Connecting the dots is the tagline on my personal blog, for a good reason: I enjoy reading individual pieces and discovering the common theme in them. Such two articles are a guest post on CloudAve by a practicing SaaS CEO, Julian
Shakespeare Stone: To Sell or Not To Sell, and Rick Burnes’s piece @ HubSpot about Inbound Marketing & the Next Phase of Marketing on the Web.
Rick points out that just as in the previous downturn in 2001 companies shifted their marketing budget to search engine advertising, since it was more on target and more measurable than display advertising, we’ll see another shift now in the current downturn, when businesses again seek efficiency:
They’re shifting money out of expensive paid search advertising, and into optimization, content and social media that help them get found in organic search results.
These changes are laying the foundation for a new era of marketing on the web – the Inbound Marketing era.
I agree with Rick with the addition that this is clearly not only a temporary shift due to the recession- it’s here to stay with us.
Traditional (outbound) marketing was all about finding customers – or to be specific, prospects, and that’s a key distinction. Prospects, who may or may not be interested in your product /offering: outbound marketing is like carpet bombing, rather poorly targeted. No wonder the “targets” protect themselves (spam filter, call screening, ad-suppression tools…etc), making outbound marketing even less efficient.
Why not spend all your energy (and budget) an people you already know are interested in a solution similar to yours? Who are they? Well, all the people who search for a solution /product. Inbound marketing’s mission is to help these people find you. This chart I borrowed from Rick’s post lists the key outbound / inbound tools.
What do all the inbound tools have in common? You don’t send anything out, people discover your content on their own.
The Hubspot blog list 3 key ingredients of a good inbound marketing strategy:
- Content – this should be obvious, this is what all those people are searching for, so it’s up to you whether they find your solution or a competitor’s.
- Search Engine Optimization – SEO. No matter how good your content is, it has to be found. Yes, there are SEO tricks (and I don’t claim to be mastering them), but increasingly the best SEO trick is good content, as it will attract inbound links, which drives up your Google juice. Blogging is an amazingly efficient organic “SEO tool”.
- Social Media – Your Web presence is no longer just your site, or even the blog: it’s in Google: i.e. other blogs, Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook.. you name it. It’s all part of brand-building, and your Brand is more important than ever. Social Media participation isn’t simply disseminating your own content via new channels: it’s carrying on active dialogues, engaging your customers and getting engaged by them.
Ok, so much for marketing, what about Sales? Sales is really the culmination of marketing, and as Julian points out in To Sell or Not To Sell, the best sales situation when you don’t even have to sell.
When I bought my first real home theater / sound system, I didn’t just get help from sales clerks, but “audio consultants”. Consumers in the market for PC’s in the 80’s often turned to to high-end stores like ComputerLand for help. These high end “consulting” outfits are out of business, for we no longer need them: we do our research online, be it computers, TV’s, food-brands, vitamin ingredients, and buy wherever we get the best terms, online or offline. Where we conclude the purchase doesn’t matter, and the “sales” people involved in the process are not really selling, they are executing a transaction.
Where the transaction no longer involves physical goods is where we have the best chance to automate execution – and that’s the world of software, especially in the age of SaaS, with no delivery, installation or local support. "Sales" in the old sense exists when there’s lack of information. When the SaaS vendor provides maximum transparency, i.e. all product, feature, pricing, terms, support, perhaps even road map information is readily available, the try-and-buy online model truly works: informed, proactive customers don’t get sold to – they buy.
Is this the death of Sales? I think not – just a transformation. Here’s Julian again:
So for every 100 leads in the pipe (trial accounts, general enquires etc) you should be looking for the top 10-20% of leads to proactively contact based on size, their level of interest, activity etc. And when these leads are identified, you shouldn’t have to do the hard sell, rather just email or call and introduce yourself, and ask if you can help. Don’t be pushy. Where possible, simply direct them to website material, PDF White papers, Testimonials etc.
This isn’t really Sales in the old sense – it’s Customer Advocacy. Which happens to be very good marketing, and your satisfied customers are your best marketers.
Finally, I’m writing this on a day when the DOW dropped another 5%, US unemployment rolls surged to the highest in a quarter century, and I’ve personally heard from two friends whose contracts got axed. If you are on the (job) market, you are a product yourself, and everything we’ve discussed about inbound marketing and sales applies. Let’s talk about it in another post…