We have recently been working with clients who are using our inbound marketing methods to capture prospective customers — whether these are students for a college, patients for a healthcare practice or buyers of consumer products. And one of the challenges that keeps arising is: How do inbound marketing and sales intersect in new ways as buyers rapidly change their habits?
For this blog, I am going to use our own firm, SAMC, as a case study because we are often just another illustration of what our customers are experiencing.
Of course, we are a consulting firm, not a large company or a university looking for hundreds of customers or students. Yet the process is just that, a process. And it is remarkably similar, regardless of what type of organization you are today.
The entire role of sales has changed, from outbound calls to inbound search
In the past, when marketing was out-bound pushing the message, sales were often cold call- or referral-based. When prospects did call, they were passed off to a sales team member, even here at SAMC. Our outbound was public speaking, press releases and publicity. Calls came to our offices and we had a sales representative reach out to the inquirers. The point of that call was to begin a relationship, assess the person’s needs, share with them our approach and see if there was any interest in continuing the conversation — not to sell them anything. Our job is to help companies change. If they aren’t ready to do that, we aren’t the right solution for them.
Now, however, inbound marketing, even for a consulting business, has taken over the role of generating leads, not all of which are ready for a sales interaction. People are traveling along their buyer’s journey. They may be only in their discovery phase (the Phase 1 that I wrote about in an earlier blog), meaning that they may have downloaded a white paper, watched a video, shared a webinar or inquired about a workshop we conduct.
Regardless of how they have come to us, we want to know more about what they are searching for, their unmet needs, and how we might be their solution. For our larger clients, inbound leads like this might number in the hundreds a day. For our business, they tend to be around 2-3 per week. The scope might seem very different but the process isn’t.
The new and improved sales process in 4 easy steps
Here are 4 ways to convert searchers into customers that work well for our clients. We urge you to test them out in your own company:
- What are the email responses that go out to that lead who has posted something on your website or blog or Facebook? This might be the right time to open up a discussion about their needs and the stage they are in as they are evaluating options.
- Your automated response might need an additional touch point. Depending on what action they have taken, you are beginning what we like to call our “game of touch.” It is just a metaphor but it is like a game. They do something, we do something! Don’t think of this as a purchase. The goal is to help both parties do something together to help the potential client change, adapt to new times, solve a particular problem.
- We are often asked by way of a prospect’s email or contact form to call them. That has to be done right away. We are always amazed at these requests, because the person has clearly gone through a path of discovery and is ready to learn more. We are here for them. Are you ready for your inquiries as well?
- Visual call. With Gotomeeting and Skype, we have the ability to meet (virtually) face-to-face with a prospect rather easily, whether they are in Thailand or Tennessee. We find that prospects are much more comfortable meeting you when there is a visual experience.
You must perfect the art of problem-solving
No matter the size of your business, if you are searching for more patients or students or customers, inbound marketing and sales are becoming more tightly integrated into an effective process of engagement. Train your sales team to become consultants listening for the “what if’s” that a prospect might be asking, probing for their unmet needs that you can best resolve. Help those prospects solve their problems in the right way and you will be their solution.
Another angle: Test your own waters. Have your sales team “shop” your inbound system and see how well it works when they are a prospect themselves.
Find out what is meaningful to prospects and then offer it to them
The real challenge, however, is that your sales team will get discouraged if they keep contacting people who were just looking for an answer to a problem or a question and are not interested in buying anything or in finding a doctor or becoming a student. This means that you need to build that into your sales process and protect your “consultants” and your “closers” from spending their time on the wrong prospects. Let those prospects help you by showing you the right triggers to reach them. For one of our college clients, we have found that the “hook” is an invitation to a symposium or an information session. (Not a quick sale in this case: It often takes that prospect 12 months to finally decide to come back to college for their advanced degree.)
As Doug Davidoff writes in a HubSpot blog: “Sales development is the discipline that ensures that leads (of all types) are managed effectively. Your sales team stays focused on their highest value actions — managing and winning new sales.”
If you’d like to read more about how sales and inbound intersect in today’s new buyer’s journey, here are two very different blogs from HubSpot that are both excellent reading:
- Creating a Sales Process for Your Inbound Leads: 150 is a Magic Number by Mark Kilens
- The Critical Role of Sales Development in Inbound Marketing by Doug Davidoff
We’d love to help you change and grow
Perhaps you could benefit from one of our webinars or workshops on how inbound marketing and sales could help your business sustain growth in these rapidly changing times. Please contact us — we love to talk.