7 Components of a B2B Sales & Marketing Service Level Agreement (SLA)

March 3, 2015

whole brain marketing blog author

Posted by Nicole Mertes


We all understand service level agreements from a consumer standpoint. When purchasing cable or cell phone services, for instance, we sign on the dotted line with an understanding of what will be provided to us in exchange for our monthly payments. It would seem foolish for a service provider not to provide these details to customers. So why are service level agreements so much less common in the workplace where we all have internal customers—each with detailed expectations of what they're getting from us?

When it comes to inbound marketing, for example, roughly 25-50% of organizations do not have a documented service level agreement between Sales and Marketing departments.  And not having an SLA may be more damaging than you think. According to HubSpot, companies with aligned Marketing and Sales departments see 20% annual revenue growth while those that don’t have an SLA see a 4% decline.

What Does Sales & Marketing Alignment Really Mean?

An aligned sales and marketing team works towards a common goal and clearly understands the expectations of each team to reach that goal. If the common goal is to generate $1 million in new sales, how many leads will Marketing generate for Sales? How will they generate them? How will Sales pursue and close those leads to reach the revenue goal?

An SLA can break down the complex B2B process of inbound lead generation and sales so that everyone involved in business development has a clear and deliberate plan. No more unknown expectations between departments, no more wasted efforts pursuing low value leads, and no more process confusion.

It’s time to knock down the silos within your company and create clarity and real alignment between teams that should be working in the same direction. So, as you consider what your marketing & sales agreement should be like, here are 7 components we believe are critical to SLA success:

1. Stating Your Shared Goal

The key word here is “shared.” A shared goal between marketing and sales sets the stage for productive collaboration and communication between both departments.  Defining the goal sets clear expectations for all involved and is the guiding light for all activities you embark on as you work towards that goal. When setting goals, remember to use a SMART approach. Most often, SLA goals should be focused on hard numbers tied to real financial growth.

2. Definitions

Once you’ve defined your shared goal, come to an agreement on lead and sales definitions. Who counts as a contact? Who will we say is a "lead?" What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)? What is a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)? What are the stages of a sale? Clear definitions prevent misunderstandings between Marketing and Sales as each works on the promised activities to reach the shared goal.

3. Lead Qualification

Is your Sales team satisfied with the quality of leads from the marketing department or are Sales managers unproductive, spinning their wheels on leads that never amount to anything? Taking the time to qualify leads sets strategic parameters for which leads are worth the time and effort to pursue. 

Although there are many factors that could come into play, consider two main aspects of fit and interest when qualifying your leads and establishing the rules for MQLs and SQLs. Fit most likely determines whether a lead’s role falls into your target persona as either an influencer or decision-maker. Interest assesses a lead’s level of knowledge, consideration, and urgency in the buyer’s journey.

You can take this to the next level by assigning scores for each lead. This is easily done and automated with an inbound marketing platform such as HubSpot or a CRM, and can be set based on the desired fit and interest parameters.

4. Lead Handoffs

What will trigger your lead handoff from Marketing to Sales? Is it a lead score threshold? Is it a bottom-of-the-funnel conversion such as a demo request, marketing assessment, or consult? Outline what information will be shared and how Marketing will notify Sales of these leads.

Conversely, when and how will Sales return leads to Marketing? After how many call attempts does a lead get returned for nurturing and what nurturing path would this trigger?

5. Lead Nurturing

Marketing’s lead nurturing process is a carefully considered process for moving leads further down the sales funnel. Your lead nurture workflows should increase the interest level of your leads with helpful content in the awareness stage, then consideration stage, then decision stage. Each offer sent with workflows gives the lead more information, more detail, and more assistance, meanwhile building the lead’s confidence in your brand.

Communicating the details of each workflow with Sales can allow for a more subjective determination and personalization of workflow assignments for leads. Consider adding a process for Sales to manually trigger a workflow that may be more applicable to a particular lead.

6. Lead Management

Once leads are nurtured to sales-ready status, the Sales team should have a detailed plan in place for contacting the leads and moving them through their sales process. How many times will Sales attempt to contact each lead before returning back to Marketing? Will contact be made by phone? Email? Don’t forget to specify the amount of time between each attempt to contact.

7. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Key performance indicators will help you manage goal achievement, providing insight on areas of improvement and opportunities that could be leveraged. For Sales, consider measuring the frequency and number of attempts to contact leads. For Marketing, focus on conversion rates of visitors, leads, MQLs, and SQLs.

You’re Not Quite Done Yet…

Once you’ve broken down those silos and created your SLA, don’t waste your efforts with a “set it and forget it” mindset. The SLA is a living, breathing document that should be improved upon regularly based on your learnings.

Set a monthly meeting with Sales & Marketing to review progress to goal achievement and KPIs to hold both teams accountable. It will spark great conversation on strategies to leverage opportunities and focus on areas of improvement moving forward. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to that 20% increase in annual revenue growth!

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Topics: Marketing Automation, Inbound Sales

whole brain marketing blog author
Written by Nicole Mertes

As Weidert Group's lead salesperson and business development strategist, Nicole heads up the agency's new business strategy and provides sales consulting services to clients. Prior to her role at the agency, Nicole was an advertising manager at Gannett, one of the nation's largest media companies. With 10+ years of experience in advertising sales, she understands the complex relationship between marketing and sales within organizations.

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