How to Establish Thorough Service Level Agreements for Lead Management

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Written by Colby Renton

September 20, 2018

Note: This is part six of our seven-part series on an effective lead management process.

Before we begin, lets level set on what a Service Level Agreement (SLA) actually is: a document that presents like a contract between Sales and Marketing. The content is developed and agreed upon together and defines the roles and responsibilities of Sales and Marketing as it relates to the lead management process.

In addition, the SLA documents the escalation points in the automated lead management process and the specific “grace period” that Sales has to take action on (and disposition) a qualified lead.

An SLA is put into place to achieve tighter alignment between Sales and Marketing but also to ensure that the lead management process is being adhered to AND is working. In order to make the SLA work, both Sales and Marketing must hold their people accountable to what is in the document.

The SLA should be considered a living, breathing document and will need to be put into place (and built into your MAP and CRM), monitored for adoption and revised based on feedback and engagement. The document should be considered a contract, signed by both Sales and Marketing leadership.

Components of a Service-Level Agreement

The easiest part of an SLA to document is often roles and responsibilities. It basically says, as a Marketer, I’ll do this to help generate high quality leads for the business. In kind, as a Sales person, I agree to do this to manage the high quality leads we receive and work them to close. In many cases, it’s a simple table, like the one below:

As a sales person, I…

As a marketer, I…

  • View campaign engagement per contact in SFDC
  • Accept/reject marketing qualified leads
  • Convert leads to contacts/opportunity
  • Maintain account/contact info
  • Add primary contact info to opportunity
  • Win deals
  • Manage MQL queues
  • Promote upsell and cross-sell of products
  • Read communications from Marketing
  • Craft campaigns in Marketo (or other marketing automation platform)
  • Generate net new leads and expansion within customer accounts
  • Create new content
  • Score leads
  • Nurture leads
  • Qualify leads
  • Hand off leads to Sales
  • Report on Marketing Operations
  • Communicate marketing efforts to Sales

In addition, Marketing could also be responsible for meeting the following goals:

  • Provide alerts and notifications to Sales in the agreed upon manner and in a way that facilitates conversion rates
  • Track and report on all elements of the lead disposition in a timely manner
  • Set up easy recycle pathways for leads not yet sales ready
  • Set up an efficient process with Sales
  • Optimize the use of technology for Marketing and Sales in the lead management process

Sales on the other hand would be responsible for following up in the agreed upon time frame and method in addition to the following:

  • Effectively use CRM to disposition the lead
  • Provide insights and feedback to Marketing on the lead management process
  • Proactively partner with Marketing to improve the lead management process

World class SLAs map out the lead management process so that everyone involved knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

The other critical element: Time

How much time Sales has to accept a qualified lead once it has been kicked over from Marketing is a must-have for any SLA.

Usually, I see clients give 24-48 hours for a sales person to accept a lead. This is really just Sales saying “Yes, I see this lead and I agree to work it.” They would then need to change the disposition of the lead status in CRM to “Accepted Lead” or whatever language you use to indicate this has happened.

If the SLA says they have 48 hours to disposition a new lead, and nothing happens in CRM to indicate that the lead has been noticed by Sales, we would send an auto alert to the sales person – a reminder. If nothing happens within another 24 hours, we send another auto alert, but this time with an escalation copying their boss. If nothing happens in another 24 hours, we reassign the lead.

That is a typical example of a lead processing agreement that must be included in the SLA. It ensures that the leads that Marketing are generating are actually being worked by Sales. And we know that the leads are qualified based on the fact that we developed the definition of a qualified lead together and that the scoring algorithm was built to support that definition.

To help you visualize what that SLA looks like across the funnel, we’ve provided a high-level sample below:

As you can see, the SLA is involved at every stage of the life of the lead. The SLA provides huge value to both Sales and Marketing as it brings them into alignment. The SLA clarifies roles and expectations, providing a common process and language that allows the Marketing and Sales machines to work together as a joined unit.

Tips to implementing an SLA in your environment

In order to sell the benefits of SLAs to your Sales and Executive teams, create a PowerPoint with the value of SLAs to present to your company. Meet with key stakeholders to show them proof points of the value of SLAs. Ask for feedback, and create continuous visibility through meetings and dashboards. Finally, create, communicate and sign the Service Level Agreement. Remember to review and revise the SLA quarterly.

There are, of course, potential barriers for implementing Service Level Agreements. Sales might not agree to implement an SLA, or Sales might not agree to the terms of the SLA. It’s important to get Sales leadership on board with your plan to create and implement an SLA before moving forward. Key takeaway: Include sales in the SLA design process!

Another potential barrier is failure to hold people accountable on both sides to the terms of the Service Level Agreement. Again, it is important for leadership in both Sales and Marketing to be on board with the SLA plan and to be educated on the terms of the agreement so that they can hold their staff members accountable. Key takeaway: SLA adherence can be measured in the systems. Check adherence often, and be sure the sales team knows that you can zero in on the specific sales people who are not following process. Transparency is a motivator!

Finally, there might be a lack of clarity for individual contributors in Sales and Marketing on what the SLA actually is and what it does. Take the time to educate everyone on the importance of the Service Level Agreement as a document that will help align Sales and Marketing as well as clarify roles and responsibilities for both groups.

Hang on … Can I really do all of this?

Let’s be honest: In many organizations / business units, it’s hard to get everything we’ve discussed in this series implemented:

  1. Take time with sales to hammer out lead definitions
  2. Nail down processes and automation through your marketing automation system (much less identifying what program to use if you don’t have it)
  3. Document everything!
  4. Tighten your lead scoring so you know only the highest-quality leads are heading over to the sales team
  5. Agree on what and how to hold sales accountable to their end of the bargain

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. It’s a lot to manage – and most of your internal political capital is on the line (if you even have enough to get things off the ground).

This is where we come in. Not only have we done this hundreds of times, but we have proven methods that show direct increases in revenue.

Curious to learn more? Our lead management page is the next stop for you – or, you can always ask us a question.

No matter what, it’s time to wrap up our exploration of an effective lead process by looking at how it relates to the customer journey, the final (and possibly most important!) stage of lead management:

Stage 7 – establishing the foundation for customer management analytics – from acquisition to advocacy.

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