In the Spring of 2006, two students in the New Enterprise class of MIT started a company that would spark a movement, a movement that would change the way we do business today. This company is now a household name, and this movement is now part of everyday business vernacular.
These two students were Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. The movement is called ‘inbound marketing.” And the company is Hubspot.
Inbound marketing is promoting your company through social media, content marketing, products and any other means to attract customers to come to you. Rather than going out hunting, you’re standing still fishing. This is how Hubspot built their company to what it is today.
Inbound is virtually the exact opposite of what this blog is about: outbound sales. However, you need both for your sales team to hit their numbers and for your business to survive. In fact, they may be more closely related than you think.
This post is NOT about how to do inbound marketing. There’s a lot of great information out there on how to create an inbound marketing machine. This post is about how inbound affects your sales team. This post is about how to effectively and efficiently manage your inbound leads. This post is about how inbound can help you crush quota and skyrocket your sales.
What happens after a lead comes inbound?
Rules of sales development are rapidly transforming, and this question needs to be explored more in depth.
Just because a lead converts on a piece of website content doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily a hot prospect, ready to buy now. The chances are greater that an inbound lead will close, but pursuing each and every single inbound lead is not always worth the time. How a sales rep spends his or her time prospecting is crucial to their success. That’s why it’s important to establish a clear and well thought-out protocol for handling inbound leads.
However, I see many salespeople making mistakes with inbound leads that cost them time and money. As a lead comes in and goes through your sales funnel, mistakes along the way jeopardize your chances of closing. Let’s walk through the five most common and costly mistakes with inbound leads.
1) Not delegating the responsibility of inbound leads
In order to build an effective sales development machine, you must implement a process for dealing with inbound leads. If you’re like most companies, you have a dashboard for all untouched inbound leads, and they’re all up for grabs. But if everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.
So who should own the inbound leads? Should Marketing be responsible for following up since they are largely responsible for their conversion? Or should Sales be responsible because they’re ultimately tasked with closing them?
Personally, in my opinion, since Marketing is the first team to get notified of an inbound lead after a form has been filled out on your website, I think it’s Marketing’s responsibility to field those leads. However, every organization is structured a little differently, so the first line of response could actually be Sales, Marketing Operations, or even Sales Operations. The bottom line is that there needs to be a clear-cut process in place.
In order for a process to work effectively and efficiently, there needs to be a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between all the teams that touch your inbound leads, namely sales, marketing and customer success.
This SLA should include:
- Agreed upon definitions and criteria for
- A lead
- A marketing qualified lead (MQL)
- Sales qualified lead (SQL)
- Sales accepted lead (SAL)
- Customers at risk
- Lead management process
- An agreed upon definition of what success looks like, which includes
- Monthly, quarterly and annual goals for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service
- Reporting—dashboards and in-depth reports for each team and how stakeholders can access the information
Once an SLA is in place and responsibility is delegated, a proper follow up process can be effectively implemented so no opportunities are missed.
2) Not properly qualifying inbound leads
After you have an SLA in place and know who is responsible for your inbound leads, the first step is to qualify those leads. Simply put, is this prospect a good match for your product/service or not? You must establish and clearly articulate criteria for what is considered a qualified lead.
Some important things to consider:
- Is this lead a part of an account already in your system?
- Does this lead match the profile for your ideal account?
- Company size
- Company age
- Technology they’re using
- Does this lead match one of your targeted buyer personas?
- Pain points/challenges
If the answer to these three questions is “no, this lead is not a fit,” then put the lead into a marketing drip campaign; there’s no use following up at this point. However, if the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to pass the lead on to Sales.
If the answer is “maybe” because you don’t have all of the information to confidently make a decision, you have a few options. You can choose to put that lead into a marketing drip campaign and offer additional valuable information to progressively profile the lead until you can qualify him or her. It’s probably worth segmenting these leads with the information that you do have and putting them in specific dip campaigns based on your target personas for the best chance of nurturing them into SQLs.
Alternatively, you can do a little background research yourself and manually qualify him or her.
To begin uncovering the necessary qualification information, visit profiles of your prospect and his/her company on sites like:
Beyond some of this general demographic information, we can start to assess psychographic and behavioral factors. That’s the beauty of inbound- you have a little more information to add color to the prospect. (More on this in mistake #3).
3) Not conducting proper research before reaching out
Now that you’ve qualified the lead and passed him or her along to the sales team, it’s important for the sales rep responsible for following up to do more research. Another big mistake I see sales reps make is reaching out blind. Sure, you may know what company the person works for, but do you know what that company does?
This is where digging into some of the psychographic and behavioral factors really comes in handy. You can look at the type of content the inbound prospect converted on, giving you a better idea of intent. For example, if a prospect converted on a mid-funnel piece of content, it shows higher intent and you can get a better idea of the pain or problem they’re having. Here are some other questions to ask for uncovering psychographics and behavioral factors:
- What type of content did this lead conver on?
- How long has this lead been in your system and what other content have they viewed? (If you’re using a platform like Hubspot, once a lead filled out a form and comes inbound, you’re able to get visibility into all the other content and pages they’re viewed, which emails they’ve opened and to what degree they have engaged with your company on social channels before filling out the form).
- What is their referral source?
- How are they currently solving their problem? (If you’re using a service like BuiltWith or Datanyze, you can see if they’re using a competitor, thus giving insight to whom you’re selling against)
Just as with traditional prospecting, it’s very important for a rep to perform proper research on an inbound lead before reaching out. First impressions matter. Small errors get amplified.
The caveat here is to avoid spending too much time or waiting too long to follow up. According to a study by LeadResponseManagement.org and InsideSales.com, a lead contacted within five minutes of converting is 100x more likely to convert than if follow up happens 90 minutes later.
If you don’t have access to or can’t find the proper information quickly enough, it’s perfectly reasonable to call your prospect and simply ask. You might say something like this:
“I noticed you were checking out our [type and name of content]. Were you able to access it? What challenges are you having around [topic]? How is that affecting you? Let’s schedule another time to chat and see how we can help you achieve [specific results].”
4) Not personalizing follow up communication to inbound leads
If you weren’t able to get in touch with that inbound lead immediately, no problem. Though your chances of connecting may drop, if there’s one thing that we know it’s this: persistence wins.
There’s a lot of focus on creating and sending effective emails to sourced prospects, but salespeople don't often take those same principles and apply them to inbound leads. The reason you’re reaching out is a given: they requested some information and you’re following up with them. However, they still want to connect with a human, so you must personalize your messaging. Automation kills rapport -- no matter what.
You can even take some of your best-performing outbound email templates, do a little re-tooling, and use them with inbound leads. For example:
Hi [first name],
I noticed that you [action] on [piece of content].
I wanted to reach out because we help companies [one-sentence value proposition]. We’ve already helped [customers] achieve [specific results].
Do you have 15-20 minutes on [date] to explore how we can help [company] do the same?
To get more example of outbound sales emails you can re-tool and tweak for inbound leads, check out the Cold Email Generator.
Though platforms like PersistIQ were originally built for cold outbound sales campaigns, they can be just as powerful for reaching out to inbound leads. After all, the end goal is the same: get positive engagement and set up a meeting/demo.
5) Not following up correctly
Though there’s no golden rule for the number of follow up attempts or a follow up tempo/timing you should make with sourced prospects, any smart sales rep knows persistence is important. But most reps don’t think of applying this same mentality to inbound leads as well. Effective follow up strategies can and should be used for managing inbound leads too.
There are 4 critical factors for successful follow up:
- Number of touchpoints: We advocate for 7 or more touches for each prospect, even with qualified inbound leads.
- Channel Diversity: Go beyond phone and email by adding social to the mix. But don’t overlook some other less conventional ways to get in front of your prospects, like direct mail, fax, conferences and industry tradeshows, door-to-door, etc.
- Time between touchpoints: We recommend being a little more persistent early on, then tapering off if the buyer hasn’t responded. We’ve seen great results sending the second touch a day or even 12 hours after the first.
- Content of touchpoints: Sending “just checking in” and “just following up” get really old really fast. Instead, offer value by offering new insights, educating your prospects, sharing relevant news or reemphasizing business value.
Here is an example of a workflow that has been effective for us:
- Day 1: Call and email
- Day 2: Email and Twitter (favorite a tweet)
- Day 3: Twitter (Follow and retweet)
- Day 5: Email and LinkedIn (connection request)
- Day 7: Email
- Day 10: Call and email
- Day 17: Email and Twitter (tweet at or retweet)
- Day 21: Blog and/or LinkedIn (comment of content)
- Day 28: Call and email
The bottom line is when you’re following up, you must continue to offer value at each touch.
Having a process doesn’t matter if you’re not closely monitoring the performance of every aspect of your lead generation and lead management to make sure the process is working. After all, you could be using the wrong process- a process that doesn’t fit your needs or is out of date. It’s important to track and measure every step of the process to optimize and make intelligent decisions so you can get your desired results. All team involved (sales, marketing, customer success, etc.) need to be on the same page and know how to generate the appropriate and relevant reports for their respective teams.
Inbound leads are an essential part of any company’s sales development effort and overall growth. However, if you don’t follow up with them properly, you’re missing great opportunities. Investing the time to create a process and getting on the same page with your marketing team will pay off tenfold. Establishing the right practices for following up with qualified inbound leads can launch your growth into hyper speed.
Stay tuned for more of the latest in outbound sales best practices and methods.
This post was brought to you by PersistIQ. Our software empowers salespeople to easily convert prospects into a qualified pipeline and create personalized outbound campaigns at scale. See how PersistIQ can help you make your own sales efforts more effective today.