How to Integrate Inbound Marketing With a Traditional Sales Team

by Todd Hockenberry

Date

September 4, 2013 at 11:08 AM

inbound-sales-marketingFor those of us immersed in the world of inbound marketing, it's easy to understand how inbound tactics can have a major impact on a company's bottom line.

However, we work with a lot of companies that are just now embracing inbound marketing principles and tactics. In these cases, the last group within these companies that climbs on board is usually the sales department. When it comes to sales excuses, we've heard it all -- but it usually boils down to something along these lines of:

  • I don't have time.
  • It's not my job.
  • The leads are bad.

As a long time sales person myself, I understand where this impulse comes from. Many business owners and, unfortunately, many sales mangers subject sales teams to the latest and greatest fads in lead generation (think viral video), specious sales training (use these 11 steps and you will sell a million), and other time wasters so they are (rightfully) somewhat apprehensive.

A big part of getting these people to adopt inbound marketing is convincing them inbound isn't just another time wasting fad.

And it is possible to get even the most reluctant member of a sales team on board, but it takes time and effort. Remember, you're dealing with sales people so they need to be sold!

Here are the steps we take to convince a reluctant sales team to adopt inbound marketing. 

1) Educate

The most important thing to remember is that results sell, so go out of your way to make the connection between inbound marketing and traditional sales. Connecting customer interactions with sales goals and revenue is an incredibly powerful way of doing this. We use case studies of similar companies showing how driving traffic to a web site, converting them to leads, and nurturing those leads through the buying process delivers revenue.

We were hired two years ago by a technology service company to re-build their website, and during the course of that we started to talk to them about inbound marketing. The owner didn't believe that anyone would use the internet to find companies like theirs, so he would only hire us to build the site. Once we built the site and incorporated inbound principles, they saw a 200%+ increase in site visits. Two years later, we're finally getting them to connect actual sales to the leads generated from the site.

It took two years but the owner now sees a direct connection between the investment in inbound marketing and his revenue. Until we were able to make that connection, he was unwilling to make a serious investment in inbound marketing. 

Whether you're a marketing team or an agency delivering inbound marketing services, the number one thing you need to do is make the ROI case for the investment. HubSpot has tons of statistics on how inbound marketing drives leads and revenue at lower costs than any other marketing method. Use these tools to sell internally. As you develop your own internal results, make sure the metrics used for marketing connect to sales goals. Cost of customer acquisition, cost per lead, lead to customer conversion, and other inbound marketing driven metrics need to be part of the conversation you are having with sales.

Showing an example of a blog post or web page, optimized for a particular keyword, that drives traffic resulting in leads, that then convert to customers will make the bells ring in a sales persons head. Sales will take credit for the back end of the process (and they should), but by showing that a lead came from a particular piece of content and keyword gives them a specific reason to invest in the process.

2) Evolve

The old school sales process was an event; sales people reached out to leads and sold them. Now we know that this sort of sales event is becoming more and more the exception rather than the rule. With nearly universal internet access, people are changing how they buy which, in turn, has led to an evolution in how we sell. The sales process of the day is more geared to nurturing and educating, and inbound marketing mirrors that process.

To sell sales people on inbound, you need to show sales people how as a consultative process is essentially an inbound one. Using their expertise to solve problems -- and more importantly, identify potential issues -- sales people are creating the best inbound marketing content in the normal course of their day. The key is for them to recognize that inbound is essentially extending back into the sales process the same ideas that make the best sales people the best: their ability to recognize a problem, create a solution, communicate the solution and the value the client receives, and guide them through the buying process.

Sales should not be viewed as a linear, step-by-step process, but as a cycle -- one that is not always linear but does have recognizable stages. Buyers need to be educated, vendors need to be researched, and an internet presence needs to be maintained to stay in front of prospects. The details are different from the old school methods, but they aren't all that dissimilar at their core.

3) Employ

The next step in wooing reluctant inbound marketing followers is showing them that not only do inbound tools and content work, they're also not that hard to create.

Content produced by marketing departments, and even more so by contractors, often fails to meet the needs of the target audience, especially in technical arenas. Who better to explain the benefits of a technical solution --  or any solution -- than the sales people that do this all day long in the field? Farmed out content mostly skims the surface of what readers are looking for, and the more content that is produced in any given industry, the more this effect will become acute. Depth of content is what readers are looking for, and the sales team is uniquely positioned to help deliver it.

And I can already hear the objections from here -- I can't write! I don't have anything to say! Writing content will take up too much of my time!

But what the naysayers are missing is that sales people are already producing the kinds of content that prospects are looking for. They produce content all day long. A great way to start showing them how they can contribute is to develop Q&A blog posts. A five minute interview with a field sales person will yield a solid post that will help build team credibility. Savvy sales people pick up quickly on what to do next; they will help promote the content that has their name on it.

We also often show clients how to incorporate content into sales proposal by adding links to video, case studies, blog posts, and anything else that makes the offer specific and targeted to the customer. Customizing proposals and presentations helps sales people better present solutions and earn more deals.

4) Expand

Well earned Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) translates to Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). Often times, Marketing throws the leads over the wall to Sales and doesn't have any connection to the revenue Sales generates from those leads. This is a management issue and is overcome by attention and accountability. Marketing managers need to sit down with sales teams and show where the leads came from, and own some part of the ability of sales to close them. Building this bridge is a key step in tightening the buying process and driving effectiveness -- in other words, showing a return on inbound marketing efforts. 

Salespeople want to be the experts in their area of focus, and inbound marketing gives them a platform and a reason to invest. Play to their ego, show salespeople how to build a platform and become the expert in their field, and demonstrate how communicating that expertise will drive interest and opportunity their way. Writing blog posts and using them when talking to a prospect is a great way to show a prospect that the salesperson is more than just a talking head. Writing about a topic is always more credible than just talking about it.

Inbound marketers could take a page from their sales team, and adopt strong internal selling abilities to promote the effectiveness of their work. That's the best way to build a sales funnel with inbound.

Todd Hockenberry is the owner of Top Line Results, a HubSpot certified partner in Orlando, FL providing sales and marketing services for small- and medium-sized companies. You can read more from Top Line Results on their blog.

Image credit: wonder_stewie

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