How Inbound Marketing Can Help a Grounded B2B Sales Team

May 29, 2020

As usual, I’m going to write this from the perspective of a financial marketer — but I think this idea could apply to most B2B companies.

So here’s the deal:

The asset management sales team has been grounded. Walking the wirehouse office floor, sponsoring lunch-n-learns, treating advisors to a meal, speaking at conferences, networking at events—basically the entire wholesaler playbook was unceremoniously ripped out of their hands when C19 came on the scene.

And while travel and such is kinda, sorta, slowly coming back online in some places, it’s clearly going to be a while before sales has access to its full toolkit once again.

Of course, sales can be done over the phone or video chat. But there’s a reason asset managers have both internal and external wholesalers. I started out on the iShares internal sales desk about a decade ago, and I guarantee I didn’t move the dial one-tenth as much as my external counterpart. To our prospects, I was an interruptive phone call. He was a beloved golf buddy. (He was also a way better salesperson—more on that in a minute).

Anyway, sales has been cut off at the knees, and this is a big deal because asset managers have historically relied heavily on their sales team to sell their products and strategies to intermediaries. Marketing was there to provide “air cover” for sales. (I learned that term when I moved over from sales to marketing). We were there to make the brand look trustworthy, modern and compelling. We weren’t on the hook for sales. That’s what the sales team was for.

And that was the right move because our sales team was freaking good at sales.

On the marketing side, we had our own special set of skills—chief among them, we could connect with our audience in places where a) they were spending copious amounts of time and b) the sales team couldn’t reach them.

Through the magic of content marketing and sophisticated targeting options, we started to have sales-like “conversations” with qualified prospects and clients in the spaces they frequented online every day. Was it as effective as sales? Probably not, but again, that wasn’t our primary goal. Sales was there to sell, we were there to provide air cover.

This isn’t to say that asset managers don’t do conversion-focused marketing (although in my experience, many don’t). The bigger point is that marketing is over here and sales is over there, and they don’t cross paths that often. They are “siloed,” to use a jargony term. We all talk about these silos and express a wish to break them down—to achieve “sales and marketing alignment,” to use another jargony term. But again, in my experience, most asset manager sales and marketing teams remain in their silos, with alignment nirvana always, tantalizingly, just out of reach.

How to build a bridge between sales and marketing — right now, when they need it most

Let’s recap:

  • Asset managers have historically heavily relied on the sales team to sell their products.
  • Asset managers have historically under-relied on marketing to sell their products.
  • Sales has been grounded; marketing has not.
  • Sales is really good at selling; marketing is really good at getting in front of the right audience online.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

If there was ever a time that asset manager sales and marketing teams should figure out how to align, this is it. Each of these teams has a superpower the other team needs. And asset management firms need both of those superpowers working together in lockstep to stay ahead of the competition in an increasingly commoditized industry.

Easier said than done, right? Sales and marketing alignment has always been elusive, often because it doesn’t go far enough. It’s cobbled together through committees, ad hoc meetings and complicated reporting structures. It’s a feel-good KPI with no teeth. Alignment sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t often thrive in the real world.

So here’s my proposal:

Use inbound marketing to build a bridge between marketing and sales.

For the uninitiated, inbound marketing is essentially the online version of what sales does IRL. It’s using all the online tools at your disposal—your website, third party websites, social media, search engines, email, etc—to put content in front of your audience that makes them aware of your offerings, answers their questions, overcomes their objections and makes them feel like they can trust your brand. It’s not quite “golf buddy” level, but the idea of building a relationship and nurturing it over time is the same.

Now here’s where you might say, oh that? We already do that! We have a blog/publish white papers/promote our content on LinkedIn/buy Morninstar ads/send out a regular email (or some combination of these things).

And if you are doing any of that stuff, that’s fantastic news. The leap from “doing digital marketing” to “doing inbound marketing” is much easier than starting from scratch.

The difference — and it is different — is that inbound marketing is a strategy, while digital marketing is an activity. Inbound marketing requires you to think through your prospects’ experience from the day they first hear your firm’s name to the day they invest in one of your strategies. Throughout that journey, you’ve identified all the questions, arguments and “aha moments” your content needs to address. And you’ve mapped out how to use that content — where to promote it, whom to target, how to retarget — to take prospects from “disinterested stranger” to “number one fan.”

5 ways inbound marketing can align your marketing and sales teams

Here are five ways that inbound marketing can activate the dual superpowers of your sales and marketing teams:

1. Turn your sales team into a content marketing asset.

Marketing always needs good content, and sales always needs to get in front of good prospects. Why not produce regular webinars featuring the best and brightest on your sales team? Or give a salesperson a byline on your blog?

2. Put a human face on your marketing.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: A fair amount of asset manager marketing sounds a little robotic, a little cold and a lot the same as everybody else. You wanna know a trick for standing out in a crowded online space? Have your marketing come from a human. Do you know where to find humans who are poised, knowledgeable about your product and audience, and already on the payroll? You got it—your sales team.

3. Tap sales for crucial audience intel.

The sales team is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to audience targeting—they know demographics and psychographics, what kind of content will appeal, and where their best prospects hang out online. Bringing sales into the loop makes inbound marketing so much easier to execute and more effective, to boot.

4. Produce legitimately qualified leads.

A lot of sales folks are wary of marketing-driven “lead generation” campaigns because they’ve been burned by lackluster leads in the past. Fortunately, lead scoring and sales qualified leads are two best practices of an effective inbound marketing strategy. As sales begins to see the benefits, they’ll be all-in on inbound.

5. Put sales and marketing on the same team.

The shared goal of the sales and marketing teams is growth. It’s a multi-faceted goal, but it’s the same goal. Put them both on the hook for growth-oriented inbound marketing objectives and they’ll figure out how to get there—together—pretty quickly.

Sales and marketing alignment: The new best practice

We all know that the way forward is not waiting around for things to go back to normal.

This pandemic is forcing pretty much every company in every industry to rethink how they’ve done things in the past. It’s given us permission to let go of the status quo, because a lot of the old ways don’t work anymore, and frankly they were probably losing steam for a while.

Inbound marketing is a compelling option for asset managers who want to transform the way their strategies are sold and finally get their sales and marketing orgs on the same team.

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