Why You Need an SLA with Sales
It’s almost impossible to find success as a Head of Marketing in B2B on your own.
Not only do you need a red hot team of communication professionals under your wing, driving awareness and nurturing demand – you also need to play nice with the other kids across the corporate playground.
No other relationship is as important as the one between marketing and sales. Especially in enterprise B2B. You need your commercial colleagues to close complex, multi-stakeholder negotiations, while they need you to help bring new opportunities to the table.
Unfortunately, a LOT of B2B companies have a broken commercial function. Both departments operate in silos, with no shared accountability or objective.
At best, it can feel like the business is always just about keeping its head above water.
At worst, you are harming yourselves unnecessarily from within.
How can you fix it?
One of the ways I’ve tried to get a relationship with sales back on the right track is by creating an internal Service-Level Agreement – or SLA. Essentially it’s a contract between the two departments that outlines a set of agreed deliverables both commit to providing to the other.
These are very common in any kind of vendor/customer relationship. For instance, say you sell cloud services. You may enter into an SLA with a client to guarantee 99.99% availability of said services during peak holiday season, alongside other services provided, penalties for goals not being met, responsibilities for both parties and paths of escalation.
This mechanism can also be applied internally within your organisation.
Imagine your monthly commercial target is $500,000 with each deal being approx $50,000 on average. If sales close 50% of all requests for a product demo, marketing can commit in an SLA to deliver 10 inbound requests each month by a specific date.
It’s important to remember that an internal SLA can (and should!) work both ways.
If marketing is bringing new opportunities to the table, sales must then commit to following up within a defined time period and against a specific process.
But I wouldn’t stop there. Your SLA should also include what detail on what sales is required to input into the communications strategy.
Perhaps marketing has identified that product-focused content created by sales and shared via their personal accounts has the biggest impact on driving traffic to the website. Sales would then commit to carving out a specific time each month to work on creating and distributing this content.
SLAs are useful in that they set the tone for a healthy, reciprocal relationship between departments early on. It helps remove misunderstandings on what is needed from both sides to find success and puts in writing a commitment to lift each other up for the benefit of the business.
Here are five things to include in your internal SLA:
- Overall Objectives. What is it that both parties are trying to achieve and how can this be quantifiably measured? There should be no doubt on either side of the bench on exactly what success looks like.
- Description of Services. Outline exactly what service will be provided, how it will be delivered, to whom it will be sent and when it is required. You should also summarise what’s needed by both parties in order to deliver these services.
- Compensation. Be clear around what consequences can be expected in the event that either party is unable to hold up their part of the bargain. This can be delicate – we want to avoid a situation of finger-pointing – so I like to use this section to outline contingency plans to fill the gap in the event objectives are not met.
- Points of Contact. Note down who is accountable for the delivery of the services, how problems can be escalated and to whom, how teams are expected to communicate with one another, and who is responsible for reporting.
- Conditions of Cancellation. Sometimes things just don’t work out as you intended and the best thing to do is start afresh. Outline the criteria that when met trigger the cancellation of the existing SLA and what the process looks like to create a new one.
Misalignment between sales and marketing can massively stunt startup growth. Create a Service-Level Agreement between both departments from day one to align objectives, remove uncertainty around expectations and set a commitment to lift each other up for the benefit of the business.