Inbound Sales: Your In-depth, Simple Guide to Using the Inbound Sales Methodology
To grasp the inbound sales methodology, here’s what to keep in mind right from the start of this ultimate guide to inbound sales:
We don’t buy like we used to.
Here’s something you can be sure of, though:
If you are unaware of the inbound sales concept and remain oblivious of it, you risk running out of business. Your competition will swoop in and whisk your target customers away—even your existing clients. And your revenue will take a hit and crash.
And your business as you know it will soon be on its knees.
So, what changed?
How can you align your business with the right customers so you can make sales—the revenue you need to survive and thrive in the current and future sales environment?
Let’s first take a throwback look at what sales looked like before inbound sales.
What is Legacy Selling?
You know how it went.
Cold calls. Door-to-door sales pitches. Trade show presentations. Splashing a chunk of money into buying contact lists. Then recruit a team of young, hungry salespeople to push your message to the people on that list.
Remember receiving unsolicited sales calls in the middle of your commute, office work, meeting, and family time?
Your sales team had to push the sale to a stranger. That, to make the prospect aware of your product, consider using it, and then decide to buy from one of them immediately or soon.
If the prospect decided to go with the latter, your salespeople would have to make more calls—and likely be a bit too pushy.
Yet many people on the contact list wouldn’t be interested. So, you’d cast an even wider net. Source even more contacts. Urge your sales team to become even more “pushy”. That’s how the catchphrase Always Be Closing came along—the ABC of sales.
And then the internet came along…
And the ways of sales and marketing started to hit new blockades.
- People became lethargic to being sold to. Everyone hates being pitched and closed. Don’t you?
- With a huge network of social media channels and connections, blog posts, and case studies at their disposal online, more potential buyers no longer rely on your sales team to learn about solutions available in the market for their problems.
- Consumers are adlergic.
In March 2017, digital research firm eMarketer discovered about 25% of U.S. internet users deployed ad blockers in the previous year.
Then GlobalWebIndex found this:
2018 Adblockers use in the U.S. statistics by GlobalWebIndex
The infographic shows:
- Over 47% of U.S. internet users used ad blockers in 2018, making it tough for businesses that take the ad route to revenue to make any impressions, leads, and closings.
- The most quoted reasons for using an ad blocker were: too many ads, annoying or irrelevant ads, and intrusive ads. Is that familiar?
In mid-2018, AudienceProject detected and reported increased mobile ad-blocking behavior across the globe, providing statistics from the U.S., U.K., Germany, and more countries.
What these studies confirm is the shift in power from the seller to the buyer.
The buyer is more informed now.
- 87% of buyers start their product or service search online—not with contacting a salesperson (Salesforce and Publicis.Sapient)
- In 2018, BrightLocal found 54% of buyers started for the search online compared to 27% in 2017
54% of buyers used the internet to find local businesses in 2018—a 50% rise from the previous year
27% of buyers used the internet to find a local business in 2017, according to BrightLocal
- 90% of buyers now read online reviews before visiting a business (BrightLocal)—not by listening to a salesperson’s pitch about product/service benefits
- And 84% of them trust online reviews as much as they do a personal friend
Your target customers just don’t buy like they used to.
Using legacy selling alone in an age of inbound sales and marketing will kill your revenue—and your business.
So, what is inbound sales and why should you care?
What is Inbound Sales?
The inbound sales methodology simply switches the focus from the seller to the buyer. The inbound sales process appreciates that buyers are more empowered than they used to be.
That buyers don’t want to be bombarded by myriads of ads, cold calls, and emails, or door-to-door pitches anymore.
Inbound selling is about focusing on the buyer’s pain points, interests, aspirations, and goals. Contrary to pushing for a sale, it is about attracting warm leads to your business who then buy—ideally forming a long-term relationship, too.
What is the Difference Between Inbound Sales and Outbound Sales?
There are several that jump right off the page:
It’s all about the buyer
From beginning to the end, the inbound sales methodology focuses on what the buyer needs and wants so they can achieve their goals.
Offer value before you can ask for value
The inbound sales process requires you to connect with a potential customer, build rapport, and then offer valuable help before asking for value back—pitching a sale.
ABC vs ABH
Instead of Always Be Closing, the inbound philosophy says Always Be Helping.
Help potential buyers to identify their needs and wants. Help them understand the nature of those needs. Help them to consider a solution. Then warmly invite them to consider your solution based on its unique value proposition.
Instead of pushing for a sale, always be pulling in potential clients’ trust.
Inbound sales thrive on context.
Legacy selling or outbound sales used to make largely swiping assumptions about what the ideal customer’s needs were. The assumption being every prospect had similar pain points, desire, and goals as any other.
Inbound selling strategies focus on personalizing and adapting the sales process to an individual lead’s pain points, interests, and goals.
The inbound sales team will profile a potential client with details such as what they do, which company and position they hold, how they heard about your company, and what they are looking to achieve. Their buyer persona and buyer profile.
With inbound sales, salespeople connect with warm leads—people they’ve interacted with before in some capacity, who’ve already shown interest in their company’s solutions.
For example, when a lead calls your sales department because of what they already know about your solutions, that’s a true manifestation of inbound sales.
The customer expresses interest.
They are interested and motivated.
They just haven’t reached a decision yet.
And they need you to help guide them to it as a trusted consultant.
People are more receptive to a call they expect. Not a cold call. A warm call. If they asked you to call them back about your solutions, that’s a hot call—and likely to end in a deal.
The inbound sales process makes it easier to guide the lead through the sales funnel to becoming a buying customer.
Outbound sales strategies just don’t nurture that initial connection before ringing the potential customer—which, in many cases, results in your reps getting a cold shoulder.
How do you make those crucial first connections a lasting relationship?
By deploying inbound marketing.
What is Inbound Marketing?
In a sentence, inbound marketing involves modern marketing techniques that aim to attract leads to you. You provided value first, and the potential buyer came to you for the solution because they trust you can provide it.
Outbound marketing or legacy marketing involves going out with an elevator pitch to win leads. You likely outreached to people on a contact list or entire market segment, spoke with them over the phone (likely severally), until you achieved a yes.
Inbound marketing aligns its messaging with customer behavior.
With outbound marketing:
You and your reps have to reach out to leads, educate them about your service/product, and kind of push for a closing/deal.
The problem with that approach is you’d be reaching out to leads you have limited information on. So, your reps have no clear understanding of whether the prospect is interested in the solution or not.
You don’t know where they are in their buying journey.
You have little understanding of their motivations too, so your messaging could easily be misaligned with what the potential customer is looking for.
That drives some leads away to a competitor, who demonstrates some level of understanding the prospect’s deep needs through personalized inbound marketing strategies.
With inbound marketing:
You research what your target customer truly needs. The goal is to detail out their pain points and aspirations.
You use the research findings to create buyer personas and profile your ideal customer. So you can align your solution and message to their deepest need.
You take time to create useful content that you share on the web through your website, blog, an authority publication, and or via social media.
The potential buyer finds the content and resonates with it because you tailored it to his or her pain points or aspirations. They then click a link to your website to find out what other useful material you have to offer them.
On reaching your site, they find more blog posts addressing different aspects of their concern. They find you offer an ebook or short email-based course on the issue. They offer to give you their email address so you can send them more helpful content.
You have established a connection.
From there you adapt your trusted consultation and messaging to the sales process to make the sale.
Then What is Inbound Sales Methodology?
This is also referred to as the inbound sales process.
It follows a similar approach to the inbound marketing process. Inbound salespeople conduct it in phases or stages that complement the buyer journey.
The three stages of a typical buyer’s journey are:
Awareness: potential buyer identifies a challenge, a desire, or goal they need to achieve. They make achieving it a priority. They are learning more about the problem from online content in the form of blogs, white papers, ebooks, and industry reports.
Consideration: Aware of the problem and committed to finding a solution to it, the buyer starts evaluating different ways to solve his/her problem. They are taking to product reviews, comparison reviews, and expert guides.
Decision: Having educated themselves, the buyer is decided on a solution category. But they are still deciding who to work with and what specific product or service to use. They are interested in online reviews, case studies, test videos, and considering taking up a trial or product demo.
Here’s how the buyer’s journey looks like in a visual
Image Credit: Sleeknote
How Does the Inbound Sales Process Work?
Here are inbound sales strategies to use to make your inbound sales methodology work for you.
Define your ideal customer
Every business aims to solve a specific problem. Base your primary value proposition on your ideal customer’s needs.
To be aware of your ideal customer and their need, create your buyer profile and buyer personas.
What is Buyer Profile?
Buyer profiles detail the kind of customer your product or service is made for. So if you are a B2B company, define the companies your product or service is a good fit for and those that aren’t. But only complete the profile at a company level—not going in on the contact person.
What is Buyer Persona?
Buyer personas are about defining the different buying patterns of consumers (B2C) or companies (B2B) within your ideal buyer profiles. There will be several buyer personas in a buyer profile, for example, the CEO, Procurement Head, and Department Head of a company your product or service is a good fit for.
Although defined as a fictional representation of your ideal customer, a buyer persona should be informed by real market research on your target customers and actual data about your current customers.
Here’s how to create a detailed buyer persona for your business:
Steps to creating a buyer persona
And remember to ask the relevant questions, too:
Align your sales process with your ideal buyer’s journey
To marry your inbound sales methodology to your potential buyer’s journey, use the following four stages of the inbound sales strategy:
- Identify: In the awareness stage, inbound sales reps prioritize leads that are already active in the buyer’s journey, leading strangers to become leads
- Connect: Inbound sales reps interact with leads to help them learn more about their problem and whether to commit further to solving it. Encouraged to commit further, the leads become qualified leads
- Explore: By providing useful content and asking strategic questions, inbounds salespeople understand more about the lead’s pain points, interests, and goals. That helps inform them on whether their company’s service or product is a good fit for the specific lead. If it is, the lead becomes an opportunity
- Advise: then based on the context of the opportunity, inbound sales reps express how their solution is uniquely positioned to help in the opportunity’s context. The reps do not push the opportunity to buy. Rather, they offer more details on how well their product or service can help alleviate the opportunity’s problem. If the potential buyer agrees, the deal is made.
Here’s how the inbound sales process should look from your end:
The inbound sales process
So, how do you integrate this inbound sales process into your ideal buyer’s journey using helpful content at every stage?
Here’s a full-blown visual of what kind of content to create for each stage of the process to attract, convert, and retain inbound clients successfully. An example inbound sales strategy to use.
The inbound sales strategy
How to Successfully Attract, Convert, and Retain Inbound Customers with Positive Online Reviews (without Spending Marketing Money)
Inbound marketing also goes beyond the initial sale. Forentrepreneurs found that up to 90% of inbound buyers pay for upsells and renewals too.
So inbound marketing focuses on providing great service so the buying client not only sticks around but also becomes a brand ambassador. The inbound buyer’s journey is longer-lasting, and when done right, more profitable.
The full inbound sales journey. Credit: Uhurunetworks
A happy client is a brand ambassador that’s willing and able to refer other clients to your problem-solving solution.
More people in 2018 read online reviews from real clients than ever before and before contacting a local business, according to BrightLocal.
86% of leads read online reviews from current and previous clients to educate themselves and decide whether to trust you enough to call you for a solution they need
They can do that in several ways. Dimensional Research found out the following channels of influence:
Where potential clients are likely to find online reviews to power your inbound sales and marketing
By offering positive reviews or using word-of-mouth referrals, current clients attract even more business to you—without you having to spend a marketing dollar on it.
Keep in mind as many as 67.7% of purchasing decisions are influenced by online reviews. Many trust you enough to reach out directly to you:
Most will visit your business website to interact with you further after reading reviews = building more rapport before opening up to a sale = true inbound sales
What’s the Next Step?
The old way of sales & marketing no longer works as it should. Legacy selling techniques are now viewed as spammy and are being blocked, resulting in ever fewer sales. The rise of the internet has made possible for buyers to launch into the buyer’s journey without needing to call on a salesperson.
Inbound sales strategies, on the other hand, have gained momentum in the last few years.
Sellers should find a way to market to, sell to, and retain the now empowered buyer to keep afloat. Inbound sales strategy presents the solution your business needs to increase sales, retain more customers, and attract even more with clever inbound after-sale strategies.
Need help figuring the kind of inbound sales methodology that’s ideal for your business? Contact us to get started with your very own inbound sales professionals.
Author: Dennis Dubner, CEO of SONDORA MARKETING, 20 Years of Sales Management, Sales Enablement & Marketing Experience.