Mastering the Handoff in Account Based Sales and Marketing

Account Based Sales and Marketing takes an entire team to get the ball from one side of the field all the way to the other and across the goal line. No single player can take on the opposing team alone. Many different teammates touch the ball multiple times throughout the drive to the end zone, which makes each handoff critical. If you don’t spend time perfecting this, you risk dropping the ball – a turnover that could lead to your competitors cashing in on your lost opportunity. That’s exactly why we wrote Bridging The Gap: The Ultimate Guide To Account Based Marketing & Sales Alignment  For Predictable Growth.

We know that clean data should be a primary goal if you’re trying to effectively use an Account Based Strategy – or any strategy for that matter. There are de-dupe tools, mass lead converter programs, automatic lead routing systems, and other technologies of the sort. But in reality, that only corrects bad behavior that salespeople have already learned or inadequate process development.

Clean data can’t fix a bad sales process.

Sales and marketing efforts are only limited by the quality of your data and depth of your strategy. It’s very important to invest the time and energy to get this right. The cost of not establishing these essential components of an account based approach, especially at the handoff, is more than you think, leading to

Here are the four key factors you need to get right in order to master the handoff and close large accounts:

  1. Balancing business objectives with individual activity metrics
  2. Knowing when to disposition out accounts and move on
  3. Establish the right qualification process and/or criteria
  4. Creating the best handoff experience for the prospect

Let’s take a deeper look at each and dive into how you can avoid dropping the ball.

Just because it’s easier to get someone to say “yes” to a demo, doesn’t mean the SDR needs to schedule one. If an SDR passes along too many weak leads, the AE will be wasting time with non-buyers. If an SDR is spending too long qualifying a lead and the AE’s pipeline dries up, there’s no one to talk to.

There must be clear, concrete criteria for when an SDR can call a lead “qualified,” and ready to pass off to an AE.

Avoid creating situations where an SDR might qualify a lead just to hit a quota.

1) Balancing Business Objectives with Individual Activity Metrics

We all know that sales and marketing traditionally don’t get along. Marketing is often measured and compensated on different metrics (such as total traffic to the site and MQLs) while sales is often measured on completely different metrics (such as meetings booked and deals closed). The wider the net you try to cast with your marketing, the less qualified incoming leads are going to come in. You can see why the two teams get along like cats and dogs. Now, account management/customer success is putting on the gloves and stepping in the ring to fight because they now have to deal with the promises the marketing and sales teams are making.

Part of the solution is to implement a Service Level Agreement (SLA), which is meant to establish similarly quantified agreements between the three teams and aims to put them on similar revenue quota and business objectives/results. Establish an SLA that defines what a qualified lead is, when that leads should be passed to the next stage, how the conversion at each stage occurs, and so on. This way, all three teams are accountable to each other.

Even though the entire team is now held to the same business results, each team still needs their own activity metrics, otherwise, you don’t know which levers to pull to reach those business objectives. You’ll have to decide which are the most important to your business, but here are some sample metrics to get you started.


  1. MQLs
  2. Webinar & Event Signups
  3. Sales Information Requests
  4. Lead Response Time
  5. Ad campaign click-throughs


  1. Outbound Calls
  2. Meaningful Conversations
  3. Leads Worked
  4. Meeting Set
  5. SQLs


  1. Meetings Completed
  2. Pipeline Generated
  3. Opportunities Created
  4. Opportunity Win Rate


  1. Customer Churn Rate
  2. Contract Retention Rate
  3. Contract Length
  4. Renewal Rate
  5. Customer Expansion Revenue

2) Know When to Disposition Out Accounts and Move On

Not all your accounts are going to close, which means you have to know when to call it quits and disposition out an account. Saying no is always hard, but when building your playbook you must develop a set of rules your team follows.

So, when should you disposition out an account? The real answer to this question depends on a few critical factors, such as deal size, sales cycle, total addressable market, account penetration and account engagement, to name a few. See how this can get complicated?

When you’re dealing with large deals (seven and eight-figure ACV), and long sales cycle (18+ months), your rules and guidelines for when to disposition out an account are going to be looser than small ACVs and short sales cycles. However, it’s established rules are equally important for both situations and must be established upfront.

For example, if you’re 60 days past your close dates, but you’ve just won a champion on the inside at the c-suite, you’d be damn sure to keep going. On the other hand, that same champion on a low four-figure deal with a short 3-month sales cycle can throw your bookings numbers and pipeline health off. At the least, these accounts can be put on a long-term marketing nurture campaign until they meet show strong buying intent.

Another piece to think about is your total addressable market. If you’re targeting Fortune 500 companies, there’s little room for error, which mean you’ll be more careful to close an opportunity and move on to the next account because your pool of account to draw from is extremely limited.

3) Establish the Right Qualification Process and/or Criteria

Qualifying a lead means scoring them on a set of key attributes that tell you if a lead will be a good fit for your company. However, in an account-based approach, all accounts you’re prospecting into are already pre-qualified, so that means you’ll have to drill down further and establish more specific qualifying criteria. This is usually based on buying signals rather than demographic and firmographic data.

To identify which buying signals make an impact on your sales cycle, start with your highest performing accounts, and identify what they have in common. Basically, you need to conduct a won sales analysis.

Once you’ve completed your won sales analysis and uncovered the strongest buying signals, it’s imperative that you have a well-structured sales process (have I emphasized this point enough yet? Check out Bridging The Gap for more on this).

There are many ways to execute the handoff. For example, your SDRs book the meeting for the AE, then sets an appointment action for a future date in Salesforce or your CRM and assigns it to him/herself. The AE marks the appointment complete and changes ownership once the meeting happens. However, if the prospect doesn’t show up, the SDR maintains responsibility, and the lead owner doesn’t change.

Lars Nilsson, VP of Global Inside Sales at Cloudera and who coined the term Account Based Sales Development states: “I called it ABSD because it is very much the SDR who has the focus and control of both the technology and the multi-step processes that have to come together in order to execute a flawless outbound campaign. The SDR is, in essence, the quarterback for ABSD and can allow for scale across your target accounts.”

If you don’t have a defined process starting with your SDRs, no-shows get lost and slip through the cracks. If you’re getting a lot of no-shows, that means your SDRs qualifying criteria needs to be revisited or you’re incentivizing your reps on the wrong activities.

4) Creating the Best Handoff Experience for the Prospect

We’ve all been there… you’re eager to test out a new product or service, so you schedule a demo via the company site. But it takes a painful qualifying conversation with an SDR, a sloppy handoff, another semi-qualification call (because the SDR didn’t ask the right question or didn’t leave the notes for the AE), which results in a rushed demo and poor experience. Now, you’re frustrated with the company whose product you were previously excited to learn about.

I tell you this experience first hand because when I was in the market for a marketing automation platform, I chose Hubspot because the other company I was evaluating provided the most painful buying experience I have ever encountered.

To make the handoff experience tolerable, and even pleasant for the prospect, a proper email can do the trick and make the handoff seamless and painless. Drawing much inspiration from Richard Harris, this email handoff approach is very effective. Immediately after sending the calendar invite for the agreed upon demo time with your AE, send a follow-up email that could look something like this:

handoff script

There’s one other option used for higher-touch sales processes or higher-value target accounts. Have your SDR join the first call and do the handoff in the meeting itself. This would require the same email, but the SDR’s responsibilities would extend to the opening of the meeting/ first demo call. Your SDR should do the following:

  1. Open the call and re-establish rapport
  2. Make a more formal introduction to your AE
  3. Summarize the three key points from the discover call, taking no more than 30 second (you better have good notes!)
  4. Set the agenda and the desired outcomes
  5. Let your AE take over!

This same process can and should be implemented after your AE closes the deal and hands the account off to your account/customer success manager. This approach builds more trust and provides a better experience all around. Remember, though your jobs are different, everyone is on the same team.

In his book Amp Up Your Sales, Andy Paul makes a compelling argument that how you sell is as important as what you sell. Providing a better sales experience can be another point of differentiation for your organization.

There’s more to mastering the handoff than what I can cover here on a single blog post, and mastering the handoff is only one small aspect of an account based strategy. We cover that and more in our new ebook Bridging The Gap: The Ultimate Guide To Account Based Marketing & Sales Alignment  For Predictable Growth.

iPad Bridging the Gap cover account based sales

In this ebook you’ll discover:

  • How to master the handoff for the smoothest transition possible
  • The importance of sales and marketing operations
  • The best practices and principles for lead scoring
  • The core of successful sales and marketing messaging  
  • How to establish leadership alignment  
  • The formula for an effective sales and marketing feedback loop
  • Building the perfect sales stack for account-based sales
  • An overview of the best tech tools in the space

Download now!

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