to execute, and requires plenty of time and resources. Here we will go over the 7 steps to launching a direct mail campaign.

June 16, 2020
A Common Sense Approach to Account Based Analytics

In a recent webinar for DemandGen Club, Arun Sivashankaran (Founder & CEO of FunnelEnvy) shared the good, bad, and ugly from his years of experience with B2B demand generation teams tackling account based analytics & personalization.

June 2, 2020
The Basics of B2B Marketing Attribution

How do you know which programs are generating qualified leads and pipeline, and which aren’t? How can you make sure a lead is tagged correctly throughout the entirety of their buying journey? Here we discuss the basics of B2B marketing attribution.

May 27, 2020
The Top 4 Direct Mail Use Cases for B2B Startups

Modern ABM marketers are seeing direct mail emerge as an effective channel for B2B companies to engage and convert target accounts. When direct mail campaigns are integrated into a broader account-based marketing strategy, they become a powerful channel to break through noise and reach prospects.

May 21, 2020
A cost effective Sales & Marketing tech stack for early stage SaaS companies

Your marketing “tech stack” is the set of technologies your organization uses to execute and analyze marketing across the customer lifecycle, and scale your business. The key goal of your marketing tech stack is to measure the impact of your marketing activities - making difficult processes easier.

May 19, 2020
12 B2B Direct Mail Examples to Boost your Pipeline

Given the special nature of a direct mail package, it’s no wonder the average response rates are higher than email. Receiving a nice gift right at your desk in the middle of the work week is memorable, and shows that the sender made the effort to do something different.

May 14, 2020
The 5 Worst SaaS Demand Generation Sins

A strong Demand Generation program allows a company to predictably scale the number of Opps sourced by simply increasing marketing spend. Whether you’re just starting out or have been running Demand Gen programs for years, here are a few core “sins” that your team should avoid at all costs.

May 8, 2020
Right Person, Right Time: How to Leverage Buyer Intent Data

Intent data can tell you when your target accounts show strong buying signals, allowing you to target the right people at the right time. Yet, many sales and marketing teams still aren’t sure how to include this new type of data in their workflows, let alone incorporate it into actionable programs.

May 6, 2020
Building Your Target Account List Using Data

Scaling is hard. You can have the best sales team in the world, but if they’re not focusing on the right accounts, their work likely won’t amount to new clients for your business. When you focus your efforts on ideal target companies, you maximize the campaign’s efficacy and conversion.

May 1, 2020
Why SaaS Companies Underspend on Demand Generation

Low confidence in marketing attribution and ROI often causes SaaS companies to cut investments on demand generation. By tracking your CAC and the value of each stage of your marketing funnel, you can allocate your budget to drive real growth.

April 30, 2020
Driving Qualified Meetings with Direct Mail Campaigns

When direct mail campaigns are integrated into a broader account-based marketing strategy, they become a powerful channel to break through the noise and reach your ideal contacts.

April 29, 2020
How We Use LinkedIn Ads to Engage with Target Accounts

Learn how to build effective Account-Based Marketing campaigns using LinkedIn Ads. We'll present specific examples and step-by-step instructions on how to target your named accounts and drive qualified leads.

December 1, 2019
ABM Unlocked: How to Leverage Buyer Intent Data in Real Time

In this video you'll learn how you can leverage intent data to increase conversion on your ABM campaigns and engage with your target accounts. We'll provide an intro about buyer intent data, the difference between 1st party data and 3rd party data, and how to track customers' offsite behaviors.

August 15, 2019
Creating a Demand Generation Budget From Scratch

In this video you’ll learn how to draft a demand generation budget starting from your revenue goals. We’ll discuss about funnel metrics, Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC), what line items should be considered when creating the budget, how to forecast your ROI, and what tools can help you.

June 6, 2019
ABM: How to Define Your Ideal Customer Profile

In this video you'll learn how to build the right target account list. By focusing all your efforts toward the ideal accounts, you'll maximize campaign's efficacy and conversion.

March 26, 2019
How to Generate ROI from Event Marketing

In this video we'll share lessons on how to generate pipeline sponsoring third-party conferences, how to best manage follow-ups and track results, and how to scale the strategy to 100+ events per year. We'll also discuss about best practices on how to run your first user conference successfully.

December 9, 2018
Video: Integrating Direct Mail Campaigns in Your ABM Strategy

Direct mail has been emerging as an effective channel for B2B companies to engage and convert their target accounts. When direct mail campaigns are integrated into a broader account-based marketing strategy, they become a powerful channel to break through the noise and reach your ideal contacts.

July 21, 2018
What are the biggest mistakes that B2B SaaS startups make in sales?

The 8 most common sales mistakes that I frequently notice in venture-funded SaaS startups. These include adding territories too early or hire a bunch of AEs when there is no pipeline. Avoiding these early mistakes will impact your ARR from the beginning.

June 9, 2018
The 6 Initial Steps to Transition to an Account-Based Strategy

Marketing is no longer incentivized to simply generate leads at the top-of-the-funnel and throwing them to sales. The metrics that matter now are account engagement, number of opportunities generated, pipeline ($) and revenue.

June 8, 2018
Why All SaaS Companies Need Demand Generation

Demand generation entails generating sales opportunities for your company's products or services. A good demand generation engine can help a company engage new prospects, generate interest online and offline, and attract prospects, which are then converted to leads and turned into sales pipeline.