What the F*** Is Inbound Prospecting?
Inbound prospecting is the process of strategically attracting and funneling users who match your target audience to your web properties with the goal of converting them into qualified sales opportunities.
Think of it like your website, content, and overall SEO strategy acting as another core member of your sales team, instead of disjointed channels with separate goals and measures of success.
This methodology can pay huge dividends for any company looking to scale its demand and lead generation efforts when done correctly.
Sounds Like Inbound Marketing to me, What’s the Difference?
My heart is full knowing you’re still with me and asking good questions.
Truthfully, inbound prospecting does share a ton of overlap with inbound marketing. In fact, the execution of inbound prospecting relies on inbound marketing tactics and channels in order to be effective.
The core difference between inbound prospecting and inbound marketing is the difference in what you’re optimizing for and ultimately hope to achieve.
Some inbound marketing professionals might be happy with a campaign that leads to a 25% increase in resource center consumption by users from organic traffic. They see that as generating demand and therefore beneficial to the business.
In general, I would personally see that as a win as well.
However, inbound prospecting is only concerned with new users indirectly. If you were architecting an inbound prospecting campaign, you would be happy if your efforts lead to a 11% increase in inbound SQLs (sales qualified leads) for the following quarter.
One is focused on the act of attracting new eyeballs, and the other enjoys that if it happens, but is focused on sales opportunities and closing new business measurably.
Okay Got It. So How Does This Help Me?
You are on an absolute roll, three tremendous questions in a row.
I like you.
The short answer is that, in order to be a successful business over time, you must have a reliable and repeatable system of generating new business.
A focus on KPIs like traffic or keyword increases is nice (and smart at the individual campaign or channel level), but at the end of the day is useless if it’s not driving business metrics like SQLs or direct revenue increases.
As an inbound marketing and growth professional, I see it as my duty to work overtime to not only measure each campaign against the business metrics it helps to improve, but to design campaigns that map specifically to those business metrics from the beginning.
It’s tempting to get excited when you see more impressions, clicks, and new users pour in from inbound efforts.
Resist the temptation.
Our responsibility as strategists is to ensure that we’re always trying our efforts back to the company’s growth as much as we possibly can and see the forest through the trees.
On top of that, most buyers are tired of receiving endless amounts of spam, unwarranted outreach, “connection” requests on LinkedIn, and being essentially stalked on the phone from stressed out SDRs trying to make quota.
Yes, outbound methodologies are alive and well, and yes, they can be effective.
However, it’s clear that buyers have made the shift to an inbound centric decision-making process and have a preference for an information-rich, up-front, multi-touch and well-rounded approach to becoming your customer.
I see the combination of the trust-building approach of inbound with the laser focus on business growth of sales programs as the new formula for success.
Important Inbound Prospecting considerations
Now that you know the what and the why of inbound prospecting, I want to dive into some key aspects to keep in mind as you’re starting to build this out for your organization.
Marketing and sales alignment
All too often I speak with startups and mid-market companies alike, who have a steel wall in between their marketing and sales departments.
Marketing is off in la-la land tracking impressions from the memes they posted on the company social media account and all sales cares about is hitting their dials per hour quotas because some sales manager did some back of the napkin math on how to achieve an unrealistic revenue target.
See the mismatch here?
The goal should be for both departments to have conversations around what KPIs map well to their week-by-week or month-by-month analysis of their respective campaigns and review what each needs to be successful.
From there, they must work together to develop a repeatable and self-reinforcing system that builds over time and leads to the outcome everyone wants: increased revenue and profit.
Ensuring interconnectedness and a seamless handoff between marketing and sales is guaranteed to pay off in the long run.
Ideal Customer Profile
In my opinion, any marketing or sales campaign is almost useless if you have no idea who your ideal customer is.
An intimate knowledge of that human or set of humans, will cascade into every aspect of your company and improve them all.
The goal isn’t to try and guess what kind of cereal your ICP eats for breakfast.
The goal is to use customer conversations, insights from the sales team, competitors, and every other available data point to come up with specific kinds of people and/or organizations that are most likely to want or need your product or service.
Here are some considerations when putting these together:
Aspect of their day to day job they dislike the most
Income or earning potential
Existing tools or solutions to do their job
Size and complexity of organization
User buying decision-making process
Similarly to having an intimate understanding of who might buy from you, it’s crucial to think about how that human will interact with your web properties, content, campaigns, and sales team during their decision-making process.
It’s not enough to put together a series of ad hoc campaigns and hope that they work. The real magic happens when the campaigns are created with the intention of being mutually beneficial to one another.
Here are some questions I’ve used to help clients define these journeys:
What information will be useful for them to be more informed about the nature of their problem?
What can you offer them to compel them to find you in the first place?
Do you have information about your products? Features? Industries you serve? Solutions that your product solves? Documentation or FAQs to help when users get stuck?
If they aren’t ready to buy, can you offer to get them into your ecosystem or think about you first when they are ready to buy?
Does the messaging of your sales materials match the marketing material on your website or social profiles when they are converted?
Does your website have clear calls to action and ideal user paths intentionally laid out?
Your objectives here are to:
1. Identify the steps they will need to take and then
2. Create the right assets in the right format to help move them along their decision-making process without friction.
Examples of this could be:
Blog post with 101 style content about your business model
A guide on how to implement a strategy adjacent to your product’s core benefit
When a user exits the guide, they are prompted to receive a 5-day mini email course on improving a consistent friction point within their business.
Segmentation of your product features into solutions that focus on bottom of funnel keywords that walk users through the most common use cases of the platform.
Linking from each solutions page to either a demo call to action or to a pricing page to learn more.
A signup link on the pricing page or sales chat option to answer any last-minute questions.
Targeting anyone who visited a solutions page and signed up for your email course but didn’t purchase with a specific Google or LinkedIn ad that offers a 60-minute strategy call with a specialist to help them on the spot.
Building an integration between your analytics tool and CRM, to notify sales when someone has viewed your LinkedIn profile and website more than 5 times, to reach out and introduce yourself with that same helpful guide as above.
Intent-based keyword research
It’s not enough to simply create content around keywords and hope that someone converts. This kind of thinking isn’t useful.
I always look at keyword research as market research about my target audience/buyer and how they understand both our offer and industry.
The idea of intent-based keyword research is nothing new. It’s simply the idea of analyzing WHY someone is using the exact language they are to navigate the search engine landscape and WHAT kind of result they are expecting and interacting with based on that search behavior.
To understand the intent of a keyword or set of topics, consider the following:
Is someone likely looking to learn something new, consider options, purchase, or find a page or company they already know about.
What do the competitors at the top of this search result have in common? Are they all informative blog posts, solutions landing pages, video walkthroughs? Google returns results that users click on most.
Are a lot of people looking for this? Or is it niche and obscure with only a few speaking this way?
Are companies spending a lot of money on bidding for this keyword through paid search? How much?
Again, this isn’t just for playing a game of cat and mouse with Google. The language that your prospects use to find you is hugely important.
I would recommend you find commonalities between these searches and use it to inform language used in sales conversations, what kind of resources you created, product feature design, and even when naming your offers.
Lead qualification & CRM
In order to understand how marketing and sales are affecting each other and analyze your efforts over time, you’ll need to get your lead qualification criteria, qualification process, and CRM usage down.
It’s how you go from…
“We had some people come in from some places on the internet, who looked at some stuff about us, and then somehow got in touch, who then became customers after some amount of time.”
“Our typical customer journey starts by a user finding us and reading one of these top 5 articles, viewing our LinkedIn Ad within 3 business days and reading our ultimate guide that we promote, a week later viewing our most popular product feature page, going straight to the about page to learning more about the company history, requesting a demo within 5 business days, sales qualifying 30% of them the following week, and closing an average of 10 prospects per month each within 2 months of the first interaction with the website content."
I don’t know about you, but that second example makes me downright giddy.
Giddy with excitement and possibility.
The benefit of having processes around defining and qualifying opportunities, understanding your web property analytics, and tying that into a CRM that gives insight into your sales funnel through to purchase, is predictability.
Once things are predictable, you can start projecting, and once you start projecting, you can more reliably scale the effectiveness of both your marketing and sales efforts.
Alright, I'm convinced. How do I implement this?
If this were a more basic topic like “how to set up google search console,” I would dive into the exact steps needed to ramp up. Screenshots and all.
But this is much more complex and I can’t define what your inbound prospecting system should consist of or how it should function.
That’s up for you and your organization to diligently work towards and test over time until you get it just right.
With that in mind, here are the broad steps to take to get that dialed in:
Define KPIs and goals. Even though this isn’t likely to be 100% accurate, clearly defining what KPIs will keep you on the right track. These KPI targets will allow you to know how effective your efforts are more quickly and accurately.
Set up tracking. After you’ve defined those KPIs and objectives, you need to ensure you have the correct tracking to capture that data. Work backward from each to ensure you have the right insights set up and verified.
Choose your tools wisely. Tools like Google Analytics and your CRM of choice are great for insight to performance, but you’ll also need to evaluate your entire marketing and sales stack. What presentation tool is your sales team using for your deck? What CMS system is your website on? Are you using an intuitive scheduling tool to reduce contact to sales conversation wait time for inbound leads?
Define which channels you will use. Know what channels you want to use, why these make sense for your situation, and how you will most effectively deploy your strategies on each, ahead of time.
Research, research, research. Before you implement your tactics, spend time in research and analysis mode. Surface every insight and data point possible, and use that to make smart decisions in tandem with your first-hand knowledge and intuition.
Define tactics. Once you’ve identified the channels you want to use, a broad strategy for each, and you’ve got clear actionable insights — go deeper. What specific steps will you take for each campaign to see your desired result? How long will each take? Who will implement each? What data point can you align with the tactic to make its deployment most effective?
Implement. This speaks for itself. Create an action plan with checklists and check-ins to ensure the implementations are getting done to spec.
Analyze performance regularly. Remember those KPIs and goals you set? Don’t wait until the end of an eight-month initiative to check-in to see how it’s going. Regularly look at the dashboards you’ve built and identify trends, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity.
Iterate. Whether your campaigns are going completely according to plan or doing terribly, it’s wise to get into the habit of pausing, analyzing how things are going, and extrapolating meaning on a regular basis. From there you can pivot and form new plans based on the latest information you have. This will lead to accelerated progress and increased effectiveness.
I believe that inbound prospecting is the way of the future and is more of a mindset shift than one of completely different channels or strategies.
As far as I know, the strategies and tactics are already in place for most organizations to take advantage of this methodology. The only gap is in their conceptualization of what success looks like and do determine their “why” far in advance of deploying their campaigns.
My challenge to you all is to answer this: How can you do a better job of combining your inbound marketing efforts today to align with sales and better connect those efforts with sales and business metrics?
I hope that you accept and answer that for yourselves.
Now go forth and prospect.