8 Questions to Ask A Digital Marketing Agency Before You Sign On

8 Questions to Ask A Digital Marketing Agency Before You Sign On

So you’re thinking about hiring a digital marketing agency?

Great! A digital marketing agency can do wonders for your company, from helping you develop a website that works for you to building a strategic inbound marketing strategy that will draw in and convert the leads you want most.

When you hire a digital marketing agency, you’re partnering with a team of experts who are all focused on growing your business. That’s a pretty cool partnership, but it’s also one that takes a lot of work.

If you’re considering hiring a digital marketing agency, or if you’re in the process of hiring a digital marketing agency but aren’t sure how to make a final decision, this blog should help. Here are 8 questions you should ask a digital marketing agency before you sign on and hire them:

Can You Show Me Case Studies or Examples of Previous Work?

When you’re looking at digital marketing agencies, your first step should always be to ask for references, case studies, and examples of previous work.

It’s important to see what they’ve done so you can gauge if they have enough experience in your industry and if their strategy can deliver the results you’re looking for.

Digital marketing agencies are everywhere, and no two are exactly the same. Some just design websites. Others focus specifically on social media or PPC. Still others offer a comprehensive marketing strategy that can tie your website, email marketing, paid advertising and inbound and content marketing strategies all together into one.

But all of these digital marketing agencies will tell you they can get you the leads you want, for less. Make sure you’re hiring an agency that walks the walk. Ask to take a look at some of their previous work through case studies, or see if they’ll walk you through some of the projects they’ve done in the past.

The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll be making a decision to sign a contract with that agency.

What Tools Do You Use?

Digital marketing is a tool-centric industry. Even the best marketers rely on third-party optimization tools to improve campaigns and ensure their strategies are delivering the very best results possible.

Before you hire a digital agency, ask what tools they’re using and what tools they plan to use to develop your digital marketing strategy further. Then ask yourself if those tools make sense for your overall digital marketing goals.

For example: If your goal in working with a digital marketing agency is to align your sales and marketing teams, and your digital marketing agency doesn’t use a CRM, isn’t familiar with CRMs, or doesn’t plan to teach your team how to better use a CRM, they might not have the best tools to achieve your specific digital marketing goals.

If you’re looking for SEO help, your digital marketing agency should have a team of Google Ads, Keyword Planner, and Bing Ads professionals, who also use supplementary third-party tools like SEMRush, Moz, Buzzsumo, Ubersuggest, or Infinite Suggest to build quality campaigns.

Even if you’re not familiar with some of the tools that the agency mentions, it’s still important to ask. You can always look them up later to make sure they’re legit. It’s more important to know that your digital marketing agency isn’t flying by the seat of their pants than it is to admit that you’re not familiar with every tool on their list.

Can You Get Me On the First Page of Google?

This is an important question for one reason — any agency who answers “yes” to this question is one you might want to step away from.

No matter how good your digital marketing agency is, only Google understands how Google’s algorithm works, which means a first-page ranking isn’t something a digital marketing agency can guarantee.

If they respond with an answer like, “well, this is what we’re going to do to try and get you on the first page,” and go on to give you specific strategies they’ll use to boost your company’s ranking potential, you’re probably in good hands.

No one can guarantee a first-page ranking, but there are a lot of quality digital marketing agencies who have strategies that will certainly try. It’s just good to know that any agency who promises you a first-page ranking is starting your relationship with a promise they can’t keep.

What Goals Are You Setting for My Project?

There’s nothing more telling about a digital marketing agency than their goals for your project. What you’re looking for are SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

Here at HA Digital Marketing, we like to break our client’s goals down based on thorough research we’ve completed by analyzing their site, their site traffic, and their industry. We look at existing traffic, existing conversion rates, and more, to determine how much we can reasonably improve in a specific period of time.

One of our SMART goals for a client might sound something like this:

Increase organic site traffic to 2,000 monthly visits by 2020

  • Specific: we want to increase organic site traffic, specifically.
  • Measurable: our goal is set at a number of at least 2,000 monthly visits. It’s easy to tell when we reach and when we pass that goal.
  • Attainable: the attainability of a goal will change depending on the client’s existing site traffic. If this client was averaging 1,000 to 1,500 monthly organic site visits, then 2,000 is definitely an attainable goal.
  • Relevant: If the client’s overall goal is to increase web conversions and leads, then a boost in site traffic is how we can make that goal achievable. That makes it a relevant goal.
  • Timely: We’ve specified exactly when we’d like to achieve this goal.

When you’re talking to digital marketing agencies, these are the types of goals you want to see.

Any company who says, “we’ll grow your traffic and get you qualified leads”, might do that, but without SMART goals, it’s hard to say if they’ll actually deliver the quantity and quality results that you’re looking for. To effectively measure your progress and theirs, you need SMART goals.

When Can I Expect to See Results?

This is another question where the way an agency answers the question is more important than how they answer it.

If you’re hiring a digital marketing agency to do any kind of content marketing or SEO work to boost your organic ranking, you have to remember that you’re not going to see immediate results. If you’re working with a digital marketing agency who advises otherwise, you might want to take another close look at their strategies.

Because of the way that organic search results work, there’s no way to guarantee quick results. Search engines need time to crawl your site, and then index it based on the information they find. That means your organic search results can take weeks and even months to seriously improve.

That said, if you’re hiring a digital marketing agency to handle both organic and paid search efforts, they can leverage paid search and social media advertising campaigns to deliver you more qualified traffic immediately. But it’s important to remember that these are different results than organic search results.

With paid ads, you'll start seeing the traffic you want immediately, but you'll be paying for it. This is a great short-term strategy, while you wait for your organic search rankings to catch up, but it's not a complete solution. Click To Tweet

Bottom Line: Ask the digital marketing agencies you’re considering hiring how soon you can expect to see results. If they say “immediately”, ask what they mean by that, and also consider walking away.

If your digital marketing agency takes the time to explain how exactly you’ll see results, and why your organic search results will take a little time to come to fruition, you’re probably in pretty good hands.

What KPIs Do You Track, And What Reporting Will You Offer?

A digital marketing agency is a business partner. They’re not a set and forget solution. Since you’re going to keep sending them money for a monthly retainer, you want to know where your money is going, and what it is doing for you.

That’s why you need to ask this question: you need to figure out what KPIs (key performance indicators or metrics) they’re tracking, and how often they’re sharing those results with you.

Most quality digital marketing agencies track a variety of KPIs ranging from metrics on your site to your search engine rankings to your PPC campaign’s overall performance. The metrics they measure will depend on your company’s unique goals, but you have to make sure, before you hire them on, that they’ll be measuring KPIs that are relevant to those goals.

For example: Let’s say your biggest goal is conversions. You already have the traffic you need, but you’re not seeing the conversion rates you want.

While your digital marketing agency will still be tracking your site traffic, they should place a higher priority on monitoring KPIs like click-through-rate, landing page traffic, content offer downloads, and, of course, your conversion rate.

If they’re focusing on things like your social media engagement and awareness, while those are important metrics, they aren’t the most relevant KPIs for your specific goals.

The second part of this question is what reporting will you offer?

You need to see your results regularly, so you understand what’s happening, what wins you’re seeing with your new digital marketing agency, and what challenges your agency and your strategy might still be facing.

In most cases, a regular monthly report is best. It gives you a clear picture of how your strategy is performing without overwhelming you with daily traffic stats of a year’s worth of data. A great digital marketing agency will also include suggestions and insights for moving forward in your reports, too.

Regular reports keep all teams on the same page, which is a huge part of partnering with a digital marketing agency. Speaking of, here’s your next question:

Who Will I Be Working With?

No matter what digital marketing agency you’re working with, you need to have at least one contact person for your digital marketing project, and it’s probably not going to be the salesperson you’ve been working with so far.

Every digital marketing agency is different. Some will have account managers, some will have project managers, and some favor a more all-hands-on-deck approach where you have a direct and immediate line to most of the team members working on your project.

No matter what digital marketing agency you’re considering hiring, you can ask to meet with, or at least get an introduction to, all of the people who will be working on your project.

This question does a few key things: it gives you a better idea about the type of company you’re working with, it establishes a relationship with the team handling your project going forward, and it gives your digital marketing agency’s team a better idea of what you and your business are all about.

If for some reason an agency doesn’t want you to meet the team or seems cagey about who exactly will be working on your project, you might want to dig a little deeper. Transparency is the key to hiring a successful digital marketing partner.

What Will You Need From Me?

We’ve made it to the final question. “What will you need from me?”

This is far and away one of the most important questions to ask before you hire a digital marketing agency. It gives you and the agency a better picture of what working on this project will like for both parties.

Your digital marketing agency is a team of experts in digital marketing. Though they should have a good working knowledge of your industry, they're not the experts in that — you are. Click To Tweet

A great digital marketing agency will tell you that they’ll need your feedback. They’ll need to know that they’ve correctly identified your target buyers, they’ll need to know that the content they write for your website is right for you, and ultimately, they’ll want your participation.

A digital marketing agency that says you can totally forget about marketing for the rest of your engagement isn’t a digital marketing agency.

Your feedback is essential to the success of your newly implemented marketing strategy, and without open communication between both teams, you won’t be able to optimize your strategy and positioning to reach those goals you set at the beginning of your engagement.

If you’re looking for a hands-off digital marketing agency, that’s awesome. It’s just good to remember that no agency can function completely without your input and feedback. And if a digital marketing agency says you won’t hear from them again after you sign the contract, you might want to dig a little deeper.

A digital marketing agency, on the whole, wants to partner with your company to help you grow. Their goals are your goals —  they want to increase the number of qualified leads you’re getting, so you can increase conversions, make more sales, and increase your revenue.

If you’re having trouble finding an agency who will work with you to achieve these goals, let’s talk. Evenbound is a true digital marketing agency —  we handle everything from web design, SEO and content marketing to paid advertising, email marketing, and social media. If you’re looking for a partner who will work on your behalf to grow your company strategically, we can help.

Get in touch with our team today!

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Inbound Marketing Automation [How to Generate Leads in Your Sleep]

Inbound Marketing Automation [How to Generate Leads in Your Sleep]

Imagine a world where you were generating leads, even while you were offline, away from your desk, and yes, even sleeping.

Believe it or not, it really is possible to generate leads without lifting so much as a finger.

Seriously. No more cold calls. No more knocking on doors. No more elevator pitches. When done properly, you can delegate most of that awkward, uncomfortable and usually frustrating outreach work to your website and your marketing strategy. The solution is marketing automation.

What is Marketing Automation?

Neil Patel says, 'Marketing automation is the process of using software and technology to optimize, automate and measure repetitive online marketing tasks.' Click To Tweet

Basically, it’s the process of using technology to automate marketing tasks that you would otherwise want to do yourself. The computer does it, so you don’t have to.

Most often, we think of marketing automation in the form of email workflows — you have a prospect’s contact information, and they’re sent a series of emails based on the landing pages they’ve viewed and forms they’ve submitted on your website.

Hot Tip: While there are tons of other forms of marketing automation, we’re going to stick with email workflows as our example for this blog, because they’re easy to conceptualize, and because most companies, even SMBs, use some form of email marketing.

While you do have to set up those workflows and optimize them occasionally, once they’re working it’s a set and forget tactic that allows you to generate and nurture leads whenever your leads are cruising your site.

It’s important to note that In the past, there’s been some really terrible marketing automation.

One look at the inbox of your junk email is the perfect example of marketing automation gone wrong. Hundreds of emails shouting at you about sales, last-minute deals, and “just for you” promotions that you really just don’t care about. It’s a nightmare.

While this is an example of marketing automation, it’s not good marketing automation. Tactics like this favor a quantity over quality approach that doesn’t deliver the “qualified leads in your sleep” results you’re looking for.

This is where inbound marketing automation comes in.

What is Inbound Marketing Automation?

Inbound marketing automation is any type of marketing automation tool that is applied with the inbound marketing methodology in mind.

It’s important to remember that inbound is a methodology. It’s a practice and a way of marketing that is actually helpful to your potential clients. The inbound methodology is not a tool.

Marketing automation, however, is a tool you can use to make the inbound marketing methodology come to life.

For example: Inbound methodology tells us that we need to deliver highly relevant, personalized content that answers the questions our leads are asking, even before they ask them. That’s what you’re supposed to do, what inbound methodology dictates.

Inbound marketing automation is the tool that makes that action happen.

Inbound marketing automation allows you to deliver personalized emails to individual leads with content they are likely to be interested in, based on all of their previous interactions with your website and your marketing/sales team.

This ensures the delivery of content with context, fulfilling the inbound consumer’s need for relevant content that answers their questions and solves their challenges. Best of all, it does it while you’re at home still brushing your teeth.

Check out this HubSpot video for a really clear explanation of what inbound marketing automation is, and why it is so effective for today’s consumers.

hubspot-inbound-approach-to-marketing-automation

The Inbound Approach to Marketing Automation

Why Use Inbound Marketing Automation?

Did we mention generating leads in your sleep? Hello, longer lunches and going home on time.

But in all seriousness, marketing automation is a key tool for inbound marketing because the inbound methodology is so customer-focused. Here are a few key ways inbound marketing automation makes your life easier.

Inbound Leads Aren’t Always Ready To Buy

Inbound marketing does a great job of drawing in qualified leads who are a perfect fit for your product or service. But, they’re not always ready to buy.

The inbound methodology puts a heavy focus on developing content that’s suited to leads in all stages of the buyer’s journey, which means you’re going to get a lot of leads in the awareness and consideration phases who will likely need/want your product, but who aren’t ready to buy yet.

Instead of having your sales team hound them with calls and emails, inbound marketing automation offers a simple, effective tool to keep those leads moving through the buyer’s journey.

Your automated workflows can send them relevant, interesting content that speaks to their stage of the buyer’s journey, as well as their particular industry or position, keeping them from dropping out of your sales funnel and moving them closer to a sale.

Inbound Leads Have Diverse Interests and Needs

If you’re one marketing or salesperson, you probably don’t have time to analyze the unique interests of every lead that comes in on your own. This is where technology comes in handy.

With a quality CRM, you can set up workflows and content delivery systems that automatically send the right content to the right leads, at the right time.

You still have to lay a little bit of the groundwork, by telling your CRM which leads fit into which personas, and where they are in the buyer’s journey, but after that, the system can manage that lead on its own.

That saves you thousands of emails, and it provides the leads with a better experience. They’re getting information and content that’s relevant to their experience and their challenges, and you don’t have to work as hard to make it happen.

Inbound Leads are Content Hungry

We’ve talked a lot about the modern consumer. The short version is that today’s consumers are content hungry. They want to watch videos, read reviews, analyze comparison blogs, and truly learn about every product and service they think about buying.

As a sales or marketing person, you don’t have the time to have all of those conversations, and more importantly, your leads don’t want to talk to you yet. The modern consumer wants to do their own research before they’ll even consider giving a company a call or letting them know they’re interested.

Inbound marketing automation solves this dilemma.

You can still deliver great content about your product or service to those qualified leads, without scaring them away or making them feel like you’re being too pushy by using marketing automation.

With inbound marketing automation, your leads are getting the content they need to complete their research, and you don’t have to lift a finger. Even better, by simply handing over the content that your leads want without a whole lot of trouble, you’re earning their trust.

And when you have a lead's trust, and they're ready to buy, they're going to buy from you. Click To Tweet

How You Can Implement Inbound Marketing Automation

Inbound marketing automation has some pretty attractive benefits. But how do you get it, and how do you set it up so you can roll into work at 10 with Starbucks in hand?

The best way to implement inbound marketing automation is to get a CRM. If you don’t have one, check out our blog about what to look for in a CRM, and choose your favorite.

We like HubSpot because it’s really easy to use, it’s less expensive (read: they have a version of the software that is totally free) than many more traditional platforms, like Salesforce, and it’s got all of the tools we like, plus they regularly add new tools when they see a need.

It’s possible to do a bit of marketing automation with an email service, like MailChimp, for example, but if you’re looking for legitimate results, you should really go with a CRM.

If you’re not sure about the process yet, we really recommend the free version of HubSpot. It’s a great way to learn how to implement a little marketing automation, and it’s always free — so you don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money learning a tactic you’re not sure you’ll use.

Once you have your CRM, you can get started with inbound marketing automation.

We’ll explain how to to that in-depth in another blog, but if you’re looking for a how-to right now, check out this page from Neil Patel, this guide from Moz, go back and click on that video we linked above, or just give us a call. We’re always happy to walk you through it.

And if you know you want to use inbound marketing automation, but you don’t want to fiddle with it yourself, we’d love to help.

We use inbound marketing automation every day for ourselves and for our clients, so we’ve gotten pretty good. Whether you’re looking for a little content, a completely new campaign, or even help getting set up in HubSpot, we’ve got the resources to help you. Get in touch.

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3 Outbound Marketing Strategies That Actually Work

3 Outbound Marketing Strategies That Actually Work

If you’re into digital marketing at all, you’ve probably heard that outbound marketing strategies are over. And in a lot of ways, they are. Today’s consumers don’t answer cold calls, they hate being sold to with scammy commercials, and they’ve set their email inboxes to automatically filter out promotional emails. Outbound marketing, in the old, Don Draper version of itself, no longer exists. And if it does exist, it very rarely works.

via GIPHY

But that doesn’t mean that all outbound marketing is done or totally ineffective. It just means that we marketers have to change the way we approach outbound marketing.

If you’ve read our blog before, you know we’re inbound marketing junkies. It’s a way of life, and we love it. Inbound marketing is absolutely the marketing tactic that speaks to today’s consumers, and we often use outbound marketing tactics to bolster our inbound marketing strategy.

When used with tact and purpose, 21st-century outbound marketing tactics are an excellent way to draw more leads into your inbound marketing flywheel.

Not quite sure about that? Let’s take a look at three specific outbound marketing strategies that will actually work to draw in new, qualified leads:

PPC and Paid Search

Pay-per-click and paid search advertising are amazing ways to draw in new traffic. We especially love them for our clients who are just setting up a new website. Since it takes time for Google to crawl and index new websites, paid search is a great workaround to draw in new, qualified leads immediately, until the organic rankings can catch up.

PPC is considered an outbound marketing tactic because you’re paying for it. Instead of letting consumers come to you, you’re pushing your message out to them.

However, unlike outbound marketing tactics of the past, paid search can be highly targeted to address only the consumers who are actually good fits for your product or service. We’ve written extensively about PPC, so I won’t dive into it too far in this blog.

If you want to learn more about PPC specifically, check out this page, or this blog about optimizing your PPC budget for targeted results.

For the purposes of this blog, all you really need to know is that by bidding on quality, long-tail keywords that are relevant to your product or service, you can put your company front and center on the search engine results pages your target buyers are looking for.  

Paid search is a great way to get in front of the audience you want, pulling more of those qualified buyers into your inbound marketing flywheel. Click To Tweet

While it is an outbound marketing strategy, it’s not abrasive or in the consumer’s face. Instead, it offers a product or service that’s relevant to their search, and then it will bring them to your website, where you can use other inbound marketing tactics to further nurture your lead. It’s the perfect example of inbound and outbound marketing strategies working together to grow your company’s revenue.

Social Media Advertising

Don’t tell me you’ve never clicked on a Facebook or Instagram ad.

via GIPHY

Girl, same.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are so good at delivering tailored, personalized content to their users, and social media advertising is one way to take advantage of those platforms.

When you have a clear picture of who your audience is, you can develop social media ads that speak exactly to your target buyer. Social media platforms have robust demographic and targeting features that allow you to ensure your selected audience is very specific and highly likely to have an interest in your product or service.

Remarketing ads are a great example of social media advertising as an outbound marketing strategy that actually delivers. They follow someone who has actually been on your site and who has interacted with your content and maybe even thought about downloading a content offer or making a purchase.

When that prospect navigates away before making a purchase or download, they become a candidate for your remarketing ad. Now, when that prospect heads to their social media page, they’ll see an ad for your product or your brand on their social media feed. This remarketing ad is the perfect way to keep your company top-of-mind and keep calling those prospects back to complete their action.

Remarketing and other forms of social media advertising are especially effective outbound marketing strategies because they’re not delivering your message to just any consumer. They’re directed at specific individuals who are likely to, or who already do have an interest in your product or service.

Targeted Email Workflows

Many people don’t consider email to be “outbound marketing”. But, if you’ve ever gotten an email from a bot or about 15 follow-up emails from an insurance company you didn’t reach out to first, you know that’s just not true.

There's a right way and a wrong way to do outbound email marketing. And the first rule is to only email people who want to be emailed. Click To Tweet

(Check out the Golden Rule of Email Workflows here.)

Targeted email workflows work best if you have obtained contact’s email addresses in a white-hat way. That means, they gave you their email address, whether through a subscribe button or by downloading a content offer.

Buying email address is not quality outbound marketing. It’s obnoxious, and it’s unlikely to deliver any kind of quality ROI.

From there, you can use targeted email workflows to nurture specific segments of your email list according to their pain points, challenges, and needs. You’re reaching out to a client, so it is an outbound marketing strategy, but you’re doing so with the prospect’s best interest at heart, which is why it will be effective.

Again, we won’t go too in-depth here, because we have a lot of other resources about email marketing. See: Amp up Your Email Marketing Strategy: Use Segmentation.

The key takeaway here is that when you use email workflows to genuinely nurture leads with content they care about, and that solves a problem of theirs, you’re using outbound marketing to keep drawing new prospects back into your flywheel.

Bottom line? Outbound marketing, or the process of marketing by reaching out to consumers, leads, and prospects, is still a viable way to market. When you use outbound marketing strategies with 21st-century consumers in mind, you can actually produce some significant results.

Want to learn more about how outbound marketing can deliver you quality leads, right now? Let’s chat.

Outbound marketing is tricky in a world of consumers who don’t want to be sold to. We can help. Digital marketing, both inbound and outbound, is our bread and butter, and we’d love to see how our tactics can work to grow your company!
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MQL vs. SQL: What’s the Difference?

MQL vs. SQL: What’s the Difference?

TL;DR What is an MQL and an SQL?

An MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) is a reasonably qualified lead who has downloaded a content offer or interacted with your marketing team, but who hasn’t yet entered into your sales funnel. An SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is a lead your sales team has qualified as a potential customer. SQLs are in your sales funnel, and your team is actively working to move them closer to a deal.

Leads. Everybody wants ’em, but not everyone knows what to do with them once they have them.

That’s where the inbound methodology comes in. Designed to help both marketing and sales teams nurture leads all the way through to a sale in the world of the modern, digital consumer,  the inbound sales process puts a huge focus on MQLs and SQLs.

But what are they, how are they different, and how do you deal with both MQLs and SQLs to boost the ROI of your inbound sales process?

Here’s a breakdown of the MQL vs. SQL question, complete with tips on how to define them and how to use those definitions to optimize your sales and marketing process to close more reliably and more efficiently. Let’s start with the basics.

What’s an MQL?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a site visitor that your marketing team has deemed likely to eventually turn into a sale. MQLs are qualified prospects: they fit your buyer persona.

That said, they’re missing a few qualifications that would make them the perfect fit for your sales team.

Maybe they’re working on a seriously long buyer’s journey. Or, they’re in the right industry, and they have the decision making power, but they don’t have the right budget, or realistic budget expectations yet.

In short, an MQL is a reasonably qualified lead who matches one or more of your buyer personas, but who isn’t quite ready to buy yet.

What’s an SQL?

A sales qualified lead (SQL) is a lead who your sales team has decided is worth pursuing. They’re at the end of the consideration stage and are moving into the decision-making stage of their buyer’s journey where they’ll appreciate sales-focused content and support.

Typically, a sales qualified lead is confirmed after an initial outreach call with someone on your sales team, who can determine how serious the lead is about your product, and how motivated they are to buy.

An SQL is a lead who has intent to buy and who seems interested in your company as a contender to make that purchase.

MQL vs. SQL: What’s the Difference?

The most important difference between MQLs and SQLs is the intent to buy. While there are other factors that will affect whether a lead is categorized as marketing or sales-ready, the biggest tip-off for marketers when deciding whether or not to pass a lead on to sales is the intent to purchase. That’s a surefire sign that they’re ready to talk to sales and tells you that passing them onto sales is the best way to serve that lead.

Since MQLs and SQLs can look different for every industry, and even individual companies, let’s look at a couple of examples of what qualifies an MQL vs. SQL:

First-Time Site Visitor vs. Returning Visitor

A first time visitor is a good example of a potential MQL. They’re just starting the buyer’s journey, and are working on gathering the information that will ultimately help them make a purchasing decision down the road.

A returning visitor, on the other hand, who has been to your site a few times, and is browsing key pages and downloading bottom-of-funnel content offers, is an SQL. They like the information you’re putting out enough to keep coming back. And if they keep coming back, they’re probably ready to talk to your sales team.

Top of Funnel vs. Bottom of Funnel Content Offers

An MQL is a lead who is downloading and converting on top-of-funnel content offers. They’re interested in information that teaches and educates about the general product you sell.

Let’s say you sell cars. An MQL will be downloading content that offers information like, “How to Know When To Buy A New Car,” “Is it Better to Lease, Buy Used, or Buy New,” and “Safest  Sedans of 2019.”

An MQL is someone who is interested in your product — they are a qualified lead, after all — but they're not quite ready to buy yet. Click To Tweet

So, they’re asking those research questions that solve their beginning-of-the-buyer’s-cycle problems. They’re not ready to buy yet, but they’re definitely thinking about it, and they fit your target buyer persona well enough that your marketing team recognizes them as a great potential fit for your company in the future.

An SQL, on the other hand, is going to download bottom-of-the-funnel content offers. With that same car sales example in mind, an SQL will download content that sounds like this: “How to Finance a New Car Purchase,” “5 Steps to Buy A New Car,” and “5 Things to Know Before Purchasing a New Car.”

SQLs are at the bottom of the funnel — they’ve already done the research, they already know they want a car, and they know which car they want. Now, they just have to figure out how to make the purchase.

Just knowing which content offers a lead is downloading can give you great insight into whether they are marketing or sales qualified. And making that distinction is what puts you ahead of the competition in closing new sales efficiently.

Why Differentiating Between MQLs and SQLs is Important

It’s one thing to know the difference between an MQL and an SQL. It’s another thing to know why correctly categorizing each lead is so important.

The difference between an MQL and SQL is crucial in offering up the right content, and the right lead nurturing experience. If a lead has already made up their mind on what product is right for them, you don’t want to be sending them basic content that outlines all of your products — it’s not relevant to their buyer’s journey anymore.

In the same vein, if you have a lead who is still learning what your product does, how it works, and why they might need it, you don’t want to send them on a sales call.

They’re not ready to make a purchasing decision yet, and probably don’t have company approval to make the decision. At this point in their journey, a sales call would seem pushy, and would ultimately be a waste of your sales team’s time.

Correctly identifying whether a lead is marketing or sales qualified has a huge impact on the success of your overall inbound marketing and sales strategy. Knowing whether a lead is an MQL or an SQL tightens up your lead nurturing process to deliver the best possible results with the least amount of work.

When you have a foolproof way to correctly categorize leads, you know exactly what content to deliver, and when. That goes a long way in helping those leads convert, and it saves your marketing and sales teams a lot of wasted time delivering content that wasn’t relevant or reaching out to a lead who wasn’t ready to convert.

Correct qualification of every lead is a great way to increase the ROI of your marketing and sales process and grow your business overall. But to do it, your sales and marketing teams must be aligned. More on that next:

Transitioning a Lead from MQL to SQL

The toughest part of the inbound marketing methodology is arguably the handoff of an MQL to the sales team for qualification as an SQL. Click To Tweet

The best way to handle it is first to get both the sales and marketing teams on the same page.

You have to have clear definitions that specify exactly what an MQL is and what an SQL is, and those definitions have to be the same across departments. For more information on defining your MQLs and SQLs, check out this blog on sales and marketing alignment.

Consistent definitions will make the MQL to SQL handoff a little easier, but there’s still a little work that goes into it. Here are 5 general steps to guide you through the handoff process.

  1. Once your marketing department identifies an MQL, they should be entered into a few lead nurturing campaigns, whether that’s through targeted email marketing campaigns or a casual, helpful marketing outreach campaign.
  2. Ideally, that MQL will continue making qualifying actions — they will download more content offers, they might ask your marketing team a few questions, and they might subscribe for your newsletter.
  3. Once that MQL has taken enough actions that qualify them as an SQL, the marketing team should pass all of the information they have on that lead to the sales team. (A CRM makes this part easy. If you don’t have a CRM yet, this blog can help you figure out what to look for.)
  4. From there, the sales team can reach out, ideally within 24 hours of the lead’s last conversion action, to connect and qualify that lead as an SQL.
  5. It is possible that on their qualifying call, the sales team find the lead is not quite ready for the decision-making stage. At this point, your marketing team should have a set of steps in place to kick that lead back down to an MQL and continue nurturing them until they’re ready to convert again back up to an SQL.

With these five steps, and clear, identifiable definitions of MQLs and SQLs that both sales and marketing agree on, your handoff process should start to go a little more smoothly. It’s a tough process, no matter how you look at it, and the best way to make sure your handoffs are successful is to have regular meetings with both sales and marketing teams to identify any problem areas and implement solutions that fix those issues.

No Matter Your Industry, You Need MQLs and SQLs

It’s easy to get stuck in an MQL vs. SQL mindset. It’s easy to say, “oh, I’m not dealing with that lead, they’re for sales” and vice versa for marketing. And it’s true that for the most part, you want your sales team interacting with the sales leads, and your marketing team interacting with those marketing leads.

But the bottom line is, for any company both MQLS and SQLs are an integral part of the sales pipeline. You can’t have one without the other, so it’s important that your marketing and sales teams work together to develop content and lead nurturing strategies that benefit both MQLs and SQLs.

MQLs, when nurtured properly, become SQLs, who become customers and promoters of your brand.

So, when done right, all of the work you’ve done to develop a quality inbound marketing and sales plan comes full circle to help you close more sales and grow your company.

Identifying MQLs and SQLs isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If you’re struggling to nurture leads through the buyer’s journey, Evenbound can help. Inbound marketing and sales is what we do every day, and we’d love to help you troubleshoot your lead nurturing process to help grow your company. Get in touch to see how we can help, or click the link below to schedule time to chat about your challenges with our president, John Heritage.

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Marketing and Sales Alignment Strategies That Cut Wasted Time and Boost Business Growth

Marketing and Sales Alignment Strategies That Cut Wasted Time and Boost Business Growth

You know that old saying, “work smarter, not harder”? It’s safe to say that’s an idea we can all get behind. No one wants to spend hours of their day working on a project that won’t produce results.

Unfortunately, in the case of many businesses who do not have aligned sales and marketing teams, the concept of working harder on projects that might not ever see the light of day is an everyday reality.

In fact, misalignment between sales and marketing teams has been shown to cost B2B companies 10% or more of their revenue every year.

This SlideShare from The TAS Group states, “lost sales productivity and wasted marketing budget costs companies at least $1 trillion a year.”

Both of those stats offer up compelling arguments for making a change to sales and marketing alignment. Beyond just saving your sales and marketing teams wasted effort and budget though, sales and marketing alignment can actually offer some benefits to your company, delivering pretty impressive returns when implemented properly:

Aligning your sales and marketing teams is one perfect example of working smarter, not harder.  When your sales and marketing teams are aligned, everyone does less work to obtain a higher quantity of better, more targeted clients. Then, you can allocate all of that additional time and energy into inbound marketing and sales strategies that you know will help your company generate revenue and grow.

So, how do you get there?

Sure, sales and marketing alignment sounds nice, but can you actually make it happen, and how much work will it take?

Honestly, it depends on your company.

If you already have both sales and marketing teams onsite, you can get started by just getting everyone in the same room every week or so. If you’re a larger company with sales and marketing teams that work remotely or on different campuses, it might take a bit more effort. And if your company doesn’t really have a marketing team, you could have a still longer road ahead of you. (Or, you can hire a marketing team to help you out. More info on that here.)

No matter where you are, aligning your sales and marketing teams will take work. But with a potential return of 208% more revenue, it should feel like the work is worth it. Click To Tweet

If you’re interested in aligning your marketing and sales teams to boost revenue and cut out wasted time, we support you. In fact, we’re going to give you six sales and marketing alignment strategies to help you do it. Check ’em out:

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Communicate

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: communication will always be the key to successful marketing and sales alignment. The first and best way to get your sales and marketing teams on the first page is to get them in the same room, chatting about their wins and challenges.

Too often, it feels like sales and marketing are pitted against each other. Sales isn’t happy about the quality of leads marketing is sending over, and marketing feels frustrated that sales didn’t follow up with all of the leads they’re sending over.

Getting your two teams in the same room is the first step to getting them to work together. Once you know what everyone is frustrated about, and also what they’re cool with, you can start making a little bit of headway towards alignment.

Consider Cross-Departmental Training or Shadowing

One great marketing and sales alignment strategy is to put each team in the others’ shoes for a day or even a week. When they have the opportunity to see how the other team works, what their day looks like, and what challenges they face regularly, they’ll be able to function together more efficiently.

We get that this is an easy way to disrupt your regular business flow, so start slow. Take one team member at a time, and have them shadow someone from the other team for an afternoon. Make sure the team members you choose are both excited about the potential benefits that alignment can provide, and you’ll find that both parties will learn something from the experience.

When the afternoon is up, your salesperson can report back to their team what they learned, and the marketing person can their team what struggles the sales team is having that they could help with.  

Encourage Sales Input on Content Development

According to Forbes, 60% of B2B content never gets used. Whether the sales team doesn’t feel like it fits their individual client’s pain points, or they don’t even know it exists, sales input is an invaluable resource when it comes to content development.

Your sales team has an intimate, one-on-one relationship with each buyer. They speak to them personally and they understand their specific, unique challenges and goals for the future. This alone should make them your marketing team’s number one resource for content development.  

If you’re not sure how to implement more sales input on marketing content development without seriously slowing down your publishing schedule, start by having the sales team take a look at your content calendar. (You do have a content calendar, right?)

They can tell you which content they’ll really be able to use, and offer a few key points to include for each upcoming post that will help you speak specifically to your target buyer’s challenges and goals.  

Work Together To Establish A Common Language

Marketing and sales haven’t historically worked together all that much, especially in more traditional industries like manufacturing. Traditionally, marketing works to create brand awareness, get the word out there, and make sure everyone knows what your company has to offer. In that older business model, sales either take the leads that come in or (more likely) they go around looking for (read: cold calling) those perfect leads themselves.

This disjointed approach to sales and marketing as separate entities has fostered two different languages for both teams. They have different definitions of leads, they don’t have the same understanding of what makes a good lead, and they have fundamentally different goals.

Sales and marketing alignment strategies start by working to establish a common language that makes sense to both teams. Click To TweetWith that set in place, your marketing team can work to bring in the leads your sales team actually wants, and your sales team can focus their efforts on selling, rather than cold-calling.

To establish a common language that works for both teams, sales and marketing have to come up with the same definitions for these three things:

  • What A Lead Is
  • How You Score Leads
  • A Quality Service Level Agreement

What A Lead Is

It’s important that your sales and marketing teams both understand what makes a lead a good lead. And as you probably know, there are two types of leads: Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). It’s possible that you’ve even defined these in the past.

But have your sales and marketing teams defined them together?

Both marketing and sales should offer input on the definitions of MQLs and SQLs, so that both teams understand what qualifications are necessary for both lead types. One clear definition, for both teams, will help with the lead handoff process, and it will help both teams understand which leads and prospects need what specific service or lead nurturing content.

With a solid foundation in place, everyone can move forward more confidently towards a tight alignment between sales and marketing that cuts out wasted time and boosts revenue.

How You Score Leads

Traditionally, the sales team has developed a process for determining which leads might be more valuable to your company than others. This process is called lead scoring.

If your goal is to get sales and marketing teams aligned for better business growth, it’s important to have your marketing team in on the lead scoring calculation. They need to know what makes a lead most attractive to sales, and why.

With that information, marketing can determine which leads could use more nurturing through the marketing process, and they can better streamline their efforts to influence target buyers in the markets that offer the highest return. By bringing the marketing team into the lead scoring conversation, you help them understand what to look for in a quality lead that shows they are likely to close.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

One of the biggest killers of marketing sales alignment is unbalanced reporting and goals. Too often, the sales team feels like they’re under the microscope to close sales, and the marketing team feels that the sales team isn’t acting on all of the leads they’re passing along. A service level agreement, (SLA) is the solution to this reporting imbalance.

A Service Level Agreement is a sort of contract that helps clear up some of this misdirected pressure, while still holding both teams accountable to goals that further your company’s overall revenue and growth goals. For example, with a quality SLA, your marketing team may be responsible for delivering a certain number of quality leads each month. Then, your sales team may be responsible for converting a certain percentage of those quality leads each month.

This agreement makes it clear what each team is accountable for, while still framing it in the light of one overall company goal — to produce more revenue and long-lasting clients for the company by converting highly qualified leads.

Every company’s SLA will look a little different. What’s important is that you get the sales and marketing teams together to agree on an SLA that’s fair and contributes to your company’s growth goals. When both teams understand what they’re accountable for, and that accountability feels fair to both sides, you’ll get a lot more out of everyone.

Leverage Sales Enablement Tools

It’s easy to forget that the sales team can benefit from inbound methodology tools as much as your marketing team can. Many of your favorite marketing platforms and CRMs are designed to help your sales team as much as they are your marketing team.

Encourage your sales team to use tools like email sequences and CRMs that implement lead scoring systems for you. The information they put in the CRM, and the data they generate helps them make better selling decisions, and it offers valuable information for the marketing team to move forward and optimize with as well.

When your sales team is comfortable with enablement tools, it’s also easier for your them to reach out to marketing and ask for content that will help them close deals.

Case studies, whitepapers, and ebooks about your product or service are all assets that are traditionally created by marketing. When sales is empowered to ask specifically for the content they know will help them close deals, marketing can focus their efforts on just the content that sales knows will be powerful and impactful to your buyer personas.

And again, that’s an effort that cuts down on wasted time, while still promoting the targeted lead nurturing tasks that will help your company grow.

Keep a Common Goal in Mind

Finally, one of the hands-down best sales and marketing alignment strategies is to set a common goal. Even though sales and marketing do different things and have different processes, they’re both on the same team. When they’re both working towards the same goal, it’s so much easier to see that they’re on the same team. Make that overarching goal clear to both teams, and you’ll see the results that marketing and sales alignment can deliver.

The more closely your sales and marketing teams are aligned, the more efficient your company will be in identifying qualified leads and closing deals. And when you close deals efficiently, you work smarter, and you grow.

If you’re looking for more sales and marketing alignment strategies, tools, or tricks, we’d love to help. As a digital marketing agency, we often align with B2B sales teams to promote overall company growth, and we also train companies with existing sales and marketing teams how to align for better results. To learn more about what we do, get in touch.

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