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Inbound Marketing Is No Panacea

Inbound marketing is a tool in your toolkit rather than a replacement for traditional sales and marketing.
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If you're not familiar with the term, "inbound marketing" consists of "advertising a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing."

Inbound marketing is usually contrasted with "outbound marketing" which consists of the more traditional demand creation activities like direct mail, e-mail marketing, telemarketing and mass media advertising.

Unfortunately, the companies that sell inbound marketing services and software are over-hyping the concept. Here's an example of the kind of "inbound marketing solves everything" pitch that I receive every week:

"Inbound marketing has placed the power in the client's hands. Prospects are equipped to collect qualifying information from social media influencers, search engines, videos, website content, and blog posts in order to make an educated decision. There is no longer a need for a cold-calling salesperson, you need a closer."

These statements (which are typical of the inbound marketing industry) are highly misleading.

The False Claims of Inbound Marketing

To illustrate this point, let's look at each of the claims that the above statement makes:

Claim: "Inbound marketing has placed the power in the client's hands."

False! Clients have ALWAYS held the power in the buyer-seller relationship. Inbound marketing has not changed this. The customer is always right, remember?

Claim: "Prospects are equipped to collect qualifying information from social media influencers, search engines, videos, website content, and blog posts in order to make an educated decision."

False! While prospects CAN get information from social media, most of it is so biased that it misinforms rather than informs.

Most "social media influencers" are trying to sell something, usually their own consulting services. Search engines are easy to "game" and in most cases the top slots have been purchased by vendors. Videos and commercial websites are also paid content, and therefore biased and unreliable.

Since only an expert in any given subject matter knows what's bogus and what's real on the Web, the flood of information makes it almost impossible for a prospect to make an "educated decision." More importantly, real decision-makers have neither the time nor energy to become experts in fields outside their own area of interest.

Claim: "There is no longer a need for a cold-calling salesperson, you need a closer."

False! While inbound marketing does allow you to gather more information about a prospect and may even convince a prospect to give you a call, you STILL need people with basic sales skills, especially the ability to handle a cold call.

Why Cold Call Skills Are Still Essential

Contrary to popular belief, every first-time conversation with a customer is a cold call, even if the customer picks up the phone and calls YOU.

Regardless of how that first conversation happens, you must still assess needs, qualify the lead, develop the opportunity, build rapport, close the initial deal, and set up for the longer-term relationship.

Obviously, some of these tasks are easier to accomplish if a prospect is already receptive (as evidenced by calling) than if you're calling the customer out of the blue. But the basic skills are still required.

In other words, inbound marketing is not a panacea. It's a tool that augments (but does not replace) outbound marketing and basic selling skills.

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IMAGE: boellstiftung/Flickr
Last updated: May 2, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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