When you founded your startup, you knew you had to sell the idea to your pilot customers, then your investors and finally the early adopters who understood the problem your SaaS was solving. But there comes a time when you are at crossroads to determine how to grow your company beyond outbound sales.
There is nothing wrong with growing a sales organization, pounding phones and sending cold email campaigns to grow your company. But if you have been involved in the sales function for your SaaS company, you probably experienced the same challenges that sales teams are experiencing everywhere – it is getting harder to find prospects. In fact, prospecting is the number one challenge reported by sales teams.
This is where inbound marketing comes in. Let’s be clear – inbound marketing will never replace the sales function at your company. You will always need closers. What inbound can do is make the prospecting phase of the sales cycle much easier by feeding your sales team warm and hot leads. That said, veteran sales teams and sales leaders will see inbound with a healthy amount of skepticism.
Addressing Concerns About Using Inbound
The traditional notion of inbound marketing is to create content and draw a relevant audience to the content through a variety of channels. Converting these visitors to hot leads involves several steps and can take months. The primary concern most sales teams have with inbound is the amount of time it takes to get leads. Sales leaders are used to initiating conversations and closing deals within short cycles. The lead time that inbound marketing can take is a huge turn-off for sales teams and investors alike. But there are two ways to address this issue:
- Plan ahead and start early. If you know you need hot leads in July, start working toward that goal in January. Consequently, the hot leads that you will send to your sales team are the ones that you have been nurturing for months.
2. Target the bottom of the funnel. Inbound marketing doesn’t mean that you have to start with educating your prospects. Many times, you will find leads actively searching for solutions. Use the right marketing channels to make them aware of your SaaS product. Sometimes a well-researched PPC ad that addresses the right pain point can be enough to get hot leads to your sales team.
How to Inbound
Assuming you are getting started with inbound, there are four key steps in getting the inbound formula right. These steps involve identifying who to target, how to target them, how to convince them, and when to target them. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these steps:
Step 1: Fleshing Out Buyer Personas
Inbound marketing works through buyer personas, which are the next step beyond the concept of the “target market.” Personas are extremely detailed demographic and psychographic descriptions. When you develop the key personas of your buyers, you understand their lifestyle, business needs, and pain points, as well as what their ideal customer journey looks like. Knowing each persona dictates what kind of content will appeal to those individuals – what will engage them and drive more traffic, what they will value enough to give up their own personal information to get. These personas need to be defined, evaluated and documented so they can be referenced not only by your marketers but also by your sales, R&D and leadership teams.
If this sounds complicated, never fear – your sales team probably already has enough data on your clients and prospects to provide the basic personas. Collect information on the job titles they usually work with, what those people have in common, and what challenges they cite. Your service team will be able to contribute information about existing clients and how they use your software to achieve their goals. Based on this information, have your SaaS marketing agency or your marketing team build the personas to target.
Step 2: Churn Out the Content
Now that you know what needs your personas are trying to meet and what goals they have, it’s time to regularly turn out content that they will find most meaningful. This content could include articles, ebooks, product demos, free trials, webinars, valuable usage tips, case studies, and client success stories. Don’t be afraid to develop content that tells relevant stories that aren’t necessarily about your product, particularly if these stories help solve other problems your readers may be having.
These posts may be heralded through a related email campaign, but they usually live on your blog on your (interactive and mobile-optimized) website. HubSpot has published a study showing that companies that blog 11 or more times per month see more than twice as much traffic as those that blog 4 or fewer times per month. Eleven times a month is essentially three times a week. To keep up that kind of schedule, develop a content calendar several months in advance that regularly leverages the knowledge of other key teams such as sales, customer support, development and leadership.
Finally, once you’ve gone to all the trouble to create excellent content, squeeze every bit of use out of it! One rule of thumb says that if you take three days to write content, spend another three days on distributing and marketing that content (usually through your integrated marketing campaign).
Step 3: Establish Conversion Paths
Conversion paths are the landing pages where you gather increments of information on your prospects in exchange for more in-depth content, better offers, trial programs, etc. This is the magic whereby your visitors move themselves through the funnel from “just browsing” visitor to MQL (marketing-qualified lead) to SQL (sales-qualified lead) using a demo or other experience of your product.
At an initial engagement, for your most basic content offerings, you might solicit name, email address, website URL, and something else that refers back to your personas, like job title or department. Subsequent content offerings to these basic respondents -- and subsequent automated emails and landing pages -- solicit more information to flesh out their personas, gather details on the needs they’re trying to meet, etc. These details, plus a minimum amount of internet research, should give your sales team all they need to offer a consultation or take other action to deepen the relationship based on that prospect’s individual needs.
Step 4: Target Prospects at the Right Time
As mentioned before, your SaaS marketing strategy should target prospects in all stages of the buyer’s journey. For example, use Organic search and display to make prospects aware of your solutions. Use paid search and re-targeting to target those that are in the decision-making phase. Use email and LinkedIn marketing to make pointed contact with relevant content.
Using inbound can be a cost-effective way to fill your sales team’s pipeline. Not only is it a higher ROI activity, but it is also fast becoming the easier way to find prospects for sales teams. Implementing inbound requires getting several steps right. If the prospect of getting started is daunting, we can help you get started.