I had the opportunity to serve on a customer panel at a marketing event for HubSpot yesterday. It was great to see so many marketers (and salespeople) looking for ways to make the process work for their organizations.
Even more fun, were the conversations afterwards. One conversation stuck out distinctly. I was talking to several marketers from a mid-market firm about how important sales and marketing alignment is to successful growth. One of the marketers asked me:
Doug, what do you do to get your salespeople on board and aligned with inbound marketing?
It gave me the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects, and share some hard earned experience. I cautioned him that the biggest mistake I see made is introducing “inbound” and making changes to early.
It happens all too frequently. The organization commits to an inbound marketing approach, realizes the change and opportunity that’s involved and announces it to the sales team.
The presentation goes something like this:
From there the presentation typically goes into what marketing is going to need from salespeople (content ideas, feedback and a change in their lead management approach) and how the lead management process will work.
What Went Wrong
Salespeople are, by nature, a cynical, change-resistant group. You show me a top performer and I’ll show you someone who is committed to their routine. Additionally, salespeople tend to be very control-oriented and the introduction highlights all of the things they don’t or won’t have control over.
The problem is that salespeople have heard the promises before, seen a number of initiatives and nothing much has changed. On top of that, salespeople tend toward the immediate gratification edge of the continuum, and this approach requires time to build results.
Depending upon the industry you’re in, the companies you sell to and your typical sales cycle time, it may be three to nine months before an effective inbound marketing program impacts the core role of most salespeople. It’s not as simple as turning on the new approach and turning off the old.
To keep the economic engine running, most salespeople will have to continue to perform the same tasks while the top and middle of the funnel are being filled. This is very similar to a marketing organization that has relied on pay-per-click (PPC) ads to drive traffic.
People are not comfortable with the idea of holding two opposing thoughts at the same time, and therefore often show resistance to the new idea. By the time inbound has its impact, salespeople have already lost interest.
How to Integrate Inbound Marketing with Your Sales Team
As a general rule, we recommend waiting about three months before presenting your inbound playbook to the entire sales team. (Yes, there are exceptions to this rule.) By that time, you’ve set up the infrastructure, created some core content and built out a least a couple of conversion paths. This way, instead of introducing a concept to the sales team, it’s more show and tell; and therefore, real to the sales team.
Next, unless you’re also implementing a sales development role, don’t radically change your sales team’s daily activities or comp programs. Wait until you’ve generated a sufficient number of marketing qualified and sales qualified leads.
Salespeople believe in what is, not what can be. The possibility of better leads doesn’t mean anywhere near as much as the delivery of bona fide qualified leads.
Finally, set up a pilot group within your sales team. Chose one to five reps (depending on the size of your sales team) to pilot the approach and champion inbound sales. This does three things:
- It allows you to refine your approach using real data to support your decisions.
- By selecting a few of your salespeople, you can work with those who already believe in the idea, dramatically increasing the probability of success.
- You’ll generate some excitement among the other salespeople. As they see success in the pilot group, they’ll start complaining that they’re not getting the same access. Before you know it, you won’t need to create buy in at all.
By taking a purposeful approach, you’ll build the foundation of success to create the predictable growth you’re looking for while minimizing the disruption within your current approach.