Inbound Sales Success: The Purpose of the SLA & Getting Started

sales and marketing sla

Even when sitting side by side at the office, it can feel as if Sales and Marketing are oceans apart, unaware of the needs and goals of the other. 

An SLA is the map that navigates and bridges the ocean between Sales and Marketing.

A documented SLA makes sure both teams understand the goals of the other and are aligned on the big picture (revenue) and the small details (lead qualification and follow-up). 

Sales and Marketing SLA

A Sales and Marketing SLA is a formal agreement that defines clear, agreed upon expectations that align both teams under a unified goal: generating revenue.

The purpose of the SLA when you get down to it, is to ensure you have all your ducks in a row and don’t leave room for Sales to blame Marketing for unqualified leads, or Marketing to blame Sales for not following up fast enough

A common mistake when developing an SLA is not being specific enough. There is value in leadership having a birds-eye view into the agreement and responsibilities of Sales and Marketing. Still, for the teams themselves to be successful, every piece of the process needs to be documented, gaps filled, and obstacles addressed.

Organizations with an SLA are three times as likely to be effective because Marketing knows precisely what should be qualified as a lead, and Sales is set up to instantly follow-up as soon as a lead reaches out or hits a certain lead scoring threshold.

By adding these 8 key areas to your Sales and Marketing SLA you’ll be able to set your teams up for inbound sales success.

Every Sales and Marketing SLA Should Cover These Key Areas

  1. Summary of Agreement
  2. Goals of Marketing
  3. Goals of Sales
  4. Clearly defined MQL, SQL, SAL, ICP, and buyer personas 
  5. Needs of Marketing to Reach Their Goals
  6. Needs of Sales to Reach Their Goals
  7. Consequences if Goals are Not Met (for both parties) 
  8. *Conditions of Cancellation (in pursuit of a better SLA)

 

“The most important thing is actually coming up with a process. Once the process is documented it will provide full visibility, allowing both Marketing and Sales to be on the same page.”

Verrion Wright, Director of Marketing, Contently

The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Lead Follow-Up & Conversion

Summary of Agreement

summary of sla

What are the main goals of your company pertaining to Sales and Marketing? Split this out per quarter, half of the year, and the full fiscal year. Goals can be hard numbers (increase $10 million in revenue YoY) or “soft goals” such as growing your online presence or website traffic by X% month over month.

This section is what Sales and Marketing are trying to achieve together. The next two sections of the SLA will break down how each team’s individual goals add up to and help achieve the overall company goals. 

 

Goals of Marketing & Sales

goals of marketing and sales

Your SLA should separate these two sections, but as the two goals are intertwined, we’ve combined the two here to better serve as an example.

Marketing goals should be outlined in a way that makes sense for Sales’ goals and should specify how these goals are measured.

For example, if one of the company’s goals is to increase their online presence, then Marketing will be responsible for tracking website traffic, unique users, time on page, and subscribers. However, how this pertains to Sales goals is Marketing predicts out of every 100,000 visitors to the website, X% will convert to MQLs. X% of MQLs will convert to SQLs (and so on), producing X amount in revenue per month generated by Marketing.

Stated Sales goals in a Sales and Marketing SLA should be goals that only pertain to Marketing. Most likely, your Sales team has two numbers to hit: revenue from outbound efforts (Sales generated) and revenue from inbound efforts (Marketing generated). The SLA covers inbound goals.

For example, if the average deal size is $5,000 and Sales knows, based on the company goals, that they have to generate $2 million in revenue for the year, then they need to close around $167,00 a month – the equivalent of about 34 deals. By stating these goals, Marketing is now armed to say, “Ok, we commit to helping Sales generate 75% of their overall revenue goal. Working backward from $1.5 million, we need to generate X qualified leads based on our historical data that Sales has an XX% closed-won rate.” 

 

Clearly Defined MQL, SQL, SAL, ICP, and Buyer Personas

 

“A common frustration in the Marketing to Sales handoff is simply Marketing sending leads to Sales that should not have been sent in the first place. This is usually caused by either a lack of an agreed set of qualification criteria between Marketing and Sales, or Marketing taking too many liberties around what constitutes a qualified lead. On the other side, Sales may not always keep their end of the deal, and just because they don’t see an immediate opportunity in an otherwise qualified lead, they may choose not to accept it.”

Udi Ledergor, CMO, Gong.io

The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Lead Follow-Up & Conversion

 

Marketing can generate the number of leads they promised and more to hit their “goals,” but a huge frustration in organizations is Marketing not being accountable for the quality of leads. Building in what qualifies as a lead (MQL and SQL) into your SLAs is crucial. The only way to do this is first to define your ICPs and buyer personas. 

Without a documented ICP in place, Sales and Marketing will most likely be targeting two different profiles or casting a wide net with low conversations.

 

“There will be plenty of people that will come inbound to many businesses, but they’re not always going to be the right buyer. So there needs to be a filter that says here are the new names, but then here’s a stage that says this is a new name and an account I can sell to and is exhibiting the right set of behaviors. It’s essential to very clearly identify what is in your ICP, so all net new names have to hit another set of criteria before moving through.

Heidi Bullock, CMO, Tealium

The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Lead Follow-Up & Conversion

 

Filtering out downloads and leads by using demographic and firmographic lead scoring also helps Sales focus on prospects and leads who are most likely to turn into business.

 

Needs to Reach Marketing Goals & Needs of Sales

Again, these sections will be separate within your SLA but will cover many of the same areas, such as technology and software, accurate reporting, feedback loops, and what each team is holding the other team accountable to. 

Technology & Software

Can include anything from a company CRM and marketing automation tool to a shared drive of assets.

Accurate Reporting

Can either be a dashboard within your CRM or an excel sheet tracking conversion and close rates.

Feedback Loops

Communication on what’s working and what’s not and what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of new business and new campaigns allows Sales and Marketing to keep each other in check week to week. Even if you write up a beautiful and specific SLA, if Sales and Marketing never look at it again or check-in regularly, did it happen?

Accountability

Slightly different from goals, this iterates what Marketing needs from Sales to be successful and what Sales needs from Marketing to be successful. For example, Sales needs X amount of MQLs generated by Marketing and to be notified instantly as soon as a lead is sales-ready. Marketing needs Sales to follow-up within an X time frame of handoff.

 

Consequences if Goals are Not Met

Stating the consequences if goals are not met serves two purposes: staying accountable and building in a backup plan.

You’re most likely not going to fire your Sales or Marketing team for falling short of goals. You may if they continually fall short of goals and don’t actively try to find a solution. The “consequences” section of your SLA is there to build in if-then situations to ensure your teams continue to innovate and optimize their campaigns and process. For example, 

If Marketing does not meet its goals, they will XYZ. 

If Sales does not meet its goals, they will ZYX.

 

Conditions of Cancellation

conditions of sla cancellation

As your company evolves, your Sales and Marketing SLA must evolve with it. That could mean re-evaluating Sales and Marketing goals each year in terms of lead generation, revenue, and other soft goals. It could also mean completely rewriting sections. As a two-year-old business, your organizational structure and processes are going to look massively different at ten years, even at five years.

Building in conditions of cancellation (in pursuit of a better SLA) gives your Sales and Marketing teams the power and the confidence to continually stay ahead and evolve with company goals.

 

Executing Inbound Sales Success

The Sales and Marketing SLA is just one piece of a successful inbound sales process. To get a more holistic view into other areas your organization may be falling short, download The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Lead Follow-Up & Conversion to better inform your Sales and Marketing alignment, lead follow-up process, and the technology you’ll need to be more efficient and successful. 

This guide was produced in collaboration with Spiceworks / Ziff Davis B2B.

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