Your sales team is bickering that they’re wasting time with too many junk leads, getting to the good ones too late. Marketing is complaining that they’re busting butt filling the pipe, but nothing seems to be happening. And don’t forget – there’s a third party in this age-old tale – your prospective customers, getting moldy, waiting on the shelf. If you’re eager to build alignment between all parties, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are a critical deliverable.
A Service Level Agreement is required at any point in your demand funnel where there is a hand-off of prospects across teams. By definition, a SLA is an agreement between the parties describing what’s coming, how much, and what action needs to be taken by whom and by when. The “when” is really key, because there’s a clock ticking on how long your prospects are going to be fresh and responsive. Consider your market, your product, and your typical sales cycle, and determine that “best before date” – the last date by which your prospects’ quality is best.
Get ‘Em While They’re Hot
You’ll probably find that there are several dates you need to define in the hand-off process. Many teams have agreed on a timeframe for “attempt to contact”: how long the receiving party has to pick up the lead from a queue. Once contact is made, some teams have established a timeframe for qualification, working with the lead to meet the criteria for the next hand-off. However, what’s not often captured is what happens once those dates are met but no progress is made – this is a dead end in the process that can result in leads becoming irreversibly stale.
These black holes are often the source of the finger-pointing between marketing and sales. But sitting down together as a team and defining every aspect of the SLA can easily mitigate this friction. Agreeing upon timeframes for specific actions and aligning expected volume with capacity sets clear expectations for all parties, including your prospects. It also supplies a solid framework for reporting, driving accountability and providing inarguable evidence as to whether the agreed-upon process is proving out. If you need relationship counseling for your sales and marketing team, download our Sales and Marketing Alignment Whitepaper.
As you sit down your teams to define the SLA, use this checklist to ensure that you’ve captured the key elements of a SLA:
Expected lead volume – How many leads should sales expect to receive from marketing? Given the actions they need to take, do they have the resources to meet the goals? There’s no benefit in sending truckloads of leads to a small receiving team – you may find that you simply have to throw out leads that have gotten way past their best buy date. Ouch!
Definition of a lead – What’s the quality of the leads being provided to sales? Are they simply raw responses, or has some level of qualification already been performed? Be frank about what’s being handed off, because this often is one of the major sore spots between the teams.
Contact attempted time limit – Once received, how long before the lead needs to be picked up out of the sales person’s queue? If you’re not sure, test and report conversion rates on several different timeframes: does 5 minutes produce a markedly higher conversion of the lead to the next stage than say 2 hours?
Contact attempted counts, channels and priorities – Is one attempt via phone or email sufficient? Do some leads merit more attempts that others? It may be that not all leads are equal in the queue, and some should get extra attention (for example, those with a higher lead score).
Qualification time limit – The lead has been contacted (whoohoo!) and conversations have started. But what happens if they stall? Determine a useful series of milestones, for example, status changes within a defined timeframe, to help set reasonable expectations for both the sales person and the prospect.
Next action following expiration – What should happen when the lead just isn’t moving forward? Generally, the sales person should make an evaluation of whether it’s worth spending additional effort to maintain the dialog, and reject the lead if not. But if this decision isn’t made in time, what should happen to maintain freshness? Options might be to automatically add the lead to a nurture campaign or even to reassign the lead to another member of the sales team. Remember, no black holes!
Alerts and reports – Anecdotal feedback about the process is helpful, but truly understanding the story requires healthy use of the systems you have in place. Set up alerts to sales people notifying them that they have leads approaching the best buy date and alerts for management when there is significant slippage. Create reports for both teams to understand precisely what’s been sitting on the shelf and for how long.
As you craft your SLAs, be as comprehensive as possible but avoid being too confining. Give your teams flexibility to do their jobs well, but still within the time allotted. Use your reporting to help determine the best experience for all parties – especially your prospects – and be prepared to make changes to the Service Level Agreement when there is room for improvement. At all costs, avoid black holes with no distinct time limits.
Keep in mind that your prospects will likely also have a best before date: by when they have to make a decision. Establishing agreements between your teams that support them through the process will help ensure that your company is still top-of-mind when they get to that milestone.
Gaea Connary Director of Consulting Services, focuses on helping organizations strengthen their lead management processes, lead scoring, nurturing strategy, and reporting and analysis to get the best return on their technology investment and meet their marketing objectives.