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Sales/Marketing SLA’s – Are They Really A Sword Of Damocles?

by David Brock on May 25th, 2011

There is a fascinating conversation on the topic of “Should sales and marketing have SLA’s between the two organizations?”   Visit Focus.com for some terrific ideas on this topic.

I have to admit being torn about this concept.  Taken from one perspective, SLA’s are very powerful.  The process of establishing and aligning around goals and objectives between organizations and functions is very powerful and critical.  Great SLA’s establish clear goals and priorities, define roles and responsibilities, establish common metrics, establish project management approaches, problem management approaches, and rewards.  The process of developing SLA’s is great to align the different parties involved in the SLA and to make sure there are no misunderstandings, expectations are clearly set and understood.

The power of the SLA is less in the document itself but in the process of establishing the document.  It’s kind of like strategic planning–the power of the strategic plan is not the document sitting in some executive’s credenza, but the process the organization goes through in establishing and executing the strategic plan.

The structure of a SLA provides a powerful base for aligning the various functions within the organization (or across organizations).

However, too often, the SLA (or the need to establish one), comes from a different orientation.  It is established in an environment of mistrust, where there is no clear alignment, or differences in objectives.  The SLA becomes the “Sword of Damocles”  It’s intent is less to assure alignment and clear goals, but rather implemented as a threat.  “If you don’t live up to your responsibilities, here are the consequences of that failure.”  The SLA is really put in place as a threat.

With or without SLA’s, contracts, project plans, metrics, it seems as though much of what we do within organizations or across organizations is put in place with the wrong intent.  Rather than using these tools and instruments as powerful means to align goals and objectives, or to enable us to work together more effectively; they are put in place as threats–focusing on the consequences of non-compliance.

It’s troubling to me that so much energy, within our organizations, with our customers, our suppliers, and others, focus on the consequences to the other party of something going wrong.  We seem to have a proclivity to work really hard to establish mechanisms for assigning blame, rather than working equally hard to find bases for trust.  It seems we use these “agreements” as a surrogate to establishing trust rather than working on developing trusting relationships themselves.

I think SLA’s are very powerful–but only when they are established on a base of mutual respect and trust.  In this light, they become powerful mechanisms for maximizing the success and results in implementing a plan.

What do you think?

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5 Comments
  1. Dave,

    Excellent article.

    You make two critical points—1: the power isn’t in the document but in the collaboration creating the document, 2: everything hinges on mutual trust. Without the trust, even the creative collaboration is a farce as both sides tend to go through the motions just to be able to check off one more project completed. The end result being nothing more than the added expense of going through the motions of creating it and printing and distribution costs.

    Paul

    • Paul, thanks so much for the comment. I think people focus too much on the “document” and not on the power of the process and they miss a tremendous opportunity. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  2. David, Why do you think there is a lack of trust and ability to create mutually beneficial goals in so many organizations? Why do you think sales and marketing act like competing organizations?

    • Gary, if I had the answer to that question, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere watching the my bank account increase…..Wait I am sitting on a beach, but my bank account is not increasing…..

      Seriously, it’s the old silo thing, and I think blame is equally apportioned in both organizations (and these battles are not just restricted to sales and marketing, but we see the silos and finger pointing across organizations). Coincidentally, I just hung up the phone with a client where the product management/development, sales, and marketing organizations are spending so much time pointing fingers at each other they’ve forgotten about the customer.

      I think at it’s root, it’s a leadership problem, starting at the top of the organization with the board, CEO and executive team. If they aren’t aligned in their goals and strategies, if they don’t understand the interdependence of their organizations, if they don’t understand and buy into the personal and shared accountabilities, there will always be a culture that focuses more on fingerpointing than collaboration to produce results.

      It’s not a problem that can be solved at the bottom, though it’s amazing how individuals can start driving changes from within their organizations.

  3. While I wish marketing and sales could develop mutual respect and trust, I am reminded of a great expression and old friend of mine used: “You get your loving at home.”
    What is going on now in many (if not most) companies is a shame. Not only do I believe that SLA’s should be in place, I think a judicial branch should be put in place to handle what will inevitably be a lot of exceptions (sales returning and/or ignoring leads; poor quality leads not meeting the SLA being dumped on sales.)
    See this blog for additional thoughts on how to fix this problem:
    https://www.pointclear.com/blog/7-truths-sales-and-marketing-that-ceos-need-to-know-part-9

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