Service level agreements (SLAs) between sales and marketing are a critical part of ensuring the efficient creation, development, and flow of leads. However, establishing and enforcing SLAs can be a huge challenge for many organizations. We recently spoke with Sam Boush, the founder of Lead Lizard, to learn about the benefits of a strong SLA for lead management, and to get best practices for creating SLAs that get results. Sam is an expert in marketing automation as well as lead management – in addition to his role at Lead Lizard, he has worked as a consultant for more than a dozen leading companies. Read on to learn about the risks and rewards of a sales and marketing SLA, and find out how to create an agreement of your own.
Act-On: First of all, what exactly is an SLA, and why is it so important?
Sam Boush: An SLA is a set of promises between two parties, put in writing, that certain actions will be undertaken, usually within a certain timeframe. The first formalized service level agreements were between service providers and customers, and they generally focused on the quality and type of service the customer could expect. For example, telecoms and ISPs provided SLAs to their corporate clients specifying the terms of their business transactions. But over the years, the use of SLAs expanded to internal departments within organizations as well. Businesses across multiple industries have found that the internal use of SLAs can improve efficiency and increase collaboration.
These days, SLAs between sales and marketing departments are extremely important. Occasionally, marketing and sales like to play the blame game with each other to explain revenue shortcomings. Sales usually claims it needs more qualified leads and marketing often feels like sales doesn’t adequately follow up with the leads it provides. SLAs hold both sides accountable. The end goal is better alignment between sales and marketing and an optimized process that accelerates your revenue cycle.
Act-On: What business areas and topics should an SLA cover?
Sam Boush: SLAs can apply in almost all business areas, but between sales and marketing there are a few key processes that SLAs should cover. SLAs for marketing generally focus on lead generation and can include:
- Number of leads
- Number of qualified leads
- Total contribution to revenue pipeline
SLAs for the sales team focus on lead and opportunity management. These SLAs can include:
- A time frame for dispositioning leads
- Qualifying leads
- Converting leads
- Creating opportunities
- Following up on leads and opportunities
To disposition leads, sales generally reaches out to the prospect for qualifying, disqualifies them as an inappropriate prospect, or sends them back to marketing for nurturing. One example of a popular element in an SLA is that new leads must be dispositioned in a certain way (for example, a status change must take place in the CRM) within a specific number of hours or days from when the sales rep first received the lead. This ensures prompt follow-up on leads.
Sam Boush: From the beginning of discussions about SLAs, you should involve key stakeholders from sales and marketing. Both sides must have a voice in the process. Collaboration is key, but be wary of trying to please everyone with too many exceptions or variations. SLAs that are clear and concise increase the likelihood that they will be followed. Utilize existing marketing and sales data and goals to calculate the SLAs.
Once SLAs are agreed upon and put into place, the next step is to train everyone who will be expected to follow the SLAs. Make sure that all team members understand the SLAs and the processes they need to perform in order to meet them. For sales reps, you can also set reminders in your CRM with open tasks or email notifications to encourage them to take action before the SLA deadline.
Managers should monitor SLA compliance with reports and dashboards so they can identify where teams or individuals are falling short of compliance. The final step is to evaluate and refine SLAs at regular intervals. Use closed loop reporting to make adjustments based on data.
Act-On: What are some of the common issues organizations face when creating an SLA?
Sam Boush: Widespread adoption of SLAs can be a big challenge. There are two approaches for handling this. Enforcement, or the “stick” approach, where there are consequences for not complying with the SLA. Consequences depend on your organization, but should be outlined in clear steps so they don’t come as a surprise. The alternative is the “carrot” approach, where you provide incentives to those who follow the SLAs. Gamification can be used for motivation when incentives are on the line.
The Gamification of Sales and Marketing Processes
Sales reps traditionally thrive on recognition, and businesses have long relied on everything from “seller of the month” plaques to sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) and trips to Tahiti to motivate top sellers. Many organizations also reward the reps who follow processes correctly, like taking online training within a certain time period.
Gamification is a way of turning a process into its own reward by awarding points or badges for participation, displaying leaderboard scores to drive competition, and awarding prizes to participants for completing certain tasks.
So for example, your organization could gamify the SLA process by awarding points for each service level that’s met or exceeded on a monthly basis, and recognizing the teams with the highest total points every quarter, with a bonus for each win.
Act-On: Do you have any tips on what not to do?
Sam Boush: One mistake is to create SLAs when you don’t already have a solid lead management process in place. There should be a well-defined process for marketing passing leads to sales. The sales team should also be using the CRM in a consistent way. Both teams should agree on definitions for leads, marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, and any other lead statuses. Without these processes in place, it’s hard for SLAs to be effective.
Create Your Own SLA
Ready to get started with a service level agreement that gets results? Download this Act-On-SLA Form with step-by-step instructions for creating an SLA that fits the unique needs of your organization. (Open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader – if you don’t have it, you can get it free from Adobe.) And if you’re just getting started, be sure to get this toolkit to learn all about lead nurturing essentials. Find out about the lead marketing lifecycle, get tips for segmentation, discover automated email strategies, and much more.