Is the traditional sales model really dead or has just evolved?

Questions we all are guilty of dubiously asking ourselves: Is the legacy top-down approach dead? Is Inbound lead generation bringing enough revenue? And where does Account-based marketing fit inside the funnel?

Let’s begin with inbound sales. Ever since the rise of inbound marketing, there have been countless arguments stating that traditional sales are dead for good. While I would not entirely disagree, there is a part of traditional sales that still merges with inbound sales.

Traditional Sales vs. Inbound Sales

Traditional sales is about prospecting, cold calling and reaching out to customers without enough research done on their needs and preferences, aka cold calling. Marketing and sales strategies have evolved over the years. Today, salespeople come in a lot later in the buyer’s cycle. Marketers use inbound marketing to generate leads, create buyer personas to understand their choice and preferences, and nurture those leads to make them sales-ready.

Only at this point, when the lead is genuinely ready to talk to a sales rep does a salesperson gets on board. The sales rep is already aware of the lead’s choices and preferences, past browsing history, and their immediate queries and interests. This makes the conversation personalized, relevant, and triggers better conversion. This whole process is termed as ‘inbound sales’, a pull vs push strategy, which revolves around the way leads prefer to make a purchase.

Ideally, you’d agree that traditional sales is already a passé because companies are now more focused on and are investing more efforts in becoming consumer-driven. Based on how prospects and customers engage, marketing and sales strategies are ideated and executed. 

I will say, Traditional sales are not entirely dead.

Let me start with the lead generation with an inbound methodology. You must be aware that inbound marketing makes way for three broad lead categories- leads from the enterprise (or as we like to term them as ‘the big fish’) fill the topmost part of the funnel, the middle funnel comprises of mid-sized businesses, and finally, the lower part of the funnel is made up of SMBs. The funnel looks something like this:


When you start using a marketing automation tool to nurture these leads, you can nudge, drive behavior change, and bring the mid-sized and SMBs customers closer to making a purchase or upgrading to a higher plan. For the topmost part of your funnel, targeted email campaigns or multi-channel marketing approach might not give you the results you want.

Handling Leads from Inbound Marketing

In the B2B space, mid-sized and SMB companies have lesser hierarchies. This means decision-makers are limited to maybe 1-2 people. Targeting the decision-makers with marketing automation practices is easy. You can track and monitor their activities across multiple channels, target them with relevant drip campaigns, and drive them to convert sooner.

However, if you consider an enterprise, the scenario here is a lot different. An enterprise or the big giants in the industry have multiple decision makers sitting at various hierarchies. You cannot possibly tell the same story to each of these audiences.  Making the story distinct and attention-grabbing for each of these personas by creating target account profiles, measuring propensity to buy, and building micro-campaigns is the key – Hello, Account-based marketing (ABM).

Implementing Account-based Marketing

Here is a recent example – Our inbound strategy helped us capture a considerable number of verified enterprise leads. We knew we had to be strategic with converting these leads because of longer sales cycles. Drip mailers(which works decently with other accounts) had high chances of being unread, unopened, and ignored. We needed something more personal, a leader-to-leader kind of conversation rather than a marketer-to-prospect one. 

We spent a lot of time analyzing these leads, their profiles, revenues, and other firmographics. We minutely gathered details about the companies, their challenges, and what success meant to them. The next step was to identify the contact number of the CEOs of these companies. Yes, we decided to reach out to the top-most decision head. Looking at our enterprise leads, we realized that most of them were VPs. While we created a separate funnel for these captured leads, our sales head directly made a call to these CEOs and approached them on behalf of the CEO of our company. She explained on her call “I have some interesting information that you will like based on the current issues that your company is facing. Can I have your email address for further discussion? I will send you an email on behalf of my CEO.”

This approach worked. We figured out two reasons for this to work:

  1. We approached for a leader-to-leader conversation rather than a sales rep to a cold lead one. 
  2. We did not push sales here. We were direct and honest and wanted to solve a problem for our prospects. 

This worked. And we got the contact information we wanted.

At this juncture, it was an evident fact for me: Traditional Sales is not dead; it has evolved.

Inbound Marketing + Traditional Sales = Account-Based Marketing

And woot, we now had contact details with two decision-makers from one organization– the CEO and VP of marketing (sometimes Sales as well) and had initiated conversation with one of them. Both these accounts were equally important. Negating one over the other could result in loss of business opportunity.

What we did next was setting up processes. We created account-based profiles, monitored each profile, and assigned account-based scores for each activity. We had two different types of carefully designed email campaigns that were follow-ups based on the prospect’s journey with the product. We kept a tab on the accumulative account-based scoring for each organization (As well as individual scoring). We designed separate strategies to continue the leader-to-leader engagement.

Here are some thumb-rules we followed:

  1. We ensured a dialog exchange between the two CEOs
  2. We allowed the product to speak for itself by attaching screen grabs over feature listing 
  3. We closed the offer with one, clear CTA

After running this program for about eight weeks, I have learnt that account-based marketing is not about just one email journey, one phone call, or one webinar. It is about building a flowchart of meaningful and relevant conversations. Account-based marketing cannot survive alone. It requires all the inbound marketing assets and a touch of traditional sales to convert enterprise leads into long-term customers.

Inbound marketing has not killed traditional sales. It still exists to nurture leads in the top-most funnel through ABM (Which we all apparently have a major FOMO about).