The internet has changed everything from how we communicate to how we learn, and — as we know from They Ask, You Answer — especially how we shop.
As buyers, the internet has made life much easier, enabling us to do most, if not all, of our research and purchases online, from the safety and comfort of our own homes. However, as sales professionals, this shift has actually made it a bit more difficult to see results.
That’s because, with all of the options and information already available to consumers online, there is more competition, more noise, and less of an opportunity for a sales rep to influence the sales process.
Traditionally speaking, sales teams used to have most of the power in the buying process as they held all of the information prospects needed to make an educated decision, but now buyers no longer have to go directly through a salesperson to gather these materials or make a purchase.
This new era of empowered buyers has forced a change within the laggard sales world. Luckily, over the last decade, we have helped hundreds of companies shift with the times and not only maintain, but scale sales with a more modern sales methodology.
Enter inbound sales.
Inbound sales is a sales approach that better aligns with inbound marketing and the purchasing preferences and behaviors of modern buyers by addressing the pain points of qualified leads with content and advice, rather than sales pitches.
In this article, we’ll dive into:
What a successful inbound sales strategy looks like
How it relates to the inbound marketing methodology
How it differs from outbound sales, and
Five critical inbound sales strategies every scaling business should adopt.
As we’ve described, outbound sales in most industries is no longer effective. Buyers are no longer calling up businesses or walking into showrooms to learn about their options.
They are researching their options online to come to a decision on their own and to avoid being sold to. This is why inbound marketing has emerged and has not given way to inbound sales.
The inbound sales methodology aligns with the inbound methodology, with interested prospects following a similar path:
Identify: This is part of the awareness stage in the buyer’s journey where you identify potential customers and convert them from strangers to leads.
Connect: During this phase, you take actions to qualify leads and move through the awareness stage to the consideration stage.
Explore: As your qualified leads start to engage with your content in the consideration stage, you can start to explore their needs deeper and identify sales opportunities.
Advise: Sale opportunities allow you to advise leads on the best solution while they are in the decision phase of the buyer’s journey, which in turn, hopefully, results in converting them to a customer.
Next, we will share sales tactics and strategies to help you efficiently and effectively move potential customers through these stages to making a purchase.
The 5 Inbound Sales Strategies Your Team Needs to Adopt
While every sales team is unique and you will want to adapt the strategies and methodologies to fit your own company, there are five strategies I feel are most critical for Inbound Sales success.
Know the difference between an Ideal Buyer Profile and a Buyer Persona
Develop your buyer’s journey before your sales process
Inbound Salespeople need to be Advisors
Connecting is about Context
Ditch the pitch
1. Know the Difference Between an Ideal Buyer Profile and a Buyer Persona
The first step in the inbound sales methodology is to identify potential buyers, or who you are selling to. This step is crucial because the term “who” can apply to both companies and individuals, each defined in unique ways.
The challenge here is that it’s common for an inbound salesperson to get caught up focusing on buyer personas, or the fictional representation of an ideal customer, without being clear on their ideal buyer profile.
While they sound similar, they are actually quite different. According to HubSpot, “buyer personas define the different buying patterns of companies within your ideal buyer profile.”
Your ideal buyer profile is the type of company you’re targeting, while the buyer persona is the individual person within that company you’re targeting. In other words, the ideal buyer profile is your market and the buyer personas are your prospects.
Why does this matter?
Buyer personas are important, but focusing solely on them can lead to missed sales opportunities or wasted time. This is because, while a prospect, as defined by your buyer persona document, may align from a job role, pain points, and cultural perspective, their organization may not be a fit from an industry or company size perspective.
Maintaining a solid understanding of your ideal buyer profile allows you to spot opportunities from a broad, company perspective, determine fit for your services, and then narrow your focus to the individuals within that company.
2. Understand and Develop Your Buyer’s Journey Before Your Inbound Sales Process
The goal of inbound sales, similar to inbound marketing, is to create a sales process that accommodates your buyer’s natural buying behavior.
It’s completely buyer-focused, as opposed to seller-focused. In other words, the buyer feels like they’ve naturally progressed toward making a purchase rather than being forced into a sale.
Traditionally, an organization’s sales process is developed based on the way they believe their product or solution should be sold without clear understanding or context around the buyer’s mindset, needs, or concerns at any given point on their way to purchase.
To prospects, this translates to an impersonal purchase experience that doesn’t take into account any of their unique needs. And for sales professionals, it often means unnecessary and repeated sales conversations or ineffective presentations with the wrong materials being presented at the wrong times.
Certainly not helpful for sales conversion metrics...
With that in mind, before developing an inbound sales process, you have to understand the journey your customers go through from the time they first discover your company to the point they decide to become a customer. This is called the buyer’s journey.
Taking this approach with your inbound sales strategy means sales tactics that actually align contextually with your ideal buyer through their awareness, consideration, and decision stage and result in the proper conversations, materials, and information being delivered at the exact right moment.
It means friendly, effective inbound selling as opposed to the forceful outbound sales tactics of yesteryear.
3. Inbound Sales Representatives Need to Be Advisors
With ever-advancing technology and the proliferation of inbound marketing, the role of an inbound salesperson is evolving as well. Unfortunately, solely being “helpful” is no longer as valuable as it once was to inbound leads.
Technology and content marketing are replacing the assistance that was typically needed from sales and marketing teams to learn about products, get access to the right person, read a case study, or even make a purchase.
Because helpfulness is becoming less and less of a differentiator to inbound and outbound leads in the sales process, inbound sales teams must take on the role of advisors, helping prospects navigate through the best options and providing the right resources from your marketing team.
Being an advisor in inbound sales means you can:
Ask the insightful and sometimes uncomfortable questions to help a prospect or inbound lead think critically about what they need
Teach prospects strategies and tactics they can implement on their own to work towards their objectives
Guide prospects on how your products or solutions can specifically help them make more money, save money, or avoid risk
An inbound sales professional who is able to become an advisor has the ability to build even more valuable relationships with prospects and active buyers because they have established trust.
Prospects know they aren’t just trying to force them into spending money on a product or service that isn’t right for them.
Inbound salespeople focus on developing long-term relationships that can eventually turn into sales even if they aren’t ready to close right now.
4. Connect Using Context
An inbound sales representative knows that not every opportunity to directly connect with a prospect is or should be an opportunity to sell.
From their perspective, the goal of connecting with a prospect is to generate one small win: open a two-way dialogue that uncovers enough information to convert a lead to a qualified lead.
To do that, you have to connect with a lead based on the context of their actions as it relates to their buyer journey.
One of the most effective ways to acknowledge a buyer’s current state and guide them through it as an advisor is with contextual, educational content.
In the They Ask, You Answer framework, the process of using content in the sales process to help nurture sales leads is called assignment selling and usually comes in the form of sales enablement content covering The Big 5 or The Selling 7.
For example, during the awareness stage, a member of an inbound sales organization might share a useful blog post or free guide with the prospect to help them frame the problem they’re having and identify possible solutions.
For example, if someone is in the consideration stage when you connect, they may be looking for content sharing the “best” options or even comparing them. If they are closer to making a purchase decision, perhaps they’ll be looking for product reviews or maybe even a case study.
Each of these connections helps frame your value, while supporting their journey through the buying process.
5. Ditch the Sales Pitch
Whenever a prospect shows interest, traditional salespeople pounce on the opportunity to pitch them, but that approach is simply a “numbers game” and is quickly losing effectiveness with modern buyers.
With an inbound sales strategy, salespeople see buyer interest as an opportunity to teach, even if the process will take more time with each prospect.
Before considering any type of pitch or solution presentation, it’s imperative that the first reaction and step is to explore the challenges your sales qualified leads face, the goals they need to achieve, how they plan to get there, and when it needs to be achieved by.
The natural progression of this approach guides prospects to come to their own conclusions about whether or not your solution is the right solution, and avoids the “hard sell” typically necessary by legacy salespeople and processes.
Proper value positioning in this way is the key to building trust and customer acquisition in the modern age.
Adopt These Inbound Sales Techniques to Better Reach Your Inbound Leads
Taking the lead from inbound marketing, inbound sales is a critical evolution of the traditional sales process that matches the way modern buyers buy, accounting for the shift of power, from the seller to the buyer.
While there is so much to know, and there are many ways to leverage inbound sales, starting with these five will give you a strong foundation to get started:
Understanding your market (the ideal companies who buy from you) and your prospects (the ideal people who buy from you), and how they are unique from each other
Aligning your sales process with the buyer’s journey, and not the other way around
Taking the time and effort to educate and advise your buyers
Communicating in a way that’s appropriate for the context
Making your product/service the obvious solution and eliminating the need for a pitch
Adapt them to any business, B2C or B2B, and start selling to your inbound prospects in a way that’s most useful to them.
Fundamentals of Virtual Selling
Learn how to close more deals in a video-first, virtual workplace
In this course, you will learn:
How to use video through different stages of the sales process
How to use video to improve engagement and increase revenue