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Tom DiScipio

By Tom DiScipio

Aug 17, 2017


Inbound Sales
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Inbound Sales

6 Ways Selling to Inbound Leads is Different from Outbound Leads

Tom DiScipio

By Tom DiScipio

Aug 17, 2017

6 Ways Selling to Inbound Leads is Different from Outbound Leads

With greater adoption and execution of inbound marketing programs, organizations are supplementing their sales funnels with more and more inbound leads.

By definition, inbound leads are typically better educated on your product or service when the sales process begins. Before having raised their hand, asking to speak with your sales team, they most likely completed some form of research on how you can solve their most pertinent challenges.

One of the most frequent concerns I hear from marketers (and even sales folks, for that matter) is their deal progression or close rates are not stellar. Marketing expects more of these warm leads to close, and sales expects these leads to be more qualified so they can be closed.

When boiling down the many variables contributing to poor deal progression or close rates, the roots of the issue almost always are sales team members treating inbound leads the same way as outbound leads.

I’ll spare the discussion around the difference between the two, but the truth is that inbound sales requires a dramatically different approach. Relying on standardized scripts and pitch tactics just doesn’t work to keep them as engaged as outbound leads, simply because they’re more educated, and therefore, have more control in the process.

Below I share six strategies we use in our sales process to advise inbound leads on how they can best solve their personal and organizational challenges.

These strategies are universal and can be used by any level salesperson within any type of organization to improve their opportunity to close ratio.


1. Have a Consistent Sales Story

One of the questions most often asked in the sales process is, “So… What do you do?”

In thinking about the answer YOU would give, think about how others in your organization might answer that question. Would the answer be the same or different than yours? Most answers will differ depending on who is asked.

While simple in concept, this is often where a company’s sales team fails to align what they’re saying (the sales story), and what marketing is saying (the value proposition).

The effect that the buyer might feel from hearing these different stories is the same one might get from clicking on a poorly performing Facebook Ad. It has compelling text and a beautiful image relating to something the buyer may have had their eye on for a while, but when they click through and get to the landing page to fill out the form, it doesn’t align with the original ad. A feeling of deception might set in. They’re just not going to convert.

According to HubSpot’s sales training, building an effective sales story means you’ve helped your buyer understand the following three things:

  1. The “Why:” The problems you address (why the prospect is talking to you) and for whom.
  2. The “How:” The solutions you use to address those problems (and the primary benefit).
  3. The “What:” The thing that makes you different than the competition.

Here’s an example of what an effective sales story might sound like with those principles in mind:

“We work with small to mid-size manufacturing companies who are looking to expand into international markets but are struggling to navigate the complexities of the localization process. We help them understand how best to approach and execute this transition with regulatory and localization strategies. We’ve done this before for other growth-oriented manufacturing companies and would be eager to share some insights with you.”

2. Use Questioning to Influence Behavior

Well-performing salespeople have a strong ability to help prospects understand that for their problems to be resolved, they MUST change their (or their organization’s) behaviors. After all, it’s why prospects reach out in the first place – what they’re currently doing hasn’t been working and they may not necessarily have a strategy (or the right strategy) moving forward.

I define “helping a prospect” as asking them the right type and amount of questions so they’re able to understand what they must do on their own.

A common fallback for salespeople is “telling” prospects why moving away from the status quo is necessary. I call this “defaulting to pitch.”

When was the last time you changed your behavior after someone told you to do it? As Stephen Covey would argue, real, lasting change happens from the inside out, not outside in.

Building trust with inbound leads isn’t about how much you know or how well you can communicate your product or service to the prospect. Inbound leads have already done a healthy bit of that research and are looking for a guide, not an audiobook.

Therefore, the foundation of any inbound selling approach must hinge on probing, thought-provoking questions that allow prospects to draw their own conclusions.

To do this, there are two commonly known, primary techniques that if applied, will help salespeople align better with how inbound leads want to be engaged.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys technique borrows a note from the playbook of the best salespeople/questioners on the planet - children! In an effort to understand deeply, children will continue to ask “Why? Why? Why?” until they’ve gotten to the root of their inquisition. Keep in mind, it doesn’t necessarily just have to be a “why” question - it should be phrased in a way that uncovers a true need.

In an example, IMPACT-style, sales application, it might sound something like the following:

Salesperson: “So, why did you decide to reach out us?”

Buyer: “We desperately need to redesign our website.”

Salesperson: Why do you want to redesign your website?”

Buyer: “Well, it’s not really on-brand for us. We just completed a year-long, internal rebranding project and this is the final piece to pulling it all together.”

Salesperson: “Oh awesome! So why else? Are there other reasons you need to redesign the site?”

Buyer: “I think performance is another important reason we’re undertaking this project. It sounds pretty obvious, but we’d like our site to produce more leads for us.”

Salesperson: Why is that important to you, or the company as a whole?”

Buyer: “Well, we just finished onboarding and ramping up three additional sales people, and they’re ready to sell! It’s critical that we’re able to leverage their capacity and build pipeline. We think the website has been an untapped resource for us up until this point and we believe it could be a better source of leads for us.”

Salesperson: How many leads do you think your sales team could handle? What objectives have you set around that number, if any?”

Buyer: “Hmm… great question. In our last meeting with the VP of Sales, she spoke of the ideal state being that each salesperson should be working X number of opportunities in any given week. If we were to work backwards on that, it means we’d probably have to generate between XX leads each week.”

Salesperson: “That makes good sense. So what do you think would happen if you’re not able to reach that lead goal?”

Buyer: “Tough to say exactly, but it wouldn’t reflect all that well on me since I’m owning demand generation here. I do know that our team is trying to invest more heavily in product R&D and not having the new business to support that would ultimately slow our growth there…”

The 3 Levels of Understanding

Using the “5 Why’s technique” is a lead-in to the level of understanding a salesperson can achieve with a given buyer. Reaching these deeper levels, positions the salesperson as an advisor and can create a much greater amount of trust on behalf of the buyer.

Looking again at the HubSpot sales playbook, there are 3 levels of understanding regarding the buyer’s true needs. Here’s what that looks like in context with the example above:

Level 1: Broad and Vague

“I need to redesign my website.”

Level 2: Quantifiable and Specific

“I need to create XX opportunities per week to make sure the sales team is operating at the right level.”

Level 3: Quantifiable, Specific and Personal

“Doesn’t look good on me because I own the department, and it reduces the company’s ability to invest in R&D.”

Digging this deep is crucial to identifying the true challenge that the product or service must solve for. At the same time, it creates a very personal level of awareness for the buyer that promotes the inside-out transformation they must go through to make a purchasing decision.

3. Make Them Talk 70% of the Time

In typical outbound selling, the salesperson speaks as much as or more than the buyer. This is generally due to the buyer’s lack of education around your company or product, which by default, turns the salesperson into a lecturer.

As mentioned above, most modern or educated buyers, however, have researched and discovered your company or product and don’t want to be lectured or “pitched to.”

In fact, the majority of these buyers (inbound leads) have more on their mind than you might think, and they want nothing more than to tell someone.

As a salesperson, it is imperative that the buyer is granted the runway to whole-heartily express their goals, challenges, plans, and timelines in great detail.

To do that, the salesperson needs to do two things:

  1. Default to questioning versus telling as mentioned in point 2.
  2. Several times throughout the call or meeting, mentally estimate the amount of time the buyer is talking in comparison to make sure the ratio is favoring the buyer’s time.

Encouraging the buyer to speak is mutually beneficial as it creates greater rapport, promotes empathic listening, and allows the salesperson to extract the juicy, proposal-winning content, which altogether, dramatically increases your chances to close.

4. Stay Away from Specifics (When Possible)

One of the major things that can negatively alter the course of the sales process is the transition from a high-level to a low-level conversation. In other words, the conversation goes from a discussion of the overall goals and vision for success (the “why”) down to the actual tactical or specific things that would be done (the “what”).

While digging into the tactics might be an inevitable part of a sales conversation, it’s important to be aware of the multiple challenges it might create for the salesperson:

  1. The buyer will begin to lose perspective of the overall reason they came to you.
  2. Tactics give the buyers more ways to compare to competitors line-by-line and buy based on price versus the total value of what is being sold.
  3. Decision makers don’t usually care about the tactics - they are buying the total business impact of the product or solution.

To solve for or even prevent these challenges in inbound selling, the salesperson has to be able to consistently tie the tactical elements back to the overall solution. This means when the buyer goes in deep on a specific tactic, the salesperson engages fully, then acknowledges those tactics from a higher-level perspective.

Increasing your sales conversion rates involves keeping the buyer in an objective or goal-focused conversation, which creates greater alignment between the buyer advocate (the person sales is typically speaking with initially) and the person ultimately signing the contract.

5. Don’t Sell through Email

One of the most detrimental activities impacting sales conversion is attempting to “sell” through email.

Salespeople who are typically accustomed to working outbound leads leverage email as the right hook - the one piece that will lure the buyer into bed, but even in outbound selling, email open, click-through, and response rates are decreasing as both inboxes AND buyers become smarter.

When working inbound leads, salespeople must use email for what it is: A correspondence and confirmation tool that can also aid in closing, but is not the conversion or closing mechanism.

Sales emails lack emotive context and can sometimes be seen by buyers as lazy or dismissable in comparison to other things in their inbox.

Consider the number of emails you receive in a day... Consider a time when you may have been involved in a buying process and the appreciation you had for a salesperson that chose to speak with you over the phone.

Increasing the sales conversion rates with inbound leads starts with this understanding.

6. Teach Them One, Remarkable Thing

Now, I’ve saved the best strategy for last.

Teach the prospect or buyer one, remarkable thing they didn’t know prior to the conversation.

Remarkable means they lean back in their seat, and say, “Whoa… I hadn’t thought about it like that before.” You know the reaction I’m talking about. 


There is no greater catalyst for a prospect to build trust or confidence in a salesperson than that salesperson assuming the role of a mentor, coach, or advisor. It’s what will separate one salesperson from the three or four others the prospect is engaged with.

For the purposes of this article, I hope point #7 is the one thing you take away :).

Key Takeaways

Selling successfully to inbound leads requires salespeople to reevaluate their approach to the conversation. Educated buyers no longer have the same “need” for a salesperson and as a result, the role of a salesperson must change to a consultant or advisor.

At IMPACT, we’ve found that the 6 best ways to improve selling efficient and win rates are as follows:

  1. Have a Consistent Sales Story: Make sure the language and message to the buyer is consistent between marketing and sales
  2. Use Questioning to Influence Behavior: Buyers don’t want to be told what to do or why they should change. They need to figure that out for themselves. The best way for a salesperson to help the buyer do that is through questioning.
  3. Make Them Talk 70% of the Time: To the Buyer, it’s not a sales process, it’s a buying journey. Therefore, the entire experience should be about them - their goals, plans, challenges, and timelines. Salespeople - get them talking!
  4. Stay Away from Specifics (When Possible): When a sales conversation shifts into the specifics, it can become a rabbit hole that pulls the salesperson away from the main levers that help to close deals.
  5. Don’t Sell through Email: Email is, unfortunately, a place where important messages go to get missed. For the content and language that’s essential for moving a deal forward, salespeople should lean on direct communication.
  6. Teach Them One, Remarkable Thing: If a salesperson does nothing else besides bring the level of education of the buyer up one notch, it becomes a differentiating and winning factor for that salesperson.

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