What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA) and What Should Be Included?

by | May 5, 2021 8:30:00 AM | Sales and Marketing Alignment

If you're wondering what a marketing and sales service level agreement (SLA) is or what it should include, you're not alone. We have a ton of clients that ask this question when we put it as a part of their project. However, an SLA is a really important part of your business. And in this blog, I'm going to explain why.  

What is a Marketing and Sales Service Level Agreement?

Let's start with the basics. A marketing and sales SLA is a tool that can be used as a standard operating procedure that aligns marketing with sales, and sales with marketing. Overall, it helps everyone stay on the same page.  It is an agreement that ensures all leads are properly vetted by marketing before being handed to sales and that all leads are properly managed by sales.

What's included in an SLA?

The Objective

Now that we have that out of the way, let's cover what should be included in an SLA document. When you're putting together an SLA, you’ll want to include what the objective is. Your objective should be a short introduction and a clear reason why you're trying to align sales and marketing.

In this, it's important to talk about the overall goal when putting together this document. And typically, this has to do everything with alignment and passing leads between marketing and sales.

Roles and Stakeholders

The second thing included in an SLA document is the roles and stakeholders. When you're doing this, make sure you include who's going to be a part of putting this document together. That can include:

  • Leadership
  • Sales Personnel
  • Marketing Personnel
  • Anybody else that should have access and control to making sure things get updated and the information on this document is relevant

Overall, you want to list the stakeholders that are going to be involved with keeping the SLA updated so that everybody is on the same page. 

Lead Assignments and Sales Territories

The next section you'll want to include in your SLA is your lead assignments and sales territories.

We see many times (unless you're in sales) that businesses don't truly understand how to dole out leads once they get them in their funnel. This part of the SLA helps you answer questions based on who will receive the leads. Ask yourself:

  • Will lead assignments be based on state territories, zip codes, or another method?
  • What happens when we get a lead?
  • Who will the lead go to if it comes in under a territory that we haven't identified yet?

Having one spot where everybody can understand who the lead goes to and when it should go to that person is beneficial to include in your SLA so that hurt feelings, loss of sales follow up, and misunderstandings are avoided. 

Lead Scoring Details

Your SLA document should also include lead scoring details. Ultimately, this is a big piece for marketing, but it's just as important for sales.

In this section, you should include any kind of positive attributes for your scoring. For example, maybe your lead fills out a form, maybe they visit one of your webpages, or maybe they go to a conference that you were at. Whatever your lead is doing, a certain point value system should be established. As a reference, you can establish something like the following: 

  • If a prospect subscribed to an email or blog that you regularly send out: Assign them +10 points
  • If they opened a marketing email: Assign them +2 points per open
  • If they clicked somewhere on your marketing email: Assign them +5 points per click
  • If a prospect downloaded gated content off of your website: Assign them +10 points per download
  • If they viewed one of your web pages: Assign them 1 point page view

And you get the idea. Doing this will allow you to see which of your leads have engaged a lot (or a little) with your content. From there, you can establish how many points would equal what is considered a certain Life Cycle stage of a prospect like a "Lead," a "Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)," a "Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)," and so on. We recommend looking at the following chart for an example of how you can score your leads to determine which Life Cycle stage they are in.

Point Values Associated with Life Cycle Stages

Life Cycle Stage  

Points  

Description  

Subscriber  

0  

Known prospect or purchased list  

Lead  

1-14 

Showing various levels of interest based on how they interact with content and events  

MQL  

(Marketing Qualified Lead)  

15-29 

Ready to be vetted by a Sales Rep prior to moving to SQL  

SQL  

(Sales Qualified Lead)  

30+

Ready for 1-1 time with a sales representative.  

Opportunity  

N/A - Manually Set 

Meets specific qualifying questions (has budget, has timeline, etc.) - Typically a deal amount can be forecasted 

Customer  

N/A - Set When Deal Status Becomes Closed Won  

Once a contact has a "Closed: Won" deal associated with it, it automatically becomes  a customer.   

Evangelist  

N/A - Set Manually  

Customers or Partners who advocate for the business and whose networks may be leveraged for further leads.  

To make this easy, we use HubSpot, a marketing automation platform to automatically score our leads. That way we are getting the most relevant data in real-time. 

When doing this, it's also key to make sure sales is providing you feedback on the leads that get passed to them once they become SQL. Be sure to communicate with them if the scoring is working or if it needs to be adjusted. Remember, creating and having an SLA is all about that alignment.

Contact Field Definitions

Another important piece to include in your SLA is field definitions. Contact field definitions include things like what should be tracked or not on a contact’s CRM record.

But why do you need field definitions? 

Not only does it keep your data clean, but deciding on fields and making sure they are filled in will provide you a better picture of who your contact is, where they came from, what their interests are, and so on.

For example, let's say you decide you want to make sure everyone on your team fills in the "Lead Source" field for each contact they import/add to your database. In your SLA, you'll want to define what a lead source is, what is included, and how your employees should mark them.

The fields you want your team to fill out and what needs to be included should be defined at a high level in your SLA. This allows for a single point of truth that your team members can go to for a good snapshot of what fields are important.

How to Add Leads

Next up, how to add leads.

You'll want to think about them from this perspective: Let's say you set up your marketing automation system and then you set up your CRM. Now, six months go by and you go to a conference. 

When you get leads from the conference, how should marketing upload them, or maybe sales should be loading them? What fields need to be marked when you upload those leads? Not only can knowing this be helpful for the marketing department, but it's also important for the sales team to know and be on the same page as well. 

When you have this section in your SLA and explain how to upload leads and/or what fields need to be marked, your data will end up staying a lot cleaner with everyone following the same process.

Definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

The next topic you'll want to cover in your SLA is defining what makes a marketing qualified lead (MQL). And let me tell you, this is a big one.

For the most part, I would say the goal of marketing is to pass qualified leads to the sales team. But how and when should you get them those qualified leads? There are two things that matter here:

  1. Whether it's a marketing qualified lead (MQL)
  2. Or if  it's a sales qualified lead (SQL)

It's important to know that you don't want to pass every single lead to a salesperson. First, it will get overwhelming. Second, not all of them will be quality leads. And if that happens too often, there's a good chance that sales will stop looking at your leads as "qualified" unless marketing can qualify them first. (As we covered up above, when you're using lead scoring, there's a good way you can mark individual leads as either marketing qualified leads or sales leads using a scoring approach.)

Ultimately, defining what an MQL means to your team is important and you should include that in your SLA. This will allow your marketing team to continue to work on the prospect before passing them fully on to the sales team.

Definition of a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Along with marketing qualified leads, you should also have a definition of a sales qualified lead (SLQ).

Remember, an SLA is all about alignment. When you initially define what an SQL looks like, sales can come back to marketing and either say, "This is the kind of lead we want." or "We need to re-define what an SQL is in order to have more qualified leads passed to us." Luckily, you can always adjust the lead scoring that we reviewed earlier. You can also always adjust fields in order to track things better.

This will help marketing align with sales and pass high-quality leads to the team.

The Process to Convert to Qualified Leads

Once a sales qualified lead gets passed to sales and they've vetted them, ask these things:

  • What is the process to convert qualified leads? 
  • What actually should happen once converted? 
  • What fields should they care about? 
  • When do they create an opportunity? 

In this section, all those things should be defined so everybody's on the same page for what needs to happen.

One of the biggest things that get missed in this process is including lead sources. With lead sources, you can track what's working, what's not working, and so on. That might be something you want to include in your SLA so that when you actually pass sales a qualified lead, they'll agree with what you've passed them and follow up with them by creating an opportunity in their CRM.

Opportunity Creation and Pipeline Stages

When is the right time to create an opportunity? Most of the time, this isn't a marketing decision. This is a leadership and sales decision, but having one spot where it's actually defined is very important.

So once your lead is qualified and your sales team creates an opportunity, what happens in the pipeline? Are you setting up a discovery call? Is there a demo? When should a proposal get sent?

All of that should be documented at a high level so you can understand what it looks like from an MQL, to an SQL, to an opportunity, then all the way down to when a prospect becomes a customer.

Targets and Lists

I'll be honest, this is a newer section of an SLA. But the reason for including it is that a lot of times with that alignment, it's nice to know exactly what the goals are for sales, what the goals are for marketing, and what lists matter. 

Let's say, the sales department has target accounts that they are going after. Wouldn't it be great if marketing knew about those target accounts? Wouldn't it be nice if marketing communicated regular, relevant content to those prospects? When marketing is informed about the target prospects and lists, they'll be able to better align their communication with what sales is speaking about to the same prospects. 

All in all, it's critical to call this out in your SLA because it really helps get everybody on the same page with what lists are important and how marketing and sales should communicate with them.

Notifications and Alerts

This is another big one. You definitely do not want to over-communicate with your sales team by creating a whole bunch of tasks that are going to cause them to drown in alerts or email notifications. So documenting in your SLA when you're going to communicate with them or send them notifications will be key to your team's overall productivity. 

With notifications, not only does it keep everyone on the same page, but it also gives people the ability to say, "I didn't get this," or "Something looks broken," or "I'd love to see this information." 

For example, if a prospect visited a page on the website, a lot of marketing automation and CRM systems can track when people visit. And if you have it set up correctly, you can have your marketing automation system send your sales team a notification so that they can follow up on the prospect. 

Notifications are important for keeping a consistent and relevant stream of information flowing. Be sure to document when sales can expect a notification in your SLA. And remember, try not to have an overwhelming amount!

Duplicate Management

Duplicate management is going to be an important section to include, especially if you want to achieve clean data. But how do you actually clean up duplicates?

A lot of times, the sales team is focused on selling the next service or product. So make it easy for them. If there is a duplicate in the system, make sure you document a way to easily merge the two together while still keeping communication, fields, and notes in one place.

And having clean data now will ensure fewer frustrations in the future. I promise. 

ROI, Dashboards, and Reporting

And now for the last one – ROI (Return on Investment), dashboards, and reporting.

When it comes to your SLA, it's nice to have your goals actually defined within the document. Once you have your goals defined, you should be able to create dashboards and reports within your marketing automation platform. These reports are vital as they will continuously update your team on how close you are to achieving what you've all set out to do. I even suggest sending your team the dashboards and/or reports you create regularly to track ROI. However, also be sure to have them linked back in your SLA for easy access when reviewing the document.

Not only should your goals, dashboards, and reports help motivate your team, you'll also be able to keep a close eye on how things are working and what you can potentially change to create further ROI.

Start Creating Your Service Level Agreement Today!

Having an SLA is a vital part of aligning your sales and marketing teams together. It can create clarity, processes, and order that would otherwise be missed out on if an SLA wasn't in place. As a quick recap, here are the sections you should include in your SLA: 

  • The Objective
  • Roles and Stakeholders
  • Lead Assignments and Sales Territories
  • Lead Scoring Details
  • Contact Field Definitions
  • How to Add Leads
  • Definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
  • Definition of a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
  • The Process to Convert to Qualified Leads
  • Opportunity Create and Pipeline Stage
  • Targets and Lists
  • Notifications and Alerts
  • Duplicate Management
  • ROI, Dashboards, and Reporting

If you have any further questions about how to use an SLA to align your sales and marketing teams or what you should include in them, please click here to contact us and we'd be happy to help. 

About 1 Bold Step

At 1 Bold Step we believe that everything can be more efficient, but especially marketing. Acting as an extension of a client’s marketing department (onsite or virtually), we help create systems, order, and accountability. With a focus on increasing sales and proving return on marketing investment, we’re determined to change marketing from overhead to value add. 

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