Business Relationship Management, Service Level Management… Too much management?

No, I don’t think so. They seem to be similar, but they are not. Let me explain why.

Back to basics

Why don’t we recall what they are all about.

Business Relationship Management (BRM) has as its purpose to establish and maintain business relationships with customers, identify customer needs, and ensure that the service provider (i.e. your own organization) is able to meet these needs. (You should keep in mind that, especially these days, businesses are changing – depending on the business, this could happen quite often.)

Service Level Management (SLM) ensures that all current and planned services are delivered according to the agreed targets (defined in Service Level Agreement, i.e. SLA). SLM is the point of contact between the customer and the service provider for all operational or SLA-related issues.

What is the difference?

As you noticed, both of the processes involve customer, communication, services… Let’s consider three points of view to see where the differences lie.

1. Purpose and objectives

Business Relationship Management – BRM’s focus is on customers’ business needs and achieving customers’ business goals (through provided service). So is the relationship with the customer – on the business level, i.e. high level, fewer less operational issues are discussed. Put in simple words, BRM ensures that customers like us as a service provider. Achieving SLA requirements will be of great help; but, if SLA is not achieved, i.e. breached, BRM has to use charm to cheer up the customer. How? Well, I would call it “using soft skills.”

Service Level Management – SLM defines, documents, agrees, monitors, measures, reports and reviews the level of IT Services provided and induces corrective measures. SLM will have to do with parameters (as ITIL names it – warranty) that the service has to achieve, i.e. be involved in operational issues. If SLAs are breached, SLM will use internal operational forces to improve or get back on track.

2. Focus

Business Relationship Management – focus is on strategic and tactical, i.e. on the overall relationship between the service provider and the customer.

Service Level Management – focus is on tactical and operational, i.e. on finding agreement on level of the provided service and whether the provider met those agreements.

3. Measure

Business Relationship Management – primary measure is customer satisfaction. This is hard to measure. I found that some companies perform regular customer satisfaction surveys. This is one option, but it could be subjective. Other signs of customer satisfaction are, e.g., if customers recommend us to other companies, or how willing they are to pay for the services provided, or number of complaints or compliments… etc.

Service Level Management – measurement of goal achievement from SLM’s point of view is quite simple – did we achieve agreed targets or not? (i.e. SLA achieved or breached) From my experience, efficient Service Level Managers use tools and monitor service execution and all respective processes (e.g. Incident Management). It is too late if the Service Level Manager finds out, at the end of the month, that SLA for that month was breached. Reaction must come much earlier.

So, what to do?

I think that both of these processes have to exist. Why? Because a customer is a business partner and, as such, a relationship on a business level is a must – or someone else (meaning – a competitor) will establish one. Business relations require a different approach than operational relationships, i.e. SLM. SLM is needed because we have SLAs signed, and a lot of work hides behind achieving them. Such work requires managerial experience and skills. The profile of employees in SLM is more operational, i.e. a mixture of managerial and technical skills. BRM requires more sales and leadership skills.

Smaller organizations have one person for both processes. Well, if there is no other possibility – it’s OK. (Un)luckily, on the other (customer) side, the situation is mostly the same – a smaller organization with one person performing both roles. Bigger organizations differentiate between those two roles, which is much better. Business relationship managers are sometimes called Key Account Managers (KAM) and Service Level Managers remain Service Level Managers.

It’s hard to say which process is more important. I saw such discussions, but I think that’s useless. Embodied in one or two separated processes, you need both of them to be performed on a high, professional level. Better you do it, than your competitors.

Download free templates for Business Relationship Management and Service Level Management process to gain a deeper understanding of the processes.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.