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The relationship between marketing and sales is kind of like the relationship between petrol and your car. The processes behind it can get extremely complicated, but for most of us it’s enough to know that, by and large, the system works. The more comprehensive your marketing, the more visible and appealing you are to your target audience. It stands to reason that this visibility and growth in brand appeal might lead to increased sales from new clientele while providing the conditions for repeat business and ongoing customer loyalty.
But those who are more conversant with marketing techniques know that it’s a little more complicated than that. When it comes to B2B operations, both sales and marketing teams often rely on a combination of inbound and outbound strategies to drive revenue and increase sales. Businesses tend to be a little less fickle than consumers. If they find a vendor that works for them they are less likely to switch without a truly compelling reason and more likely to work on developing better working relationships with the partners to which they are loyal.
However, whether you’re targeting small or large businesses, it’s essential to consider the interconnected nature of sales and marketing, inbound and outbound. They are wholly interdependent and can bring out the best in one another.
To illustrate this, let’s look at how to use inbound marketing strategies to support outbound sales. If the distinction between inbound and outbound is a little foggy to you, fear not. We’re about to break it down now…
What is inbound marketing?
Long gone are the days of uninformed consumerism, and businesses being seen as wholly trustworthy entities. The birth of the internet fuelled the information revolution which is now well established, shifting the power to the customer who has a wealth of available knowledge at their fingertips. Adding value to various touch points in the buyer journey is therefore essential for companies if they want to win the trust that was previously taken for granted, and ultimately capture sales.
How do they do this?
Well, alongside their traditional outbound marketing techniques such as cold-calling, press releases, TV / radio ads, and modern digital practices which includes email shoots, online / PPC ads, most businesses also use a variety of inbound marketing strategies. Like outbound marketing, these are intended to grow brand awareness and incite specific action from target audiences but do so in much less intrusive ways.
Inbound marketing strategies are those which do not approach the client directly but allow the brand’s target audience to find and engage with them of their own accord and at the right time. Content marketing, for instance, is a great example of inbound marketing in action. While brands can use outbound strategies to drive clients towards their content (e.g. a link to a blog post from a sponsored LinkedIn post), content marketing is usually considered a form of inbound marketing as it is left online for clients to discover on their own.
Blog posts, webinars, infographics, tutorials, ebooks, how to guides, FAQ’s and other forms of digitised content are all great examples of inbound marketing materials, although social media marketing campaigns can also be considered inbound strategies. This is because the brand’s social media followers find and engage with the posts themselves.
As you can imagine, inbound marketing is a double-edged sword. Let’s take a look at some of its advantages and disadvantages with a focus on the B2B space.
Advantages of inbound marketing
Inbound marketing has a number of advantages, especially when you operate in the B2B space. Firstly, the kind of materials used for inbound marketing have inherent value for B2B clients. Get them right and they will bring both value and authority to your brand and strengthen your client’s trust in you as the right choice to further their own business goals.
In order to do this, however, the content created needs to be meaningful and useful for B2B clients. It needs to help them solve a common problem, address a recurring pain point or at the very least give them something entertaining and informative to enjoy on their coffee break.
Inbound marketing strategies are typically less expensive and more cost-efficient than their outbound peers. Using the right analytics tools, brands can track their efficacy every bit as efficiently as they can with an outbound strategy and tailor their content according to their findings.
A well-executed inbound marketing campaign can lead to long and harmonious relationships with B2B clients while also encouraging new prospects to see the value in your brand.
Disadvantages of inbound marketing
While inbound marketing can bring a range of benefits, it also comes with its fair share of caveats. Inbound campaigns may not be expensive in terms of obvious costs like PPC revenue, but they require a constant time investment to produce quality content that is of value to B2B clients. Sure, you could lighten the load by outsourcing to an external marketing agency… but do they really understand the esoteric nature of your software well enough to wax lyrical about its prospective benefits for your clients?
What’s more, while analytics tools can be used to gauge a campaign’s effectiveness, this can take several months and be more difficult to measure in terms of its relationship to sales / conversions. Even if you can bring a loyal audience to your content, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will convert into paying customers any time soon… or ever.
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Inbound marketing campaigns also require a diverse range of skills from copywriting panache to web design capabilities, social media expertise and a strong understanding of the ever-shifting topography that is SEO.
This is why inbound marketing is at its most effective when partnered with a set of cogent outbound marketing strategies.
What is outbound sales?
Now that we’ve taken a look at inbound marketing let’s take a look at outbound sales. At first, these may seem like polar opposites. One is gently encouraging clients to see the value in your brand while the other appears a more direct and confrontational process of taking the sale to the client. However, while outbound sales is, indeed, the discipline of introducing clients to products and services they may not have found on their own, the very notion of it gives rise to some pretty unflattering preconceptions.
It may conjure images of aggressive cold-callers or spam emails, but outbound sales can actually be of tremendous value to B2B clients. Done correctly, outbound sales strategies can provide prospects with useful and highly personalised information that addresses their needs. This information can prove extremely useful in converting outbound prospects to qualified leads and, eventually, loyal clients.
Advantages of outbound sales
The great thing about outbound sales is its proactiveness. It can help to convert leads who have previously been sitting on the fence and were failing to engage with inbound marketing content. In many cases, the reason why business clients don’t engage isn’t because they don’t see the value in it (or your product) but simply because they don’t have time.
If successful, outbound sales can help to furnish clients with the information they need to make an informed choice with confidence.
Disadvantages of outbound sales
The trouble with outbound sales is that it can be an inefficient means of engaging new prospects, especially in the B2B space. Think about it. How many phone calls does it usually take to get through to a key decision-maker? How many busy receptionists and other busy frontline employees will simply hang up if they get a whiff of anything that they think might be a cold call? How much can you afford to channel employee time and company resource into outbound sales strategies that don’t yield favourable conversion rates?
What’s more, lean too heavily on your outbound sales strategies and you may find that you’re perceived as the one thing that no B2B brand can afford to be characterised as… a nuisance! Can you imagine the potential damage that can be done when prospective clients perform a web search for your brand and find complaints made about your aggressive outbound sales tactics on social platforms and forums?
If your outbound strategy is to be effective, it requires a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer. However, this brings us to the ways in which inbound marketing and outbound sales can become surprisingly complimentary.
Using inbound to better understand prospects
Effective outbound strategies rely on brands knowing their priorities. The all-encompassing “spray and pray” outbound campaigns of old have no place in an era where B2B clients have neither the time nor the inclination to deal with cold calls.
When combined with an effective CRM that has lead-scoring capabilities, your inbound marketing efforts can be your greatest tool in determining which inbound leads are sales-ready and which are not. This means that your outbound teams can focus their time and efforts on the prospects that are more likely to convert.
The better you know the people who are regularly accessing your inbound content, the better placed you are to identify opportunities. By looking at the kind of content they engage with (and how often) you can determine pain points within their organisation and extrapolate how your products and services might prove a good fit for them.
Using Inbound Content to drive outbound reach and performance
Inbound content is a vital component of social selling. B2B clients are more likely to respond to content that is of value to them and addresses their needs or problems than they are to yet another sales pitch encroaching on their limited free time.
Inbound marketing strategies can also provide you with a valuable lead capture strategy which can furnish you with the data you need for effective outbound sales.
For example, as a software business with an extensive understanding of the common pain points within your target market, you are ideally placed to create a resource like an ebook which can address some of these issues and the ways in which software, your software, can be used to address them. This mustn’t be a book-length sales pitch, however. It needs to contain accessible and actionable strategies in order to bring real and tangible value to the prospects who will read it.
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The price of this valuable resource? Nada. Zip. Zero. Leads can download it for free for the tiny cost of their email address and some other useful data that they can quickly and easily commit to in a data capture form. Nothing too intrusive, just enough for your CRM to determine the lead’s qualification.
Hey presto! The prospect gets a useful resource that builds value and authority to your brand, and you get the details of a motivated lead who, by the time they’ve read their free ebook, will be predisposed to trust you.
This simultaneously grows your reach and brand awareness while providing outbound teams with high-value leads.
Practical advice for using inbound marketing and outbound sales together
As you can see, there’s colossal potential for inbound marketing and outbound sales efforts working in tandem with one another. However, in order to be truly effective, both inbound and outbound teams need to be truly co-ordinated and communicative with one another. While automation and astute use of CRM platforms can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, it’s essential to have a clear strategy in place for using inbound marketing to support outbound sales.
The good news is that there are lots of ways in which inbound and outbound teams and practices can be combined for an effective one-two punch.
Here are a few actionable examples:
Content Captures Leads – Use cornerstone content as a lead capture strategy that gauges quantifiable need for your products and services.
Understand Customer Behaviour – Identify potential customer needs by looking at the users’ behaviour on your website. This can then be communicated to outbound teams who can tailor the conversation according to their needs based on the kind of content they have been accessing.
CRM Alignment – Use your CRM’s prospect report to prioritise outgoing sales calls based on which users have looked at what content on your website.
Improved Lead Intelligence – Leverage lead intelligence to ensure that direct mail content goes to leads more likely to engage with it.
Increase Lead Intelligence Visibility – Use your CRM to keep everyone in the loop. Accurate reporting tools can help inbound and outbound teams to work in lockstep with both teams accessing lead data and tracking their journey through the funnel for an effective handover.
Automate internal notifications so that outbound teams can see reminder notifications. These let them know which leads have yet to be closed. Likewise inbound teams can be notified of where leads are in the pipeline in real time so that they can ensure that they’re receiving the right content for their needs.
Increase Up-Sell Opportunities – Use users’ content preferences to identify potential up-selling opportunities which may not have been identified by outbound sales teams.
With the right information passing between teams and team members and judicious automation to expedite the process, this can ensure that both teams (and the client) end up as winners.
Inbound marketing and outbound sales are not polar opposites. They are simply two sides of the same coin. Two halves of a comprehensive approach that brings prospects to your brand while taking your brand to prospects. When both are working in synchronisation with one another it can create enormous opportunity to build value and authority in your brand. Moreover, it makes your outbound sales efforts more efficient and reduces potential hours of frustration from targeting low-value prospects. When you use inbound marketing to qualify leads, you also ensure that your outbound sales efforts are more precise and effective, targeting key decision makers who are predisposed to buy rather than making a nuisance of yourself by cold-calling frontline staff.
With a little effort and coordination this one-two punch can work wonders for your branding and your sales.