How to Make Your Inside Sales Team a Strategic Bridge Between Sales and Marketing

A well-orchestrated demand marketing program is a beautiful thing. Lead flow is consistent and predictable. Marketing interactions align to the customer journey. Marketing investments are optimized to produce the most lift, technology is fully leveraged to enable the whole process, and your Inside Sales team is a strategic bridge between sales and marketing.

What could go wrong?

As always people are key to any transformation process, and of particular importance are the people who serve as a connection between marketing and sales in the demand process: Inside Sales. These critical ‘first responders’ need an intentional and thoughtful approach to advancing the buyer journey.

The hand-off from marketing to sales can be smooth and seamless, or it can seem ‘thrown over the fence’ or, worst case, it can become a black hole for your hard-won qualified leads. The approach to enable and support this critical function to be more strategic and complement your customer experience can be achieved in four key steps.

1. Align Teams to Common Definitions and Responsibilities

It may come as no surprise to most that sales and marketing alignment is one of the most oft-cited issues with demand marketing. While it’s true with most things that acknowledging the problem is the first step, it won’t get you far without action. There are two must-have components to building alignment when it comes to transforming demand marketing.

1. Mutually agreed upon definitions are the building blocks of this process. Even though you may be using what you believe are industry-standard terms, is everyone speaking the same language? Make sure that definitions have been jointly agreed upon and documented between sales, marketing and inside sales to ensure everyone has a common lexicon. What is a marketing qualified lead called and what does it signify? How is a sales-ready lead defined? If none of these questions have been answered, then your teams are probably operating on very different standards. For more helpful information about this topic, read “How to Align Sales and Marketing Teams.”

2. Roles and responsibilities go hand-in-hand with definitions. Clear guidelines around ownership at each stage and what actions are to be taken against each of those stages, in what timeframe, ensure accountability and transparency for the whole team. If a marketing qualified lead is owned by Inside Sales, and they vet and further qualify before setting an appointment for a sales-ready lead, the ‘gates’ that are needed to move from stage to stage need clear definition and understanding. If you’re struggling to determine responsibilities, read “Who Owns the Number: Sales or Marketing?” and “How Your Org Chart Can Make or Break Your Demand Marketing Transformation.”

2. Proactively Train Your Team

Too often, training and change management are afterthoughts. Rather than a hastily produced deck that provides instructions as the last step to roll-out, efforts that produce lasting behavior change should be carefully considered and have these common characteristics.

Explain Why

When you explain the ‘why’ and not just the ‘how’ and ‘what’ you need teams to do, you find that learners are much more apt to jump on board as they see themselves as a part of the change instead of someone that change is being enacted upon. If they understand that Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are there not to ‘ding’ them for non-compliance but to provide a better customer experience, it makes a difference. Similarly, if they know why there might be a few extra steps in the CRM, then the team understands how those steps connect the data to make reporting on ROI possible, and thus support further investments.

Leverage Incentives

Leverage WIIFM (what’s in it for me) to connect new processes to their benefit. For example, with the additional information available from marketing insights about topics of interest or challenges shared via marketing interactions, Inside Sales can have tailored, natural conversations with prospects that will lead to better outcomes for them as well as the company.

Listen

Listening is critical. Rather than preparing for an answer, spend more time hearing what might be behind some of the objections. Inside Sales can be the best source of information about issues on the ground. When they share the pains they’re having with processes or recurring prospect questions that marketing might not be answering, listen. In addition to informing your efforts, you build allies and make the Inside Sales team a more strategic partner.

We cover change management more in depth in the article, “Aligning Your Stakeholders to Achieve Demand Marketing Transformation Success.

3. Build and Optimize Feedback Loops

Truly sustainable demand marketing processes are engineered for optimization. There is no ‘set it and forget it’ in demand. To ensure that Inside Sales, Sales and Marketing are providing information that helps tune the engine, ongoing feedback loops are required.

Some of the best information on lead quality is available from Inside Sales. In addition to sharing KPI performance through readily available dashboards and communications, there’s a huge opportunity for marketing to spend time with these teams to hear anecdotes that can’t be understood in reports and numbers. These sessions shouldn’t just happen when there are issues, either. Make sure you build upon success as well as remediate concerns when it comes to discussions on lead quality.

4. Don’t Just Talk the Talk. Walk the Walk

Inside Sales will feel supported when they see leadership ‘practice what they preach’ when it comes to managing the process. If the expectations are that all information is in the CRM, then leadership shouldn’t ask for external reports. If KPIs are around SLAs and conversion, then team accountability should align with those instead of conflicting goals and objectives. Once the team sees that all the players have a stake in the new game, they will give more credibility to the entire process.

When KPIs and compensation models are created in the beginning, attention to the desired behavior is important. It sounds obvious that compensation drives behavior, but too often unintentional consequences and competing goals drive confusion and conflict. KPIs and compensation should be aligned and commensurate with the level of direct control Inside Sales has on the outcomes being measured.

With the right training, tools and communication, you can make your Inside Sales team a strategic partner in demand transformation. These teams can drive more value and add to a rich, two-way dialogue to improve customer experience and ultimately, increase sales lift. But training your Inside Sales team is just one piece of a successful Demand Marketing Transformation. To learn more about what else goes into this process read:

Making the Critical Shift from Tactical Demand Marketing to Strategic Demand Marketing

Demand Marketing Transformation: The Path to Strategic Demand Marketing

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