ben wright

B2B Startups: Outbound sales vs. inbound marketing - when should you do which?

I’m going to get the answer out of the way quickly here and it’s really simple:

Both. Immediately.

To set some context here, most of my clients are B2B tech startups with seed+ funding and generally fewer than 30 employees. I often get asked to help structure and streamline the sales functions of these companies to help them scale more effectively and get to revenue more quickly as they head towards their series A round.

I almost always find that these companies have hired sales folks who are hitting the phones in a big way, trying to get meetings or sell over the phone. These teams have enthusiasm, energy and high levels of persistence, which is what they’ll need to succeed over the next few months and years.

What I often don’t find, however, is an effective inbound marketing machine to draw potential customers and partners to the business and generate quality leads for the sales team. And while this is perhaps understandable for any number of reasons, it’s also something that needs rectifying as quickly as possible.

The why is obvious. Your sales team will convert somewhere between 0.5% to 2% of outbound cold leads into customers, depending on factors that range from how good your product is to the effectiveness of your sales database, sales process and market positioning. If we take 1% as a reasonable average, this means your sales folks have to try to build relationships with 100 prospects to secure a single deal. And if you’ve ever been in front line sales, you’ll know that just getting 100 people to actually pick up their phones or respond to your emails is an incredibly time consuming business.

Which is where inbound marketing comes in.

Inbound marketing at its heart is pretty simple. For an effective inbound strategy, you need a good understanding of your buyers, great content that will appeal to them and a social media strategy that puts the two together.

And the leads you get from inbound will be much, much, MUCH better than the leads in your sales database that your sales team are cold calling (and don’t get me started on the quality of these leads, I’ll be covering that in another blog). If you’re effectively qualifying your inbound leads before handing them to the sales team, you’ll see conversion rates between 30% and 60% rather than 1%.

Your sales team will love you. Your investors will love you. All of those uninterested prospects you didn’t cold call will love you. I will love you.

Don’t get me wrong, while the essence of a good inbound marketing strategy is pretty simple, its execution is not easy. It requires as much enthusiasm, energy and high levels of persistence as your outbound activities.

And commitment. Inbound isn’t something you do for a few weeks or even months and then move onto something new. If you’re into inbound – and you really should be – you’ll need to be in it for the long haul. And by the long haul I mean forever. It should be as natural to your organisation to be producing and promoting relevant and interesting high-quality content every day as it is to be getting on the phones.

Your inbound strategy should start from the day you create your business. Understanding your potential buyers and working out what’s important to them should be at the heart of your business. You’ll need this knowledge to build your product, to create your funding deck and to plan your sales calls. Take that knowledge and start a process that also creates great content. Keep a notebook handy and whenever you think of anything that relates to your customers, your market or your product, start writing a blog and get it on your website and social media pages as soon as you can.

Look at this blog you’re reading right now. It’s cost me nothing to write this, it took in total - spread over several gaps between meetings - less than an hour for me to write and about 15 minutes to edit and check. If you’ve got this far, then it’s relevant to you and you could be a potential customer. You may want to check my website, you might even drop me an email. And it cost me absolutely nothing.

Find out where your potential customers are, write content they’ll find interesting and of value, and get it in front of them as best you can.

As soon as feasibly possible - because you’ll not be able to put the focus on this that it needs – hire someone to take this task away from you. An intern maybe, possibly someone freelance, a journalist student who’s looking to make a bit of cash on the side. Let someone else write the content so you (and, as you grow, other key members of your team) can become the idea generators and final quality control check. And do have someone check the quality – there’s nothing that screams ‘amateur’ louder than a saggy blog or loads of SPAG mistakes.

By the time you hire your first sales person, you’ll want your inbound machine up and running so you’ve got high quality leads coming in that your new sales person can start closing from the day they start. And also because the content you create for inbound marketing is absolutely key to your outbound sales success as well.

I’ll say that again, because this is the part a lot of people miss. When your outbound sales folks are hitting the phones and sending emails, they also need great content to be effective. You’ll probably tell your sales people that you want them to try and make contact with a lead between 6 and 10 times before they drop them. There’s nothing more boring to your potential customers – or indeed your sales team – than sending the same regurgitated ‘I called earlier to introduce you to our innovative solution for…’ email 10 times.

Selling is about building relationships. You can’t build a relationship with a prospect if you have nothing of value to offer them. Great content is the value offering in a quality sales cycle. It’s how you’ll elevate your message above the hundred other calls and emails your prospects get every day. It’s how your prospects will stay engaged with your brand, even if they’re not ready to buy from you today. It’s how you’ll build your position as a thought leader in your market.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing - get inbound!

Want to know more? Give me a call or drop me a line.

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