In business, and particularly in inbound marketing, we often run up against key decision makers who don’t understand the value that we can provide to them.
Communicating (or even demonstrating) that value before any money changes hands is the biggest challenge and the most powerful catalyst to B2B transactions.
The same is true if you want to convince a superior in a company you already work at. You’re not “selling” for money, but rather pitching a new initiative that you want to run. You may see how the company would benefit from your campaign, but downloading that understanding from your brain into theirs is tricky.
In a few minutes, you’ll know who you need to target, how to package your proposal to touch them on the level of their hopes and dreams, and how to demonstrate you’re the guy or gal for the job before you even pitch it.
Step One: Know Exactly What You’re Talking About
The first step to effective selling (and that’s what you’re doing, even if you’re talking to a superior) is knowing everything about the product.
Marketing activities that bring visitors in, without the need for marketers to reach out to get prospects’ attention.
An effective inbound marketing strategy has three primary features.
- Earn the attention of your customers.
- Increase the company’s visibility.
- Draw customers in via valuable content.
- Earning Attention
The mind-set of inbound marketing is to earn the right to sell. Another term for this is “permission marketing”, which neatly describes the process that happens within the customer’s mind. With more traditional outbound marketing, you’re forcing rather than earning attention, which leads to a constant tug-of-war between marketers and customers as the audience you’ve bought learns to maneuver around your unwanted messages. If your sales were hurt by the rise of “ad-blocker” browser extensions, for example, those sales were not supported by inbound marketing.
- Increasing Visibility
Since inbound is focused on providing value to the customer first, thereby drawing in those that are open to doing business, you’re exposure naturally increases. More of the budget is focused on creative and understanding customer needs. Promotion is still necessary, but organic social sharing and search traffic will also take effect. If you do it right, inbound marketing positions you or your company as a thought leader in your space.
- Valuable Content
The foundation of inbound is the content. Ever since the printing press, content has been used to great effect to get customers’ attention (perhaps even earlier than that). Producing a piece of content that is valuable to your audience is the basis of providing value up-front.
Step Two: Know the People You Need to Persuade
The three people in a company you’ll usually need get on board are the CEO, the Finance Manager (or perhaps the CFO), and the Chief Editor. Your particular case may be different. Adjust to your situation.
The head of the company focuses on one thing above all else: The future of their business.
Whatever you propose must be sure to benefit the bottom line. With no superiors to answer to, their biggest concerns include the welfare of their employees, for whom the CEO feels responsible. This pressure means that whatever the investment inbound requires, the return on that investment cannot be a long way into the future (unless the investment can be small enough as not to put the company cash flow under any strain).
On the other hand, CEOs can sometimes be relatively adventurous and might accept a slightly greater risk if it’s clear the company may be in danger without inbound. Hesitation in the face of changing market trends, the CEO understands, can be deadly.
Focused solely on the numbers, the finance manager differs from the CEO in that they may not lay awake at night worrying about the strategic direction of the company. Their concern is still the bottom line, but a more visceral fear is the potential anger and disapproval from the CEO and their peers if they sign off on a campaign that puts the company finances under strain.
Therefore, the presentation you make to the finance manager must be numbers-based and analytics. The Finance Manager is unlikely to be persuaded by the potential for the success of this campaign (although the financial return on it, if it does work, needs to be clear and already worked out by you), what they need more than anything is the assurance that if it doesn’t work, the company books will recover easily.
Since inbound is a lot about content, the Chief Editor is an important piece of the puzzle. If a company doesn’t have a Chief Editor, look for whoever is the head of the company’s publications. Perhaps the Brand Manager, Public Relations Officer, or Head of Marketing.
The shared concern that holds all these roles together is of the company image. It’s the Chief Editor’s job to make sure the tone, policies and editorial direction of the company’s content are in-keeping with their brand. In order to accept you and your new inbound campaign, the Chief Editor needs to know you’re not about to warp the company image that they have spent so long crafting and maintaining with content made under his direction. It’s also critical that you don’t talk as if inbound is the only type of content that makes sense in this era, as though everything that has been done up until now has been for nothing, and is about to be pushed out.
Step Three: Craft Your Pitch & Gather Your Credibility
Whether you talk to the three people mentioned above or not, the key to persuading them always starts with understanding them. You could be presenting them with the best solution to their problems they’ll ever see, but if it’s not wrapped in the context of what that specific person cares about the most, they could miss it.
Write out a detailed persona of the person or people you’re going to approach. Go deeper into their likely hopes and fears than I’ve done in the section above. The more you can find out about the specific individual(s) you will meet, the better. While a company role tends to carry with it the same pressures across different companies, each individual has his or her own unique quirks – the hopes and fears that form the context for those pressures in their mind.
Once you’re sure about who you’re talking to, start crafting the pitch.
- Start by researching relevant statistics and case studies, particularly in their industry. You can use these figures throughout to add more weight to your claims.
- Simplify inbound marketing for them. Feel free to use the definition above. Finish by helping them see why it would be effective, theoretically.
- Then back up your theory with facts, such as the data you found in step one.
- Finally, bring yourself into the picture. What have you done that indicates you’re the ideal person to make this rosy future a reality? I.e. demonstrate your credibility.
What if you don’t have a portfolio of successes yet?
- Do pro bono work for a few charities, and record the results and create your portfolio.
- Offer to perform your services for free (or in your own time, if you’re pitching this to your boss), for a short space of time. Make sure that length of time is enough to see a tangible result of some kind.
- Create a blog around a cause or a topic you care about, and use all your inbound prowess to build an email list as fast as possible. Record data from every step, so you can prove you built the list using your own skills, not your savings!
Step Four: Approach
How you approach depends on your situation.
Situation 1: You’re an employee about to approach a superior
Technically speaking, your approach is the easier one to pull off. You either know them already, or you can easily get in touch via the company you both work for. Emotionally speaking, however, it can feel much tougher.
Don’t listen too carefully to your fears. If you do your homework as well as I’ve described above, and you approach a superior with a clear and concise presentation about how you can help the company grow, you become a superstar in their eyes. Whether or not they agree, you’ve proven that you give a damn. You’ve also proven massive potential by doing this work and developing your skills on the side of your day job.
Whether or not they go for it, trust me, it looks good on you.
Situation 2: You’re a contractor about to approach a prospect
I’m assuming you’re approaching a cold prospect. In this case, create a spreadsheet with the companies and names you want to approach. Then add a column for every major social media network you can find them.
Find their email, either through the company website, their social profiles, or by doing some ninja-Googling.
- Find the typical email structure on the company website or LinkedIn.
- Plug their name into that structure and test it with MailTester.com.
- If that doesn’t work, try other typical combinations of first names, last names and initials.
- Speed up the process by searching in Google with the following two templates (remember to include the quotation marks!):
Once you have their email and social profiles, it’s time to get on their radar.
People are much less receptive to strangers. So don’t pitch them when you’re still a (complete) stranger. Spend a week following their posts, retweeting and liking a few things that their other followers have overlooked. When you think they’ve noticed you, reach out by sharing something with them they’ll appreciate. Soon they’ll check out what you’re up to, so have a slick website ready to receive and educate them.
Before long, they’ll be sufficiently informed for you to bust out the email. If proof of your talents is already on your website, all that’s left to do is research their company and frame your services in the context of what their company specifically needs, and what they emotionally want (remember Step 2).
Mind you, keep it short. As short as you possibly can without degrading into texting-lingo.
Situation 3: You’re applying for a job as an inbound marketer
Much of the same of the contractor’s situation applies to a job interview.
Having a slick website showcasing a legible track record in Inbound Marketing (even if it’s predominantly content or other people’s case studies) shows an initiative and passion that is refreshing for interviewers. Keep all of your Social profiles up to date with examples of your career highlight and experience up to date to highlight your suitability for your next inbound career move.
Finding out who will likely interview you and connect through social media is also a massive bonus. There’s a reason they estimate that 70% of jobs are never advertised – It’s hard to say “no” to someone you know and trust (on top of being capable, of course).
With these tools, you can now earn the opportunity to transform a business. By developing the empathy to deconstruct other people’s hopes/fears, you will also become a better inbound marketer. After all, everything we do is to show people the truth about how we can help them.