SLAs are Dead

I have just returned from Sage North America’s Insights conference in Denver. The conference is, at the same time, completely exhausting and completely invigorating. I learn so much from Sage partners because they continue to test my thinking.

Without question, the best test of my thinking came during my pre-conference session on Sunday. One of the attendees (I cannot remember who, so if it is you, please claim the credit) shook me to the core. She said, “So if you believe we are professional knowledge firms, why should we be selling service level agreements?” I was dumbstruck.

My only response was, “You should not.” I have to admit, I have been wrong.

In one of the all-time great movies The Ten Commandments, Cedric Hardwicke as the Pharaoh Sethi says, “Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time.”

The same must be done for service level agreements. So, let the phrase “service level agreement” be stricken from every Ron Baker book and article. Stricken from every blog post and comment on the VeraSage Website. Let the phrase of “service level agreement” be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of professionals, for all time.


In keeping with this pronouncement, above is my slide from my session on creating, service access level agreements at the conference. Access Level Agreement is, for now, a placeholder. Other ideas I mulled over where: customer level agreements (too direct), support level agreements (too limiting), and access contract (too legal).

It is time once again to tap into the collective intellectual capacity of the community. Please post your ideas and arguments for or against the correct phrase.

18 thoughts on “SLAs are Dead

  1. Ed – I love it when something get’s turned upside down. My thought not too outside the box is Loyalty Agreements, dependability agreements, or purpose agreements. Words that also come to mind are intention and objectives (as in meeting them). Great thoughts.

  2. I am sorry that I was not at Sage Insights. I am not sure of what lead up to her making that statement and, as a result, may be off base here but the question seems to be be, “What is the product that the Professional Knowledge Firm is selling?”

    I submit that in most cases that they are not selling their knowledge. Rather, their knowledge allows them to meet the needs of their customers. Sometimes the need may be a product. Other times it is a service. Unless the firm is a provides training, the product is not the knowledge that the firm has. Even when providing training, you could argue that you are providing the service of training and not selling your knowledge.

    The type of agreement a firm has with a client should change depending on the client’s need and product or service being provided. If the product, in fact, is a service then it may be appropriate to call it a Service Level Agreement.

    As a side note, it has been my experience that the title Service Level Agreement is overused. I have seen a lot of agreements use this title and there was no mention of service levels anywhere in the agreement. I think too many people started using this title simply because it was the new, cool fad.

  3. Free, it would be great. I have no opposition to that idea. However, most business transactions do require at least an agreement on price before they can take place.

  4. Will, thanks for your comment.

    A few thoughts here:
    1. I agree that often time service level agreement has been overused and has nothing to do with levels. I assure you, and the audience can attest, that my presentation included this concept.
    2. I think you have inverted subject and object. Customer buy primarily knowledge, not service from professional firms. What is more important a) the actual conversion of data or b) knowing how to convert the data? a) writing the customer report or b) knowing where to get the fields necessary for the report?
    3. Selling service is a derivative of the labor theory of value. (I.e., value equals rate times hours). This is patently false.

  5. Ed,

    Whomever posed the question that left you dumbstruck must have caught you at a rare moment. If it were a partner, it’s my belief that it’s someone who hasn’t been successful in selling SLA’s nor bought into the concept.

    As anyone who has spent at least 10 minutes with me knows that I admire you, respect you & consider you a friend & mentor, so disagreeing with you on this doesn’t come easy.

    What are you saying to the partners who have bought into the term SLA’s? That we’ve been wrong? If all we are doing is changing the window dressing, in this case the name, how does that change the overall scope of the document? Does changing the name change the objective of SLA’s? I didn’t see any evidence of that in your post.

    From the Marketing Classic; Positioning: The Battle for your Mind.

    Co-authors “Ries and Trout (Al Ries & Jack Trout) explain that while positioning begins with a product, the concept really is about positioning that product in the mind of the customer. This approach is needed because consumers are bombarded with a continuous stream of advertising……The consumer’s mind reacts to this high volume of advertising by accepting only what is consistent with prior knowledge or experience.

    It is quite difficult to change a consumer’s impression once it is formed. Consumers cope with information overload by oversimplifying and are likely to shut out anything inconsistent with their knowledge and experience. In an over-communicated environment, the advertiser should present a simplified message and make that message consistent with what the consumer already believes by focusing on the perceptions of the consumer rather than on the reality of the

    I feel a bit like a traitor disagreeing & I’m quite sure I’ll get beat up by others for my position on this topic but the current terminology works for me.

    BTW: I wrote this on Friday, (today is Sunday) because I wanted to make sure that I felt the same today as when it was written.

  6. Bill, first, any and all disagreement is welcome. Unless we all struggle with these concepts, we will never get any better.

    Second, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. The nature of agreements does not change in my mind, just the nomenclature. A firm would still be offering at least three levels of agreements. However, the levels would indicate the level of access, not service. I now believe that access level agreements is the better term because as my inquisitor pointed out, we do not sell service, but knowledge.

    Third, a word on my being wrong. Yes, I was wrong to call them service level agreements. More importantly, I am sure I am wrong about something else I espouse even right now. I am only one data point. My views always represent my current best thinking on any topic, not some empirical truth. If I have given that impression, I am sorry.

    I do know that it is better to consider firms knowledge firms and not service firm. I would never go back to that, however, this does not mean that there is not something else out there that is better than the idea of a knowledge firm.

    I hope this helps.

  7. Bill, I think it is primarily a matter of semantics. The only part of what we currently refer to as SLAs that will change is the title.

    Since we have made and continue to make sure that our customers view us as a knowledge firm and not a service firm, changing the title of the agreement is a great way to reinforce that concept. I’m looking forward to hearing their reactions to the change in title.

  8. I use my company name in the agreements we have drawn up and I actually trademarked the name SmartService Plan. another reseller friend of mine calls his plans ProActiveCare (also trademarked). Be original if you want or change it up. What matters is that you are delivering quality knowledge and service to your customers. They won’t care about the name once they cut the check.

  9. @WIll – I politely disagree with this. It flies contrary to how people buy. People want 1/4″ holes, then they buy 1/4″ drill bits. People want successful system implementations – not software and not training and not implementation support. Yes – those things are necessary for a successful implementation but they aren’t really what people want to buy.

    Because I like to beat things to death, when I take my car into the shop, what I really want is for it to work reliably, efficiently and (hopefully) not fall apart as I’m driving. If they come back and give me a laundry list of what needs to be done, and are confident and were recommended by a friend, or have a good track record with me, I’ll trust them, pay the bill and sleep easy.

    @John – I somewhat agree that it’s semantics. Names are important in positioning and it is important to “get it right”. Think “Death Tax” vs “Estate Tax” — a death tax? my god that’s ominous, I don’t want that! an estate tax? Well yeah… those rich people with their estates should pay it with no complaints. Stick it to the rich!

    @Karen – That’s great – I love it! If you wouldn’t mind sharing your plan, I would love to compare notes as to what you cover in your plan, what you don’t cover, etc. If you are ok with it, I think you have my email address. I can share what we have done as well if you are interested.

  10. I like the term ProActive Care because it implies being proactive with the customer to help them avoid problems and maintain their satisfaction with their software implementation. It says to the customer that they need to budget for keeping their software up-to-date and their employees trained. It ensures that they have access to the assistance they may need.

  11. re; Access Level Agreements, the attendee that shook you to the core was Cindy Kool, Training Solutions Inc. Cindy, along with Claude, Joan, Stacy, Susan, Greg, Lindsay, Alan, Len and I have engaged with you over the past several years on VBP in Dallas and Cape Cod. It’s wonderful how this topic evolves – we continue to value your input and thoughts.

  12. Kevin, thanks so much. I was Cindy, now I remember! I must have been blocking it out due to the homeostatic imbalance it caused!

    My thanks to you and your group for continuing to challenge my thinking.

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