According to opinion polls late last week, Americans are more confident now than anytime in the past 7 years that the economy is on the right track. To me that's a signal: we can no longer blame poor business growth on "economic hardship." If the technical economic recession ended in 2009 with the return of positive GDP growth, then the close of 2014 marks the end of the confidence recession—and after all, confidence is what matters to sales and marketing, right?
Companies that made it through the Great Recession know how difficult it can be to weather a situation where it seems like nobody's buying. Every lost customer, every employee cut, and every mistake made on the assembly line is like another hole in a boat that's already taking on water. Slow economic times are scary for any business leader.
So, we understand when clients come to us a little shell shocked from what they've been through (but no less focused on business growth): CEOs that don't know how to spend money anymore, VPs of Sales who won't invest in better lead generation, or even the business development manager who's not quite sure about taking the stand for a more innovative growth strategy. Yet, what we try to teach, and what our clients end up understanding is that inbound marketing is an approach that builds business not just for the next year or two; it's an investment that builds a strong funnel of business leads, even when things go sour.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point...
Weather the Next Recession on the Back of Powerful Marketing
For several years, I've kept tabs on a locally headquartered construction company that has a phenomenal track record of success on a national scale. Before the crash of 2008, they had a great marketing and sales organization; their projects were always among the best rated for structural quality and environmental friendliness, and in general, they were held in great regard by their employees. As you can probably imagine, their priority work was always for larger corporations—usually bigger projects with better financial backing. However, like I said, the construction company has a great history of positive PR, and so, from a lead attraction perspective, their sales team had plenty of contacts that were too small to engage on real projects.
Then, 2008 hit. The company's sales team worked harder than ever to secure large projects from more high-profile clients—projects they hoped would help them weather the recession—but, very soon, it looked like confidence among their big clientele was failing. Soon, the regular mix of construction projects was becoming slim, and growth from the previous few years was shriveling before management's eyes. So, what did the construction company do?
That's when their huge marketing effort—their rich lead generation funnel—came to the rescue. While the recession started bleeding the company of its business growth prospects, its sales team still had an entire backup collection of other, less profitable opportunities (but opportunities nontheless).
Attract a Ton of Traffic & Set Firm Priorities for Qualifying Leads
Usually, when we talk about business development, the goal is to improve profitability and take the company to new heights. But using an inbound marketing approach, companies attract a much more complex funnel of leads that succeeds in both business growth and expansion of your base of leads.
That's why inbound marketers talk so much about qualified lead attraction. Consider this question for a moment: What exactly is a qualified lead for your business? Do you accept just any customer or are your prices set to attract only a certain range? Are you dedicated to a B2B customer base or is there a mix of B2C customers in your portfolio? How high will you go, and just how low can you afford to bend? These questions are the ones we use to determine the foundation of how companies should qualify their leads.
Just like my story about the construction company, your ideal sales opportunity is always the lead that'll maximize your company's profitability. But, that doesn't mean non-optimal leads aren't valuable too—especially the next time the economy tanks. Inbound marketing, as a fundamentally online approach, puts the focus on attracting a wide range of traffic; the key is that you qualify leads as they make their way "inbound" to your site. That way, you build a funnel of viable leads with a few priority opportunities ready to buy, but plenty of other useful, less qualified opportunities your sales team can turn to when times get tough filling in the middle and top.
Business Growth & Inbound Marketing Require a Company-Wide Commitment
As you consider how your company will achieve business growth in the post-Recession era, one critical piece is clear from our vantage point at Weidert Group: Marketing plans—especially long-range approaches like inbound marketing—only really work when the entire company is commited, from marketing to sales and from management to coordination staff. If you're a marketer, imagine trying to qualify leads you capture online without the input or feedback from your sales team. Or, if you're a marketing coordinator, consider how much evidence you'll need to show management to prove the potential business impact of a plan involving inbound marketing. There's simply no way to achieve strong growth without addressing these needs that tie the company together.
The same inward commitment that enabled your company to weather the recession will be the commitment that drives forth business growth, if you can only find the right way to move strategy ahead.