The Data-Backed Case for an SLA Between Marketing and Sales

Let’s set the stage with this:

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That’s not good.

There's a problem

I’m a brand/marketing guy. My brother is an engineer/sales guy. Over the past several years we have spoken about the relationship between Marketing and Sales. Let me preface this by saying he’s good at his job. In our discussions about his job, he’s thrown a lot of the common “sales phrases” at me:

  • “The Marketing Team spends all day posting stuff on Facebook. Why?! I haven’t received one lead from Facebook.”
  • “We get these ridiculous 'marketing reports' on the first of the month that show me a bunch of numbers, but I have no idea what they are trying to say.”
  • “I have no idea how many people are in the marketing department, we never talk.”
  • “Marketing says they sent us 600 leads last month. That’s a joke! I don’t know what they consider to be a lead, but those were not leads.”

I get it. I’ve seen the stuff he’s talking about and it’s pretty bad. On the other hand, he’s done nothing to understand why the Marketing Team does what they do. He thinks their only purpose in life is to provide him with leads. While that may be part of their job, they also have a lot of other things on their plate.

What do marketing people say about their Sales cohorts?

  • “We have this goal of sending Sales 500 leads/mo. I don’t know who came up with that number or how.”
  • “We’re getting Sales the lead numbers they requested. I have no idea what they are doing with them. That’s not our problem.”
  • “We’re posting on social, sending emails, creating collateral, updating the website, etc. Sales has no clue that all of this takes time.”

There’s a big problem that’s become very obvious. This not only applies to companies, but to us as human beings inhabiting this great, giant earth.

We lack empathy. We are all so focused on ourselves and what we’re trying to accomplish, that we rarely take the time to understand the other person’s situation or goals.

Want to know what Marketing’s top priority is for 2017 according to the report? 70% of the respondents said “converting contracts/leads to customers”! Can Marketing do that by themselves? No. How are they going to achieve that goal? By talking with and working with the Sales Team!




What about the sales team? What are their top priorities? #1 is, and always should be, closing more deals. But, right behind that is “improving the efficiency of the sales funnel”! Can they do that by themselves? No! How are they going to achieve that goal? By talking with and working with the Marketing Team!

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Things need to change. Let's start with an SLA.

So, what’s the best way to solve this problem? How do we close the divide?! We’d like to introduce to you the sales and marketing SLA (Service Level Agreement). Our friends at HubSpot have even created a nice, thorough, and free template for you to use. This is going to take some work. But no one ever said that relationships didn’t take work, right?! Respondents whose organizations have a service level agreement (SLA) in place are 3x more likely to say their strategy is effective compared to those in misaligned organizations. That’s the kind of stuff we like to hear.

As a designer/marketer, this next chart tells me there is a lot of room for improvement.

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This addresses one of the Sales Team’s quotes from above. They just don’t understand what the Marketing Team is doing. They have to rely on their own resources to find leads. If an SLA was in place, Sales would know what kind of leads they can depend on from Marketing, and how they will be receiving those leads. It all comes down to communication. Once the Sales Team understands more of what Marketing is doing, and why, they will have a clearer picture of what to expect. Likewise, Marketing will know more about what to deliver and how to deliver leads to make sure they are working as a cohesive team.

It seems to me that Marketing is usually the team that gets the blame for this since they are the ones doing recon and setting up the Sales Team. Yes, Marketing shouldn’t be sending unqualified leads to Sales. But how are they supposed to understand what a qualified lead is without coming to some kind of agreement?


If an SLA was in place, then everyone is to blame for the lead quality. If the entire team understands what an SQL (sales qualified lead) should be, and the leads coming in aren’t meeting that goal, then some adjustments should be made. Again, let’s work as a team and stop the blame game. No one ever wins that game. With about 43% of respondents saying they will spend less than $25k on marketing this next year, it’s crucial the quality of our internal communication, as well as the leads, increases.

As I stated in one of my previous posts about this subject, there are a few quick tips I suggest to companies we work with:

  1. Communicate - It’s Marketing’s job to arm the sales team with content they can use to nurture and close deals. Don’t assume you know everything. Consult sales and customer service to find out problems and questions you can address. It’s the Sales Team’s job to take those leads and actually, follow up and nurture them using the data from the Marketing Team, and close those leads that become opportunities.
  2. Have More Empathy and Trust - To truly understand what prospects are struggling with, Marketing should shadow members of the Sales team, especially on calls. Doing so will help the Marketing Team determine what content to create to better support Sales Team members. Sales should trust Marketing in the development of messages and materials. They have this job for a reason.
  3. Meet Regularly - Regular meetings between the two groups foster communication and collaboration, and help sales and marketing managers improve their performance. Not communicating, or communicating ineffectively will get you nowhere.
  4. Don’t be Lazy - Marketing Team, if your reports aren’t making any sense or answering the “so what?” question, then change them. Ask what the Sales Team would actually like to see and provide that data. Sales Team, don’t assume Marketing can read your mind.


Let's make it happen.

There’s a lot to be said for having an SLA in place. Data doesn’t lie. Take a good, hard look at yourselves, have some empathy, communicate, and start digging into the things that will truly make your company or organization successful. When you work as a team, you celebrate as a team. Let’s celebrate more often. I think we’d all like that.


Every year, HubSpot surveys thousands of the world’s foremost marketers and salespeople. They are asked about their most pressing priorities, the challenges they face, and the strategies they plan to add in the year ahead. Here are the results.


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