When I ask new clients if they’ve created a Service Level Agreement between Marketing and Sales, I typically hear one of two things: “We don’t have one” or “What do you mean?”
When most people think of an SLA, they think of a document provided by a third-party provider — not an internal agreement between different departments or groups.
In my experience, 75 to 80 percent of marketing groups either haven’t created an SLA with their Sales counterparts or, most commonly, they did produce one, but it isn’t being enforced. A HubSpot study supports that: only 26 percent of marketers say they have a formal SLA between the two teams.
The beauty of a well-defined SLA is that it creates a common taxonomy and outlines actions that enable Marketing and Sales to work together to reach revenue goals. (HubSpot also found that organizations with an SLA are three times as likely to be effective.)
3 steps to implement a successful SLA between Marketing and Sales
Lead ownership is often a pain point across Marketing and Sales teams. Developing an SLA can sometimes be tricky. Some of the most common concerns heard are:
- I don’t want to give up any of my leads.
- I don’t want my leads to go back into a marketing cycle.
- I don’t feel like my process of working my lead should be touched.
So, how can you position an SLA that will get all stakeholders aligned?
I recommend following the simple checklist below to gain initial buy-in, establish clear goals, and define roles and responsibilities:
- Build a strong foundation
Start by gaining alignment across marketing and sales groups on revenue goals. Interview key members of the Sales team about the quantity and quality of their existing leads. Do they feel they’re getting enough Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) per month? Are those MQLs ready for a sales conversation? These types of questions serve as a great springboard for an SLA discussion.
For example, you might learn that Sales needs at least 25 percent more leads in order to reach their sales targets. This is valuable information. One of Marketing’s SLAs could be to increase the volume of MQLs by 25% by the end of 4th quarter.
- Agree on what success looks like
I find that drafting a strong benefit statement helps to frame the SLA, so I recommend putting that together first to attain initial buy-in from both Sales and Marketing leadership. Start your benefit statement with what is most important to both teams: hot leads that are likely to close so everyone can meet revenue goals.
Instead of listing features or broad concepts everyone should adhere to simply because the business would like to implement something new, benefit statements position the emotional appeal of a situation.
A sample benefit statement from Marketing to Sales might say, “Having 100 Marketing Qualified Leads prioritized in your sales queue is far more convenient than blindly calling a list of 1,000 cold leads.” In this example, “convenient” is the emotional appeal to Sales.
Begin by affirming what the other party told you will help them overcome current obstacles at work. You can say something like, “You mentioned earlier you waste a lot of time talking to prospects who aren’t ready for a sales conversation, and you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough prospects to call who are actually prepared for a conversation. Is that correct?” Presuming they agree, you can respond with the benefit statement.
The reality is that Marketing and Sales are two sides of the same coin. They are both responsible for the growth of the business. They just go about it in different ways. As Jerry Maguire famously pleaded with football player Rod Tidwell: “Help me… help you!”
- Get ‘em while they’re hot: No lead left behind
Organizations work hard to find the right prospects and convert them into leads and buying customers. As a result, there is an understandable amount of pressure to take ownership of a lead and not lose the opportunity to convert them to a sale.
If your average buying cycle is 250 days and a lead is at 90 days — they’re probably not ready to close business with you. It doesn’t mean they never will be. It just means Sales should be spending their time on leads who are ready now.
Is it to the salesperson’s benefit to let leads linger in the pipeline, gathering dust? Or, would they ultimately be better served by focusing on hotter leads while Marketing keeps the lingering leads warm by continuing to educate and engage with them?
(While this was a rhetorical question, just so there’s no confusion the correct answer is that a salesperson’s time would be better served focusing on the hot leads raising their hands saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”)
An SLA ensures that no lead is left behind by making sure that Sales and Marketing agree on clearly defined rules at each stage. Going back to the example above, you might specify in your SLA that after 90 days a cold opportunity will get recycled back into a lead nurturing program, which transfers lead ownership back to Marketing.
Align your Sales and Marketing teams
Companies with good sales and marketing alignment achieve a 20 percent increase in annual revenue growth. An SLA is an integral piece of forming that strategic alignment.
Developing an agreement that seamlessly shares responsibility between Marketing and Sales at different stages of the buying cycle ensures everyone understands how they contribute to the larger business objectives.
Everyone’s time is valuable. When Sales and Marketing set clear goals and expectations, they can achieve their larger business objectives — together. As the saying goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in “team.”
At DemandGen, we help our clients establish a solid lead management framework and build out their Demand Factory™. Let us know how we can help you align your Sales and Marketing teams so you can work together effectively to reach your goals.
Patti Heath is a Consultant dedicated to partnering with clients to achieve their business goals. She focuses on developing demand generation strategy, including lead generation, lead scoring, lead nurturing, and lead management. She enjoys staying on top of the ever-changing digital industry and identifying the best new technological advances.