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6 Things Salespeople Should Know About Inbound Marketing

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Over the years as a marketer, I’ve noticed a decent amount of animosity directed at marketing teams from sales teams.

Maybe it’s because lead gen marketers take too much credit for the deals that the sales team closes. Maybe it’s because the leads coming in from marketing are totally worthless. Whatever the reason, salespeople, I want to tell you something important: Marketing is your wingman.

We marketers are here to help you seal the deal. We want to warm up the prospect, tell them why they should listen to you, and support you in whatever you need as you’re trying to build the relationship.

Inbound marketing, in particular, is the method of marketing that is most focused on being the ultimate wingman. To put it into business terms: inbound marketing is the concept of creating highly relevant content to attract, engage, and delight your customers at each stage of the buyer journey, push them down the marketing and sales funnel, and warm them up for the sales rep to close.

As a marketer, I do recognize that sometimes we can be the Liz Lemon of wingmen rather than the Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love of wingmen. But the good news is, if your marketing team is a Lemon, you can help them become a Gosling. Keep reading and I’ll discuss the inbound marketing activities that sales reps need to understand, and how sales teams can help us improve those activities so that we can get better at helping you.

1. What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a collection of all the information marketers need to know about their buyers in order to effectively reach them. That information can span anything from a customer’s preferred product features and pain points to their age range and favorite TV show.

Writing one or more buyer personas is the first thing an inbound marketing team should do. These buyer personas will guide all of the inbound marketing team’s strategy and efforts, from which social accounts they use to which keywords they write content for.

How you can help us get better:

You talk to real, live prospects and customers every day, so we need you to tell us the important details that many of our customers have in common, and observations about how our customers behave. The more fleshed out your buyer persona is, the easier it is for a marketer to create relevant content for them (and therefore generate better leads). You can help us make sure that our persona describes a real, fully actualized person.

2. What is the marketing funnel?

Think of the marketing funnel as attached to the top of the sales funnel. At the top of the funnel, we pull in people who are only just becoming aware that they have a problem that needs to be fixed. At that point, we’ll work them through the early stages of learning what that problem is and how to fix it.

Then, we’ll move those leads into a stage where they learn how our product can help them. The next stage is where they are considering our product among others, and that’s the stage that pushes leads into your active sales funnel. Here’s a fabulous visualization of the sales and marketing funnel, via Kissmetrics:


How you can help us get better:

There can be some overlap between the evaluation and commitment segments of the funnel. As teams, we need to work together to clearly establish what we mean when we consider a lead to be in the evaluation segment and when we consider them to be in the commitment segment, so that nobody steps on anybody else’s toes. One of the best ways to do this is to formally define our SQLs (put a pin in that—I’ll have a lot more to say about SQLs soon).

3. What is content?

Your marketing team will create content such as blog posts and whitepapers to publish online, meant to attract leads in the awareness stage. These articles will be built around keywords that your potential customers are searching for, so they can be discoverable when your prospects begin looking for help. (The keywords, of course, are determined in part by using the buyer persona.)

These blog topics can range from providing help for a prospect who already knows their problem can be solved by a product like yours, to a topic for a potential customer who doesn’t even really know they have a problem yet.

For example, the marketing team for a point-of-sale software company will write about topics like, “what is POS software?” The topics all the way at the tippy top of the funnel will give your potential customers awareness about your brand months or even years before they need you.

Related: Producing Content for the Buyer’s Journey: Awareness Stage

How you can help us get better:

The best way you can help us is by telling us what kind of content you need. Whether you have a lot of customers asking for case studies on our product, or you’ve noticed that most of your customers have some questions that a white paper would provide good answers to, you actually understand what our contacts are specifically looking for when it comes to content. Don’t hesitate to tell us. We’ll make you content for your pitches, or we’ll make content that can be added to the nurturing process. Whatever helps you close more sales!


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4. What are MQLs? SQLs? Subscribers?

MQLs, SQLs, subscribers—these are all terms we marketers toss around to refer to the contacts we’ve acquired and are nurturing. Teams tend to use their own lingo, so your team may not use all of these terms. Here’s a quick set of definitions:

  • Subscriber is most commonly used to refer to the level of contact that is highest in the marketing funnel. This is a contact who signed up on your blog to get new content emailed to them, or submitted a form to receive a top-of-funnel download. Often, no more is known about a subscriber than their email address and whatever activities they’ve completed on your site that a cookie has tracked.
  • MQL stands for marketing qualified lead. These leads are considered to be further down the funnel than a subscriber, but higher than an SQL. Generally, MQLs have given over more of their personal data and performed some high-value actions on your site, and are showing signs that they will develop into an SQL.
  • SQL stands for sales qualified lead. SQLs are the leads that have made it fully through the nurturing process and been qualified as ready to speak to a sales rep. We pass SQLs on to you.

See also: PQLs (product qualified leads)

How you can help us get better:

Of all these names, the place where we really need your help is in defining SQLs. Sales teams should share with marketing which actions/qualities a lead absolutely must have in order to be considered an SQL. Conversely, you should also share which qualities mean the lead is no good.

For instance, if your product is meant for medium-sized businesses, you should let your marketing team know that any leads with less than 50 people at the company are no good. The marketing team can then create automation that excludes those leads from becoming SQLs (though they may continue to quietly nurture them for when they hit that 50 person minimum in the future).

When sharing feedback about SQLs (both good and bad), do your best to figure out specifically why the leads are poor quality or good quality. Because we’re determining SQLs using granulated, automated data, the more specific information you give us, the better we can do for you. No piece of data is too small. You got a number of leads coming in that are poor quality exclusively because they’re already using a software that your product doesn’t integrate with? That might seem insignificant but we can segment for that! We just have to know.

5. What is lead scoring?

Lead scoring is this really nifty thing marketing automation systems can do to make it easy to track MQLs and SQLs. Essentially, the marketer assigns actual point values to actions a contact takes on your site and pieces of data they provide. A score will then be assigned for MQLs and SQLs.

For example, you can decide that when a contact reaches 50 points, they’ll be considered an MQL, and when they make it to 100 points you can graduate them to an SQL. A visitor attending a webinar on your site could be assigned 10 points and they could earn another 10 if they reveal that their company has the ideal amount of employees. Conversely, revealing that their company has far fewer employees than your minimum threshold could penalize them 50 points (preventing the lead from becoming an SQL even if all other points are achieved).

Related: What’s the difference between lead scoring and lead confidence?

How you can help us get better:

Again, we need you to help us define what makes an SQL for us. You can help us assign values to those actions and qualities that make an SQL an SQL. Is there a certain form on the site that correlates with highly interested and qualified prospects? We want to assign that action a super high value. Is there a webinar people attend that doesn’t really do as much to get a prospect to close as other webinars? Let’s assign that a fairly low value.

Lead scoring can and should be adjusted fairly regularly as companies are always updating content, forms, and even sales processes. Just because the system’s already been defined doesn’t mean we don’t want to keep hearing from you. If you think there’s a way to improve our scoring and therefore our SQLs, speak up!

6. What is lead nurturing?

I’ve dropped the word “nurturing” and “nurture” a number of times now—but what do I mean by that?

Well, bringing it back to the original wingman metaphor, lead nurturing is the conversation your wingman would have with your crush to talk you up and figure out if they’re actually interested in you.

Lead nurturing officially begins when the contact initially hands over their email address (and whatever else you first ask for). What happens after that depends on where in the funnel you acquired their contact information, but I’ll share what a typical nurture flow can look like. We’ll go back to the POS software company for this example.

It begins when an SMB retail owner shares their email address on a blog post for the keyword “retail returns tracking,” in exchange for a white paper on loss prevention tips. In response, your marketing automation system triggers an email to them with that white paper download, as well as brief paragraph introducing them to your company.

Three days later, another email is triggered in the workflow with a different post you have about how retail CRMs can track returns making it easier for customers, but also helps the store track loss. When the retailer clicks this link, they’re placed in a workflow designed to get them to attend a webinar on loss prevention (in which you will highlight that modern POS technology is fundamental to loss prevention). They will continue to receive emails inviting and encouraging them to attend that webinar until they either attend or don’t answer for so long that they’re considered disengaged.

This slow drip of different helpful information (mixed with plugs for your product that get less subtle over time) will continue until the contact has hit the right score to be considered an SQL. The contact may hop over parts of the nurturing flow as well, by filling out a high-value form faster than expected or some other signal of interest and intent.

How you can help us get better:

We need your help for quite a bit of building our workflows. First, flows are usually built around lead scoring. High-value activities and data become goals for nurture tracks (meaning that a contact will receive only emails focused on getting them to take a single action until they take that action).

Second, low-in-the-funnel flows are often just the automated version of emails you the salesperson would have sent to a prospect you were trying to get in contact with before your marketing automation system was put in place. We want to hear from you about what you did—what worked and what didn’t. By talking to us about your successes, failures, and preferences, we can put together a set of emails, forms, etc. that ensure that by the time we pass a contact off to you, they are totally ready to hear your sales pitch.


The relationship between your sales and marketing teams does not have to be one of contentious tension. A stellar marketing team will play the role of the best wingman ever for the sales team. All it takes is a focus on communication between the teams, and greater collaboration on who your customers are and what they need.


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