Most now agree inbound B2B marketing delivers more quality leads, at a lower cost per lead, than traditional outbound marketing. However, inbound marketing presents a new set of challenges and managing the marketing and sales relationship is crucial to success.
Sales lead generation methods have changed, as has the point leads are generated in the sales cycle. In traditional outbound marketing the emphasis is on building initial awareness via advertising, telemarketing, press release, direct mail and Email marketing. The Leads generated tended to be early in the sales cycle with sales tasked with delivering information to develop that early lead, building relationships and taking the sales process forward.
The model has changed from push to pull and B2B Buyers now tend to research products and services they need before engaging with sales. A survey by BaseOne, across four of the major European economies (including the UK), found 87% of B2B buyers look for advice before making a purchase and of those 71% used the web as their primary source.
Research from Knowledge Storm/Marketing Sherpa shows 85% of technical buyers need to encounter at least three pieces of content before engaging with a solution provider. Using the old, and somewhat outdated, AIDA model, buyers tend to be in the late interest (or even desire) phase before engaging with a supplier.
The Impact On Marketing and Sales Responsibilities
Fundamental responsibilities have not changed. Although some in marketing may wish to believe otherwise their prime responsibility was, and remains, lead generation. Sales prime responsibility remains taking a lead forward to the point of sale.
What has changed is the impact on relationships and length of time (further down funnel) marketing are involved. With leads generated at a later point in the sales funnel there is less time for sales to build relationships.
However, people still buy from people in B2B markets and personal relationships are still vitally important. However, sales need to grasp that leads delivered can cover prospects at various points in the sales process.
Decisions need to be made on nurturing leads. Sales may want to get in at earliest opportunity or may prefer it to be later in process. What is vitally important is sales understand that the lead is unlikely to be at the point of first customer interest.
A part educated customer will be unimpressed if, during the first sales interaction his time is wasted by a sales team who insist on going back to first principles. More importantly sales need to avoid any tactics that destroy the hard won credibility achieved by marketing.
As sales are primarily focussed (rightly so) on results in the short to medium term there is the risk a proportion of leads will be discarded while sales chase those that are most likely to turn into short term orders.
Managing The Relationship For Best Results
Sales and marketing need to co-operate closely to decide what type of leads are being handed off and at what point in the buyers journey. The approach that minimises confusion is for marketing to hold all leads until they reach a given point in the sales process. Although this provides certainty to sales it can also waste opportunities as good leads could fall out of the process before reaching the required maturity.
A more effective approach is for marketing to classify (grade) all leads before they are passed to sales. This approach is resource intensive and requires a highly effective lead generating system that is able to accurately classify leads with the minimum of effort.
Whatever system is used sales need to be incentivised to take all leads as far as practical to avoid substantial waste in the process
While inbound marketing has some real advantages over outbound it is a different approach that requires both sales and marketing to change and adapt their working processes. If this change is not managed effectively it can result both in conflict and results that fail to live up to expectations.