This is a difficult post for me to write. As the founder of a digital marketing services firm, my role is and has always been to help clients build systems that will lead the right prospective clients to them and help to convert those early leads into qualified sales opportunities. When we sit down with businesses to review their processes of building awareness, generating leads, converting leads into sales, and continuing to engage with those clients to provide ongoing value and relationships that will lead to referrals, the first things we look at are their websites, the content they’re publishing, and the channels they’re using to promote that content. We ask a zillion questions about their prospective customers and review their processes for generating, converting, tracking, and engaging with new leads. We are looking for the areas of opportunity, the holes where they are likely losing prospective clients along the way, and the ways we can help them to grow their business.
The reason it’s so difficult for me to write this post is that when I turned the tables on the process our own agency employed internally for sales and marketing, I had to acknowledge that we weren’t putting forth the same efforts for ourselves that we were implementing for our clients. My response to this when it had come up in conversations with trusted friends and colleagues was that we had to prioritize the work we were doing for paying clients. Our own website, blog content, public relations efforts, social media, email marketing, etc. would always be on the back burner behind the work that was paying the bills. But here’s the huge, red-flag problem with that: how were we going to get in front of those clients if we weren’t focusing on our own inbound marketing and sales efforts? I had to acknowledge that we relied far too heavily on referrals, word of mouth, and our network to deliver new opportunities. That we were missing the boat altogether on generating the leads that were a perfect fit for our agency, and in turn, growing to our full potential.
Round 1 – Project LION
Around the time that I finally acknowledged we would have to take action on this, I opened up to our Hubspot channel account manager who invited us to participate in a new sales program, Project LION with Hubspot’s legendary Dan Tyre (@DanTyre). Project LION was an opportunity for me to run headfirst into dealing with my own fears about selling, prospecting, and generating truly new business for our agency. Each week, our group of digital marketing agency CEO’s, Hubspot Partner Agencies from all different regions, would get together with Dan for an in-depth discussion of inbound sales strategies and tactics. We’d roleplay scenarios with ‘clients’, get uncomfortably real in situations to figure out how to work through the most difficult conversations, share examples of how we overcame challenges, share little victories and big wins, and commiserate over missed opportunities. As we faced similar situations in different markets, we had a unique opportunity as LIONs to ‘hunt as a pack’ without worrying about competing with each other.
Participating in the Project LION group forced me to develop my own sales process. Since launching Grapevine Marketing in 2009, my strategy had been a combination of ‘networking when I had time’, developing relationships with complementary businesses and pursuing referrals, and implementing an on-again/off-again approach to content development and promotion, speaking, event participation, and PR. Basically, working myself into a roller coaster of moderate sales outreach when business was slow or steady, and little to none when we were too busy with existing client projects. Now, I had to show up to a live meeting each week armed with new opportunities, prospects I had (gasp!) reached out to before they called or were referred to us directly, and a plan for finding and connecting with the companies I had listed as my ideal best-fit clients.
The result of Project LION?
We engaged with new clients I would never have connected with if I hadn’t reached out to them first. We drank our own Kool-aid, so to speak. It forced me to look at the content, or lack of it, we were putting out into the world and focus my efforts on what would get us in front of the right-fit clients, not just those who happened to be referred to us. We had to finally put our own marketing efforts, our website, content distribution, networking, email marketing, social media, and engagement strategies, on the front burner. We’re not all the way there yet, I’ll admit, but we’ve built some great momentum and there’s a lot behind the scenes that will be visible soon.
Round 2 – Sales Skills Bootcamp
After completing Project LION, I proceeded in patting myself on the back, got busy working on campaigns for those new clients, and, you guessed it, fell back into old patterns of avoiding our own sales and marketing efforts in favor of staying busy with the projects that paid the bills. You didn’t think this story was going to be all rainbows and unicorns, did you?
For months, I had been putting off the next stage of this incredible LION / bootcamp programming – advanced sales skills with Hubspot’s illustrious David Weinhaus (@davidweinhaus). This was the big-time, where I’d have to test my ability to get from initial outreach to meeting to closing deals in front of a group of fellow inbound marketing agency owners. I’d have to be open to being uncomfortable, again, and to picking up where I left off in the initial prospecting phase. Basically, I’d have to stop thinking about how I was going to build a sales system and actually start taking action on it.
Walking the Walk
One of my key takeaways from Sales Skills Bootcamp was to shift the mindset of sales from ABC (Always Be Closing, the idea of which has always made me cringe) to ABH (Always Be Helping).
- Did I believe in our product (inbound marketing services)? Without a doubt.
- Did I know that inbound marketing would help other businesses to grow in ways that they could not with other methodologies? Absolutely.
- Did I have a good understanding of the types of people and organizations, right down to their personalities, locations, and their own customers, that inbound marketing, and specifically our agency, was a good fit for? Yep.
- And did I have a pretty good sense of the types of people and organizations that inbound marketing and/or our agency, was not a good fit for? Yes, although this was a much harder decision to come to.
So now we had to just get out there and do it. Connect with the prospects that we knew were reading our blog posts and visiting our website over and over again. Make sure that the right information was getting out to the people we wanted to reach. Build a list of prospective clients and work the list with questions and resources that made sense for them. Basically, start doing the activities for our own agency that we had always done for clients.
The result of Sales Skills Bootcamp?
While we’re still on the uphill climb of this process, we’ve begun implementing the strategy and rolling out elements to drive inbound sales. These include, at the time of publishing this blog post:
- The development of a well-researched and targeted prospect list.
- Rewriting our buyer personas to focus on 3 very specific niche areas and the types of clients that would best fit the process we can help them implement.
- Refocusing on sales efforts including prospecting and listening via social media and ‘triggers’, engaging in networking organizations, and (gasp, again!) reaching out directly to the prospects who had been visiting our website and blog but who had refrained from providing their contact info (we can show you how to do this, it’s pretty cool – contact me to ask).
- Scheduling time in our calendars for prospecting, outreach, and follow-up with organizations that meet our criteria.
- TRACKING our sales activities in our CRM, establishing automated engagement processes, and monitoring results.
- Relaunching our – check it out, the first session is free.
- Honing in on the types of people and organizations we feel we would work best with, developing content and resources that are helpful to them, and finding ways to get it in front of them.
Does any of this feel familiar to you?
Have you been riding the rollercoaster for too long or depending on referrals that you have little control over? Let’s connect to see how we can help develop a system of marketing and sales to achieve that growth that your organization is capable of.