Do You Need a Service Level Agreement Between Marketing and Sales? – by Christopher Ryan

I have written a lot about the gap between marketing and sales in B2B companies and you can download my whitepaper about this subject here.  One of the trickiest aspects of the relationship is establishing the marketing and sales metrics.  Once you do this, you then need to agree on who is responsible for which part of the process. In most scenarios, the marketing VP is responsible for every step through qualified leads, and the sales VP is responsible for creating opportunities and revenue.

If the handoff from marketing to sales is at the qualified lead stage, then you must gain agreement as to what exactly constitutes a qualified lead. Don’t assume that everyone already understand this important definition. This negotiation is critical for both parties because it will be used as a basis for evaluating future performance. Be careful of overpromising, because it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.

 While every company’s definition is a bit different, generally, a qualified lead is defined as a prospect with these characteristics:

  •  An identified requirement or project
  • An established budget for that project
  • A specific time frame for purchase (e.g., one to three months or four to six months)
  • An identified decision-maker

Once the ratios are determined and definitions established for each phase of the process, the result is a service level agreement (SLA) that establishes a covenant between the marketing and sales groups. The marketing executive promises to deliver a certain quantity of raw leads, qualified leads, or whatever it is that the sales department works with, and the sales executive promises to work their part of the process diligently to ensure that the hard work of the marketing department is rewarded with results that really matter—new customers and fresh revenue.

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At a minimum, your SLA will include these details: 

  • Number of leads required and when
  • What constitutes a sales ready lead
  • How leads are distributed to the field
  • How sales reps disposition leads
  • How marketing’s contribution is measured through a closed-loop system

Service level agreements are often tough to hammer out but they can save lots of future conflict and grief. Marketers who fulfill the SLA promise are treated as valuable corporate assets.  Those that do not are considered optional expenses.  As a marketer, how would you prefer to be viewed?

 Chris Ryan

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One comment

  • Myron Berg March 11, 2011   Reply →

    No question that this is one of the trickiest hand-offs in business. Not only is an SLA is a great way to handle this relationship, but I think it help redirect the focus in a positive way. The focus is more on the SLA and sales funnel performance, less on perceptions.

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