How 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 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