My marketing agency was recently asked to submit a proposal for an inbound marketing program for a B2B enterprise that offers consulting, software and analytics to its customers. We did what we always do: We started with background research to understand the industry they’re operating in, got a sense of the competitive landscape, figured out what their current marketing mix looked like, then asked one essential question: What problem are we solving for?
For this client, the challenge was the pipeline. While the prospect had a relatively stable pipeline over the course of many years, their more recent track record of closing deals via online channels hasn’t performed to expectations. They were thinking they should expand their total addressable market by moving into adjacent markets that are further afield from their core territory. In order to do this, they reasoned, they needed a broader inbound initiative.
Their thinking reflects a well-established trend: Most B2B chief marketing officers (CMOs) have placed faith in inbound for years. The recipe used to work well: Attract people with relevant content, educate why it is time for a change, tell them what the change involves (or why they would be left behind if they didn’t embrace the new way), and extend offers to them to contact your sales team to get your solution.
There’s just one glitch here: Inbound works if you have the time, resources and stamina to let it work. But today, getting prospects to convert is becoming increasingly difficult, and inbound is no longer the tried-and-true pipeline generation machine that our esteemed colleagues at HubSpot would lead us to believe. In fact, HubSpot reports in its 2017 State of Inbound reportthat 63% of marketers admit that their top challenge is generating enough traffic and leads. Today’s analytics capabilities put much more responsive and nimble marketing strategies within every marketer’s grasp than in Inbound program, alone, can generate.
But we can’t just walk into the CMO’s or CFO’s office and tell them they need to scrap their inbound plan and instead go with an integrated approach that doesn’t lead with inbound. Or can we?
I wager we can, and we must. We’ve long known that each client relationship requires a unique balance between delivering what the client asks for and diagnosing what the client needs. We think of this balancing act as finding the right spot on a continuum, bracketed on one end by the role of execution partner and on the other end by the role of trusted advisor.
Assuming a trusted advisor posture, we told our prospect this: When you have the time to establish an ecosystem within the marketplace that puts your company at the center, and when you have the resources to create a content library that addresses your customers’ journey at the top, middle and bottom of the funnel, you can leverage inbound to help customers self-select and engage with you.
But what about the more immediate opportunities that your sales team would hop on if they knew a prospect was actively researching vendor offerings for a solution you provide? And what if you could identify companies that had already researched their options but were nearing a decision to go with your competitor? And what about the key accounts that your sales team has identified as fitting your company’s ideal customer profile? Do you want to bet these opportunities solely on the optimism of your inbound strategy? Without the tools to uncover these immediate opportunities and without close alignment and coordination between your sales and marketing teams, you’re risking too much.
A Faster Route To Pipeline
Time waits for no inbound marketing program. Today, agile marketing organizations need to take advantage of new technologies and a new methodology that can accelerate the sales cycle: account-based funnel management (ABFM). ABFM requires seamless collaboration between marketing and sales to land and expand the accounts that matter most to your business. There’s a role for inbound within ABFM, but inbound isn’t the centerpiece and it certainly isn’t the sole strategy. It starts with sales and marketing alignment and taps the best aspects of both inbound and outbound to target the right customers with the right content and offers at the right time.
My company’s 2017 State of Account-Based Marketing industry reportpublished earlier this year makes the case that close alignment of sales and marketing is foundational to a successful account-based approach. We also see this assertion bolstered by some key third-party research. According to MarketingProfs, “organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions experience 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates.”And “according to SiriusDecisions, cross-functional alignment among sales, marketing and product organizations can help companies achieve up to 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability,” as reported by Highspot.
The actions of the participants in our industry report bear this out: At the end of 2016, nearly seven in 10 respondents were either engaged in or planning to launch account-based marketing activities this year. Of those organizations with an ABM initiative in place, three of four were planning to continue their investment this year. Further still, nearly two-thirds reported plans to increase their ABM budgets for 2017.
In the case of our prospective client, we were able to demonstrate that their plan for expanding their inbound effort was not going to pay off in a timeframe the management team could live with. We helped them see that while the slow and steady inbound strategy still has a supporting role, they needed to put ABFM front and center to stay ahead of the competition.
So even though our pitch was that their strategy was outdated, our consultative approach converted our prospect to a client; inbound alone is a relic from a bygone era.