What Is a Marketing-Sales Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

By Melanie Medina

It’s a tale as old as time. A script repeated from time immemorial:

Marketing waltzes into the sales office: Hey, Sales! Look at all these leads I brought you!

Sales slams fists onto the desk: You call these leads?! These leads are no good at all.

Sales and marketing relationships are often fraught with this type of friction caused by misaligned definitions of what a lead is and what role these two parties play in the nurturing of leads into sales.

At best, the friction leads to a tense, unproductive relationship between your sales and marketing teams. At worst, it’s a major roadblock keeping you from hitting your sales targets and growing.

To flip this script, you need a marketing-sales service level agreement (SLA).

In this blog post, we’ll cover SLA basics: what it is, why businesses should use them (no matter how large or small your sales and marketing teams are), and how to start creating an SLA. We’ll also share an SLA example that you can use as a starting point for your organization.

What Is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

An SLA is a document that defines the expectations and responsibilities of two or more parties in a business relationship.

As a consumer, you’re probably familiar with SLAs. The SLA from your internet service provider, for example, might specify uptime guarantees, minimum upload and download speeds and minimum response times for service outages.

Business-to-business SLAs are also common. Cloud storage providers like Google Cloud and AWS have SLAs in place with their enterprise customers, guaranteeing data durability, availability and security.

SMBs are also finding that internal SLAs between sales and marketing teams can help them achieve goals. In this case, an SLA is a formal document that defines:

Terms, such as:

  • Lead
  • Marketing qualified lead
  • Sales qualified lead
  • Opportunity
  • Customer
  • Evangelist

Processes, such as:

  • How marketing interacts with leads
  • How leads are scored
  • How sales interacts with leads
  • How deals are attributed
  • What happens to leads when they show interest but aren’t ready to buy

And responsibilities, such as:

  • How many opportunities is each party responsible for?
  • How will marketing support sales throughout the sales cycle?
  • What’s the timeframe for sales to follow up with leads?
  • How will sales report on what’s happening with open opportunities?
  • How much pipeline is each party responsible for?

With these terms, processes and responsibilities defined in an SLA, you help reduce friction between your sales and marketing teams. More importantly, you equip them to work more cohesively on goals and metrics — leading to more opportunities, better use of their time and talents, and more wins.

What Role Does an SLA Play in Sales Enablement?

Sales enablement is the practice of accelerating sales through content, processes and technology so that salespeople are equipped with the resources they need to win more deals. The SLA is a foundational piece of your overall sales enablement game plan.

While you may not have a formally documented SLA, if you are using a CRM such as HubSpot or Pardot, you’re well on your way to having an SLA — whether you realize it or not. CRMs can do much of what’s needed from the executable side of an SLA that requires you to define lead stages. If you’re taking full advantage of your CRM, you’re already doing the work to get from MQL to SQL.

Also, keep in mind that SLAs are not a one-and-done deal. SLAs are “living” documents that both parties should review and refine as needed.

Have you launched a new product? Expanded into a new market segment? Made changes to your revenue team? New competitor entered the market? Changed sales forecasts? Noticed a change in your sales cycle? These are all good reasons to take a look at your SLA and determine if it needs a refresh.

An SLA shouldn’t take the place of a good ol’ fashioned conversation. Marketing should check in with sales to ask questions such as:

  • How’s your pipeline looking?
  • Where do you need help filling it?

Likewise, sales should offer feedback about lead quality and quantity, where they see opportunities stall, and how different content pieces perform.

While some, if not all, of this data is likely being captured in your CRM or business intelligence software, don’t let the technology take the place of face time between your sales and marketing teams. The technology should add to any revenue conversations you’re having — not replace them.

Why Should Businesses Use a Sales and Marketing SLA?

Businesses should use sales and marketing SLAs because they’re a first step toward your sales and marketing teams working together to accelerate revenue generation — and because they establish quantitative goals for sales and marketing.

According to HubSpot, businesses that use sales and marketing SLAs are:

  • 34% more likely to experience greater year-over-year ROI than those companies that aren’t
  • 21% more likely to get greater budget allocations
  • 31% more likely to hire additional salespeople to meet demand

Sales and Marketing SLA Example

Here’s a real-world illustration of how an SLA defines and quantifies goals.

That said, marketing should provide the business development team with an average of five SQLs per month. This means marketing must:

  • Generate roughly 12,500 website visitors per month
  • Reach a visitor-to-lead conversion rate of 3%, for 375 leads per month
  • Reach a lead-to-MQL rate of approximately 15%, for 56 MQLs per month
  • Reach an MQL-to-SQL rate of approximately 10%, for 5 SQLs per month  

Stakeholder Buy-In: A Key Requirement for Sales and Marketing SLAs

To kick off the SLA-creation process, start by interviewing stakeholders to hear their perspectives on the marketing and sales process, how the handoff from marketing to sales currently works, and where they see friction and opportunities for improvement.

You may also want to interview executives separately from their teams; as those in the trenches are more likely to share their honest opinions when leadership isn’t in the room.

Ideally, different stakeholders are at the table at different times. Sales and marketing stakeholders can give a big-picture idea of what they do day-to-day in lead nurturing and sales cycles. Sales and marketing leadership can share complementary information, as they’re the ones setting the sales goals.

SLAs don’t have to be created from the top down — any two like-minded individuals from sales and marketing can start the SLA conversation. At some point, though, you’ll need an executive to champion the process and ensure teams are following it.

No matter how new or mature your business is, having sales and marketing alignment — starting with an SLA — is key to revenue generation. Whether you need help creating an SLA from scratch or need a partner to optimize your current SLA, we can support you with the technology, processes and content to ensure your sales and marketing teams are empowered to bring in new leads and win new deals.

Ready for a deeper dive into sales and marketing SLAs and how they can supercharge your sales enablement strategy? Download our guide now.

Melanie Medina

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