There is perhaps no bigger cliché in the business world than the gap between sales and marketing. We won’t even go there today; there’s already an abundance of material discussing this topic in depth. Instead, this article is about a different area of misalignment that gets significantly less attention: the growing gap between sales development and quota-carrying sales. Some companies refer to the former as lead qualification, others call it business development; it is the role that initiates the B2B sales process and either schedules an appointment or passes off a fully qualified opportunity to a quota carrying seller. 

This portion of the funnel is arguably the fastest growing function in the modern B2B sales organization. However, with any new role (or department) also comes occasional friction. Sales development and quota carrying reps sometimes multiply one another’s efforts, and sometimes they get in each other’s way. In order to alleviate this friction, you first need to identify the source. 


What’s Causing the Gap

  1. Field sales reps can be overly protective of their territories and/or prefer to act as lone wolves.  Yet, team segmentation is increasing in response to customer demands, industry specialization and changing buying behavior. Working with others and viewing it as a “team sale” is new for some but, quickly becoming the norm. Some very tenured sellers see only the inexperience on the development/inside sales team and still feel they can do it all. Occasionally, these sellers struggle to acknowledge the talent and potential impact of these teams to the company, the customer and ultimately, their success in the field.
  2. Some sales development reps have a tendency to schedule a meeting with anyone who accepts.  Rather than using the company’s definition of a qualified sales lead, they will secure the meeting – and then expect the sales person to make magic happen. When their quota carrying counterpart rejects the meeting as unqualified, they in turn get frustrated that they didn’t meet their quota of qualified appointments or opportunities. In this case, no one wins – not the SDR, the seller, the company or the customer.
  3. Sometimes stronger SDRs get paired with less tenured sellers or vice versa.  On the surface, this may seem like a quicker path to productivity for the newer team members. In reality, it creates dependence on each other to drive revenue, resulting in more friction. This problem can be compounded when an SDR is paid on fully qualified opportunities.  A lower performing sales rep who can’t uncover or develop the needs of prospects passed to them will quickly create concern for an SDR striving to hit their quota. 

With so many variables, what can sales leaders do? There’s a simple answer that already exists between other different functions of business: create a Service Level Agreement (SLA). A documented set of rules, guidelines, and expectations between the two parties removes gray area and leaves as much black and white as possible. The key to crafting an SLA is to have representation from both parties in the same room to come to a fair and agreeable compromise. All requests are heard and considered before negotiating what goes into the “contract.”


How to Use an SLA to Bridge the Gap

Let’s assume that your team is comprised of an inside sales development group that passes meetings to the field reps.  In this scenario, the typical elements of an SLA between inside and field sales would be:

  1. Calendar. It is the responsibility of the recipient of appointments to keep their electronic calendar 100% up to date in real time. There is nothing more frustrating for an SDR than to book a meeting with an elusive VP, only to hear that it needs to be rescheduled because the seller has something else going on. SDRs have a hard enough time getting prospects to reply to their emails and answer the phone the first time, and they should be able to trust what’s in the calendar.
  2. The Degree of Qualification. This is a two-step process.  First, sales and marketing leadership need to agree on how to define an:
    • Inquiry (anyone with interest).
    • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), meaning it’s worthy of sales development attention.
    • Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQL), which denotes a real and clear sales opportunity.
    After establishing common definitions, the next step is to educate the sales development and quota carrying sales reps on these definitions – and ensure that there’s a realistic path to uncovering that information before the handoff.
  1. Call Notes. The SLA needs to include a description of what format should be used for SDR note taking. Proper notes from an SDR should include full contact information for the prospect, including direct line and cell phone number, if possible. Complete notes should also contain the details of the conversation or email / social media exchange and any changes the company is going through and their current processes/system. In fairness, there should also be a consequence for sellers who are lax about reviewing these notes.
  2. Communication with the Prospect.  Your SLA should clearly outline the handoff point for prospects in situations like reschedules, no shows, or when more information is requested prior to the meeting. This portion of the SLA requires extra care, because the compensation plan of the SDR is likely tied to “meetings completed” or opportunities being created. This friction point is one of the most overlooked, yet can be one of the simplest to address.
  3. What “Counts” for SDR Compensation. Imagine a seller cancels a meeting at the last minute because something higher priority came up. It’s only fair for an SDR to still expect that meeting will count towards their goal. If this becomes a reoccurring issue, one solution is to add a rule for how many days in advance a seller must ask an SDR to move a meeting; otherwise, it’s on the seller to do so.
  4. Trouble Connecting Day of the Meeting.  The SLA also needs to address the procedure that quota carrying reps will follow if a prospect is not available during the agreed-upon meeting time. Prospects run late for meetings all the time, and a little persistence usually ensures the meeting occurs as planned. It can send mixed signals when both the seller and SDR are reaching out to the prospect, or worse – no one is!
  5. Acceptable Tasks for Sales Development. Another surprising observation we’ve seen in a number of businesses is the SDR-turned-personal-assistant. Specifically, if a meeting needs to be rescheduled because of the prospect, there can be an expectation that the SDR is naturally the one to secure the rescheduled meeting. And, subsequently, if during the sales process, it becomes difficult to secure a next meeting with the prospect, some sellers ask the SDRs to re-engage the prospect. In some cases, the SDR can be made to feel like a personal assistant.

An SLA is only effective if people follow the rules. Surprisingly, some companies allow sales development as an ‘opt in’ program for the field – meaning it’s up to the seller if they work with business development. But, as we acknowledged earlier, a great SDR/seller relationship can quickly multiply results.

A client success manager we’ve worked with summed it up best: “The most important thing in [the SDR/seller] relationship is to communicate, even over communicate. There are plenty of ‘gray areas’ in our business, but when there is great communication between the SDRs and the salespeople, the gray areas are minimized substantially and goals become aligned.” An SLA is a valuable tool for facilitating great communication and clarity at your sales organization.

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