You’ll need to look no further than Mad Men to understand that for decades companies have been trying to understand consumer behavior and what would motivate them to purchase a product or service.
Certainly, over time, buyer behaviors have changed, but the internet shifted the power dynamic entirely. Not only do consumers have the ability and resources to seek education on their own, but they also have more ways to make purchases and no longer need to rely on the closest store.
In short, relying on high pressure sales tactics and proximity are outdated. They just don’t work anymore.
The entire sales process, from finding opportunities to qualifying to closing deals, has changed immensely. But, like consumers, sales representatives have choices too.
They can continue to pound away at the methods they’ve relied on for decades or they can leverage the same tools consumers have and learn to use consumer needs and demands to their advantage.
Modern sales representatives struggle with:
- Finding qualified leads
- Getting a response from prospects
- Achieving market differentiation
- Building trust with customers
Fortunately, the inbound sales methodology can help address these challenges and more. So if you’re stuck relying on cold calls and outbound sales, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with inbound sales.
What Is Inbound Sales?
The inbound sales methodology prioritizes buyers and focuses on their pain points, goals, needs, and interests first. This shift to the inbound technique is important for many reasons. But first, let’s go over some of the key practices of inbound sales, so you can better understand how it works.
One of the most important aspects of the inbound methodology is the overriding concept that the buyer comes first.
Inbound sales puts the buyer in the center and seeks to address their needs, understand them, and create a relationship so that your product or service is already in position to make a sale when they’re finally ready to commit to a purchase. Let’s break it down a bit more.
First of all, using an inbound approach encourages you to get in front of buyers in the early stages of their buying journey.
Secondly, you should focus on building trust from the start of the customer relationship, which will foster a strong connection and increase retention rates.
Finally, inbound practices work within the customer’s timeline, creating a more comfortable experience for the client and thus boosting their satisfaction.
When you follow the practices for this methodology, your inbound sales approach will thrive, resulting in more converted leads and satisfied customers.
Essential Elements You Need for Inbound Sales
Given that the inbound methodology is so reliant upon understanding one’s buyer, their needs, goals, challenges, and path to purchase, before embarking on your own inbound sales journey, you’ll need to first lay the groundwork and understand the building blocks for the process.
Two primary elements for inbound sales include developing buyer personas (we’ll get to what you do with them later) and buyer journey maps.
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of individuals based on who your ideal customers are. Since you do not have just one ideal customer, your business will likely have a few personas.
Based on market research, your team must establish who your ideal customers are using key information, such as:
- Demographics (age, gender, educational background)
- Peer groups
- Job roles or titles
- Pain points or challenges
The more details you can include about these individuals and the more research you can conduct into understanding them and their motivations means your job, in connecting with them and putting them first, becomes easier.
Nuanced information allows you, through inbound marketing strategies, to present tailored content and points of contact to reach just the audience you're looking for and, perhaps more importantly, the audience who’s looking for you.
Once you’ve scoped out or fleshed out who these buyers are, you’ll want to complete a buyer’s journey map.
Buyer’s Journey Maps
Buyer’s journey maps take a look at the steps or path a specific buyer persona takes while moving through the multiple stages of the buyer’s journey until they ultimately make a purchasing decision.
Through understanding this process, your team can understand their thoughts and decisions and speak directly to their concerns and challenges as you move toward a sale.
While more comprehensive and detailed maps include more stages, the primary stages of the journey a buyer takes are:
The individual is experiencing a problem or has a need or opportunity and is beginning to do some research regarding the situation.
Solutions may not yet be on their radar, but information that helps them explain or understand the problem or opportunity, its origins/causes, or other related issues is sought.
With a firmer grasp on the problem or opportunity itself, how to describe it, and enough information to know where to seek solutions, the individual is now researching all available solutions or potential ways to capitalize on the opportunity
Having a thorough understanding of the situation as well as information regarding all of the potential solutions, strategies, or methods that will assist them, the buyer is ready to make a decision about which of those they will choose.
This decision is narrowed down to a variety of businesses and products that provide what the consumer needs. From that “short list,” a decision is made and, with an inbound strategy, you can be sure it's yours.
By exploring the path your potential customer takes, and identifying their questions, concerns, and challenges at each of these stages, you can tailor your strategies and points of contact to address those very concerns, putting the buyer and their concerns first.
This is at the heart of the inbound sales methodology.
The Inbound Sales Methodology Explained
To fully understand inbound sales, it’s key to know what the inbound methodology is.
Inbound is the method of attracting, engaging, and delighting people to grow a business that provides value and builds trust. It’s focused on building a holistic, personalized experience that is helpful for your prospects.
Both buyer personas and the buyer’s journey enable you to provide that personalized experience.
Breaking Down the Phases for Inbound Sales
There are four primary stages of the inbound sales methodology — identify, connect, explore, and advise.
As you can see, these four stages perfectly support the stages of the buyer’s journey. However, while the two groups of stages mirror each other, the inbound sales stages are more specifically tailored to help a sales professional nurture relationships and close sales.
The Identify Stage
During the identify stage, you identify leads within a pool of people to find the right opportunities. These leads are often delivered by your marketing team based on a set of sales lead qualifiers.
Lead qualifiers help your marketing team determine which leads will make ideal customers for your company, based on your target audience and buyer personas.
Define what would make a customer a good fit for your company, and always focus on active buyers instead of passive ones.
The Connect Stage
During the connect stage, salespeople engage with leads, reaching out to help them identify top challenges or goals that the prospective customer needs to address. The purpose of this phase is ultimately to determine whether the lead has a goal or problem you can help with.
There are plenty of different ways to connect with a lead, whether through email, outbound phone call (yes, outbound phone calls can still follow the inbound methodology), mutual connection, or even reaching out via platforms like LinkedIn.
Regardless of what method you choose, it’s important to focus on personalized outreach to the lead in order to start nurturing the relationship and build trust. Focus on understanding the buyer’s needs and how you can help. Again, this is where really developing solid buyer persona and buyer’s journey maps are key.
The Explore Stage
Once you’ve established that the prospect has a goal or problem you can help with, and they’ve expressed interest in allowing you to assist them, you can move on to the explore stage.
At this point in the inbound sales process, salespeople work with qualified leads to determine how your company can help, and if your company’s products or services are the best fit for the lead’s goals or challenges.
During this stage, you’ll ask more detailed questions to better understand what the lead is struggling with.
The Advise Stage
During this final stage, you’ll become a trusted advisor to the prospect. The ultimate goal here is to convert the lead into a customer. This is accomplished when sales advises the prospective buyer on why or how the company’s solution aligns in a unique way to address their current needs.
The salesperson will need to express a thorough understanding of the prospect’s problem or goal, using knowledge that will have been collected during the connect and explore stages. This will allow them to better address the issue, and exemplify how their offer can help the prospect with the problem.
Once your team aces this process, you’ll be able to build an inbound selling culture for your entire company, bringing your business forward into the modern age of sales.
6 Benefits of Using the Inbound Sales Methodology
For a long time, sales strategies have revolved around cold calling and going out to find your customers. Outbound sales and methods like cold calling are time consuming and don’t always result in a return on that investment.
You’ve got to talk to a lot of people, some of whom aren’t interested, and reps face a lot of rejection. The inbound methodology is a bit more refined. It helps you find the people who are looking for you, meaning the leads you do get are more valuable.
For that reason, the inbound methodology and its focus on the customers is the future of all areas of business. Companies that become a fully inbound organization are prepared for long-term, sustainable growth.
But if you still need a little convincing, here’s a list of both the internal and external advantages to adopting inbound sales.
- Marketing and sales become well aligned and symbiotic, creating a successful marketing strategy.
- You can systemize an impactful sales process to bring in more active leads and convert more ideal customers, allowing you to better reach your goals.
- You can streamline your sales and marketing process to make it more efficient, receiving a greater ROI in the long run.
- You establish credibility and authority that boosts customer retention, keeping people coming back to you again and again.
- Buyers enter your sales funnel voluntarily, which means you don’t have to deal with outdated, ineffective sales tactics like cold calling.
- Buyers feel more understood thanks to a more personalized buying experience customized to their needs.
Inbound Sales Vs. Outbound Sales
In our increasingly digital world, most outbound sales processes are proving to be difficult within the realm of marketing. In fact, television ads were once seen as the best way to reach customers, but even that tactic is proving less effective. The same is true of cold calling — it’s just not nearly as effective as it used to be, but there is hope!
In order to stay relevant and keep up with your competition, legacy salespeople need to embrace inbound practices, even if pairing the two together. More specifically, relying solely on an outbound sales mindset can seriously impact a sales representative’s ability to convert leads into customers.
But you might be asking, what’s the difference between outbound sales and inbound sales?
The outbound sales mindset is an interruption and focused on pushing messaging on the consumer, whether they want it or not.
The goal of outbound sales is to make a quick sale to anyone and everyone, primarily using information about the product or service to attract consumers, without first trying to understand the customer’s challenges or pain points.
If you’ve ever come across a salesperson and been annoyed by how pushy they are, then you know what it’s like to be a victim of outbound sales practices.
Outbound sales tactics include:
- Cold calling
- Product-focused messaging
- Borderline deal setting
- Trade shows
Inbound sales is the process of attracting prospects who are interested in you and your products and services. The goal is to attract leads organically rather than going out and hunting for them aggressively.
Inbound sales is focused on understanding a person’s challenges and how your company can provide a helpful solution. It’s centralized around personalized buyer experiences for each and every customer.
Inbound sales tactics include:
- Discovery calls
- Warm outreach
- Active listening
- Live chat tools
- Personalized presentations
Using Outbound Sales Tactics With an Inbound Twist
Here’s where things get interesting. There’s no need to abandon outbound sales entirely. In fact, you’ll find some sales representatives are really reluctant to do so. And, realistically, research suggests that pairing the two together is remarkably effective.
The bottom line of the inbound methodology is to create a positive sales experience for your customer, and positive sales experiences drive repeat customers and word of mouth advertising.
HubSpot conducted a survey of buyers, and the report revealed some of the best ways to create a positive sales experience:
- Listen to buyer needs (69 percent).
- Don’t be pushy (61 percent).
- Provide relevant information (61 percent).
- Respond in a timely manner (51 percent).
So what’s the best way to create a positive sales experience while generating desired results? Adopting inbound sales processes is obviously the first step, but you can actually leverage some outbound sales tactics by applying the inbound twist.
Conduct Prospecting via Social Media.
Going out and searching for leads is a traditional outbound sales practice. However, you can still actively hunt for sales leads while simultaneously applying the inbound methodology.
Social media is a great place to create connections and build relationships with potential customers. In fact, four in 10 reps have recently closed two to five deals due to social media.
As a professional social platform, LinkedIn is one of the best hubs for building network connections and scoring leads. Tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator help you identify ideal leads based on your sales qualifiers and buyer personas and make it easier for you to connect with them.
Map All Leads on Your Buyer’s Journey.
Regardless of how you achieved your leads, you can still follow inbound practices by mapping where the prospect is along their buyer’s journey. Salespeople can do this by using data and context based on information gathered by their marketing team.
This informs the sales’ approach during the connect stage of the inbound sales methodology. For example, if there’s already information about the buyer’s unique challenges within your CRM, then you know they’re probably somewhere in the consideration stage of their journey and are trying to find the right solution to fit their needs.
However, if there’s not a lot of information about the lead, then they may still be in the awareness stage. In this scenario, the sales team will know they need to help the prospect better understand the problem they’re facing before moving forward.
Mapping your leads along the buyer’s journey will help you nurture stronger relationships with each one and build a more attentive, personalized experience for them.
Team Up With Marketing to Send Impactful Content.
Supplying helpful, informational resources to your leads is a great way to educate and engage them in a positive way without being pushy. It allows you to nurture relationships and display how you can provide a solution for their challenges and goals. But where does the sales team get this content from?
Enter: marketing team.
One question sales leaders often have regarding how to better align marketing and sales efforts is answered by the inbound sales strategy. Your marketing and sales team can work together to determine what kind of content and resources your target audience and prospects are looking for.
Consider creating content specifically tailored to help prospects within each individual stage of the buyer’s journey. This will ensure that the material is directly relevant to them.
Once the marketing team creates this content (whether it be blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, templates, etc.), the sales team can then start passing it on to prospects moving through the buyer’s journey.
Network at Events.
Believe or not, networking at events still works. In fact, it’s a pretty great strategy!
Meeting people in person allows you to create human connections and follow up for further engagement and exploration with your new contact throughout their buyer journey.
Just remember — in order to meet people at events, you’ll need to channel a bit of outbound thinking, get out of your shell to be bold, and introduce yourself!
Common Mistakes Sales Reps Make With the Inbound Sales Methodology
There may be, for some, big changes in how the sales flow works and those are, often, the biggest mistakes being made with inbound sales. Outbound sales tends to rely on intrusive, one-way communication that can make it difficult to properly manage and nurture leads.
As a result, many of the common mistakes made with inbound sales have to do with how leads are handled.
1. Failure to Establish Who Handles Inbound Leads.
With an outbound strategy, you handle your own leads. With inbound, those leads are gathered in one system, so some sales teams would leave it up to the reps to start claiming their new leads.
However, that doesn’t really work when attempting to successfully execute the inbound strategy. There’s no guarantee that any of these leads gets served and that’s a huge misstep.
When the lead comes in, someone from your team needs to be qualifying it. Ensuring that there is a clearly established process for who handles inbound leads is essential. Depending on the structure of your business and your teams, it may be marketing or sales development, but it must be someone.
2. Failure to Define a Qualified Lead.
As any salesperson will tell you, working a lead who is not a good match for your product or services is frustrating, not to mention a waste of valuable time.
It doesn’t mean that lead is never going to convert; it just means that it may be too early in their journey (remember that buyer’s journey?) to have them working with a salesperson. They may need more nurturing. They may need more information.
Understanding what makes a lead qualified for sales is essential to using everyone’s time and efforts effectively.
This is directly tied to another common issue, which is failing to properly qualify leads once they are defined. You may want to consider if the lead is in your system, if they match a buyer persona, and if they match your ideal account in terms of business size, funding, revenue, etc. If they do not, they're not a qualified lead.
If the answer is maybe, you’ll need to get more information. That leads us to another common issue.
3. Failure to Get Enough Information.
Information is key in any sales process, inbound or outbound. If you want to use your sales team’s time efficiently and effectively, then you must understand not only who your buyer is and what they do (research their company, their role, their industry), but you must also know what they know.
There are few things more wasteful than repeating information. What information does your lead already have? What is the proper level of engagement? What is the buyer’s intent?
Understanding where they are in the decision making process can help you tailor the information you provide and prevent alienating your prospective customers.
If they’ve just spent a significant amount of time interacting with your website, completing forms, engaging with chatbots, and downloading content, then your sales representatives need to be leveraging the information your lead is providing.
4. Failure to Personalize the Process.
One of the biggest shortcomings of the more traditional outbound sales strategy is that while some of it can be tailored to demographics, it’s not personal. It’s why a lot of consumers reject it.
The product or service just isn’t a need for them and so efforts to push it are intrusive. The inbound sales methodology really differentiates itself in this way.
The inbound sales methodology is most successful when it’s personalized and the entire process is predicated on researching who your buyer is (buyer personas), what they need based on challenges and goals (buyer’s journey), and what they’re seeking (inbound marketing efforts).
In short, with an inbound strategy, sales representatives are uniquely prepared to speak directly to the needs and wants of specific prospects. It’s a huge misstep to not capitalize on all of the information the process provides.
Further, one of the goals of the inbound strategy is to foster trust and positive relationships. If your marketing team has invested time in engaging your prospects and your prospects have invested time in responding and interacting, it is reasonable to expect that ignoring those efforts could erode any trust that may have been earned.
5. Failure to Respond or Follow-Up.
Did we mention that one of the tenets of the inbound methodology is the building of relationships and trust? It builds the kind of trust that converts leads to customers. It builds the kind of relationships that create recurring revenue and positive word of mouth advertising.
The quickest way to damage, if not destroy, the efforts of your marketing team to generate those inbound leads is failing to respond or follow-up. They have taken the time to reach out to you, and ignoring that gesture can lead them to walk away and go to another business that will respond.
Regardless of the methodology, timing is still essential to sales. When a prospect reaches out, there must be a response, even if it’s automated.
Further, evaluate the way in which you reach out to a prospect and follow up on a lead. Consider the following::
- The number of touchpoints for each prospect: Aim for five to seven touches per prospect.
- Time between touchpoint: You may want to be more persistent early on and then taper off if there is no response.
- Content interests from the contact: Always offer value when engaging with leads. A “just checking in” email or phone call doesn’t differentiate you from competitors as much as if you would add in a link to a blog or resource that addresses their specific concern.
- Channel usage and diversification: Email and phone are great, but don’t hesitate to use both traditional and digital channels to get in front of your prospects. In-person networking, trade shows, and industry events are still a great way to connect. Social media is an amazing tool as is direct mail. Diversifying your strategy here can lead to engagement elsewhere.
Can You Afford to Hold Off on Inbound Sales?
It's easy to tell when your sales process isn't working – you're not meeting quarterly sales goals, you're wasting time on low quality leads, your conversion rate is suffering, and your customer retention is way down. You might also be seeing the impact on your sales team, such as low morale or a high turnover rate.
If you're struggling with any of these issues, then you need to conduct an audit of your current sales process and analyze the results. Are you still engaging in outdated outbound practices? It's time to fix that.
Adopting the inbound sales methodology will not only help you meet your sales goals; it will allow you to develop a sustainable plan for long term company growth that propels your business into a successful future.