One of the oldest stories in the information technology industry is the persistent gap between the geeks who run IT and the folks who actually run the business. Turns out there’s a similar gap – and one with even worse effects – between the marketing folks (whose job is to drum up demand and, increasingly, find leads) and the sales folks (who actually close deals.)

When I ask my clients (who are typically marketing types) how many leads an email newsletter or white paper generated, they often don’t know because they don’t have clear enough lines of communication with the sales folks. That’s why my ears perked up when I heard a marketing professional describe how he used a tool from the IT world – the service level agreement, or SLA – to encourage cooperation between marketing and sales.

In the IT world, an SLA describes what IT will deliver, and at what cost. It might say, for example, that the order input system will be up 99.99 percent of the time from 8 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Friday; that any outages will be of less than 10 minutes duration; that salespeople will receive a confirmation of order entry within 5 seconds of hitting the “enter” key, and so on. Often, there are penalties – financial or otherwise – if the IT group fails to meet their commitments.

Cognos (the business intelligence software group within IBM) has drawn up SLAs between some of its sales and marketing organization. One clause, for example, requires the sales folks to tell the marketing folks within a given of time whether they followed up with a lead or dismissed it as unqualified. Drew Clarke, vice president of Americas marketing and field operations for Cognos, says the SLAs are more a way to spell out the rules for cooperation rather than a punitive tool, and follow a series of generally cooperative conversations among both sides.

SLAs, like any contract, are most useful when they prevent problems by spelling out expectations rather than clubbing the other side after a problem arises. Cognos’ use of SLAs shows their marketing and sales folks are at least talking about – which is a good start.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

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