Back in 2010, I first read Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. Loved the lucid argument the book made and the actionable nature of the material in each chapter. I still follow many of the things I learned from this book and I’m a big fan of the company, their blog and the thought-leadership content they produce.
So when I saw an email to attend “Grow with Hubspot” in Austin, I signed up to learn from them and get a better understanding of their SaaS product. You see, Hubspot built a combined CRM and Marketing Automation tool. Most of the big marketing automation tools (e.g. Marketo, Eloqua) don’t have a CRM tool built in and position themselves as integrating well with multiple CRM tools. Based on experience, I know that “integrating” with another system presents challenges and leaves something to be desired. In fact, many large companies don’t use the out-of-the-box integration and create their own custom combination of tools often involving multiple databases.
Thus, I was curious about Hubspot’s logic behind their tools as well as what they were espousing about inbound marketing. I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts!
Deliver an exceptional buying experience
The first point presented was the biggest surprise for me: your business objective should be to build a great product and deliver an exceptional buying experience. Many companies don’t think they have to but look at where things are going:
- Buyers have very little patience for products that don’t “just work”. Plus there are many, many choices these days. Thus, any hiccup in your product or sales process will cause you to lose business.
- Buyers are doing the bulk of their research without contacting you. This means you are relying on the your clients for referrals and the helpfulness of your content to drive inbound leads.
- It’s easy to launch a business these days which means more and more competition every day. Overall demand is flat yet the supply of options is growing. It’s critical to stand out.
The message really hit me and made me question if my company was concerned with and trying to deliver an exceptional buying experience.
The need for inbound marketing
Hubspot defined inbound as…
“an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful – not interruptive.”
Inbound marketing, then, approaches sales and marketing differently from traditional models. It’s based on 3 pillars:
- Free, helpful content that addresses a particular problem your target customers may have. Your product or service may not solve the problems addressed by your content but that’s okay, even a good thing! However, the topics you choose should be related to your solutions and it should be a reasonable assumption that are considered knowledgeable on the topic.
- Free trials and free tools give your prospects an opportunity to see the value of your solution.
- A consultative sales process where you lead with research, ask questions to get a deep understanding of your prospective client and educate him or her on ways to achieve their objectives, including how your product/service does so.
This is fairly different from typical outbound sales models where the research is minimal, all the questions are simply to find out if they need your product, and education is limited to product knowledge and not the prospect’s ultimate business objectives.
Here’s a graphic from Hubspot’s presentation that compares outbound sales and marketing to inbound marketing.
Outbound is typically considered disruptive and seller-centric; inbound marketing, on the other hand, is considered helpful, relevant and buyer-centric. Based on that statement, which is going to delivered a better buying experience? Also consider, that most customers complete 60%+ of their research before ever contacting the sales department at one of the companies being considered. Hmmm… it seems…
Companies need more than outbound sales
Most companies agree that inbound is a good complement to their outbound efforts but are these companies really looking at the buying experience? If so, you’d see that inbound is what people want, rather than disruption and a focus on the salesperson’s agenda. Times are changing. Are you waiting for your competition to beat you at inbound marketing or do you want to lead the way and reap the first-comer benefits?
More importantly, what do prospects think about your outbound sales and demand generation efforts? Are you bombarding them with relentless voicemails and emails that don’t add value? Do you even have multiple people from your company unknowingly contacting the same prospect? If you said “yes” to any of the above, how long to you think your prospects and customers will tolerate this?
Last but not least, what will you do when your impersonal, volume-based approach rises in cost while decreases in effectiveness?
Deliver an exceptional buying experience
Based on a Hubspot survey from 2016, your prospects feel the following would improve their sales experience:
- Listen to my needs
- Provide relevant information
- Respond or provide information in a timely manner
- Provide options beyond his/her business offering
In order to do this, sales & marketing need to provide personalization, automation, and self-service.
- Personalization is based on delivering information that matches their interest. It must be done in a way where the prospect is in control and isn’t overwhelmed with options.
- Automation is about making it easy for your prospects to get what they want when they want it. A great example is Dollar Shave Club, which sends grooming supplies automatically according to a schedule you set.
- Self-service means getting out of the way when someone is ready to buy. Custom furniture, cloud computing even car buying have self-service options that more and more people are comfortable purchasing w/o another human involved.
I really like those rules of thumb because it’s what I want as a consumer. Also, inbound isn’t easy so when I see it, I recognize the effort behind it. Here’s a slide from Hubspot that sums up the ideas behind inbound.
I get solicited weekly by vendors selling contact lists and other vendors selling marketing technology. If you aren’t approaching me with content relevant to helping my sales or marketing then I’m turned off. If you are jumping right in to what you do and suggesting we meet so that YOU can find out how I might need YOUR services then I’m going to be turned off.
Framework for the client journey
The concepts, so far, I categorize as “rules of thumb” and the philosophy of inbound. Grow with Hubspot then covered a framework for plotting out your exceptional sales experience called The Growth Playbook. It’s 5 steps that cover the journey from unknown prospect to delighted customer. It’s the 5 big buckets that your sales and marketing process need to optimize if you want to deliver a truly exceptional sales experience.
Prospective customers need to find you and your inbound marketing content. When you understand what your clients are looking for, develop content that is optimize for search terms. Start with your big concept and identify the sub-areas that people are interested in. Then use social media, search engine optimization and paid media to get your content offers in front of your prospective clients.
Never stop testing to figure out what delivers valuable, future customers.
When prospective buyers do find your content and visit your website, landing page, or social media posts make the content easy to obtain and easy for your visitors to take the next step. Remember, help your potential buyer’s engage on their terms which means provide your content on the channels they want and in a helpful manner. Give them the option of taking the next step and make it easy.
Nurture & handoff
As you collect contact information on your prospective buyers, use your CRM and other tools to determine where they are on the buyer’s journey. It’s also critical to segment your prospects and deliver personalized communications that feel like a 1:1 conversation. This includes personalized emails, landing pages, even website pages. When your prospect’s demographic data is sufficient and their digital behavior suggests they are ready, move those leads automatically to your sales team along with insight into the prospect’s potential interests.
Hubspot says that if you follow up on leads within 5 minutes you stand a 9x chance of connecting and a 22% greater chance of closing a deal.
Connect with leads on their terms using modern tools that remove friction for sales such as online appointment scheduling and chat. Cold calling is extremely inefficient so rely on nurturing to cut down on wasteful sales activities. Use your data to find the right mix of communications.
Finally, the relationship doesn’t stop once you make the sale. Support your customers with their product/service experience and use modern tools to keep the relationship strong and turn customers into advocates who will go spread the word about your superior products and exceptional buying experience.
Favorite line of the day: “Growth is the product of a great customer experience.”
Hubspot CRM & marketing automation benefits
Hubspot’s CRM and marketing automation tools have a fairly robust set of features, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. While most of the features aren’t unique by themselves, what is unique is how their tools’ features reinforce their philosophy and approach. A few features jumped out at me and how they help deliver an exceptional buying experience.
- Built in website chat – another, integrated way to letting your website visitors maintain control and engage on their terms.
- Built in online appointment scheduling – saves a TON of time with having to go back and forth over email scheduling a time. The only challenge is the work the prospect has to do with filling out the form. However, the email reminders alone make this tool a no-brainer. Trust me, it’s not easy to integrate a 3rd party tool for appointment scheduling!
- Notification of known contact visiting your website – your reps get an email when one of their contacts visits the website. Being able to see that makes communicating at the right time much easier.
- Ability to put lead/contact into an email “sequence” – email nurturing is a great way to take the burden off sales in educating new prospects on the usual material. With this feature, reps can control the journey and scale their efforts with a couple clicks.
- CRM connected to marketing automation – the ability for marketing email blasts and nurtures to directly leverage the sales database eliminates many challenges that affect your ability to segment and avoid stepping on sales’ toes.
- phone call recording – what better way for multiple reps to understand what each other is doing with an account than to listen to call recordings?
- Integration with 3rd party apps – very few tools can replace all of your systems and unique needs so have a decent sized, diverse, pre-integrated 3rd party app marketplace is the next best thing.
Since I haven’t used nor paid for Hupspot’s CRM or marketing automation system, I’m not in a position to recommend buying it but I am impressed with the features I saw and really like their philosophy and approach towards how to conduct your business using inbound.