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Wake-Up Call for B-to-B: Choose Life vs. Death by Inbounditis

A Quick Fix That Doesn't Work

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A staggering number of large b-to-b companies are suffering from what we might call inbounditis, a disease that spreads from marketing to sales and attacks the revenue backbone of a company. Inbounditis happens when management seeks a quick fix for sagging revenues by buying lists of potential customers and then attempting to reach them with automated marketing tools to fuel the sales pipeline.

Companies use marketing automation tools like Silverpop, Marketo and Pardot, which can track digital body language of customers. The software enables the end user to see, for example, which companies downloaded a white paper online. The trouble is, this behavior may reflect some interest in your product, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the customer is expecting or would welcome a call from a salesperson. This is where old-fashioned legwork and personal contact come in to make sure that your salesperson is engaging with a company that actually needs and might want your services.

It's best to generate sales leads that you know have a chance of becoming clients than to clog up your sales staff with names from an automated, uncalibrated process list, which becomes a huge time suck for your sales people. Qualified leads can be generated a number of ways: phone calls email, webinars, direct mail and even marketing automation if done well. It's not the quantity of leads that counts, which is what you get when you purchase a list, it's the quality of the leads that matters in the end.

Think of it this way: if you don't take time to know the person you are selling to, why should they take time to buy your product?

But, lured by promise of easy money -- "sales-ready" leads pouring in -- many well intentioned b-to-b marketers have jumped on the "inbound marketing" bandwagon with both feet. Management is measuring marketing on the number of leads turned over to sales and on a cost-per-lead basis. These measurements drive low-quality leads to sales faster than ever before. When salespeople cannot close leads, everyone suffers. Marketing budgets for acquiring net new business are slashed, even as lead quotas increase. It's a vicious cycle that must be broken.

For the record, I am an inbound-marketing advocate and an early adopter of marketing automation tools. But technology cannot be relied on exclusively to generate sales-ready leads or your organization will develop inbounditis. Here are some tell-tale signs your company is infected:

The number of inbound leads increase as deal sizes slowly decrease;

Top performing sales reps refuse to follow up on inbound leads;

Lead quotas are met, but the number of sales-accepted leads plummets;

Sales revenues decline.

Bob Perkins, founder and CEO of American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, responded to a recent blog article asking, "Which is better? A $1,000 inbound lead or a $1,000 outbound lead?

"Finding net new business is the fuel of champions. There is something about hunting down new contacts and business that fuels the engine of top sales reps. Relying solely on inbound activity is akin to eating junk food 3 meals a day for a month … it isn't adequate fuel for high-performing sales reps ..."

So what can b-to-b companies do to get back on track?

Look at your revenue results, not just the number of leads generated and cost per lead.

Don't wait for an inbound lead to come to you before you react. Instead, reach out proactively and engage the prospect early on in the buying cycle.

Create value. Invest the time to understand the unique needs of your prospect before you ask them to invest in your products or services. Pick up the phone and have an intelligent conversation based on what you know about your potential buyer. Send out a compelling direct mail piece highlighting fast facts based on recent b-to-b research, or host a webinar that speaks directly to the pain points your targeted industry is experiencing now.

The combination of inbound and outbound marketing, call it all-bound marketing, is a proven formula for creating a healthier sales pipeline. This powerful medicine breathes life back into flat lining sales profits. WARNING: Must be supported at the executive level and administered consistently for desired results.

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