Sales & Marketing Alignment

5 Steps to Create an SLA Between Your Sales & Marketing Departments

When sales teams don't meet their quotas, they usually blame the marketing for lead quality or quantity. In turn, marketing fires back for not responding fast enough, not following up enough, or qualifying the lead properly. An SLA (Service Level Agreement) between sales and marketing can fix it.


Like cats and dogs, sales and marketing departments are notorious for having an adversarial relationship. The sales team is often compensated on revenue and closed deals while the marketing team may have no performance goals whatsoever.

When the sales team doesn't hit their quotas, they are usually quick to blame the marketing team for lead quality or quantity, and in turn, the marketing team fires back at sales for not responding fast enough, not following up, or not qualifying the lead properly.

How to make sales and marketing play nice.

The good news is, a strong SLA (Service Level Agreement) between the two departments can usually fix this issue and get the two teams working harmoniously.

65% of companies with an SLA between sales and marketing realized an improvement on their marketing ROI - HubSpot's 2018 State of Inbound Report

An SLA is a simple contract or agreement that defines the sales team's expectations from marketing for MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) and SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) by quantity, frequency, and quality. In turn, the sales team also commits to a response time for inbound leads and a follow up cadence that exhausts and dispositions a lead before returning it to the Marketing team as a Prospect.

What are the 5 steps to creating an SLA?

  1. Have your marketing team commit to an MQL goal. 

    Your sales team should have a quota for sales transactions or revenue. Likewise, your marketing team should have a goal for MQL's that help sales achieve their goals. Use the sales team's quota and divide it by the conversion rates by lead type. This will tell you how many qualified leads your sales team actually needs to hit their quota.

    If your marketing team provides all of the leads, this is the number they need to commit to. If your sales team gets leads from other sources, like referrals or purchased leads, look for the "gap" in sales and simply divide by conversion rate. This is how you'll arrive at the number of qualified leads marketing needs to produce to cover the gap.

    Pro Tip: It's a good idea to round up by the MQL number you arrive at by 10%-20%. It's always better to miss higher rather than coming up short when you're trying to grow sales revenue.

  2. Define the quality of the leads by their IQ.  

    The lead IQ is a simple acronym for measuring the INTENT of the lead as well as the lead's QUALIFICATION. Start with the intent of the lead. Outline the level of "intent to purchase" a lead needs to have before the sale teams can effectively close it. This doesn't mean intent to buy from your company but rather the intent to purchase the product or service that helps them solve their problem or achieve their goal.

    What questions need to be asked before determining if the customer is ready to buy or if they're still just in the awareness stage? Does the buyer have a problem that they need to solve or a goal they want to achieve?

    Next, establish what type of QUALIFICATION baselines that may be required to purchase your product or service. Qualification requirements are markedly different from intent. While intent is the need or desire for your product, qualification is the fiscal ability or decision making authority to execute the transaction. If your product requires financing, like a home loan, you may need to capture information that helps identify the credit qualification thresholds you'll need for approval. 

    These first two steps will help your marketing team target the people they should to market to, where to intersect with them through ads or content, create landing pages that gather pertinent information, and build a lead scoring model that takes the guesswork out of turning prospects into MQLs - before handing it off to the sales team.  

    Pro Tip: If your business has a fulfillment team “post sale”, you may want to include the fulfillment team leaders in the conversation. They can provide valuable insights into the factors that cause a sale to “fall out” while in the fulfillment pipeline.

    Those additional qualifications or characteristics will be useful to the marketing team when building prospecting models, for editing sales discovery scripts as quality control measures, and improve the closing process. 

    Bonus Tip: If you purchase leads from third party sources that route directly to your sales team, you may want to review the benchmarks established in steps 1 and 2 with your vendor. In this instance, your vendor is your marketing team by proxy. They probably won’t change their processes to accommodate your model, but they might suggest a different lead product like a live lead transfer where the lead can go through a deeper verification process before being transferred to your sales team.

    If you are buying leads from third parties, we strongly recommend setting up a lead scoring model in your CRM. You can assign a "monetary value" to the score and review the report data regularly to determine if you are getting the expected value from your lead supplier.

  3. Create a contact strategy.  

    Have your sales team commit to a contact strategy for every qualified lead that they receive. This should start with a guaranteed response time. Include a goal for sales on how quickly they should respond to an inbound lead. A study conducted by Inside Sales show that first five minutes are critical to a high contact rate.

    When leads are responded to within the first five minutes of being received, the odds of actually making contact are 100x higher than if it took 30 minutes for the first contact attempt.

    The number of attempts, as well as the frequency of subsequent sales attempts to contact a missed lead is also critical to making contact. The recommended number of follow-up attempts is at least a minimum of 5 and could be as high as 10 calls depending on the lead type.

    Pro Tip:  By making 5-10 contact attempts, you can get 90% of the value out of the lead.  It's a good practice to have a process for reassigning the lead if the original salesperson fails to convert the MQL or SQL into a sale.

    If you have a CRM like HubSpot, you can automatically create a workflow to accomplish this so that leads don't slip through the cracks. A good CRM will also give you the ability to record and store the earlier conversations with the lead contact.

    An adversed, or disqualified lead, should be reassigned to a more experienced salesperson or a salesperson with an exceptionally high closing rate. Sometimes a fresh voice that can reframe the conversation can make all the difference.

  4. Put it in writing.  

    Like any professional contract, the act of signing your name makes the SLA document official and binds all participating parties to the terms of the contract. Make sure all of the key stakeholders have reviewed it, understand it and sign it. The act of signing the agreement may seem trivial but it has a profound psychological effect that creates a committed partnership between sales and marketing. 

  5. Set up reporting dashboards and review regularly.  

    What is not measured can not be improved! Setting up KPI's to measure and monitor your SLA's will offer benchmarks to judge your marketing and sales team's performance. You also can uncover gaps in your customer's experience that may be hidden opportunity costs, and/or could be potentially damaging to your company's reputation. Overall, visibility into these performance metrics support transparency within your teams and give visibility for areas improvement as well as identify forward progress to celebrate. 

    Pro Tip: It's a good idea to have your goals broken down into monthly or weekly goals. Have your sales and marketing teams meet regularly, preferably weekly to review their progress and create a feedback loop for continual improvements.

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