FOUR YEARS AGO, I was sitting at my desk in the Vendasta marketing department—which, back then, consisted of myself, my CMO, and an overworked-yet-surprisingly-mellow designer—when our CEO, Brendan King, whirled into the room and declared, “Marketing’s main focus needs to be about leads. That’s all you guys should worry about. Leads, leads, leads.”
He was right, of course. We were spending too much time on posters and swag and weird cartoons about disturbing spokescharacters without thinking hard enough about our demand generation strategy. We had no defined marketing programs, no lead forecasts, and no idea what newfangled initialisms like MQL, SQL, or SLA stood for. Heck, we didn’t even know the difference between initialisms and acronyms—boy, have we come a long way.
It’s a common story. One day, marketing wakes up from the dream otherwise known as start-up bliss, where it’s all conference booth pop-ups and business card templates, and realizes that revenue is just as much their responsibility as it is sale’s.
But here’s the thing: marketers HATE sales. That’s why we went into marketing. We would rather spend our time in email templates and PowerPoint decks than pick up a phone—or, God forbid, a Polycom—and pitch something to a real human being. Even listening to sales calls makes us break into hives.
Here’s something else, though: I think most salespeople dislike sales too. Maybe they enjoy the environment or the outcome or have a higher tolerance for BS, but those things are tangential. When it comes to selling, there’s always a risk of rejection, and rejection stings. That’s the way we’re wired.
As I see it, most salespeople don’t really want to be salespeople. They want to be order-takers.
Here’s the difference:
Salespeople spend their time:
Order-takers spend their time:
Doesn’t order-taking sound great compared to the alternative? That’s why HubSpot is so successful. “Stop cold calling,” they say. “Embrace inbound marketing. Be helpful to your customers. Inform them and provide them with great, valuable content so you’ll never have to waste time on crappy cold calls again.”
Except here’s the rub (there’s always a rub, right?).
Inbound is rarely—if ever—enough to hit aggressive sales targets. Even HubSpot has an outbound sales department, despite the inbound-based gospel they preach 24/7. To me, it’s always been a bit hypocritical. I’ve attended a couple of their Inbound conferences, and not once has Brian or Dharmesh gotten on stage and said you have to have a blended approach. To them, the gargantuan Inbound sign behind them literally says it all.
But let’s peel back the curtain for a minute. Standing In the wings of this poorly drawn scenario is Mark Roberge, HubSpot’s chief revenue officer. In his book, “The Sales Acceleration Formula”, Mark writes:
“[Here] is the approach we used at HubSpot as we scaled to $100M in revenue. We had one team that called the inbound leads exclusively…We had another team that had to get to goal by cold calling. This team could take advantage of targeting perfect-fit companies but had the added task of educating cold prospects and creating pain points. This tactic of specializing by lead source works really well during the $0 to $100 million journey.”
That’s interesting, coming straight from an original HubSpotter, isn’t it? Inbound isn’t enough. Not even for the biggest inbound gorilla in the room.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not discrediting the idea of content marketing. The concept of inbound is amazing, and the cult—err, movement—they’ve created around it is insane. But what it’s not is fast. And companies want big, ambitious results faster and faster and faster. I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken HubSpot to go from $0 to $100M by relying on inbound alone, but I’m certain it would’ve been a lot longer.
So let’s take a closer look at what you should do when inbound isn’t enough for your ambitions.
What to do when inbound isn’t enough
When I picture sales, I picture the upper-class quarters of the Titanic, where men in tuxes are sipping brandy and making deals over fat cigars. When I picture lead generation, I picture the boiler room five decks below, where a line-up of sweating joes are shovelling coal into furnaces as fast as they can.
I’m not criticizing sales. I’m only illustrating that demand gen is a constant slog to fuel the company’s sales and marketing engine. Without it, your turbines would grind to a halt and no one would be going anywhere.
So how do you feed those furnaces and keep the ship moving?
Let’s look at the difference between inbound and outbound leads for a second.
When you think about inbound, you’re probably picturing well-qualified leads that came to your site, downloaded a piece of content, visited a bunch of your pages, and/or requested a demo. If they didn’t request a demo, all they need is a little nurturing.
When you think about outbound marketing, you’re picturing cold calls, email blasts, voicemails, gatekeepers, etc.
Here’s what’s wrong with those images. Inbound leads aren’t always sunshine and rainbows, and outbound leads aren’t always darkness and swamp scum.
In my experience, there’s no difference—or a very negligible difference—between a top-of-funnel inbound lead and a cold outbound lead when they both match your buyer personas. At Vendasta, there’s also no difference in the LTV of the partners we acquired through outbound vs. inbound (the thing to watch carefully is cost of acquisition—more on that in a minute).
Take your classic content download. Someone at your organization has put in a ton of time on white papers and webinars and case studies, and the downloads are trickling in. But there’s a problem: when a salesperson calls these leads, a lot of them don’t remember who you are, or they haven’t read the paper yet, or they’re simply not qualified, so you have to go back and nurture them with solid content and helpful tools and stronger value propositions.
But wait— isn’t that what you should do with qualified outbound marketing leads too?
My whole point is that the strategies used in inbound apply beautifully to outbound. Your team should strive to:
- Be helpful
- Follow-up in a consultative nature
- Provide personalized insights
- Know your personas’ challenges and have content for each one
- Nurture prospects until they’re ready for a conversation
- Be creative and stand apart from the pack
- Use the same consultative sales scripts as inbound
- Focus on great branding and value props
- Guide people through your customer lifecycle
If you think this is a bunch of fluff, sit back and consider your own outbound process.
Say you sell marketing solutions to local businesses. How do you decide who to approach and what to say? That restaurant owner or barber or whomever you’re going after has a dozen sales guys knocking down their door every day, so you better be offering them something valuable in order to to stand out, as well as executing a solid follow-up cadence and talk track.
Let’s spend a minute running through each of those. I’m feeling chatty.
Part I: What’s your talk track and why should people care?
Too many marketers and salespeople “show up and throw up.” In other words, as soon as they start talking to someone about their company, they begin spouting an over-rehearsed elevator pitch and forget that there’s another person there.
How many emails have you received where the rep jumps straight into: “Hi Bob – my company is XYZ, and we’re the leading provider of some wizzbang thing. Our wizzbang things are better, faster, stronger…”
If we apply inbound marketing methods to outbound marketing, the first rule of thumb is to start your conversation with an insight or a solid piece of content. Make it helpful. Make it personalized. The goal is to earn trust and demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.
Also, the more that your content is tailored to individual prospects, the better. Consultative selling works, and the better your insights, the more trust you’ll build. Admittedly, this is the toughest part of the process, and it’s difficult to scale. One way you can do it is by using tools that generate programmatic reports about your prospects. Vendasta and others, for example, offer personalized digital marketing assessments that you can generate en masse with a few clicks.
[Full disclosure: I work for Vendasta, and I think we do this the best. Totally biased.]
The beauty of a report is that you can say to a prospect, “Hi, Sam—I noticed your address is wrong on Google and you’ve got negative reviews on TripAdvisor. Do you have a minute to chat about how we can fix that up?” You can go into detail and prove that you know what you’re talking about.
We’ve been running these campaigns for a while, and the engagement stats are nuts. On average, we find 27.4% open rates and 31.3% CTRs compared to industry averages of 15.2% and 6.3% respectively.
Bonus alert: With consultative selling, you can spend more time with your prospects, too. If all you talk about is yourself, you’ll hold their attention for two minutes. By asking smart questions about their challenges and providing insightful answers, your conversations will last much longer. Put an inbound approach on your outbound marketing.
If you’re interested in digging deeper into automated reports, here’s a place where you can try one out: Snapshot Report. It’ll work for any local business.
Part II: Who are you calling?
If you’ve got your content down pat, the next step is deciding who to spend your time on.
Not that long ago, a sales manager would hand his reps the Yellow Pages and say, “Here’s your prospect list. Get at ‘er.” Today, that doesn’t work. No one has the resources to boil the ocean and approach every prospect, so you’ve got to be smarter about where to spend your time.
Remember when I said you’ve got to be careful about your cost of customer acquisition (CAC)? Here it is.
With outbound marketing, you’ve got a bigger pool of potentials than inbound, so it’s possible to waste a lot of time panning for gold. You’ve got to sit down and define what makes a lead hot enough to warrant outreach from sales. The best leads are those that interact with a bottom-funnel offer; for example, clicking a personalized report you sent them. Sometimes, if the content is really good, that’s enough to flip an outbound lead into an inbound opportunity right there. They’ll check out your site, maybe download some more content, and then you’re off to the races.
Still, connecting is tough, right? Let’s not kid ourselves—the stats are pretty dismal:
- It takes twice as many call attempts to reach a prospect as it did 10 years ago
- Only 2% of sales are made on the first contact, and 80% are made on the fifth to twelfth contact
- 80% of salespeople give up before the fifth contact
That’s madness! Just think, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table simply because you weren’t persistent enough with follow-up. That’s not just a sales challenge, though. You need to make sure your marketing automation systems are setup to engage with prospects on the regular.
Let’s wrap this up
One day (maybe it’s today, maybe it’s yesterday), you’ll be sitting at your desk doodling a poster idea when your boss will burst in and tell you to create predictable, scalable revenue growth. Or maybe you are the boss, and you’re trying to figure it out yourself.
Take it from someone who’s spent a lot of money on content production, blogging, SEM, social marketing, email campaigns, etc.—if you put all your eggs in the inbound basket, you’re probably not moving as fast as possible. Ultimately, there are other things you can do to supplement your efforts and fuel sales.
The first step is to stop stigmatizing outbound marketing.
Stigmatize shitty bulk emails.
Don’t stigmatize outbound marketing in general, because, when combined with a helpful dose of inbound tactics, it’s another great form of content marketing. I mean, if you can solve your personas’ problems, don’t feel bad about taking a proactive approach.
What are those tactics, exactly? Check out the section below for a full summary, but to sum it up, I’d say they’re about being less “salesy” and more helpful. The best marketers and order-takers are inquisitive. Ask about your prospects’ challenges—or better yet, identify them—and provide material that helps them solve those challenges. That’s the best way to power your engine and sail full steam ahead.
P.S. Titanic is probably a bad analogy for a sales post, given how history turned out. But hey, it wasn’t the boiler room’s fault they crashed.
Tactical takeaways | Getting inbound results with outbound marketing