Re-inventing the Cold Call: Can Inbound Marketing Save Inside Sales?

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Re-inventing the Cold Call: Can Inbound Marketing Save Inside Sales?


saving the cold callHow do you organize your sales and marketing teams? For B2B companies, the gold standard for sales and marketing used to be a combination of inside sales, outside sales and marketing.

The existence of an inside sales team poses something of a problem for B2B companies doing inbound marketing. For the most part, inside sales is just cold calling.  And cold calling, as we traditionally understand it, is pretty much the complete antithesis of inbound marketing.

So, what’s a company to do?

Inbound Marketing and Inside Sales Don’t Mix

Let’s say you’re a large software company that specializes in custom solutions for SMBs. One of your prospects, Sarah, owns a manufacturing business that sells high-end shutters to hotels and restaurants.

Sarah recently lost two clients due to a shipping malfunction. She knows she needs to step her game up, so she starts researching the possibility of bringing some degree of automation to her warehouse and shipping operations. As she’s researching her options online, she comes across your whitepaper, “Warehouse Management Systems: Are they for me?” She gets a few good nuggets of advice from your content, makes a mental note of them, and continues her research.

The next day, Sarah gets a call from a member of your inside sales team. She’s busy, but because you contributed to her research process yesterday, she doesn’t hang up right away like she normally would. Your sales rep launches into his usual script: asking basic questions about Sarah’s company (questions, as Sarah notes silently, could have been answered by visiting her company’s website), bombarding her with questions about her current software, and finishing up by offering to determine whether your product is right for her business.

By now, Sarah is fed up, but your sales rep makes a final, desperate ploy for the sale. He asks to be transferred to a different department so he can acsertain if there’s any interest on the part of the CFO. At this point, there’s no way Sarah is going to let this guy take up any more of her—or her employees’ time—and even though she’s not a rude person, she just hangs up.

Apply Inbound Marketing Tactics to Your Inside Sales Conversations

The above example illustrates the dangers of letting inbound marketing and inside sales live side by side. Why bother attracting people with great content if you’re just going to follow it up by pestering them over the phone?

With that said, if you feel like you’ve got a good reason for keeping the structure of your sales and marketing departments the same as it’s always been, here are some suggestions that can help you change your inside sales conversations to better align with your inbound marketing activities.

1. Enter the conversation at the right place. The first time you call a new prospect, meet her wherever she left off with your marketing content. If you start from scratch and act like she’s never interacted with your company before, you risk undoing all the hard trust-building work your content has already done. Use your content as a starting place. Kick off the conversation with a thought-provoking question about the last thing your prospect read. For example: “I’m curious: Did you identify with any of the problems the other manufacturing business owners talked about in 'Warehouse Management Systems: Are they for me?'"

2. Be an educational resource. Your prospect is still in the information-gathering phase. If you’re going to call her, make sure you continue to add value to her decision making process. Look for content that builds upon the resources on your site, then share it: “I just came across a great New York Times article that goes into detail about one of the companies profiled in 'Warehouse Management Systems: Are they for me?' Would you like me to email it to you?”

3. Push for your company to become a “great content brand.” Companies that pour significant energy into creating amazing content often find, when they do finally reach out to new leads, those leads are actually excited to hear from them.

HubSpot is a good example of this. Mark Roberge, HubSpot’s VP of Sales, said, “You’d be so surprised how many prospecting calls I’ve made when I’ve said, 'Hi, this is Mark from HubSpot,' and that was it. They were off and running—'Hey guys it’s HubSpot! They’re on the phone!' They’ve been following our stuff for so long they felt this amazing connection with us that we actually reached out. Everybody wanted to talk to us.”

4. Think like a consultant. If your product solves your customers’ problems, then you must know a thing or two about those problems, right? Use what you know as an excuse to reach out. Did your prospect recently tweet about her need to find a new accounting firm? Ask your current customers who they use and send your prospect a quick message sharing your recommendations. When you looked at your prospect’s Facebook page, did you see anything that needed tweaking? Use your observations as a starting point for discussion (but please actually know what you’re talking about before you do this.)

It’s pretty clear B2B activity is shifting to the online arena, but that’s no reason to totally discontinue your inside sales efforts. Inside sales teams can be an important extension of B2B marketing teams, especially when you’re implementing advanced automation features like closed loop marketing systems.

It’s important to note, however, that the old way of structuring marketing and sales teams may not be long for this world. Some organizations have started bringing outside sales teams in and turning inside sales into a marketing function If you’re in a specific situation that calls for both an outside and inside sales team, a structural realignment may be in order. As B2B marketers connect with leads farther down the funnel, it may be advantageous to transfer ownership of inside sales teams away from outside sales and back to marketing. 

stephanie kaperaStephanie Kapera is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Up All Night Creative, a Raleigh-based content marketing agency that helps B2B and B2C companies develop magazine-quality web content. Connect with Up All Night on LinkedIn and Twitter to find out more!

photo credit: rofanator


Nice article Stephanie. While marketing has been evolving rapidly, sales has not really kept pace. Agree it is jarring when 'inboundy' content is followed up by 'outboundy' sales. That raises the question though that at some point being consultative needs to transition itself into a sales process, right? I'd be curious if that is a challenge for others or if it tends to happen seamlessly. For myself, I'm always trying to maintain a balance between education and a forward leaning sales posture. I guess we find out at the close of the call when we push for next steps whether we successfully made this transition or not!
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 8:22 AM by David Weinhaus
While I agree with where you concluded, I disagree entirely with the original premise. Our experience (and other good inbound agencies, I suspect) has been that for the first time inside sales seems like a wonderful role to play. There's no more cold calling; on the contrary it's all warm and informed conversations that start with what we've learned from the prospect's expressed interest. Our biggest challenge continues to be deciding which prospects to call! And that's the kind of problem I would rather have. 
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 9:31 AM by Greg Linnemanstons
When I started researching this story, I tried to find out if there were still many companies doing inside sales the old way, and I honestly couldn't find any conclusive data on the subject. I suspected most B2B organizations were using their inside sales teams as extensions of their marketing teams, but I think there are still a few stragglers. An example: a few months ago, a company in Raleigh that sells managed IT services found my boyfriend's resume on LinkedIn and called him about an inside sales position they were interviewing for. They told him the job involved making 55 cold calls a day to leads they bought from lists. And they had an inbound marketing manager listed on their LinkedIn page! I would have loved the opportunity to go in there and try out some Ardath Albee magic on their situation! I suspect that they wouldn't have needed 3 new full time reps to make cold calls all day long if they focused on publishing great content and following it up with (as you said) warm and informed conversation. And they probably could have done all of that for the cost of one inside sales rep. But I think you're right: situations like that are the exception, not the rule. 
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 10:47 AM by Stephanie
Thanks for your comment! I can see how what you're describing is challenging and I'm interested in what the answer to might be (perhaps this blog post needs a Part II?) What do you think of this idea? Marketing Interactions does consulting work that involves content creation for late-stage sales conversations. They think the the substance of the sales conversation can, to some extent, be authored, at least in terms of crafting strong, personalized rebuttals to a prospect's late-stage objections.
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 11:25 AM by Stephanie Kapera
Looks like Trish Bertuzzi didn't find this one yet.  
I agree with Greg. Your suggestions on how to call inbound leads is great. But, inside sales and inbound marketing are a match made in heaven. In fact, inside sales is really the only way to capitalize on inbound leads, as the salesperson connect rate decays instantly and rapidly after initial conversion. In other words, if you're driving around (or even in meetings or on calls), you can't connect with leads fast enough.  
All that said, outbound calling still works when done with the right technology. It's the best way to connect with sweet spot customers who don't know they have a problem yet. Outbound reps should be using a drastically different approach than they did a few years ago, though.
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 2:43 PM by Peter Caputa
First of all - Thanks, Stephanie, for the mentions! 
Second - anyone who wants to know what inside sales teams are doing should become well acquainted with Trish Bertuzzi and her firm rock through their blog and the provision of research reports on what inside sales teams are actually doing. 
David - I get your concern about the education vs. lean forward posture. My question for you would be in how you define "sales process." If you're having a good conversation with the prospect based on the themes represented in the quality content they've expressed interest in, then setting expectations for next steps is up to you. 
Here's what I mean. Prospects want value. They evaluate value based on relevancy to priorities and problems. If you've looked at all the things they need to learn about or the questions they must answer to solve the problem, then based on what they read, you should have a pretty good idea of where to take the conversation and what content assets you can offer as follow-on to move the conversation forward. 
By providing insights they don't have to the topic and backing those up with expertise, you'll get them in "lean forward mode." And that's what you need, rather than you in "lean forward mode." I know I simplified it down, but I hope I've provided something helpful. 
I wish all salespeople had you/your agency's perspective. I get called all the time based on the amount of research I do (forms filled out to get white papers, reports, etc.) and it is very rare to get called by someone who has a clue about who they're calling or why they called beyond "can I give you a demo" or the dreaded 20 questions because they're too lazy to do their homework. As marketers, we need to empower sales to have better value-add conversations. We can do this because we now have access to metrics that reflect behavior and interests. Marketers just need to get smarter about how they create the content marketing strategies that feed those metrics so that the data provides insights for better decisions. 
Posted @ Friday, February 08, 2013 2:59 PM by Ardath Albee
@Ardath, thanks for your comments. To your point, it is good to keep in mind that the prospect is ultimately in control. It is a really interesting time to be in sales. The process is becoming less and less linear as we connect with buyers and provide valuable content earlier in the buying process. It is both exciting and a bit scary. Exciting because there are so many chances to differentiate ourselves and add value. Scary because there are so many more prospects to manage, and the need for efficiency, effectiveness, and scale increases significantly.
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:00 AM by David Weinhaus
Great article. The most valuable information marketing can deliver to sales is related to a prospect or customers' propensity to buy specific products. B2B Purchase Behavior Data--what companies buy and how their behavior changes over time--is the most reliable indicator of a prospects' intent and/or capacity to buy. Fortunately, B2B purchase behavior data is now available and is rapidly becoming a highly-valuable corporate asset.  
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:28 AM by Aaron
Thanks for the great article! Another effective way to you to build up the amount of intelligence you collect about your individual leads is to incorporate purchase behavior data—what companies buy—into your lead scoring process. Knowing the purchase behavior DNA—what a company buys-- or a specific company will enable you to apply a buyer score to that lead. The buyer score is a measurement of a company’s propensity to buy your stuff. Also, knowing your ideal customers’ purchase behavior DNA will enable you to find look-a-like companies that share the same DNA or buying behaviors. The practice of tracking purchase behavior data has been used in the business-to-consumer world for decades. This data is used to identify premium customers, improve cross-selling opportunities, predict future purchasing behavior and enhance overall sales and marketing effectiveness. As with consumers, the manner in which B2B companies spend their money speaks volumes about their overall financial health, priorities, direction and their propensity to buy your stuff.  
Thanks to a new breed of business information and data providers, like Cortera, B2B marketers and can now learn about their current and prospective customers’ purchase behavior.
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:28 AM by Gary
What a great discussion. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. 
@Ardath: I'm so glad you stopped by to weigh in!  
Also, this piece by Jill Konrath showed up in my RSS feed over the weekend. It's an interesting addition to this discussion. 
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 1:37 PM by Stephanie Kapera
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