If your goal for inbound marketing isn't sustainable sales growth, you might want to rethink your strategy. Sales is the engine behind all kinds of companies and successful business people. What's often missing is a comprehensive strategy that makes it easier, not harder, to grow sales month-over-month and year-over-year. At the core is an alignment in purpose and method between Sales, Marketing and Customer Service. This drives up efficiency and drives down cost while improving sales performance. Let's look at the five best ways to make that happen.
This is often done after building teams and processes in silos, which makes change difficult to accomplish. Ideally, this is one of the first things you do as a Leadership Team when you're launching your business. You need to decide what kind of company you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and longer term.
Put together a reasonable business plan that includes Goals, Challenges, Finance, Marketing, Sales and Support. In today's fast-paced, cloud-enabled buyer journey, you can't afford to have dysfunctional teams working at cross purposes. Successful companies require team leaders for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service to work together to jointly create service level agreements (SLAs) that spell out how the teams will work together to accomplish business (not department) goals, agree upon benchmarks and targets and build trust through mutual accountability. They must also agree upon buyer personas (ideal customers), markets, go-to-market strategy and the process to attract, convert and delight customers. It's possible to retrofit these things, but it can take months to untangle prior art and bad practices. Once you have SLAs in place, it's time to build a robust pipeline.
You might think that building a great sales team would come first, but if you think about it, you need to build a sales delivery vehicle first, and that's targeted inbound marketing. You can try outbound marketing if you want, but eventually you will need inbound to compete on the Internet, which is where most buyers do their research. I use the word "targeted" because if you want to get your sales team up and running quickly, they need highly qualified sales leads. The more qualified, the better, because that increases sales efficiency by reducing time wasted on prospecting and qualifying leads and by increasing close rates. Targeted campaigns highly relevant and helpful to potential buyers convert visitors to leads and customers at much higher rates than "spray and pray" campaigns to a wider audience.
Where should Marketing get started? The first step is strategy and planning. Your Leadership Team should have identified core buyer personas from their SLA meetings, so you should be ready to start creating targeted inbound campaigns using a content marketing strategy that reaches and attracts buyers at each stage of the buyer journey. You will also need to develop a content team to continuously support those campaigns and develop new ones, so make sure you add that to the Business Plan.
Before you can build sustainable sales, Marketing needs to develop an effective lead management process using marketing technology and processes that align with the goals and methods of Sales. It does no good to attract leads sales reps reject or deliver leads when it is either too early or too late in the buyer journey. Together, Marketing and Sales need to craft an effective pipeline that is constantly filled with qualified buyers who get nurtured with enough valuable information to influence a buy decision and enough lead intelligence to help sales reps close every high-value opportunity.
Where does customer service fit in? Nowadays the buyer journey often includes some form of free trial. If you don't have readily available, easy-to-find-and-use support resources on your website and social media sites and you don't nurture free-trialers with information to help them learn and appreciate your products or services, you are bound to fail. For complex products requiring a fair amount of onboarding and on-demand support, you will probably need a support team available by phone, email, chat, social network and online forum. Great customer service improves the odds of closing sales and retaining customers over the long haul.
Building a great pipeline will require great architects and engineers. Once the Plan is in place, you need to start building teams. This is an artform in itself. Among other things, you will need to consider not only skills and experience, but also intellect, cultural fit and character. Then there's compensation, training, career path and team building. Here are a few great books to consult before you start recruiting.
The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
There's a great myth out there that with inbound marketing, you no longer need sales reps. There's only one case that supports the myth, e-commerce. With every other kind of sale, you need an experienced rep to help the buyer learn how to solve her problems and buy from you.
With the emphasis on helping rather than persuading, you will need reps who understand your buyers and your products and how to find the best fit for both. As you onboard new reps, your training process needs to account for the difference between inbound sales (helping) and outbound sales (persuading). Understanding the difference will enable your reps to find and transform qualified sales leads into loyal customers.
But there's more to successful sales than knowledge and empathy. Your sales team must have a well-defined, carefully considered sales process in place committed to by each team, manager and rep. The process must also be aligned with Marketing and Customer Service processes in order to meet the requirements of the three-team SLA. The sales process should cover, at a minimum:
No one who has ever done sales would say that it's easy. It gets easier with experience, a great product and an outstanding support team. Fortunately, today's sales rep has a ton of new technology available to help expedite and improve her chances of winning sales deals. Learning how to use these tools is crucial not only for the sales rep but also for the entire customer-facing organization.
Marketing automation and sales enablement tools in particular can make the job a lot easier by presenting the rep with highly qualified leads and lead intelligence and allowing the rep to respond with exactly the right information at exactly the right time to forge a strong relationship with a lead or prospect. Technology also makes the sales team more accountable and provides Management with insights to help them make better decisions and investments to grow sales over time.
Many of these tools are now available on mobile devices, freeing the rep to leave the traditional desk and interact more in live settings without missing opportunities. Our favorite sales and marketing platform is HubSpot because it combines both sales and marketing disciplines on a single lead database and user interface, but there are others to consider. Integrating sales and marketing with customer service apps can also streamline and improve your customers' experience and increase customer lifetime value. Training your teams to use these tools should be an important part of your SLA and new-hire onboarding process.
With careful planning and building aligned Sales, Marketing and Customer Service teams, you have the opportunity to grow sales in a sustainable way and optimize your chances of success. Without them, you may be taking a big, unnecessary risk.
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