There has been a lot of debate recently as to whether inbound marketing departments will eventually overtake company sales teams. While I don’t see the salesman (or woman) fading out completely, I do believe that that old staple of sales, the “cold call,” will eventually be replaced with sustainable inbound marketing initiatives.
By "inbound marketing," I'm referring to today's focus on the creation of quality content that pulls people toward a company and its product -- rather than the older "outbound" focus on buying ads and hoping for leads.
Sales teams are more outbound oriented. But let me clarify that a sales team is not dispensable or useless. In fact, I think the sales department is a necessary complement for inbound marketing to reach its full potential. Additionally, there are many industries that currently thrive with no inbound marketing efforts and only an outbound sales department.
Even with that said, I and other like-minded digital marketers will argue that all things being equal, investing in inbound marketing initiatives will create a more sustainable and qualified sales-lead funnel that will not be easily replicated through outbound sales initiatives or “cold calls.”
Understanding "premortem buyer’s remorse"
Wouldn’t it be great to go back to the days where consumers trusted the salesman? It’s incredible to watch this scene from Wolf of Wall Street. You can literally hear the consumer's (investor's) bargaining power being stripped away with simple sales tactics such as establishing rapport and directive questioning.
Unfortunately, these basic sales tactics are slowly losing their power as consumers give into what I call premortem buyer’s remorse. Premortem buyer’s remorse is a consumer’s idea that he or she will ultimately regret purchasing a service or product before the actual purchase. This fear causes consumers to reach for more clarity and reassurance before they move forward through the purchasing cycle.
Where are consumers getting this information to aide their premortem buyer’s remorse? Consumers like to feel that they arrived at a decision on their own, through unaltered methods. It’s empowering for them to purchase your good/service from their own due diligence, rather than through outbound persuasive techniques.
If a consumer then decides to move forward based on personal research, he or she will likely give way to "optimism bias," which will create a more positive outlook of your product/service. Additionally, the expectation level is more aligned if the consumer arrives at the decision on her own, rather than through lofty sales promises.
Using inbound marketing to alleviate premortem buyer’s remorse
Inbound marketing initiatives can help reassure customers by providing them valuable information that can move them toward the purchase. They can find this information themselves because more and more consumers are going to the web to find more information about a company before they make their decision. In fact, 61 percent of consumers say they feel more comfortable and are more likely to buy from a company that provides them with custom content.
Inbound marketing is not just on-site content. An effective social media strategy can result in a more recognizable brand and will provide a company with an immense amount of customer-service opportunities. So make sure you build an effective on-site and off-site inbound strategy that drives engaged users to your website when they are looking for more information.
Once users land on your pages, you will have to quickly and effectively provide them with the information they are looking for; otherwise they will go elsewhere.
Realizing that not everyone is a buyer… yet
I worked in outside sales for about six months selling copy machines. Why on earth would I ever give up that job?! Well, truth be told, I was not cut out for outbound sales, but the field did provide me with clear perspective on making physical cold calls. What I found most interesting was that the cold call is flawed in the assumption it carries that everyone is an active buyer.
I was taught to overcome obstacles and handle objectives by pushing my products' benefits. I was told to pull out the pain and convince potential buyers that there was no way they would make it through one more day without our collated copy feature.
What I now realize is that the “pitch” is designed to move people through the buying cycle as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that is not the nature of customers' purchasing habits anymore. Most people are patient and require nurturing in order to become customers. Cold calling and outbound sales may collect an overwhelming assortment of customers at different stages of the buying cycle, all with different needs. But what outbound sales struggles with is organizing and nurturing these different leads.
On the other hand, effective inbound marketing offers a scalable and cost-effective alternative that generates leads and nurtures them at various stages of the buying cycle.
Creating content that targets different stages of the buying cycle
A rule of thumb with inbound content creation is to develop content targeted to users at different stages of the buying cycle. The stages of the customer buying cycle can be consolidated into:
- Awareness: This is the top of the sales funnel and usually involves low-commitment content designed to provide visibility and brand recognition. The hope is that either your content will remain top of mind for when the customer develops a need for your service/good, or you can perpetuate that need. The goal is to collect contact information for lead generation.
- Educational Information: After the customer has realized some desire for more information, he or she will seek educational information. This means buyer guides, ebooks, Q&As or other highly-informational-based content. The goal is to continue to capture lead information through opt-ins.
- Validation: Even further into the buying funnel is the validation stage, which aims to provide all the necessary information to purchase. Customers here might look for industry information, checklists, purchasing requirements, etc. Provide content that is highly focused on your offerings. The goal is to nurture the lead and continue to collect custom information.
- The sale: Here, the potential customer is looking for purchasing criteria; this could entail testimonials, references, examples or case studies. This content is designed to be customized to prospects' needs and optimized to convert them into customers.
Recognizing that markets are saturated with competition
I remember that in grade school, if you were with a group of your friends on the playground and one came across a lost toy, he would utter, “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Unfortunately, that same phrase does not apply to the business world.
The internet and globalization have done an impeccable job of eliminating competitive advantages for many companies. You’d be hard pressed to find a company that provides a good or service that cannot be found anywhere else.
This saturation means that the outbound sales tactic of convincing customers that you have a “unique” selling proposition is losing credibility. However, what does happen is potential customers are taking information you present and comparing it with your competition's.
Using inbound marketing to distingush your brand
While your good or service might not be inherently different from your competition's, you can use inbound marketing to create a “unique” brand identity. Branding is certainly not a new word in marketing circles, but what is becoming increasingly popular is the leveraging of digital media (company website, social media, publishing partners, etc.) to reinforce the brand’s value and beliefs.
For instance, take the brand newsroom strategy. Brands are transitioning into publishers and by doing so are creating a more effective and sustainable inbound strategy that has their target market actively seeking their content. Rather than the outbound sales tactic that aims to cast a large net and qualify every responder, the inbound strategy of the brand newsroom is creating a qualified lead funnel and unparalleled brand recognition.
A HubSpot study showed that 54 percent more leads are created through inbound versus outbound practices and at a cost of 62 percent less per lead! The idea that you can generate better returns with less effort and resources is no longer a pipe dream but increasingly the norm. The adoption of inbound marketing initiatives is on the rise, but there are still traditional marketers reluctant to abandon the outbound route.
If you are one of those businesses -- taking money away from inbound marketing in favor of cold calling -- I’d urge you to take a step back. It's 2015. Look at the opportunities inbound marketing can provide your brand!