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Traditional Sales vs. Inbound Sales: Understanding the Differences

Traditional Sales vs. Inbound Sales: Understanding the Differences Blog Feature

Tom DiScipio

VP of Product, Speaker, 8+ Years Sales & Client Success Expertise

April 5th, 2016 min read

Your company can't survive without sales -- but is your approach killing your profits?

traditional-sales-vs-inbound-sales.jpgTraditional sales tactics don't work for every organization and with more companies catching on to the efficiency of inbound marketing and its methodology, many more are experimenting with the idea of inbound sales as well. 

The way that people shop today is dramatically different from what was 20 years ago. Yet, many companies refuse to abandon their sales strategies that have been largely unchanged for over 50 years.

The problem that arises is an expectation for prospects to adjust to a company's selling approach, when in this buyer's market, we know that's not possible. Inbound sales is a modern adaptation to the way that people prefer to make purchases today. No cold calls or cheesy pitches. 

Which Method is Better for My Organization?

It's not a question of which one works better as that is subjective to the amount of resources a company has, their industry, audience, product, etc.

Inbound sales, however, is more efficient and is often more favorable for prospects and customers -- it's more human. 

Sales is no longer just a numbers game, it's a people game.  As we have seen through customer delight and word-of-mouth marketing, relationships can drive sales more than ever and transparency is expected. Inbound sales not only recognizes this but embraces it and uses it to its advantage. 

Inbound sales is also, however, relatively new and many people aren't aware of what it is and how it differs from the traditional methods they know and trust.

In this article, I'm going to cover the common traits of traditional sales vs inbound sales and those that set them apart from each other.

Traditional Sales

Traditional sales is very seller-centric. It's an approach that relies on grabbing attention by interrupting what people are doing, telling them why they should be interested in what you offer, and then expecting them to make a purchase on the spot.

Does it work? Sometimes.

However, it works against the natural purchasing cycle that people use today and is no longer very efficient.

Cold Calling

Most traditional sales people reach prospects by cold calling or sending cold emails. Not only are these unsolicited, but they interrupt what the prospect is doing and are flat-out annoying to most people.

When was the last time you made a purchase from a cold call? -- That's what I thought. 

People want to do their own research before speaking with a salesperson, so this is counter intuitive. It's not that we don't want to be persuaded into making a purchase, but we just want to do our due diligence first. Then we'll give the sales person their opportunity to persuade us.

The average consumer, and especially the average B2B customer, isn't going to be won over by a clever pitch. They expect a convincing pitch, but that's not enough.

81% of B2B purchase cycles start with web search and 90% of buyers say when they are ready to buy, “they’ll find you.” (Earnest Agency, 2014)

Information Gatekeepers

Another characteristic of traditional sales is the nature of secrecy regarding information.

Traditional sales tactics typically rely on guarding as much information as possible, until the prospect has converted to a customer. The thinking is that if your company gives away too much information, people won't need to pay you.

Obviously, this doesn't apply to all companies, especially those that sell products instead of services. However, traditional sales with products also has a tendency to pressure people into purchasing without being transparent about the faults of the product.

The truth is, there are no secrets in the digital age.

Information is widely accessible and people can find out anything they want, so you might as well be the one to help them.

People want to do business with people, not a faceless corporation. Modern society demands transparency from businesses and frankly, transparency doesn't mix well with traditional sales. 

I mean, how would you respond if you got a cold call and the sales rep told you that they bought your contact information from another company and that you're their 115th call today --- But, of course, your business is still very important to them and you should make a purchase right now. 

The Scripted Pitch

Traditional sales is all about the sales quota. That's why businesses that use traditional sales tend to rely on a static pitch to weed out the very few people that are actually willing to make a purchase from a stranger that randomly calls them unsolicited.

Besides being annoying, a static, scripted pitch is just downright insulting because it doesn't address the prospect's individual concerns or goals. It's like they're just another number, not a person with depth and unique traits. 

Generic scripts only work on the biggest suckers and the people that have already decided to purchase what you offer before being contacted by your company. 

Inbound Sales

Unlike traditional sales, inbound sales is all about the buyer's needs and concerns. Rather than interrupting what people are doing and trying to make a quick sell, with inbound sales you attract potential buyers to your brand on their schedule.

You integrate your sales strategy with the natural buyer's journey that people take, instead of trying to work against it.

Just like inbound marketing, an inbound approach to sales is a long-term strategy. You won't see a spike in sales overnight, but your results will be more exponential than linear.

Attracting Prospects With Content

The inbound sales process starts with attracting prospects to your brand's website by creating valuable, high-quality content.

Instead of picking up a phone, people today turn to Google when they want to find information about anything.

So your content (blogs, eBooks, landing pages, etc.) replace the cold call. The main difference is,however, the people on the other end of the line is looking for it for your information, they're not just an anonymous number on a list. 

With inbound sales, you're giving value before you ever ask for anything in return; establishing expertise and building awareness of your brand and product. 

Being Transparent

Unlike traditional sales, transparency actually complements the inbound approach to sales. With inbound sales, you're sharing all of your knowledge with prospects to help them make educated decisions, earn their trust and respect, and ultimately, their business. A lot of businesses are uncomfortable with this strategy as it "gives away your secrets," but this is a misconception. 

Take a look at our agency for example. Truthfully, a potential client could subscribe to our blog and learn everything they need to know about inbound marketing and simply do it themselves, but our clients don't hire us because they don't know how to do inbound marketing. They hire us because they don't have the time or resources.

They are paying for the convenience of not having to hire and train an inbound marketing team and the assurance that the job will be done perfectly from the beginning.

We are happy to give away as much information as possible because this content gives our services more credibility. The more we help people for free, the more likely they will see the value in paying for our premium services. 

In today's market, transparency and information are in high demand and highly rewarded. Even if your brand is slow to adopt this approach, you will have competitors that aren't and that's where your persona will look instead.

Leveraging Knowledge of the Buyer

With inbound sales, your reps always research leads before contacting them. The sales conversation revolves around your buyer persona and their specific situation.

Not only is this the personable and thoughtful approach, but it just makes sense. By identifying the problems that your lead is facing or the goals they want to achieve, you can position your brand as the solution in your sales conversation. Without knowing this information beforehand, or identifying it early in the conversation, you can't set your brand apart as the clear choice for them.

Key Takeaway

Inbound sales isn't a numbers game, it's a situational game. The goal is finding the right people in the right situations that are a perfect fit for your brand and focusing all of your energy on them.

With this approach, leads are more welcoming to your sales pitch because the process is more genuine. It's a win-win for everyone involved.

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