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How to Create the Best SLA for Marketing and Sales

In the digital era, sales and marketing teams are working together more closely than ever.

Back in the bad old days of outbound marketing and outbound sales, these two organizations were seen as rivals competing for the same budget. Misalignment was common. Their work was considered a zero sum game in which the two silos rarely communicated with one another.

Luckily, things have advanced very quickly since inbound broke onto the scene.

Attitudes about sales and marketing have really transformed thanks to modern digital sales and marketing. These days, just about everyone knows that revenue is a team effort where both sides support and facilitate each other. Likewise, both teams share in (and celebrate) successes.

The problem: It’s not always clear how to structure that partnership.

To make it work – and make it measurable – many organizations are using SLAs.

What Is an SLA?

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An SLA or service level agreement is a commitment that defines the output a customer receives from a vendor over a given time period. Although SLAs got their start in IT, they’ve also been adopted in the B2B software world and, increasingly, among internal clients in other industries.

An SLA makes a lot of sense for sales and marketing, particularly in the digital sphere.

Since both the sales and marketing faces of the coin pump out a tremendous amount of data, it’s not too difficult to figure out whether a team is meeting its commitments. You’ll also have clear benchmarks so you can work toward continuous improvement in the future.

And, of course, you’ll know what actions to take if things go wrong. The sooner you can identify a problem, the sooner both sides can work to resolve it. There are no enemies with a marketing SLA, just business challenges that require a combination of expertise.

How Can You Set Up an SLA Between Sales and Marketing?

Establishing this kind of service level agreement is tricky. Once it’s done, though, you’re golden.

Hashing out what your agreement should entail is, ideally, a collaborative process. If this is the first time you’ve had one, though, it’s a sound idea to have the demand generation lead take point on the communication and orchestration every agreement requires.

Here’s the process in a nutshell:

1. Start With the Right Metrics

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To outline your organization’s needs, you’re going to need a ton of nitty-gritty metrics. Even with enthusiastic buy-in to create an SLA, it might take time to get a handle on these.

Focus on these metrics:

Revenue Goals

It’s not a “metric” in the classic sense, but your revenue goals are what you use to develop meaningful goals and manage expectations. If you’re unclear on your revenue goals, your SLA will be sunk. If your goals are unreasonable, the standards you set won’t be sustainable.

Monthly Average Leads Generated by Marketing

Hopefully, you’re getting all the information you need about current marketing performance with data analytics, including strong lead attribution and end-to-end tracking.

If not, implement analytics and strongly consider a customer relationship management (CRM) suite with lead scoring.

Average Lead-to-Customer Conversion Rate

Where monthly average leads come from the marketing side of the house, this is where the rubber meets the road for sales. It’s the closing figure you need to ensure sales goals are on target – again, lead attribution by channel is essential to clarifying outcomes for both teams.

Average Lifetime Value of Customer Accounts

Lifetime value represents the total revenue contribution that a customer account will make in its entire active period. Although it takes a while to derive this figure by observing your book of business, it will ultimately tell you – in the long, long run – whether you have marketing ROI.

Average Length of Customer Engagement

If your enterprise is focused around subscription-based services, then you probably have a good idea how long your average engagement lasts. If your business is structured differently, use the figure for lifetime value or substitute your own relevant metric here.

On top of all that, you’ll need two lead definitions. What counts as a lead will vary depending on your business and how your sales funnel is set up, but it doesn’t hurt to review the definitions:

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

In general, MQLs in inbound marketing are those who have put themselves on your radar by indicating clear interest in what you have to offer. For example, an MQL might sign up for your email subscriber list or request a case study or demo.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

An SQL is someone who has been thoroughly vetted by your sales team and who qualifies to become a customer. One of the most effective and easy to use frameworks for this is BANT, which you can read about in Why BANT is the Ultimate Sales Qualification Framework.

Phew! With metrics in hand, you can get down to the process level.

2. Define Your Buyer Persona

If you don’t have a concrete, specific definition of the ideal buyer your marketing is aiming to attract (and your sales pros are trying to appeal to), the steps that follow are doomed from the start.

Drill down into the deep details here: How to Build a Buyer Persona.

3. Set Your Goals

For your new goals to be attainable, they should be based on goals your team has successfully reached in the past. Carefully evaluate the staffing and skills of your teams before setting goals. You can always ramp them up as following the SLA gets easier.

For more on goals, see Breaking Down Every Aspect of a SMART Goal.

4. Define the Hand-Off

With the precise lead definitions you built in the first step, you can define when an MQL becomes an SQL and what steps need to be taken by marketing to ensure sales is positioned to succeed.

With a modern CRM, a lot of the detail work can be automated for you.

5. Clarify Lead Management

Lead management is one of the most complex areas for collaboration between marketing and sales. It’s easy to succumb to confusion of purpose here, so start with these grounding questions:

  • When and how should a lead be contacted (“touched”) by your team?
  • How often and how many times should you be touching your leads?
  • How and when do you report sales closed and sales rejected leads?

6. Track Performance

You can consider your SLA itself to be a long-term campaign that generates its own data and its own opportunities for improvement. To use the data and recognize the opportunities, hone in on the KPIs most relevant to your business and set up a regular reporting structure.

7. Standardize SLA Review

Like everything in your business, your SLA should adapt and evolve with the times. As needs change, your goals should, too.

Ideally, they should get bigger and more ambitious. You’ll need both a way to collect feedback on the SLA and a way to collectively act on it in the future.

Getting your SLA in place can be a challenge, but it makes things easier for both sales and marketing in the long run. Clear expectations and goals free all team members to contribute their best work and see their efforts within the big picture.

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Rob Steffens

Rob Steffens

I am the Director of Sales & Marketing here at Bluleadz. I'm a recent newlywed who enjoys spending time with my wife vegging out and binging our favorite shows or getting some exercise on the Racquetball court.