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You Can Go Your Own Way: How to Get Things Done When You’re the Only SEO

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You Can Go Your Own Way: How to Get Things Done When You’re the Only SEO

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

If you’re an SEO like me, you probably spent at least a year or two at an agency where you worked with other experienced SEOs. On large teams, there’s always someone to learn from, bounce ideas off of, or to help finish projects on time.

But what happens when the SEO team is just you? This is the question I had when, after several years agency-side, I moved in-house to be the first and only SEO the organization ever had.

More than three years later, I’m still a team of one. I had to figure out how to accomplish my goals without the built-in support of an established team, and although there are challenges, being the only SEO is an opportunity to flex your knowledge, develop the practices that will bring the organization into the digital age, and maybe even grow your own team.

Here’s how I get things done, and hopefully some of these practices will be helpful for you as well!

How and why some organizations start with just one SEO

Many “legacy” organizations are going through a digital transformation: transitioning from traditional media to a digital presence by investing in their websites and digital specialists. The pandemic likely accelerated this process, and these groups will be hiring their first dedicated SEOs.

This is how I was hired. The Nature Conservancy is one of the largest environmental nonprofits in the world, with offices in dozens of countries and thousands of employees. One SEO. Yet this is fairly advanced — most nonprofits have zero*.

*Sidenote: If you are a nonprofit SEO I would love to connect!

One of the first digital transformation hires was the analytics director, Jenny. Jenny’s mission was to find opportunities to grow the site. Almost immediately, she saw that half of the website’s traffic is from organic search. So she asked, “Who manages search here?” Turns out, no one. She believed that if the website was important, the organization needed to invest in it. And that meant a strategy for search.

Jenny needed to highlight how beneficial an SEO would be. She built an analytics dashboard for the CMO, who was from a traditional media background. His first question was, “What’s organic search?”

Yes, really. Then he had a lightbulb moment: “Oh, so Google! Wow, that’s all our traffic?”

And a new SEO position was funded.

A rough start

Unfortunately, this realization came at a less than ideal time. The Nature Conservancy was in the middle of this digital transformation, starting to heavily invest in digital marketing, building a team, thinking strategically about the website, and the CMS was shutting down. They scrambled to find a new CMS and execute a site migration.

No worries, they thought, the web developer vendor will handle SEO. Their contract included this line item: “SEO industry best practices for relaunch”.

If your stomach just clenched, imagine how I felt when, during an interview, my soon-to-be-boss excitedly said, “You might have noticed that the website looks a little different today. Our relaunch went live this morning!”

Yes, they went through a site migration while hiring for an SEO. They celebrated with cake.

Teams without an SEO don’t know what they don’t know, and they’ll make mistakes that you will be responsible for fixing. Until that moment, I had been thinking that I’d be setting the SEO strategy for the future of the organization, help the website emerge as an authority and a leader in the nonprofit space, and contribute to my personal goal of furthering the mission. Instead, my first several months on the job would be cleaning up the migration.

When I started, there were hundreds of errors across the site. It was slow, there were no dedicated SEO fields in the CMS, and there were broken links everywhere. Worse, there was no SEO guidance for content creators, meaning each new page created more errors.

So, how did I start to move the needle on over 2,000 pages that were published with zero thought towards SEO? I had to triage: there was no way I could fix all the issues myself, so my priority was slowing the rate at which new, problematic pages were published.

The solo SEO process

Step 1: Make friends on other teams and find your evangelists

When you’re the only SEO, especially if you’re also the first, it might seem like no one at your organization understands your job. But someone, somewhere, does — at least a little. You just need to find them.

And when you do, don’t immediately ask for favors or demand they change how they do their jobs. Approach your new friend with empathy, interest, and understanding. Start by learning how you can help them do their jobs.

Analysts

My first friends were on the analytics team. Obviously I had Jenny, the analytics director, and I also had Leigh Ann, an amazing analytics architect. She had been with The Nature Conservancy for 20 years and knew how desperate the site was for SEO guidance. Chances were if I was annoyed at an issue, she had been annoyed at it for years. She was thrilled some of these issues were finally being addressed, and I was thrilled I had current and historical data to back up my recommendations.

Developers

My second friends were the developers. When you’re the only SEO, you’re the default expert on both content and technical SEO. I give the developers a heads up on what the content team has planned that might require their involvement and, more importantly, educate the content team on the level of effort required for seemingly small tasks. This not only helps me directly, it also increases understanding and keeps relationships smooth across teams.

Other marketers

One unexpected friend I made early on was Rachel, a marketer with the Florida chapter. She worked with SEOs in a previous role and understood the value of organic search. She reached out to me after a training, wanting to collaborate. Together we created a new page specifically designed to bring in organic traffic.

The topic was mangroves, trees that grow in coastal saltwater that provide important habitat for animals and protect communities from storm impacts. The Florida chapter talked quite a bit about mangroves but didn’t have a dedicated page for them. I sent Rachel some keywords, questions, and examples of mangrove content and she built a new page. We collaborated on every element. We both wanted to show how SEO could improve the kind of content most marketers were creating.

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A persistent notion among marketers is that their pages are primarily seen because they’re promoted. While the page was shared on social media and in an email, within a few weeks, it was ranking for our target keyword. Six months later, 85% of the traffic to that page was from organic search. I made sure to give that page — and Rachel — a shout out, both to give her credit and to show other marketers the kind of success SEO can bring. She also shares the success of the page with other marketers and is a valuable SEO evangelist.

Step 2: Provide SEO education every day

It doesn’t matter if you work with hundreds of SEOs or you’re the only SEO, every SEO role involves a good amount of education. The field changes frequently, new clients and stakeholders have varying levels of understanding (or worse, outdated ideas), and websites and priorities change. You need to keep up with the field and communicate changes and best practices simply and effectively.

Agency clients expect their vendors to be consultants, but when you’re in-house, it can be easy to forget to treat your colleagues and superiors like a client. And when you’re the only one with SEO expertise, everyone has questions. It’s your job to not only answer their questions, but also to be proactive.

Being the only SEO means speaking up and asserting your knowledge. Within my first two months, I conducted an SEO 101 training open to anyone at the organization. I covered what SEO is, what it means for content creators, busted myths, walked through what a SERP looks like, how to optimize pages using our CMS, and highlighted examples of pages that were already doing a great job. I ended the training by giving attendees steps for conducting their own research, and offering to help anyone creating new content. (Giving out candy doesn’t hurt, either.)

1649777439 234 You Can Go Your Own Way How to Get Things

Of course, not everyone is going to react well to someone who comes in and tells them the way they’ve been doing things this whole time is wrong. Naturally, you’ll encounter resistance. That’s okay — focus on those who do want to work with you, and minimize conflict with everyone else. Results, hopefully, will speak for themselves.

You get to choose the SEO hill you die on. Figure out what’s going to move the needle the most at your organization. Understand when to fight and when to let something go in order to appease that higher up you just can’t win over right now.

Step 3: Do (at least some of) the work yourself

One of the biggest culture shocks moving in-house was the level of bureaucracy standing in my way. The larger the organization, the more hurdles you’ll have to jump. Sometimes it takes half a dozen people to approve a title tag change and content owners are sometimes always too busy to fix their broken links. I quickly realized there would be times I’d need to just do things myself.

If your SEO agency experience ever involved providing recommendations to your point of contact and then wondering why almost nothing got implemented, you may have no idea how long it takes to actually do the work you’re recommending, or what very real barriers your client faces. I didn’t when I was with agencies.

At The Nature Conservancy, I tried everything I could think of to encourage content owners to fix their issues: meeting one-on-one with them, sending emails with step-by-step instructions, even setting up automated email reminders. They just didn’t have the time.

So, I started making some of the changes myself. I’d remove a few broken links on one page, update title tags and meta descriptions on another, and worked with my team’s writer (who was willing to pitch in) to update content. It’s important to not be too busy, proud, or afraid to do the work.

If you’re thinking this is time consuming, you’re right. If content owners didn’t have the time to manage a dozen pages, how could I manage thousands? Right when I was starting to resign myself to spending Saturdays doing all the stuff I was recommending so we could start seeing results, we hired a production manager, Lane. He quickly made a sizable dent in our backlogged work.*

*In the never-ending cycle that is nonprofit work, Lane’s plate is now also overloaded.

I was lucky that we had the budget to hire Lane, but what if we didn’t? It would have been unrealistic and unfair for me to actually spend my weekends implementing optimizations across thousands of pages. If anyone is in this position now, build a case for hiring someone. Estimate the time it would take to implement your recommendations, and the cost of not implementing as much as you can. Use the metrics that matter to the powers that be, and show how SEO contributes to their own goals. Ask your advocates for help, especially if they might have some insights you don’t.

In the meantime, protect your priorities: Block off time on your calendar for focused work (and use it), enforce no-meeting Fridays, don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good” or “done”, learn how to say “no” to tasks that don’t fit your priorities, and recognize and admit to your limits.

In essence, do the work, but don’t actually work through your weekends!

Step 4: Find your community

It can be a bit lonely and isolating to be the only SEO at your organization. Who do you go to for a gut check, a proofread, or to ask a dumb question without judgment when you’re the only SEO? You need to find your community outside your employer.

First and foremost, you don’t need to have every answer immediately. “I don’t know, let me find out” is an acceptable answer. You can Google answers to the questions you’re asked, or you can find people to ask.

Former colleagues, former classmates in similar positions, website forums, even Twitter hashtags can be a good community. Women in Tech SEO is a wonderful, global community for women in the field. I also had some success reaching out to others in similar positions at related companies. There are SEO podcasts, YouTube videos, webinars, conferences, and online courses to learn from.

No matter where you find your community, don’t just take: remember to help others as much as they help you.

Why it’s actually great to be the only SEO

Being the only specialist at a company comes with unique challenges, as outlined here. But there are some wonderful benefits to being the only SEO on your team.

The wow factor

Chances are, your colleagues and superiors are learning a TON from you. I regularly hear things along the lines of, “Wow, I never knew we needed to do this!” or “This is hugely helpful!” for simple best practices.

Employee appreciation

Your colleagues can be extremely happy you’re on the team. Like Leigh Ann, the analytics architect, who had spent years measuring metrics that no one had been working on. And Rachel, from the Florida chapter, who got to show her boss results from our collaboration.

It feels good

When there’s no one else who knows SEO at your organization, there’s also no one to disagree with you! But in addition, if you’re the only SEO on the team, your company may be low on digital expertise, maybe even transitioning from traditional media to a digital presence. You get to genuinely help bring an organization into the digital future and show how SEO can have incredible results.




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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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