158802964The basic model companies use to grow revenue is undergoing a major transformation. Historically, companies relied on inefficient, expensive and risky tactics to grow. 

As solutions gained in complexity and competition increased, businesses (especially in B2B and B2G segments) increasingly relied on experienced (and expensive) sales reps to grow.  As I worked with organizations in the 1990s and early 00s, I saw that inside sales functions bordered on extinction.

Yet, as selling organizations invested more heavily in outside sales reps, prospects and customers made it increasingly difficult for sales organizations to meet directly with key influencers. Consensus buying processes and the increased power of procurement functions were just a couple of roadblocks laid down by buying organizations.

To top those trends off, The Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) has completely transformed the way that customers go about making decisions; one that does not align well to an outside sales force alone. 

The good news is that companies that have adopted an inbound marketing approach have the opportunity to bring efficiencies to their sales process, while increasing sales capacity, and lowering their total cost of sales by developing an inside sales function to bridge their marketing efforts with their sales efforts.

Building an inside sales function provides tremendous advantages, but it also requires more focus and discipline to ensure alignment and effectiveness. Over the last two years, we’ve been providing small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) this function, and we’ve learned five important keys to ensure its effectiveness.

1) Clear Protocols for Different Buyer Personas

Much has been written about the importance of buyer personas in the marketing process (we’ve been known to write about it too). Clear buyer personas are equally important for managing the sales side of the equation as well.

All prospects are not created equally, and they should not be treated the same either.  A major precept of inbound marketing is to match your desired audience within their context. When laying out your personas, you also lay out clear protocols for how the sales team should manage them.

For example, we often define personas based upon their level of authority within their organization.  When engaging with a senior level persona, we know that a specific set of questions should be cued up, and that we need to understand that persona may not handle the whole decision process.  When working with a lower role persona, it’s a different set of questions and a different path to qualification.

2) Clear Lead Definitions

In our typical engagement, we create four distinct levels of leads:

  • Lead
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
  • Opportunity

Additionally, we’ll use a variety of lead triage approaches to fully define the lead. Communicating these definitions to all parties is crucial for success.  The main reason for failure when building out an optimized lead management process is the failure to create clarity around such definitions.

One person handling the entire process is inefficient, costly and ineffective, but it does make it simpler to keep things straight.  Adding specialization powers the process, but makes it critical that you manage the complexity involved.

3) A Clear Hand-off Between Inbound, Inside Sales and New Business Sales

You show me a salesperson and I’ll show you someone who loves to close sales.  The critical component is to define what closing is for each function.

We view inbound marketing through a sales prism. Our inbound marketing team (for us and our clients) views their primary job as getting qualified prospects that fit to engage with our inside sales team.  Once the inside sales team is engaged with the prospect, the marketer has won.

Inside sales people need to know what their close is as well. Merely saying that their job is to set an appointment for the new business salesperson is not adequate. Overly simple handoffs like these create conflicts in the process.  The “win” for our inside sales reps isn’t to merely create an appointment, but to have a prospect fully engaged with a salesperson with defined issue(s) at play.

We view the “handoff” along the lines of how relay races are run in track and field.  The first runner isn’t just responsible for getting to the next runner fast, they must hand the baton off in a way that allows the next runner to get speed efficiently and effectively.  For a brief period, the two runners are working together.  The same process is what works best in the sales world as well.

4) Dedicated Nurturing Campaigns

I’m a big fan of lead nurturing campaigns for a variety of purposes. We’ve found that an important designation for campaigns is whether the prospect is being actively engaged with a sales rep. 

Leads that are being actively managed need to have nurturing campaigns that connect with the issues the sales rep is working. Those prospects that are in longer-term nurturing programs should receive more campaigns geared to start a conversation.

5) Clear Service Level Agreement (SLA)

The biggest danger in implementing such a lead management process is managing the complexity associated with such specialization. This is why you must build accountability into the process, and the best way to do that is with a clearly laid out SLA.

Part of the reason for an SLA is to ensure that everyone is doing their job, but that’s only a small part of its value.  The real value is the learning that takes place when you track and measure consistently.

Remember building such alignment is a process. It takes a solid 12 – 18 months to create the clarity and consistency needed to drive predictable results. The upside is far greater capacity, alignment and sustainability for your growth efforts.

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Originally published Jun 11, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023