Professional Services Firm Grows 50% through Switch from Outbound to Inbound Marketing

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Greg AlexanderI recently had several lengthy discussions with my friend Greg Alexander, CEO of Sales Benchmark Index to learn how he made the switch from traditional outbound marketing like cold calls to a content-driven marketing approach using blogs, twitter, ebooks, and videos. The strategy has grown Greg's revenue 50% in the past year. Sales Benchmark Index has grown from a very small firm 6 years ago to a firm with dozens of consultants today.

The wide ranging discussion was so chock full of valuable information I want to share with you, that I've decided to make it a series of three blog posts starting today and running tomorrow and the next day.

Sales Benchmark Index is a professional services firm, focused exclusively on B2B sales force effectiveness. Sales Benchmark Index helps large and small clients gain a competitive advantage through the way they engage with their clients, the sales process, and the effectiveness of their sales force so they make sales numbers faster and with less effort.

This is a particularly fascinating example of success because Greg's business – the services his company offers – is completely metrics driven. And that's how Greg markets and sells too, based on the metrics, so this is a case study chock full of ROI measurements!

Outbound Marketing stopped working

Prior to making the switch to Inbound Marketing, Sales Benchmark Index deployed classic outbound activity. "We hired telemarketing firms to cold call," Greg says. "We did batch and blast email. We did interruption-based marketing tactics of all kinds and for a period of time from 2006 to 2010, that approach met our needs. And our needs are really well defined: We know how many inquiries we need to generate all the way through to paying customers. Then early, the effectiveness of the outbound channels just stopped. It's like somebody slammed the doors shut."

Greg thinks that his outbound strategies stopped working because his target audience was super busy. "I wasn't competing against other companies," he says. "I was competing for buyers' attention."

How buyers solve problems

Greg has done a great deal of research on how his buyer personas solve problems. And that was the starting point of his efforts to switch to Inbound Marketing.

"When our target customer (the head of sales or the head of marketing in a B2B organization) has a problem or need in their business, the very first thing they do – and we've done a lot of research to support this – is start searching the Web and reading and educating themselves," Greg says. "They typically don't want to engage with a service provider, us or anybody else for that matter, for a long time. Through education on the Web, they develop a crisp, well-articulated problem statement. Then they reach out to a small number of people to ask for their assistance in how they might approach solving that problem. It's similar to the way somebody would hire a law firm or a strategy consulting firm or an advertising agency."

Building buyer persona profiles and buyer process maps

Once Greg and his team understood how buyers solved problems, the next step was to develop buyer persona profiles and buyer process maps.

"We wanted to understand the key business objectives of each target audience," Greg says "What was standing in the way of them accomplishing those objectives? What were the things that were important to them when they made a decision to hire a service provider? How were they measured? What would the definition of success be? Once we understood that, we mapped the buying process for each persona. We identified when information requests were happening in the buying process for example, and what those information requests were."

Greg quickly realized that he had to create a lot of new content assets so he chose to create what he calls an "internal content marketing agency."

I love the approach Greg has taken to building content. Since Sales Benchmark Index is a professional services firm with smart subject experts, they needed to create an environment to channel the expertise into the creation of blog posts, videos, and longer form content assets like ebooks.

I talked in detail in the second installment of the series about how his team creates content How to Target Buyer Personas with the Right Content Created Especially for Them. Then on Friday. I'll discuss how Greg measures success and provide his advice to other CEOs on how to get started with a inbound marketing content strategy.

Disclosure: Greg and I serve together on the Eloqua board of advisors, which is where we met.