Does it work when salespeople reach out to you unsolicited and try to sell you something you don’t necessarily need using generic information you can find on their website?
You probably said no, right?
That method describes outbound sales. While it does have its moments, outbound as the sole method is becoming a legacy process that doesn’t effectively connect with the potential client and involves a lot of wasted effort.
Inbound sales offer a different approach. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between an inbound approach and an outbound approach.
What Are Inbound Sales?
Inbound sales meet potential customers where they are and look to help them with their unique needs and pain points. To carry out this modern sales methodology, you want to be helpful and personalize the experience. You focus on each prospect’s current point in the buyer's journey, aiming to strategically move them along to the next stage.
The process begins by attracting the right people through specific content. Then, salespeople connect with qualified inbound leads to gain a better understanding of their pain points.
If this process brings you to the conclusion that what you have to offer would help solve the lead's pain points and suit their needs and goals, you can help them understand more about solutions and how what you have to offer could help.
The inbound methodology is designed to focus on qualified leads who have already come to you based on helpful information and connections that attracted them. At the same time, it is designed to avoid selling to people who don’t need or want your goods or services.
Ideally, the process turns inbound leads and prospects into customers, who are a good fit and then become advocates who return to your brand and promote it.
What Are Outbound Sales?
Outbound sales use a more traditional sales approach. They involve the strategy of reaching out to people about your products or services, rather than encouraging interested prospects to come to you. This process includes throwing a large net that will inevitably include some people who may be interested as well as people who are not interested.
Generally, this methodology relies on a sales funnel that starts with many leads and moves as many as they can through the funnel, trying to turn them into prospects and then convert them into customers. The funnel shape symbolizes how a large number of leads can turn into a few sales after going through the funnel stages.
Are Inbound Sales Easier Than Outbound Sales?
As you consider whether inbound sales or outbound sales are right for your business, it’s critical to keep in mind that today, the buyer holds the power in the buying and selling process. While the seller once held the power, that is no longer the case thanks to the amount of information that is available to buyers today with a simple click of a mouse.
Inbound sales focus on attracting interested prospects to your business and building lasting relationships. Outbound sales try to engage potential buyers, but these buyers may or may not be interested in what you can provide.
In other words, inbound sales allow you to attract interested customers right out of the gate by providing value through marketing materials. An outbound approach allows you to get in front of as many people as possible, but you’re likely wasting your efforts and time by engaging with consumers who are not interested in what you are selling.
So are inbound sales or outbound sales easier?
Inbound sales are easier in the long run but require more work upfront from the marketing side. Creation of that valuable content, such as eBooks, case studies, etc., has to occur first, followed by a process that nurtures potential customers into becoming Sales Qualified Leads. Once this occurs, a sales team takes over and begins the closing process.
Outbound selling is incredibly time-consuming. For instance, it takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer. Then you need to convince the buyer that you actually have something of value to offer them. Especially, if they have never even heard of your business.
It is always easier to convert qualified inbound leads into prospects and customers than it is to convert unqualified ones. In addition, the inbound process facilitates repeat customers and brand promoters, which further makes the sales process easier in time.
Inbound Sales Techniques
There are several tactical steps you can use to get started with inbound selling. They are:
- Understand Your Buyers Journey
- Develop a sales process to support the buyer's journey
- Lead with customized helpful solutions - Identity Process
- Identify your personas - Connect Phase
- Uncover your prospect's pain - Explore Process
- Tailor Your Presentation - Advise Process
1. Understand Your Buyer’s Journey
What is a buyer’s journey? A buyer’s journey describes a buyer’s path to purchasing or enlisting your company’s services. A buyer's journey has three key steps: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
This is the stage of the buyer’s journey when a person realizes a problem, challenge, need or goal. They become aware of it and wonder whether to pursue it as a priority.
In order to fully understand your buyer’s awareness stage, ask yourself:
- How do buyers describe the challenges or goals your offering addresses?
- How do buyers learn more about these challenges or goals?
- How do buyers decide whether the challenge or goal should be prioritized?
In this stage, the person understands the pain point or goal and is determined to work on it. At this point, they consider different solutions and methods.
During this stage, your role is to understand the types of solutions they consider, how they compare them, and what would make your category stand out.
The decision stage is when potential buyers know the course they want to take, yet they haven’t decided on the specific offering. This is when they will compare companies and offerings that fit their category. They will then make the decision on the best one for their situation.
During the decision stage, you should be aware of the offerings the potential buyers are likely to look into and how they evaluate them. Also, think about what makes your offering stand out and who will take part in this decision process.
Let's look at this buyer's journey of a fictitious company called Acme Hazardous Waste Transportation.
Acme Hazardous Waste Transportation has 10 employees. Most are upper management and clerical staff with 2 sales representatives. The company targets U.S. businesses that generate hazardous waste substances in small and large quantities with less than $100M in revenue.
The sales reps seek out companies that fit their target profile and seek to convince them of using their disposal services. The CEO decides that a new process is needed to generate more qualified leads for sales to close. The CEO decides to use the inbound sales methodology to drive their customer acquisition process.
This is what Acme Hazardous Waste Transportation’s buyer's journey would look like.
2. Develop An Inbound Sales Process - Support Your Buyers Journey
You should come up with a sales process that is designed to meet your buyer at different stages and support them as they move through the buyer’s journey.
Inbound salespeople are there to guide the buyer and provide help for their specific challenge or goal, rather than throwing sales pitches that may or may not be wanted or relevant.
Create the process by determining an inbound salesperson’s actions for each of the inbound marketing stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. We recommend your sales process should include the four parts of the Inbound Sales Methodology:
Inbound salespeople Identify strangers who may have goals or challenges they can help with. These strangers become leads.
Inbound salespeople Connect with these leads to help them decide whether they should prioritize the goal or challenge. If the buyer decides to do so, these leads become qualified leads.
Inbound salespeople Explore their qualified leads’ goals or challenges to assess whether their offering is a good fit for the qualified leads’ context. If it turns out it’s a good fit, these qualified leads become opportunities.
Inbound salespeople Advise these opportunities on how their offering is uniquely positioned to address the buyer’s context. If the buyer agrees the salesperson’s offering is best for their context, these opportunities become customers.
Here is a fictitious buyer's journey mapped to the Acme Hazardous Waste Transportation.
3. Define Your “Identify” Process - Customized Helpful Information
This process involves identifying strangers with challenges or goals that correlate to what your business offers. The goal of this process is to turn strangers into qualified leads. You want to identify people who are already in the awareness stage, which you can do through steps like having them download a specific offer addressing one of their pain points, or a checklist that would help them answer a specific question they have.
What many salespeople don’t realize is that many buyers have already entered into the awareness stage of the buying journey, before they even engage with a live person. These active buyers should be targeted first. They may have visited your company website and filled out a form for some information, clicked on an email or left some sort of clue they have a need.
Inbound salespeople can differentiate which buyers are active and which ones are passive.
Inbound salespeople can prioritize leads by looking for:
- Inbound Leads - People who have provided contact information via a form.
- Inbound Companies - Use Prospect tools, like Hubspot's Prospect Tool, to see if anonymous visitors from your target companies are visiting your website.
- Trigger Events - Tiggers such as social media mentions of your company, social mentions of a keyword or hashtag, a blog post of a LinkedIn mention of a new executive hire.
- Social Selling - Push content aimed at your ideal buyers. Respond to relevant conversations.
- Connections - Look for connections via platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook that can give you an introduction.
4. Define Your “Connect” Process - Identify Your Personas
The inbound salesperson connects with the leads from the previous process. The goal here is to help reach out to buyers with personalized messages targeted toward the buyer's context.
Rather than giving people information, they could find on their own, which the outbound process tends to do, you should have a personalized message using the buyer’s context and offer something that fits the awareness stage, such as an ebook that goes over the topic the person is researching. The process should outline the method, timing, and frequency of reaching out.
Once the inbound salesperson has identified their targeted persona, for example:
- Persona A is the V.P. of Sales at a manufacturing company
- Persona B is the CEO of a technology company
- Persona C is the Director of Marketing at an environmental company
An outreach strategy could look something like this:
Day 1 Email
Day 1 Call
Day 4 Email
Day 7 Call
Day 10 LinkedIn Connection
Day 14 Email
Day 19 Call
Day 25 LinkedIn Message
Day 30 Email
Day 36 Call
Day 42 LinkedIn Message
Day 50 Call
Day 55 LinkedIn Message (final)
Day 60 Email (final)
Prioritize Your Inbound Sales Leads
Within the “identify” process, you want to prioritize leads. Here is an example of some priorities, starting with the highest:
- People: Specific people who reached out or left you contact information and work for a company that fits your offerings make up your ideal leads. If this person is not the right buyer, they can help you connect to the company and the right person.
- Company: This is when you gain anonymous information that shows a company may be interested, yet you do not have a person’s contact information.
- Buyer’s Journey Events: This is when something happens that shows a buyer is on the buyer’s journey. For example, a new person is hired at a target company or there is a social media post that relates to your company or the problem you solve.
- New Leads: You can also put some time into activities to reach new leads, such as creating content, finding relevant connections through your network and potentially searching for passive buyers who fit your ideal buyer persona.
5. Define Your “Explore” Process - Uncover Your Prospects Pain
During this process, inbound salespeople transition into an exploratory mode when the buyer shows interest. At this point, the inbound salesperson does not even know if their services can help the buyer, but they recognize they still need to build trust and show a level of understanding concerning the buyer's problems.
There is a tendency for legacy salespeople to transition straight into presentation mode at this point. The problem is legacy salespeople do not have enough insight into the buyer's context to deliver a presentation at this time. These presentations usually end up being generic and provide little value to the buyer.
Inbound salespeople use exploratory guides to ensure the discussion provides value to the buyer so they can draw their own conclusions about whether the product or service is right for them.
Here’s an example of an exploratory script used in this stage.
SAMPLE QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
Recap Previous Conversation
As we discussed in our previous call, you want your website to generate qualified leads for your sales team. It’s also not attracting the right customers for you and it does not accurately reflect who you are and the quality and impact of the work you do.
You are looking at several marketing firms to assess if the programs they offer can fix your problem and turn your website into a lead generation machine.
Does that sound about right? Would you like to add anything else?
Set The Agenda
Typically, at this point, I like to find out how best I can help you. We have worked with many hazardous waste transportation companies just like yours who have the same problems you are facing. But what we have found is that everyone is a little different so I would like to start by getting more information about your specific goals, challenges, constraints, timelines and if you have specific plans in place. Does that seem like a good starting point?
We have found over the years working with Hazardous Waste Transportation companies is that they have dabbled into internet marketing or have done no internet marketing at all.
They have typically worked with companies that have provided some SEO work, social media, or pay-per-click advertising with little or no ROI associated with what they did.
It always felt like a wasted expenditure to them. Have you faced similar experiences?
Now let's look at your goals of what you are hoping to achieve. This often gives us an idea of what plan would best fit your needs.
From what we have discussed so far, it sounds like if you do nothing it will have a big impact on the growth of the business. You may need to lay off employees if you cannot generate more qualified leads and you may not be able to sell the company for top dollar in the next 10 years.
6. Define Your “Advise” Process - Tailor Your Presentation
The information that you have uncovered in each of the previous stages, will allow you to prepare a tailored presentation. The goal is to show your unique benefits that will exceed your buyer's goals.
Legacy salespeople often miss the boat here. They still use generic outdated presentations that don’t address the buyer's specific needs and challenges. They only showcase what services they can offer. This usually makes the buyer frustrated and leaves them with the feeling of this is not for them.
Modern buyers have already done some homework on you and if they feel you may be able to help them. This is where inbound salespeople can bridge the gap between the generic information online and the unique needs of the buyer.
4 Mistakes Reps Make With Inbound Sales
If you’re not seeing the results you’re hoping for from inbound, it’s possible you’re making some of these common solvable mistakes.
#1: Not Focusing On The Right Leads
Inbound can provide you with qualified leads. However, one mistake sales representatives make is to put their time into leads that are not qualified. Talking to the wrong people or failing to know the person’s challenges or goals brings you right back to the time-wasting legacy processes.
#2: Choosing The Wrong Person In A Company
You might pick the right company but focus on the wrong person, someone without the purchasing power to actually make the decision. This will waste your time and can cause problems like nurturing a company that doesn't have the right budget. It’s important to determine the key decision-maker as soon as possible.
#3: Moving Forward Before The Time Is Right
Often, the inbound process requires patience. You need to meet people where they are and move them forward in the right way without being pushy. Many sales reps make the mistake of negotiating too soon before a person is ready for that stage or pushing a product when the person is still focused on the problem. Instead, the rep needs to understand what to do during each stage.
#4: Not Understanding The Next Step
You may be making progress with a qualified lead or prospect and feel positive about it. But, then what? Sales reps may make the mistake of not having a clear understanding of what step to take next to move the person forward in the buyer’s journey. This can potentially fail to convert a person who was previously taking the path forward with you. Having set processes helps with this problem.
Apply These Inbound Sales Techniques for Success
There are many ways to be successful with inbound sales, but these techniques can help you succeed:
- Understand the ideal companies to work with and the target buyer personas within those kinds of companies.
- Create sales processes that fit your buyer’s journey.
- Spend time giving helpful information and personalized advice to potential buyers.
- Figure out how to communicate best for each context.
- Make your offering stand out as the clear choice by identifying pain points and the best types of solutions, then show how your offering beats similar options for the buyer’s situation.
A Long-Term Strategy To Generate Sales
Inbound marketing strategies and sales feature effective tools to reach the right people and turn them into customers. Nonetheless, it requires strategy, tactical steps, processes, and integrated systems between marketing and sales. Also, your reps may be making mistakes like the ones highlighted above, which can keep your sales strategies from playing out effectively.
If you’re unsure of how to set up an inbound strategy or what’s going wrong with the one you have, an inbound agency can help.
Olivia is the Co-Owner and VP of Sales for InTouch. She loves getting to know and connecting with people.