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19 July, 2023   |  5 min read

How to define the marketing to sales handoff

Once you've defined what a lead, MQL, SQL, opportunity and customer is for your business, the next step is defining your marketing to sales handoff.

Once you've defined what a lead, MQL, SQL, opportunity and customer is for your business, the next step is defining your marketing to sales handoff.

Even though marketing and sales should work together as 'one' — smarketing if you will — there still needs to be a delineation when one team (marketing) passes the baton to the next team (sales) to close the deal and get the glory!

The starting point is understanding the fit and interest (sales readiness) of the lead. 

Is the lead a good-fit?

The easiest way to determine fit is to compare a lead to your buyer personas and Ideal Client Profile (ICP). If you don't have personas or ICPs yet, you can compare your leads to your best current customers.

Good-fit leads align well with your personas; bad-fit leads don't align at all (or align with a negative persona).

Typically, as part of defining what qualifies a lead as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) you will already have defined certain characteristics here that make someone a 'good-fit.' These include:

So do you define and agree what makes someone a MQL? Here are some questions that you can use:

  • Are they based in a certain country?
  • Does their job title include certain keywords?
  • How many employees does their company have?
  • Have they downloaded any middle-of-funnel (MOF) content?
  • How many website pages have they visited?
  • Have they view some of our bottom-of-funnel website pages (e.g. pricing or case studies or services pages)?
  • Are they opening and clicking on our marketing emails?


Is the lead sales-ready?

Step two focuses on whether they're sales-ready or unready — in other words, how interested are they in your products and services?

For example, they may be a great-fit but just not interested. 


4 categories of leads

Good-fit, sales-ready

This is your ideal marketing qualified lead (MQL). These people match your personas and want to work with you. You should immediately hand off these leads to your sales team, and your sales reps should follow up with them quickly and persistently.

The fact that these leads have ticked both boxes, especially the 'sales-ready' box, indicates that the lead has performed one or more actions to indicate that they're ready to speak to sales.

For example, they may have visited your pricing, case studies or services pages. Or maybe they have engaged with some of your middle or bottom-of-funnel content. Or maybe they've engaged with your email marketing. For these and other reasons, marketing feels like they are 'sales-ready.'

Pro tip: Leads in the this category should have lifecycle stage set to 'marketing qualified lead (MQL)' and the lead status 'Contact and qualify' (or similar) for sales to follow up.

Poor-fit, sales-ready

These leads are your biggest fans. They love what you do and they would like to work with you. The problem is, they may be too big or too small to work with you. Or they may be in an industry that isn't your niche. Or maybe they don't have the budget. 

These leads are typically left in the 'lead nurturing' bucket and hopefully in time, they will become a good-fit and qualify as a MQL.

Pro tip: Leads in the this category should have lifecycle stage set to 'lead.' 

Good-fit, sales-unready

These leads are perfect for your business and are not ready (yet) for a sales conversation. These leads are prime candidates for lead nurturing. 

Typically, they became a lead by downloading top-of-funnel content and maybe in that 'awareness/education' phase which is ~97% of the market at any time. 

Putting more middle and/or bottom-of-funnel content in front of these leads and engaging with them via email marketing is the best approach for these leads and to hopefully move them down the sales funnel. 

Pro tip: Leads in this category should have lifecycle stage set to 'lead.'

Pro tip: To help 'warm' these leads up a little, sales could do some very light-touch engagement and networking here on social media to give them a little nudge, but it should definitely not be done aggressively.

Poor-fit, sales-unready

These leads have also likely come through top-of-funnel content or maybe they've subscribed to your blog. But the reality is for several reasons, they're unlikely to ever become a customer. 

Your sales team should never interact with leads in this category. The marketing team should continue to provide these leads with the content they ask for and encourage them to share it with their networks — with this approach, you might be able to tap them for referrals, but don't spend too much effort on this bucket.


How to manage the marketing to sales handoff with an SLA

Marketing and sales should have actions of what to do and what not to do for each of the above categories of leads. This is where a Service Level Agreement (SLA) can be really helpful.

The SLA should clearly define what a lead, MQL, SQL, opportunity and customer is for your business, it should define above four categories of leads and what marketing/sales should do (or shouldn't do) for each bucket and it should define some SMART goals both for marketing and for sales.


Marketing will generate X leads per month

Marketing will generate Y marketing qualified leads per month

Sales will contact a MQL within 24 hours

Sales will complete X discovery calls (or demos) per month

Sales will create Y deals per month

Sales will close Z revenue per month

If sales decides that a MQL is not 'sales-ready' they should leave the lifecycle stage as MQL but update the lead status to 'Sales-unready' 'Unqualified' or something else.

If sales decides that a MQL is 'sales-ready' (yay) they should update the lifecycle stage to SQL and take over the lead from there. 

Common marketing to sales handoff issues

Sales are not contacting MQLs within 24 hours (or at all)

This could be due to the following issues:

  • Marketing is generating MQLs but these leads may not be 'sales-ready' from sales' perspective so sales take their foot off the gas. 
  • There is a breakdown in the lead qualification / sales process which means sales are not getting notified of MQLs

MQLs are not sales-ready

This is one of the most common points of friction between marketing and sales. Sales are wasting their time with MQLs which are not really MQLs, because they're not sales-ready. A sales rep's time is limited, so they don’t have the bandwidth for unqualified meetings. This can also make them stop trusting marketing’s leads.

This could be due to the definition of a MQL being too broad. 

There's not enough MQLs coming through

This could be the result of marketing generating loads of leads but not enough of them are converting to MQLs. This could indicate an issue with marketing's lead nurturing, not having the right content at each stage of the funnel, missing the mark with their ads targeting, etc. 

It could also be because your MQL definition is too rigid.

There's too many MQLs coming through

Sounds great right? But this could be overwhelming your sales reps. Some quick fixes here, include restructuring your sales team to include Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) to do the MQL > SQL qualification and then hand off to a Business Development Manager (BDR), Account Executive (AE) or whatever you call 'that' person in your business. 



Getting the marketing to sales handoff right could possibly make or break your business. If you get it right, your marketing and sales teams will have less friction and you'll be setting up your business to scale. 

Layering in your CRM and what marketing/sales needs to do for each type of lead will enable your sales engine and documenting this into a simple marketing and sales SLA will make everything nice and clear.


Nathan Reiche

Nathan Reiche

Nathan is the CEO and Founder of Content Chemistry, a digital marketing agency and a HubSpot Platinum Solutions Partner. He has over 15 years' marketing experience in Australia and Europe, working both on the client-side and as an agency. He's passionate about content/inbound marketing, SEO and sales funnels. And yes he's been told that he looks like Roger Federer.