I must have had the following conversation at least 50 times last year:
“Mark, we love inbound marketing. We’ve completely overhauled our marketing so it aligns with the way prospects buy today, and we’re generating 10 times the leads we did in the past. It's awesome. But my sales team does nothing but complain about these leads. They say the leads suck. What are we doing wrong?”
Here’s what’s happening: Your typical salesperson has been honing his/her skills for years -- sometimes decades -- in the art and science of closing outbound leads. But inbound leads don’t act like outbound leads. So it’s not uncommon for inbound leads to look like they “suck” to your salespeople, when in fact, they’re just different. The “problems” your sales team has identified with your inbound leads are just signs pointing to the ways inbound leads act, think, and close differently than outbound leads do. Diagnose the “problem,” and your sales team can learn to work effectively with your new inbound leads. Here are my top five tips for transforming how your sales team approaches selling to inbound leads, and how Marketing can help.
Tip #1: Don’t buy a list of companies in your target market.
Do generate lots of inbound leads and pass only the good fit companies to your sales team.
Inbound marketing has turned the fit/pain funnel on its head. In an outbound model, companies start with a list of executives at a “perfect fit” company and bombard them with hundreds of calls and emails until 1% or 2% call back and admit they have pain. In an inbound model, all your leads have the pain your company solves. Otherwise, they would have never conducted that Google search, downloaded that whitepaper, or read that blog article that led them to you. The problem is that your company doesn't sell to the entire world. Some percentage of these leads are just not a fit for your business. However, the inbound leads who are a fit are exceptional -- and they close much faster and at a higher rate than your outbound opportunities.
The problem here is that marketers get so excited to be generating hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of inbound leads each month, that they end up passing all these leads to sales. If Marketing passes the sales team 1,000 leads, only 100 of which are good, and Sales has to sift through 900 bad leads, they're going to hate it, and they're going to say things like, “These leads suck.” However, if Marketing can filter out the 900 less fit companies and pass along just the 100 good ones, their sales team will think they have the best marketing department in the world. As a result, Marketing and Sales must align to develop and implement a lead scoring system that makes sense and results in only good fit leads getting passed from Marketing to Sales.
Tip #2: Don’t call high.
Do call the inbound lead influencers, ask them what is going on, and then call high.
Look ... not every inbound lead is going to be a C-level executive. In fact, very few of them will be. You’re much more likely to get a mid-level manager, associate, or even an intern on the other end of the phone. So what does your typical salesperson think? “This isn’t a qualified buyer. This is an intern. These leads suck."
However, who do you think told the intern to do the Google search that led to your company? The C-suite. The inbound lead indicates that pain exists at that company -- the pain you solve. So call the mid-level manager. Call the associate. Call the intern. But don't try to sell them. You're right -- they're not buyers. Instead, use that call to prepare yourself for the call with the executive. Ask them, "Why did you download that ebook? Why did you read that blog article? Who told you to conduct this research? Why? What is your boss’ key initiatives for 2013? What did your CEO talk about at the annual kick-off?" If you're doing inbound marketing well, you'll be surprised how much these leads trust you and how honest their answers will be.
Now you're in a position to call high. You don’t have to leave the typical voicemail ...
“Hi John, we help companies like you get more leads and customers from your website. Give me a call back so I can tell you more about ways we do this.”
Instead, you can leave one that says ...
“Hi John, a number of people from your company have contacted me about effective lead generation strategies. I understand you're hiring 10 new sales reps next quarter and need to increase lead generation by 35%. I've been working on a strategy with your team that I would like to run by you.”
Now, which voicemail would make you more willing to call back?
Tip #3: Don’t lead with your company’s elevator pitch.
Do lead with your buyer’s interests.
By the time they get passed on to your sales team, a typical inbound lead might have visited your website 15 times, read 11 blog articles, opened 3 emails from you, and downloaded 5 ebooks. They’re already several stages into the sales process before they’ve even spoken to someone from your company. So what do you think happens if a sales rep calls them up and leads with a stone-cold elevator pitch? It comes across as completely tone deaf to the prospect, right? It might even erode most of the trust your marketing team has worked so hard to build up. The lead hangs up on your salesperson, and again, your salesperson thinks, “These leads suck.”
Instead, salespeople need to leverage all the data you've collected about your inbound leads in your contacts database. How they found your website, what pages they viewed most, what emails they opened and read, how often they shared your content on Twitter and Facebook: All of this tells you loads of information about what the prospect’s problems are and how you can help. Your salespeople should be using that information to open the conversation on the phone ...
Sales Rep: “Hi, Mary, this is Mark from HubSpot [pause because at this point Mary may start telling you how much they love your content and your company]. I noticed you downloaded our ebook on lead generation from LinkedIn. What specific questions did you have?”
Mary: “Oh, I was just doing research. I didn’t know I’d actually get a call from a salesperson."
Sales Rep: “That’s okay. I’m actually looking at your company's LinkedIn page right now and had two quick tips for you. Do you have a minute to go over them?”
Mary wants to hear those tips. Mary will ask more questions. Mary will be impressed with how helpful and smart you are. Mary will wonder what she can buy from you. Congratulations! You no longer have a salesperson-prospect relationship, you have a doctor-patient relationship. Now you can diagnose whether you can help their company -- and how.
Tip #4: Don’t beg for an appointment.
Do qualify out non-buyers.
If you’ve never cold called before, you’re not missing out on much. Imagine a day where you dial the phone 100 times, leave 95 voicemail messages, and not one person calls you back. Of the five people who did pick up the phone, three hung up within the first five seconds. And when you do get somebody on the phone who’s willing to talk, it’s clear that he’s not really qualified to buy from you. But because you’re having such a lousy day of cold calling and feeling unloved -- and because you don’t have enough leads to begin with, and beggars can’t be choosers -- you book an appointment with them anyway. It happens more often than most salespeople are willing to admit.
But with a steady stream of inbound leads flowing in, your salespeople can approach these initial conversations from a position of strength. Every minute you spend on the phone with an unqualified buyer is time you could be spending with a warm lead. Do build trust. Do understand the prospect’s needs. Do attempt to provoke pain if it doesn’t exist. But most importantly, do move on if they're not a good fit. Thank your prospect for their time. Introduce them to someone else who can help if you know somebody. Encourage them to continue to enjoy your content. And quick ... call that next inbound lead.
Tip #5: Don’t “Always Be Closing.”
Do “Always Be Helping.”
Most salespeople, following the directive of the infamous movie Glengarry Glen Ross, adopt the rallying cry, “Always Be Closing.” But this is a disastrous approach to take with an inbound lead. The internet has shifted control from the salesperson to the buyer. People can research your company, research your competitors, understand your price, and sometimes even try your product -- all without speaking to a salesperson. And by the time an inbound lead reaches your sales team, that’s exactly what that person has done.
Sales should not start out by looking to close. They shouldn’t even be thinking about pitching your product. Instead, they should look to help the buyer. Strive to uncover the thing your buyer is worried about -- the thing she's stuck on -- and if you find it, help her with it. Don’t try to tie it to your product. Just help them. Buyers don’t need to talk to Sales anymore. Make them want to talk to you because they trust you and you've been helpful in the past in solving their problems. If done correctly, your product and how it can help them will naturally come up at the right time.
Just as the internet has changed life for the modern buyer (and the modern marketer), life has also changed for the modern salesperson. In all cases, it’s for the better. If your salespeople still complain that your inbound leads suck, try running an experiment. Choose a sales rep with an open mind, and tell them they need to make their goal this month from inbound leads alone, using the guidelines above. Then tell the rest of the team to watch as their colleague starts closing business faster and at a higher rate. Nothing succeeds like success. The rest of your team will soon follow suit.
Don’t run a sales and marketing team that annoys people. Do run a sales and marketing team that people love.
Originally published Feb 12, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated June 11 2021