Why SLAs are Critical for Sales and Marketing Alignment

What is a service level agreement?

Alright, let's jump straight to the punchline...then we'll work to unpack it.

According to Wikipedia...

...a service-level agreement (SLA) is a commitment between a service provider and a client.

So, what does an SLA have to do with sales and marketing teams?

Well, think of each team as the other's customer. Marketing serves sales by delivering leads. Sales serves marketing by doing something with those leads—contacting them or returning them to the marketing team.

But, if either sales or marketing doesn't have a clear understanding of the other's expectations...

How can sales and marketing possibly be expected to please each other? 

How can you hold a team (or individual) accountable if you never sat down in the first place to agree upon what's expected?

This is where a sales and marketing service-level agreement can save the day!

Repairing the bridge between sales and marketing

Before we talk about the ins-and-outs of how to create an SLA, let's talk about what's been long-broken between marketing and sales teams—spoiler alert...

What's missing is sales and marketing teams alignment.

Imagine this (or, maybe you've actually lived it)...

Marketing is asked (told) to generate as many new leads as possible for a new product or service. They cobble together (and embellish) a case study, put it behind a form, and start sending Google and LinkedIn Ads traffic to it.

And, what do you know...it works! The leads starting trickling in.

Sure, a bunch of them are using @yahoo and @hotmail email addresses (a pretty good sign they're people's junk mail), and a few are from another country...but they're leads!

After cleaning out those that have selected "1-49 employees" for the "Company Size" question (we happen to be looking for 50+ employees) the marketing team excitedly pushes these leads into the sales team's "Qualified Leads" pipeline and get's back to work. 

Mission accomplished.

A week goes by and Matty from Marketing runs into Sammy from Sales...

Matty: "Hi Sammy! How about all those leads we've been sending you guys? You starting up any good conversations?"

Sammy: "Hmm? No, not really. None of them seem like they're ready to buy right now."

Matty: "Oh no! That's what they're telling you when you call?"

Sammy: "Well...no. We haven't actually called any yet. From what we can tell none of them are really asking to talk yet. I mean, they didn't fill out a "contact us" form or anything...looks like they just downloaded a case study."

Swoosh goes the wind from Matty's sail. All their hard work down the drain.

Crash goes the confidence that Sammy once hoped to have in his marketing department.

Hmm...sounds like these two were misaligned from the beginning!

Encouraging marketing and sales collaboration and alignment

Marketing and sales teams work toward the same goals (in theory). But, many departments fail to truly work together to establish expected behaviors and real objectives that will bring those goals to life.

On the surface, marketing professionals develop a prospect list, but sales professionals develop customer relationships. Each department plays a distinct role in lead development and customer acquisition.

But these initiatives should not be siloed.

So, how to we bring sales and marketing expectations into alignment?

Taking a true Revenue Operations approach is the real, long-term answer. A good place to start down this path is by defining a service-level agreement.

Creating a sales and marketing service-level agreement

Service-level agreements (SLAs) commonly support vendor relationships, but they can enhance in-house activities, too. 

Here's the sentiment of what you're going to do together...

  • Develop a common understanding. The departments must come together, define the target market, and identify the characteristics of a lead. For both marketers and sales professionals to meet the same goals, each must understand the big-picture business drivers. Each department plays a role in the sales cycle. From understanding to acquisition, marketers and sales professionals can benefit from one another’s specializations.

  • Set mutually beneficial goals. Consider the overarching goals of the marketing and sales departments. Each group moves the company closer to lead generation, customer acquisition, and retention. When the departments recognize the real-world process, they can develop activities and goals that benefit themselves and the company.

  • Measure performance. Lead conversion and customer acquisition activities rarely hinge on either the marketing or sales departments. Instead, both departments engage in activities that directly impact the bottom line.

And, here are the steps you'll take to make it happen with...

Best practices when creating a service-level agreement (SLA)

Step 1: Create buyer personas

If you don't already have buyer personas defined—and I mean truly defined—not just "we sell to doctors who need stethoscopes", then...

First, Download this buyer persona template
(comes with content funnel instructions too. Bonus!)

...and set a meeting for both the sales and marketing teams to hash through one or more personas together.

Do not do this by passing it back and forth through email over the course of a week. That's a sure-fire way to never actually finish it. It will quickly become deprioritized and will drift to the bottom amongst the other muck and mire in your crowded inbox.

Sit in a room (or on a Zoom call) for 2+ hours together and get it done!

Step 2: Brainstorm your commitments to each other

Once you agree on who your buyer is, and how much you're willing to spend to acquire them, start drawing up each team's commitments to the other. If you can both visualize the other's needs (and the WHY behind them) you can start to empathize with the other team. And, empathy and share outcomes are the DNA of true alignment.

Pro tip: Think about the end goal. The real goal. I would recommend it not stop at new revenue. It should be to create real fans; customers that love to sing your praises and even love buying more from you. That's when you will have created a tribe of humans who love to support you with ongoing revenue. Thinking this way can sometimes unlock creative ways of drumming up good leads.

Here are some commitment ideas to get your brain chugging...

Marketing's commitment to sales

  • Leads will meet minimum agreed-upon demographic criteria
  • Leads will have displayed some implicit, high-intent behaviors (x amount of pages visits, x amount site visits within x amount of days, x amount of email opens/clicks...you get it)
  • Leads will be well-scrubbed using 3rd-party data to supplement any missing info (grab the very same lead scrubbing checklist I use here >>)
  • Sales feedback on bad-quality leads will be acknowledged, and lead scrubbing SOPs revised within x number of days

Sales' commitment to marketing

  • Leads will be contacted within x hours/days
  • Pipeline stages will be updated immediately for each lead
  • Good notes will be recorded on each contact record and for each interaction (calls, emails, texts, events, etc.)
  • Bad leads will be properly marked as such and discussed at a weekly/monthly Smarketing (Sales & Marketing) meeting. You can catch HubSpot's Dan Tyre speaking more about Smarketing Here >>.

Don't stop there. Get creative. Get smart.

Step 3: Draw up an SLA...and, sign it!

Yes.

You are actually going to create a document that outlines the agreement and you're going to sign it.

And, you're going to print it out and hang it on your cubical (or bedroom-turned-home-office) wall. And, so is the other team.

Furthermore, you're going to adhere to it and hold each other accountable to it in regularly scheduled meetings (at least once a month).

If there is a secret sauce at all...this is it!

Don't just do the exercise and then throw it in a drawer. As cheesy as it may feel, actually commit to using it. Just like writing down personal goals, or creating a mood board for a redesign...

The act of signing the SLA and visualizing it every day does something magical

...and who doesn't like a little magic from time to time?

Make sure your SLA includes the following:

  1. A summary. In a few sentences, sum up the spirit of the contract for future quick reference.

  2. Goals of both the sales and marketing teams. As always, make them SMART goals. And, consider them focused on creating brand fans—not just new revenue.

  3. Supporting needs. If you need a commitment to a weekly reporting cadence or maybe a software subscription to help you both succeed, outline it here.

  4. Main points of contact. Usually this is each of the department leads. But, whoever it is, note it. This SLA may be shared throughout the company someday.

  5. Consequences. Consequences? Correct. There is no ribbon for participation here. We've got goals to achieve and objectives to hit. And, if that doesn't happen—someone has to answer for it. Outline how you will make up for potential lost revenue should one team fail to hold up their end of the deal. Better to mutually agree on it now than in the heat of the moment.

  6. Conditions of cancellation. If something agreed-upon isn't working you should acknowledge it. Outline the terms in which this SLA may be cancelled and/or revised.

Pretty straightforward, right.

Want a free sales and marketing SLA template?

Okay. Here you go.

Download this FREE SLA Template for Sales and Marketing Teams
(courtesy of our friends at HubSpot)

When you bring sales and marketing into full alignment you:

  • Increase transparency between departments
  • Improve sales and marketing collaboration
  • Identify and agree upon new solutions, and
  • Ultimately, you increase revenue!

When sales and marketing teams understand each other and work well together, businesses can finally start understanding the entire customer lifecycle—from Strangers to Raving Fans of your brand.

Don't snooze on this.

The time is now.

Go, download that buyer persona template, schedule a "Smarketing" meeting, and get sales and marketing aligned—once and for all!

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