How to Craft a Sales-Marketing SLA for B2B Organizations

Aaron Marks

Aaron Marks

Is your B2B organization struggling to hit its revenue goals? Are you investing heavily in sales and marketing, but stuck feeling like they're each marching to the beat of their own drum? 

These challenges are not uncommon: In many B2B organizations, misalignment between these two crucial departments leads to missed opportunities, inefficiencies, and a lack of growth. They key to bridging this gap and driving sustainable, collaborative results is the implementation of a Sales-Marketing Service Level Agreement (SLA).

In fact, HubSpot research found that companies with an active sales and marketing service level agreement (SLA) are:

  • 34% more likely to experience greater year-over-year ROI
  • 21% more likely to get increased budget allocations, and
  • 31% more likely to be hiring additional salespeople to meet demand.

In this blog post, we'll explore how a Sales-Marketing SLA can transform your B2B organization, fostering seamless collaboration between sales and marketing teams, increasing lead generation, and ultimately driving business growth.

The Essential Role of a Sales-Marketing SLA

A Sales-Marketing Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a formal, documented agreement between the sales and marketing teams within an organization. It establishes clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities for both teams, outlining their shared goals, objectives, and key performance indicators (KPIs). It often aligns on the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). When marketing identifies and qualifies leads that confirm to the MQL definition, they hand them to the sales team. The sales team then has the responsibility to work those leads within a certain amount of time.

However, an effective Sales-Marketing SLA is more than just a document – it's the foundation of a strong partnership between your sales and marketing teams. By establishing clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities for both teams, an SLA promotes better communication, accountability, and trust.

A well-defined SLA not only strengthens the relationship between sales and marketing, but it also has a direct impact on your company's bottom line. By working together towards common goals and objectives, your teams can ensure that leads are properly managed, followed up on, and ultimately converted into customers. This results in higher lead conversion rates, more revenue, and accelerated business growth.

By neglecting to implement an SLA, you're leaving your sales and marketing teams to navigate their collaboration without a roadmap. Indeed, in our experience, the number one reason for sales-marketing misalignment is the lack of an SLA.

Establishing Your Buyer Personas and Ideal Client Profile

The bedrock in the creation of a Sales-Marketing SLA is the establishment of well-defined buyer personas and an ideal client profile (ICP). These representations of your target audience help guide the efforts of both sales and marketing teams, ensuring that everyone is working towards attracting and engaging the right prospects.

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers, including their demographics, job roles, pain points, and goals. On the other hand, an ideal client profile is a description of the type of company that is the perfect fit for your product or service offering.

By clearly aligning on exactly who your efforts are targeting – both types of individuals and companies – you can ensure marketing is delivering quality leads, and sales is aligned to act upon them. This alignment not only improves the overall effectiveness of your demand generation efforts but also reduces friction and miscommunication between the two departments.

Defining and Identifying Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

As mentioned earlier, an essential aspect of a Sales-Marketing SLA is the concept of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). MQLs are leads that have been deemed more likely to become customers, based on specific criteria agreed upon in the SLA by both sales and marketing teams. By clearly identifying MQLs, sales teams can focus their efforts on the most promising leads, while marketing can refine their nurturing strategies.

Lead scoring is a valuable tool in the identification of MQLs. It involves assigning points to leads based on their fit (demographics, firmographics, and budget) and their activity (engagement with your content, website, and marketing campaigns). By combining fit and activity scoring, you can determine which leads are more likely to convert and prioritize them accordingly.

Platforms like HubSpot enable marketing to score leads as they execute marketing campaigns to them. They then allow sales to work the leads in the same system, ensuring closed-loop reporting and mutual visibility into each other's work.

Setting Clear Goals and Targets for Sales and Marketing Teams

For a Sales-Marketing SLA to be effective, it's crucial to set clear goals and targets for both teams. These goals should be based on team maturity, past results, and lead generation drivers, ensuring that they are realistic and achievable.

Some sample goals and targets might include:

  • Increase the number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) by 20% in the next quarter.
  • Improve the conversion rate of MQLs to Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) by 15% in the next six months.
  • Improve the sales team's response time to new SQLs to under 2 business hours.

By regularly reviewing and updating these goals, you can ensure continuous improvement and alignment between sales and marketing teams. This process helps create a culture of accountability and fosters an environment in which both departments work together to achieve shared objectives.

The Handoff Process: Transitioning Leads Between Sales and Marketing

A smooth handoff between sales and marketing is vital for increasing lead velocity and maintaining alignment and growth. This process involves defining clear stages for leads (often called lifecycle stages) and determining when a lead should transition from marketing to sales or vice versa.

By establishing clear lead definitions and criteria for each stage, you reduce ambiguity and ensure that both sales and marketing teams understand their responsibilities in managing leads. This clarity minimizes friction, streamlines processes, and helps maintain alignment between the two departments.

Again, HubSpot is a powerful tool for accomplishing this. Marketing can "own" leads until they reach the MQL stage. Then, they can be reassigned to a sales team member, who can be notified that it is time to deliver on their portion of the SLA.

Establishing Processes and Protocols for Managing Leads

To ensure seamless cooperation between sales and marketing teams, it's important to establish protocols for managing leads and MQLs. This involves defining best practices for lead treatment and follow-up, such as when, how often, and how many times leads should be contacted.

Closed-loop reporting, as is available in HubSpot, plays a significant role in improving processes and communication. By outlining how sales-accepted and sales-rejected leads should be reported, you create a system for feedback and continuous improvement. This not only helps to refine your demand generation strategies but also fosters a culture of collaboration between sales and marketing teams.

Tracking, Measuring, and Assessing Performance Metrics

Your SLA shouldn't be a permanent fixture. Instead, it should be thought of as having been "written in pencil." Your sales and marketing teams can, and should, re-review it at least twice a year.

That's why it's important for your Sales-Marketing SLA to clearly define the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to assess the progress and effectiveness of your processes. It's also important to monitor how sales perceives the quality of the stream of MQLs.  If very few MQLs reach the Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) stage, you may need to raise your threshold or change the criteria to become an MQL. On the other hand, if sales is not finding enough MQL volume, you may lower that threshold.

Conclusion: Embracing the Lasting Impact of a Solid SLA

A well-defined Sales-Marketing SLA is essential for driving growth and success in B2B companies. By investing in the creation and maintenance of an SLA, organizations can foster a culture of collaboration and accountability, eliminating the sense of sales and marketing being two siloed teams. Doing so leads to improved sales-marketing alignment, more efficient lead management, and ultimately, increased revenue.

At Aspire, we have worked with organizations of all sizes, from startups to enterprises, to develop a Sales-Marketing SLA and implement it in HubSpot. We offer a complimentary assessment to help assess your current approach, and offer concrete and actionable recommendations. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you reach your growth goals.

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