October 28, 2020

How to Create and Leverage a Service-Level Agreement (SLA)

4 min read

Written by: Weslee Clyde  |  Share:

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At this point, it’s no secret that marketing and sales need to work together for companies to see long-term success. But even though marketing and sales alignment isn’t a new concept, there are a lot of companies who still struggle with the relationship between the two. That’s because both teams can easily fall into silos and be working on completely different pages. 

In order to keep the teams aiming toward the same goals and working smoothly, you should put a service-level agreement (SLA) into place.

An SLA between marketing and sales is a contract that holds each team accountable to specific, agreed-upon expectations that align to the same goal — driving revenue. Here are our six steps to building out your own SLA:

1. Build Your Buyer Personas

For teams that work in siloed departments, it's quite possible they're working to capture two entirely different types of leads based on differing perceptions of who is a good fit for your business. This will not only lead to misalignment but will also make it more difficult to convert or bring in customers that truly drive the most ROI for your business. 

Everything you do as marketers and salespeople should be driven by your customers, and perfecting your buyer personas first will help everyone to stay focused on that goal. 

Buyer personas are hypothetical representations of the companies or people who will benefit from your company’s product or service based on industry research and employee insight. 

To determine New Breed's ideal buyer personas, we leverage a combination of demographic and firmographic information. We then build this information into our form strategy so we can obtain more useful information as soon as possible and use sales intelligence tools to backfill information about the companies that our leads work for. 

The more information you can collect on a lead before handing it off to sales the better. Then your sales team will already have that lead mapped to a specific buyer personas and be able to tell if it's a good fit or at least have more context to use during the sales process. 

2. Define Lead Stages

Categorizing and organizing is important for all marketing activities, but defining your lead stages is critical. Your lead stages will help signal to sales and marketing teams where a prospect is in their buying journey with your company. 

Not only should you be marking the lead stages correctly in your CRM, but your team should also agree on what actions or qualities determine which stage. Set a meeting with your full sales and marketing teams and ask “What is an MQL to your team?”, “What actions or characteristics define an SQL?”. 

Hopefully, you'll find these working definitions to be similar across teams, but you might come to see that they're vastly different. As you work to standardize these stages, flow the finalized definition into your SLA. That way, everyone will remain on the same page going forward.

Download our Service Level Agreement template to get your teams aligned

3. Establish a Set of Unified Goals

Marketing and sales should always be working toward the same overarching goal: generating revenue for your business. By further distilling that goal into actual revenue numbers for the collective team and individual team member goals, each person will have a better understanding of where to spend their time in order to make the most impact. 

Then you can use those goals to get your reporting structure in place, define the KPIs you'll need to report on and start to strategize how to get there. 

4. Define the Marketing-to-Sales Handoff

Once you define lead stages and revenue goals, you should begin to define when and how a lead should pass from marketing and sales. This is one of the most critical moments for any prospect who interacts with your business. When a company doesn't have a smooth handoff process, the customer experience suffers. 

When working a lead, timing is everything, and if your leads become sales-ready and then never get handed over to the sales team for action, you may miss your chance. Having that handoff process built out will also eliminate any gray areas that may occur around whose responsibility it was to follow-up.

We recommend using a lead handoff automation process within your marketing automation platform to notify and send over qualified leads from the marketing team to the sales team. Otherwise, leads tend to get stuck, and marketing is unable to progress them any further down the funnel.

5. Establish a Lead Management Protocol

Without a clear definition of responsibilities, leads will inevitably fall through the cracks. In the past, marketing had very distinct marketing activities, and sales had very distinct sales activities. But now, who's responsible for lead generation? Who's responsible for nurture at the top of the funnel? Who's responsible for nurturing sales qualified leads?

As part of your SLA, determine what each stage of your prospect’s journey are, what the responsibilities are at that stage and who should be responsible. 

6. Review SLA Over Time

SLA’s are not a set and forget it type of thing. Your teams, leads and buyer personas are an ever-changing element of your business, and your SLA may need to be altered along the way. 

Be sure to assess your SLA on a periodic basis that makes sense for your own process. At the very least we recommend reviewing your SLA each quarter. 

It's extremely important to take a proactive approach, but reactive reviews are often necessary as well. Here are a few indicators that your SLA is in need of a review:

  • Low lead-to-MQL conversion rate
  • Low MQL-to-SQL acceptance rate

An SLA should be dynamic. Nothing stays the same over time, as is true with most inbound marketing activities. Take a moment to bring all of the team together to review and ensure you’re still fully aligned. 

Download our SLA template

Topics: Inbound Sales, Inbound Marketing

About The Author

Weslee Clyde is an inbound marketing strategist at New Breed. She is focused on generating results using inbound methods and is driven by the customer experience. When not at the office, you can find her binging a docu-series on true crime or perfecting her gluten-free baking skills.

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