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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Dec 15, 2016 10 min read

Prediction #7 — Inbound Sales Still Stuck In Neutral

Businesses Are Attacking Marketing First And Putting Improvements In The Sales Process As A Secondary Priority

Inbound Marketing and Inbound Sales AlignmentA lot has been written this year about improving the alignment between sales and marketing. But what are the challenges to making this a reality? Sales teams have historically been much less likely to change, much less accepting of new processes and present much bigger risks for organizations when it comes to introducing new methodologies.

Regardless of how many new sales enablement software tools roll out and how much people talk about sales enablement services, if company leadership isn’t ready to tackle this typically underperforming area, then there’s little to be done.

The challenge now becomes this: How do we help CEOs, VPs of sales, VPs of marketing and business owners realize the importance of a highly efficient sales process?

Which Comes First: Marketing Or Sales?

This is the right question, but it’s not always the easiest question to answer. Instead of attempting to guess at why people choose one over the other, let’s look at the three potential scenarios that represent the ways people attempt to deploy inbound sales strategy and inbound marketing strategy. You can apply these situations to your company.

Inbound Marketing First And Inbound Sales Second: This is the most common deployment option. Prospects regularly tell us, “get me leads first and then we’ll see about working with the sales team.” Or they identify marketing as the issue and sales as a non-issue, telling us, “we have a 50% close rate on leads, so get me more leads and we’ll be fine.” Whether that is accurate or not, this is the scenario we see most of the time.

You should know that this scenario almost always produces a situation where the leads start coming in and sales is not equipped to close them. This leads to conversations about the marketing not impacting the revenue. It also uncovers the inherent inefficiencies in the sales organization that have been overlooked for years.

Our theory around why people opt to start with marketing and worry about sales later has a lot to do with risk. It’s a lower-risk proposition to attempt to upgrade marketing with inbound marketing and leave sales as is, then mess around with sales and leave marketing where it is. The thought is that if we can generate more leads, more new customers will fall out of the bottom of the funnel even if our sales process is spotty.  

Inbound Sales First And Inbound Marketing Second: All things being equal, this is probably the right advice. While it’s rarely acted on, it fixes deep-seated issues in process, communication and experience, and has a major impact on metrics like close rates and the length of the sales cycle. These upgrades would have immediate impact on revenue growth, so it makes sense to me to start here.

Once the sales process, communication and the application of metrics have been applied, now it makes sense to start building the top, middle and bottom of the funnel. When you approach inbound marketing first and inbound sales second, a lot of leads end up slipping through the cracks within the inefficient sales process. Approaching inbound sales first helps with all the leads and opportunities that the sales team is currently working on. Again, as I see it, it makes an immediate impact on the business results. But there is one other option, and that’s to do both inbound marketing and inbound sales improvements at the same time.

Inbound Sales And Inbound Marketing At The Same Time: This also makes sense to me, but this approach requires a lot of heavy lifting and a significant investment to tackle both of these areas at the same time. In some scenarios, you're potentially doubling your engagement to produce improvements in both the marketing and sales areas.

The good news here is that these two types of programs can be sequenced when we’re doing both at the same time. This allows us to make some sales upgrades right out of the box while we’re still working on building marketing assets like your website, content or lead nurturing campaigns. The advantage here is that we’re making short-term improvements and setting the processes up so that when additional leads start coming through the funnel, the processes are there to deal with that increased lead flow.

How The Alignment Improves The Metrics

Inbound Sales MetricsBoth inbound marketing and inbound sales are very metrics-driven. This means data is available to show you the progress you’re making. When you align both sales and marketing, the metrics show a much more dramatic impact on your business.

Here’s a quick example. If your success rate (conversion from lead to new customer) on marketing-qualified leads is 10% and I double your website visitors from 1,000 a month to 2,000 a month while you maintain a 2% conversion rate on visitors into leads, you’ll get one new customer for every 1,000 visits to your website. Going from 1,000 visits a month to 2,000 visits a month doubles your customer flow.

If we do that and improve your lead to new customer conversion rate from 10% to 20% by adding sales enablement services, now you went from one new customer a month for every 1,000 visitors to two new customers a month for every 1,000 visitors. Improving your visitors from 1,000 to 2,000 now produces four new customers every single month, or a 300% improvement.

This example also illustrates how impactful it is to monitor and attempt to improve these full funnel conversion rates. Moving one impacts revenue, but moving one on the sales side and one on the marketing side can triple or even quadruple revenue.

Training, Launching And Testing

Making these changes, especially on the sales side of the business, isn’t easy. The best way to make the biggest impact in the least amount of time isn't to do a widespread rollout. Instead, do a pilot with selected sales reps. The pilot allows you to test the training and rollout plans, then adjust prior to the full rollout.

The pilot also allows you to gain momentum within your organization. Instead of attempting to herd a group of cats, now you have a smaller, perhaps more motivated and positive group of people who opted in or were selected as a reward. Their participation is critical. Once they get going and see success, others will want to be part of the changes.

Even after a full-scale rollout, changes, adjustments and updates are going to be needed. The ongoing testing and adjustment period should be between three and four months. This ensures the program can self-correct based on data and feedback. It also ensures you’re constantly monitoring the data and identifying areas that need improvement, working on those areas and then monitoring the progress to ensure the improvements are delivering the desired results.

Aligning sales and marketing under one set of processes and creating a single stream experience for prospects in all stages of the funnel is not easy, nor is it something that can be done in a couple of days. You need to be patient and consider this as a long-term solution required to align your processes with today’s buyer behavior. The payoff will be substantial, with higher close rates, shorter sales cycles, more leads for the sales team to follow up on and, in turn, more consistent achievement of revenue.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.