There’s a truth that’s not often discussed openly in inbound marketing: Leads generated from inbound marketing are not like other kinds of leads.
We hear from inbound marketers all the time that they’re doing all this great work and generating all these great leads – but then once they hand off these great leads to the sales team, nothing happens, and the leads just die on the vine. This is hugely frustrating for everyone involved: the marketing team, the sales team, and even the leads themselves.
Surely there has to be a better way?
We spoke recently with David Fletcher, co-founder and CEO of Maven Sales Group, a certified HubSpot Sales Solutions Partner, to get his advice on how to bring marketing and sales out of their siloes and working together in unison. Here are the insights he shared with us.
Q: What does perfect inbound sales and marketing alignment look like?
Great question! There are three components to having a successful sales and marketing relationship.
The first is to document the life cycle of an inbound lead. Marketing and sales both have a role in this, and documentation creates accountability around this. What constitutes a qualified lead? Where does the lead go? Who needs to do what?
This needs to be part of the company’s marketing plan AND part of the sales playbook, and both marketing and sales absolutely need to work together to produce this documentation.
Step two is to make sure your marketing technology and sales technology can share information. If your marketing and sales systems don’t communicate with each other, the process of managing inbound leads will inevitably break down.
The good news is that if you’re using HubSpot Marketing and HubSpot Sales, or if you’re using the HubSpot Marketing and Salesforce integration, you’re all set on this. If you’re not, make sure your marketing and sales system integration is rock solid.
The third requirement is a big one that most companies don’t think of: You need a resource to sit in between the marketing and sales teams to bridge the gap.
Typically we call this position a sales development representative (SDR). The SDR is responsible for handling all inbound leads. You might have enough inbound activity that you need an entire team of SDRs, or you may have so few leads that you only need a part-time or fractional SDR.
Q: Why should the SDR handle inbound leads, rather than the regular sales team?
Inbound leads may come in at different stages of the buying journey. Most often, they’re not yet ready to place an order. The traditional sales rep wants to push for the order – after all, that’s probably how the sales rep gets compensated. But pushing for an order on a lead that’s still in an awareness or consideration stage is not going to go well. And when this happens, the sales team is going to start complaining about the bad leads marketing is handing to them, when in fact they’re not bad leads, they’re just not order ready leads.
The SDR’s job is to help bridge this gap by providing more targeted follow-up with these incoming leads. The SDR takes a blended approach that’s part marketing, part sales. For example, the SDR might call select leads to learn more about that lead’s challenge and see if there are any other resources the SDR can share with the lead to help educate and provide value for the lead.
In other words, the SDR talks to the lead like a sales person, but helps the lead like a marketer. The SDR then uses this engagement with a lead to determine whether the lead should stay on the marketing side, or if the lead is ready for a sales rep. Essentially, the SDR becomes the traffic cop standing in the middle of the intersection, directing where incoming leads should go.
Q: How should companies structure the SDR role?
It starts with finding someone with the right skills. We find the best SDRs have some sales and some marketing experience. They need to understand both sides of the coin, because they need to bridge the divide.
Next, create a service level agreement (SLA) that documents precisely how inbound leads will be handled. Compensation is also important. You don’t want to tie the SDR’s compensation solely to the number of leads the SCR passes on to the sales team, because then you’re incenting the wrong behavior. Instead, tie compensation to the best practices you’ve defined in your SLA.
Q: What’s the best way to document the lead management process?
Timeframes are a good place to start – for example, you may decide to set a six-hour window for the SDR to reach out to an incoming lead. Also, define what your ideal customer profile looks like and the different stages a lead might go through. What does it mean to be a marketing qualified lead or a sales qualified lead? What has to happen for a lead to be entered into the sales pipeline?
Typically when we work with a company, we’ll whiteboard out this entire lifecycle of an inbound lead. This lets everyone visualize how inbound leads should flow – and more importantly, where the hiccups in the process happen. This is a real lightbulb moment for many people!
Once everyone agrees what the process should look like, document all of these policies and standards into your SLA, and add the SLA to your sales playbook. Now you have a clearly defined SDR role and an efficient lead management system that you can scale as your organization grows.
Q: What do sales reps wish inbound marketers knew?
Honestly, I think sales reps feel like marketers don’t understand the sales process and what it takes to move a lead through the stages and close a deal.
This is ironic, because there is an enormous role for marketers to play in this process. Sales reps need the right kinds of content to support their leads during the buying journey, but sales reps often aren’t skilled at mapping out these content needs. But if marketers better understood the sales process, they’d be better positioned to collaborate with sales reps and identify opportunities where a well-timed, targeted piece of content could help the sales rep nurture a deal to close.
Sales teams have a responsibility here as well. They need to be better about proactively discussing their challenges with the marketing team. The best thing that can happen is when a sales rep approaches a marketer and says, “Hey, I’ve got this deal at this stage in the pipeline. I think if I had a piece of content that talks about [X], I could close this deal.” Now you’ve got the two sides working together in a cohesive, effective way – and the results can be incredible.
We’re working with a company right now, where when I walked into their offices for the first time, I noticed the sales team and the marketing team were located far apart from each other. We moved the two teams so they now physically sit next to each other. And guess what? Collaboration has started popping up in unexpected places. We’ll have a marketer approach a sales rep and say, “I heard you on that call this morning, and based on what you were talking about, we’ve got a case study that might be helpful.” This simple move set the stage for all kinds of wonderful interaction to happen organically, and suddenly everyone on sales and marketing are all now rowing together in the same direction. It’s been a game-changer for this company.
Ultimately, successful sales and marketing alignment boils down to the need for better communication. If you can get everyone to agree on the way inbound leads should be handled, if you have a process in place that holds everyone accountable to these best practices, and if you actively create opportunities for the sales and marketing teams to work more closely together, you’ll be amazed at what can happen.