How to Craft a Winning SLA for Sales and Marketing

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Early in my career, I worked in a marketing department that couldn’t have been more at odds with sales. Shouting matches between the sales director and marketing director seemed like a daily occurrence. As the data analyst, I was often pulled into these debates by one side or the other. I’d later learn that this kind of relationship between sales and marketing is not at all uncommon.  

There are many reasons sales and marketing departments don’t get along. However, it almost always results from a lack of alignment. According to a study by Marketo and Reachforce, companies that achieve sales and marketing alignment are 67% more likely to close deals. However, research has also shown that 90% of sales and marketing professionals believe there are alignment issues between their departments.

The good news? A well-crafted service level agreement (SLA) can help you align marketing and sales and keep internal conflict from jeopardizing your business success.

How to know if sales and marketing are misaligned

The following are some common symptoms of misalignment between sales and marketing.

  • Marketing and sales don’t communicate
  • Sales hides data from marketing
  • Marketing doesn’t trust sales
  • Sales thinks marketing doesn’t care about closing deals
  • Marketing thinks sales is cherry-picking leads
  • Sales doesn’t know where the leads come from.
  • Marketing doesn’t know where the leads go.  

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you may have an alignment problem. If so, continue reading to learn how an SLA can help. 

What is an SLA

A service level agreement (SLA) is a document that represents a commitment to provide a level of service. SLAs are commonly used by companies to set expectations for their customers. However, more and more companies are using SLAs internally to set expectations between departments.

A winning SLA aligns sales and marketing departments by clarifying individual department roles, creating shared goals, and establishing ongoing accountability and communication.

What To Include In Your SLA

The anatomy of a winning SLA includes goals, definitions, and communication guidelines.

Start with Goals

An SLA between sales and marketing should contain goals that are both individual to each department and shared between them. If at any point, an individual goal seems at odds with a shared goal, you’ve discovered a disconnect that you can correct.

These goals need to be specific and measurable. Think of your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs). Metrics like these enable your teams to understand their performance and isolate areas for improvement. Consider including metrics such as:

  • Number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) per sales rep
  • Lead conversion rate
  • Length of time to contact leads
  • Minimum number of follow-up attempts

Another important thing to consider when defining goals for your sales and marketing teams are their respective timelines. Sales might set quarterly goals, while marketing sets monthly goals. Take the opportunity to discuss and decide on a consistent timeline, so your teams can plan on the same deadlines, performance reviews, and peak times.

Define Key Terms

Misalignment between sales and marketing can often come down to a simple difference in definitions. I once met with a sales representative who claimed he hadn’t received a single lead in weeks. After pointing out that he’d received at least a dozen leads that week, he responded that what he received were not “leads”. After further discussion we identified that what he considered to be a “lead” was what we commonly refer to as a “sales qualified lead”. 

It’s difficult to align sales and marketing if they’re speaking different languages. Here are a few terms you may need to define to help these departments communicate better:

  •   Lead
  •   Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
  •   Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
  •   Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
  •   Prospect
  •   Customer

Establish Communication Guidelines

To reduce friction between departments, your SLA should outline how departments should communicate with each other when a need arises and how feedback should be given so that it is constructive and leads to greater productivity. Consider including some of the following information in your SLA:

  • Points of contact for each department
  • Your lead process management flowchart
  • How to provide interdepartmental feedback
  • Accountability reporting expectations and processes
  • Time and place for regular sync-up meetings between departments
  • How to submit an agenda item

Although instituting a new communication process can take some getting used to, having systems in place that both parties understand will help save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

How to Create an SLA

So where should you start? The following steps will guide you through the process of creating an SLA.

Step 1: Set up a meeting

The most important part of creating a winning SLA is sitting down with the right people and having the right discussions. Make sure representatives from both the sales and marketing departments are present and that they come prepared to discuss department goals and communication. This will enable attendees to begin thinking about their department in a strategic light and foster more thoughtful discussion.

Step 2: Prepare

Decide on a format for your SLA that makes sense for your company. There are many SLA templates available online for free. 

Prepare questions ahead of time to help you fill in each section. Here are some questions you may want to consider including in your discussion:

  •   What are the company’s current strategic priorities?
  •   How does your department contribute to those priorities?
  •   What unique functions does your department perform?
  •   How does your department define ________? 
  •   How do your departments work together?
  •   What does the handoff from marketing to sales look like?
  •   Do you currently have accountability measures in place?
  •   Where do you track your department’s performance?
  •   Who is the best team member for coordinating with other departments?

Step 3: Discuss

At the meeting, be sure to go over each section of the SLA. If possible, make the document visible to all members at the meeting by sharing your screen or using a whiteboard. That way, if the discussion takes a tangent and you need to regroup, you can bring everyone’s focus and attention back to the visible document that you’re addressing.

Step 4: Follow Up

At the conclusion of the meeting or shortly afterward, make sure to follow up with every attendee by setting up a regular sync-up meeting. The frequency of this meeting depends on your organization, but be sure sync-up meetings are far enough apart that action items can be completed and progress made, but close enough together that assignments don’t get forgotten.

In addition, consider the time it takes to organize and conduct the meeting and the amount of discussion items you tend to have. You don’t want sync-up meetings to present a significant disruption to your teams’ work.

When you’ve finalized your document, make sure it is visible and accessible to both departments. You want your teams to become familiar with the goals, definitions, and processes outlined in the SLA.

Conclusion

In short, an internal SLA provides a central document that aligns sales and marketing. A winning SLA does this by clarifying definitions, establishing communication guidelines, and describing cooperative processes. All you have to do is meet, have an open and honest discussion, and follow up. In return, you’ll see an increase in productivity, cooperation, and profits.

Most sales and marketing SLAs are designed to improve the lead management process. For more information on improving your lead management process, check out our article titled “Improve Your Lead Assignment Strategy with These 10 Tips“. 

Haven Wilding
Haven Wilding

Haven is a business and tech writer with an emphasis on Salesforce and digital marketing.

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