Inbound Marketing and CRM Strategy

Inbound marketing and customer relationship management both trade on the same basic principle: interacting with your company shouldn’t feel like a chore. In the ideal case for both, customers feel like a valued part of your business and have reasons to come interact with it beyond a new product purchase or need for technical support. Basically, customers should want your world and theirs to overlap more than is minimally necessary.

But using these two domains to directly support each other is easier said than done. Most CRM software functions deal with sales, while inbound marketing is a function of an entirely different department–much inbound marketing doesn’t lead directly to the sales pipeline, or to leads.

Compounding the problem is the fact that sales and marketing teams don’t always talk to one another. A 2011 study found that more than 80% of the words sales and marketing professionals use to describe their side of the fence were negative. How then can you align your marketing and CRM strategies to enhance sales, improve engagement, and do better business overall?

Focus Down

Usually leads that come from inbound marketing like a podcast or a blog come from a landing page or form of some type. The prospective customer provides a few basic details, such as name and email address, as well as checking a box that indicates that they opt into marketing communications from your company. You can then put this data into your CRM client of choice and start pursuing business.

This seems simple, but this simplicity can actually be a trap. A customer who only has one option for opt-in communication can’t clearly articulate what they want out of the relationship. Are they looking to invest in a new product in your field? Are they there solely to look at your expert content? If they can only check one box, this is unclear.

Consider using your inbound marketing landing page as an opportunity to focus your prospective leads down. Offer them a few different options, such as subscribing to blog posts, marketing communications, and perhaps specific product lines, and you can get a clearer picture of where they are in their process. Once you know where that customer is, you can do a better job of targeting them later on.

A range of mail categories also helps you leverage the powers of your CRM software for email and marketing automation. Customers are less likely to flag content as spam if it is more tailored to their specific needs. Content that is flagged as spam too often ends up on email blacklists, at which point even some of the customers who subscribe to your messages won’t see them. This enhancement to inbound marketing not only improves your ability to get things in front of customers, but also reduces the risk of your efforts ending up in vain.

Mix it Up

On the inbound marketing side of things, sticking to one topic for too long at a stretch can slow efforts to turn customers into leads. More than that, sticking to one topic can show that you aren’t paying attention to where your customers are in their own processes. The data you get about your existing customers through CRM and surveys can feed your inbound marketing.

Your inbound marketing pieces, whether they’re weekly podcasts or monthly newsletters, should highlight your business and add value for your customers in equal measure. Ask yourself if your inbound work pays equal attention to each of these issues:

  1. Expert positioning. A decent amount of your inbound marketing work should highlight developments and research in your own field. This positions your company as something that knows what it’s talking about. For many companies, this type of content comes easiest. It’s straightforward and trades on your strengths.
  2. Customer assistance. Where are your customers at in other areas of their business journey? Are there common challenges many of your customers face, according to the data you have on them from your CRM software? If you notice that a lot of your customers are facing project management or business strategy issues, consider incorporating some new content on that into your inbound marketing work. Your customers will be grateful, and you’ll have added value to their visits.
  3. Keyword placement. While SEO techniques have gotten more complicated and thus harder to chase, keep an eye toward keywords while you work up the content that drives your inbound marketing engine. Your new CRM software won’t help you cultivate qualified leads if your site ends up on page 14 of Google. Be sure to watch for changes in algorithms to improve your chances of getting noticed. Ideally, the pieces that shore up your SEO will also help position you as a topic expert.

By varying up the type of content and keeping an eye on your keywords of choice you can strengthen your inbound marketing. What’s more, if you do it in a manner consistent with the lessons you learn about your customers from your CRM strategies, you can leave those customers feeling more engaged with your brand. If you can get the sales data and the marketing practice to cross-talk effectively using the tools you have available, you can get a lot more out of these efforts.

Complete the Cycle: Close the Loop

Marketers and sales professionals alike need to come together for this step of the process of inbound marketing, and CRM software can make that easy. As you pull in leads from your blog, newsletter, podcast, or Twitter, note where they come from. Look at what different cross-sections of leads actually end up purchasing. Is your Twitter pulling in only leads that end up amounting to nothing? Is your podcast the engine that drives your strongest relationships and best customers?

Sales has the power to collect this data in an easy, accessible format with a CRM program. Marketing has the power to act on this data and create smarter, savvier campaigns. By closing the loop between the two activities rather than treating them as a simple funnel, you can multiply the effectiveness of both steps in the process.

Loop-Closing Technology

Consider using cookies on your site to track users’ browsing history on the site, and link that information with any sign-up or order forms you have. What is actually getting your leads to land on your site, and what do they stay for? What paths do they ultimately take through your inbound marketing pages to get at what they want? Look into the opportunities for cross-talk between your CRM platform and your Web interface.

Loop-Closing Practices

Many CRM systems allow administrators to set different permissions, allowing users to see only the data they need most. Consider giving marketers limited CRM access that focuses on the elements most directly relevant to their work. By making it easy and convenient for marketers to get sales data, rather than having to go through a departmental intermediary or other third party, you can keep the loop moving and respond to customers.

Look into using your CRM system’s reporting and analytics features as well. Consider creating reports that pair overall revenue, net profit, and number of sales with the inbound marketing initiatives that created them. This will create an easy, “at-a-glance” way to assess which of your efforts create the most, or most profitable, sales. Not every initiative will start showing results right away, so be sure to give new programs time to catch up and normalize compared to its older counterparts.

Building Relationships: Internal and External

CRM puts the focus on relationships. While that usually refers to customers and the company, that isn’t the only relationship it can support. Sales and marketing need to be able to get along and feed off of each other’s successes if a company is to keep both departments healthy, and in turn generate more revenue. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve this frequently-rocky relationship.

Have you managed to close the loop between sales and marketing? What do you do to support your inbound marketing efforts? How do you use your CRM data? Let us know what you think.

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