I was at MESH Marketing conference in Toronto a few weeks ago where I attended a panel discussion, led by April Dunford (RocketWatcher), Exploring the Alignment between Marketing and Sales. With experts from both Sales and Marketing on the panel, they discussed how changing trends in how businesses function have impacted the age-old love/hate relationship between these two teams. Though a lot of ground was covered, one point that I found of interest was when April asked how many people in the room have an SLA agreement established between these two teams. One person put up their hand.
In truth I would call this an OLA rather than an SLA. More because I have an understanding of these two terms in the service end of the business.
A SLA, or Service Level Agreement, is something typically setup between a company and its customers to describe parameters around the service the company provides. In the customer support world, these can be quite elaborate. Companies offer different levels of support at different cost structures, as well define within the level different support structures based on the type of problem. For example, a Gold Critical issue may be defined as an outage that needs to be fixed or a workaround provided within a maximum of 4 hours.
An OLA, or Operational Level Agreement, is typically an internal agreement between two different departments that discusses how they will operate together to serve a business purpose. Expanding on the example above of the Gold Critical issue, there may be an internal agreement between that the 2nd and 3rd level support teams that defines the details around how these 2 teams fulfill the SLA obligation. The 2nd level support team, usually a hands-on customer facing team, may have 1 hour to either fix the issue when possible or provide a quality diagnosis to the 3rd level team. The 3rd level team may then have a maximum of 2.5 hours to determine a fix or workaround back to 2nd level team, who then have 30 minutes to implement the fix or workaround.
However you want to call it, the point is that this is a performance contract. I like the term OLA because it treats both parties as equal partners, and is meant to define the rules of engagement to achieve a common goal. The OLA details the responsibilities of each team, explains the quality levels expected in handovers and defines the ways they communicate.
Transposing this back onto the world of Sales and Marketing, an operational contract between these two teams might be used to detail how they engage over the job of obtaining new customers for the company.
The expectation on Marketing may be that they provide a specific number of qualified leads of a level of quality within a specific time frame. The expectation on Sales may be that they follow up on the leads with a given period of time and provide Marketing feedback on conversion rates, information to be used to improve future lead prospecting.
I see two immediate benefits for such an agreement.
Defining parameters on the function and engagement leads to having better visibility of actual performance. And therefore opportunity for implementing improvement strategies. It provides the baseline or yardstick for measurement. Rather than both teams issuing emphatic open statements ( Sales : “Marketing doesn’t give us good leads”, Marketing: “The leads go cold because Sales never does a timely follow-up”), we have a ruler to gauge performance against the agreed criteria.
A written OLA can be used as an input into a requirements document of any Marketing Automation tool / Sales Automation tool interface project. All too often, these two departments use different tools that are more tailored to their specific functions. In order for information to pass easily between them an actual technical interface is typically required. If the operational process is understood and the necessary information to be passed between the teams is documented, then building this interface and setting up appropriate reporting tools can be done more effectively.
So I put it back to you. Do your marketing and sales teams have an operational level agreement drawn up between them? Do you see the benefit on establishing one?