by Georgia White and Deirdre MahonSeptember 18, 2020
Ah when inbound happens, marketers love it. When it happens and follows a deterministic pattern so you can add more juice (i.e. budget) at the top of the funnel, then it’s pure gold. Sales teams love inbound more. It’s a prospect raising a hand to say, “Contact me,” or “I’d like to see a demo,” or “What’s your pricing?” and “How do I engage?” Of course, there are many different internal and external factors that impact the amount of inbound you cultivate and you will come to learn over time what works and what doesn’t, once you live through a few quarters. Your model and budget are key to changing the shape of the inbound flow. Your marketing mix, which is the right combination of paid, content, social, events, syndication, speaking and perhaps even PR/AR will help you determine the best ROI.
Smart Buyers Tell You When They’re Ready
There’s a shift in how buyers engage vendors. With so much ‘desk’ research available, homework can be done before ever touching your site. Also, depending on industry, there’s a Yelp equivalent everywhere, so smart buyers can easily tap communities of reviewers and ask pointedly “Is ‘X’ any good?” or “Should I buy?” Customers today want an engaging conversation and expect to be informed and entertained. They want to be a participant and not a recipient. In response to this shift and automating a two-way path, a new tool-set is required when it comes to marketing automation. Engaging using a variety of communication tools and meeting the buyer where they are via email, SMS and more is critical. Of course, you also need to integrate to other systems including CRM, support (e.g. Intercom or ServiceNow) and a more traditional marketing automation system like Hubspot or Pardot.
Integrating all touches across the buying cycle and across internal business functions is hard especially when teams operate in a siloed way, inside their own bubble outbounding without stepping back and seeing the big picture. If unsubscribes are going up or your customers start to openly complain on Twitter, you should pay closer attention.
No One Size Fits All
There’s no magic answer or silver bullet when communicating with customers from inbound. Sometimes a customer wants to set-up a calendar meeting for a deeper dive and there are other moments when a quick answer on how to will suffice. Automated bot-style responses work for standard questions and there are other times they genuinely want to know a human is behind the answer. The goal should be to conduct timely, intelligent responses and capture that touch so everyone relevant knows what’s happening on that important account and deal.
Smaller Groups, Segment and Test, Test
If you understand your customer persona deeply, then you’ll hopefully know where they hang out and what sites they read and pay attention to. Create useful content and place it on those targeted channels and as budgets allow, execute equally targeted paid ads and optimize landing pages for search. Learn how to segment your audience inside your MA systems and perhaps group around title/persona or buyer journey stages or resurrect some older conversations. Always stick with a smaller cohort in the beginning so you can run quick tests and track performance.
Operate efficiently with your segmented cohorts at the early stages of the cycle and spare human capital for critical touches when it matters. Most buyers will give you signals when they are ready to spend time talking about a transaction. That doesn’t mean you can’t inform them about global marketing initiatives but be conscious of relevancy and avoid oversaturation. One of the surprises I learned as a marketer outbounding is that the first responses are from existing customers and those in active sales cycles always seem to be hungry for more.
If you are taking full advantage of your MA systems, you will know how to triage inbounds based on type of inquiry, auto-routing to the right person who should respond and take good care of them. In most cases, teams are living inside Salesforce.com each day, so they will be alerted on important inbounds, assuming you have the tools tightly integrated.
Operate as a Unified GTM Team, Focused on Shared Goals When Outbounding:
Because marketing has shifted to automating across the entire funnel or buying journey, we can no longer take our eye off the ball once a sales opportunity is created. We continue to communicate and impact that journey conversion through evaluation phases and post-purchase. This is the reason sales, marketing and customer success teams need to operate in a unified way and adopt shared goals and OKRs.
Pick specific objectives and results by time frame and don’t overextend, as you will dilute the impact. Come to an agreement with sales. Is it pipeline or landing new logos? Is it all about renewals and upsells? The nature of your content and cadences could drastically change based on what you decide to go after. The segmentation will absolutely change.
Until you build up some critical mass and reach a nice health cadence of quality inbounds, you will have to carefully choose which outbound campaigns you are going to conduct. Of course, inbound produces higher quality and conversions improve across the funnel, but you must start somewhere to get those initial deals over the line and start to assess the predictable patterns.
Oh, and Never Stop Outbounding:
Let’s say you have the luxury of 100% inbound. Fantastic! Now you have an excellent product-market fit. However, you should never sit on your laurels and stop outbounding to net new targets or accounts. Outbound campaigns never go away, unless of course you don’t plan to grow. There will always be external factors beyond your control that could negatively impact your inbounds. Everything from a global pandemic, economic downturn, fierce competitor or even market segment disappearing which are all possibilities in the wonderful world of modern marketing automation. So keep your eye on the metrics and track carefully what inbounds look like, how they convert over time and what segments are performing better so you can redirect resources accordingly.