The Marketing-Sales SLA - What is it, and How to Create One
Operating in silos is a trend that’s quickly falling out of fashion. Bringing teams together is emerging as a strategic necessity to gain a full and comprehensive overview of the evolving customer, especially during periods when behaviours are changing rapidly.
Sales and marketing especially are two departments that have been naturally drawing closer in recent years. This is especially true in terms of the shift to inbound sales which has seen sales reps move from a ‘hard sell’ or ‘direct sell’ approach to incorporating marketing aspects such as content in an effort to guide a prospect more organically towards a decision. The line between sales and marketing is continually blurring.
With sales and marketing already so close, it's easy to see how taking measures to more closely align the two departments could bring major benefits to the sales pipeline. With individual targets coming together to meet shared objectives, aligning sales and marketing could be exactly what’s needed to create a seamless buyer’s journey from start to finish.
But, as you may have already as discovered, sales and marketing don’t always want to work together. That’s why it’s important to create a marketing-sales SLA; a service level agreement that clearly defines exactly what is expected of each team for optimal sales and marketing alignment. A good marketing-sales SLA will outline the roles and responsibilities of both departments, and facilitate a constant feedback cycle that keeps everyone on the same page.
How to Create a Marketing-Sales SLA
A marketing-sales SLA should be based around the needs of your own teams. However, all good service level agreements between marketing and sales will incorporate:
- Buyer Personas
Marketers and sales reps have plenty of things in common, and none more so than an opportunistic personality. Good marketers and sales reps see potential everywhere, and are quick on their feet to adapt in order to position their product or service to the needs of the individual. This is great for driving results, but it's not so great for building a SLA. The problem is that what a marketer considers to be a good fit for the business may not be what a sales rep thinks of when they think of the target audience. It’s important to build a buyer persona that both sales and marketing departments can agree on for frictionless selling.
- Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
When does a prospect become a lead? When does a lead become a MQL? When does a MQL become an SQL? If marketing and sales both have a different definition of the stages of the buyer journey, there is a risk that marketing will be delivering what they believe to be sales qualified leads, but what sales reps don’t. It is important when creating a marketing-sales SLA to standardise the stages of the buyer’s journey and ensure that both departments agree on the definitions used to describe contacts within those stages. This ensures marketing delivers what sales believe to be high quality leads.
- Individual Goals
While a marketing-sales SLA is about aligning sales and marketing, it must also acknowledge and recognise the individual goals of the two teams. For marketing, goals may be related to traffic, lead generation, and creation of MQLS. For sales, goals may be related to number of demos given, deal size, and revenue. For example, a good SLA may state that marketing must deliver x number of qualified leads per month, and sales must contact each lead with x amount of time. Teams should be held accountable with clear consequences or outcomes for failing to meet these goals.
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of sales and marketing alignment is that neither team can see nor understand what the other one is doing. That’s why a good marketing-sales SLA should always incorporate closed loop reporting that generates a continuous feedback cycle between both departments. If each team can see what the other is doing, there’s more motivation to help them achieve it. There are many different tools that can be used to improve communications between the teams, such as Slack for messaging, email for non-urgent updates, and Zoom for meetings.
Resolving Common Issues
Even the best marketing-sales SLA can struggle at times. This is normal. The important thing is to understand how to fix some of the most common problems that can arise.
Problem 1: Marketing isn’t meeting its goals
If marketing is failing to deliver a set number of qualified leads to sales, it’s important to ask why. The most likely reason is that the marketing team is using a number of different techniques to transform MQLs into SQLs, and some are working better than others. Identify what’s really driving results, and allocate more resources into these areas.
Problem 2: Marketing is over delivering
If marketing is delivering more leads than the sales team can reasonably handle, it’s going to be necessary to improve sales velocity. Marketing teams can help with this by working to create a more seamless marketing-sales handoff template that ensures sales reps have all the information they need to engage efficiently with each prospect.
Problem 3: Marketing is delivering low quality leads
If your sales team believes that marketing is delivering low quality leads, you shouldn’t just take their word for it. Yes, it’s important to develop trust in your team, but you should make sure each lead is being properly reviewed, ideally from someone outside of both teams. If leads are indeed poor, the marketing department should adapt processes.
Tracking, Measuring, Improving, and Cancelling
It’s crucial that the marketing-sales SLA is monitored continually to ensure that sales and marketing remain aligned, and that the SLA is working on both sides of the equation. By tracking metrics and measuring performance, it becomes easier to identify issues and resolve sticking points before they become a problem. However, issues can’t always be resolved, and so it’s also important to know when your SLA should be cancelled.
A critical part of creating a marketing-sales SLA is knowing when to end it, and this should be defined right from the very start. Perhaps you’ll want to rethink things should one team fail to deliver for x number of months. Or should either team lose interest. If these things happen, it’s a sign that your teams are moving apart. Heading back to the drawing board and designing a brand new SLA can help bring them back together.