The inbound sales methodology is the best way to sell to today’s empowered buyers. To switch to inbound sales, you’ll need to start at the top of your organization and work downward. Once you’re committed, educate your salespeople, align sales and marketing, and establish new sales processes to move forward.
Once upon a time, “marketing” meant buying an ad on a local radio station and “selling” meant pitching a product to strangers on the phone.
Inbound marketing has been around for over a decade, but inbound sales is a relatively new phenomenon. Nonetheless, it’s becoming much more common.
Businesses are finding themselves in a good position to help their buyers. Web content and social media provide new avenues for engaging with customers. Today’s CRM software is sophisticated, tracking and storing all kinds of useful information about leads and prospects.
Even a basic inbound marketing strategy can give you plenty of intelligence about who’s visiting your website and contacting you. But despite the proliferation of inbound marketing, not everyone takes an inbound approach to sales.
Outbound sales practices treat the buyer like they are a stranger. Salespeople who use these practices tend to lead with an elevator pitch, present their product the moment a lead expresses interest, or prioritize their own timeline above that of their buyers.
If you’re still doing sales the old way, you should make the switch to inbound sales.
If your company has a CRM and a website, you’re probably already doing some inbound marketing. Making the switch to inbound sales is just a matter of changing your process and using the tools at your fingertips.
If you don't, you should consider investing in these technologies. A lack of a website is a common pitfall for small businesses and can truly hurt larger ones. People are searching for businesses online more than ever before. And if buyers are converting on your website, you’ll need something more sophisticated than pen and paper to keep track of their data.
What is Inbound Sales?
To understand inbound sales, you first need to consider the role of content. According to HubSpot, only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62% will consult a search engine. Additionally, 57% of salespeople believe buyers are now less dependent on salespeople during the buying process.
That’s because online content has replaced a part of the sales process. Buyers are no longer dependent on salespeople for information. In most cases, they can find a blog post or web page that answers their most basic questions, like what a product does or how a service helps people like them.
Once they speak to a salesperson, they want to talk about their challenges and potential solutions. They need someone to advise them and listen to them, and they need advice that corresponds to where they are in their buying process.
The Buyer’s Journey
The inbound salesperson’s job is now to personalize that buyer’s experience and support them during their buyer’s journey.
Image by HubSpot
During the buyer’s journey, a prospect will become aware of your business while doing research. Once they’ve clearly defined their problem or opportunity, they may convert on your website.
They may take weeks or months to do this, or they may convert within minutes of discovering your website. Combining an inbound marketing approach with inbound sales, you’ll connect both sides of this process. Once that buyer converts, they won’t be in limbo. Your salespeople will have clear steps for engaging with them, making the process as natural as possible.
After speaking with your sales team, your buyer will compile a list of vendors or service providers and make a buying decision. But before that happens, you need to know how to identify them and connect with them.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
To help their buyers on this journey, inbound salespeople use the inbound sales methodology. This methodology is broken up into four parts: identify, connect, explore, and advise.
Image by HubSpot
Identify active buyers and prioritize them above passive buyers. Active buyers are already in the awareness stage and have visited your website recently or converted on a form. They are actively looking for solutions.
Use your lead intelligence to send a personalized message to an active buyer, whether you’re connecting on LinkedIn, sending an email, or calling them on the phone. Use context to position your reason for reaching out, like the buyer’s interests, industry, or even their activity on your website.
Have an exploratory conversation with the buyer. Ask pointed questions and actively listen. Identify the buyer’s challenges, talk about their goals, and discuss possible resolutions to their problem.
Advise your prospect on why your product or service is in the best position to help them reach their goals. Be as specific as possible. When they’re ready, discuss their budget and set up a timeline for how they will sign up and how your product or service will be implemented.
Inbound salespeople don’t use one-size-fits-all presentations to close deals. Instead, they approach each lead well-informed about their context, then tailor their approach to fit that context. They may do this manually, but it can also be done with automation through personalization tokens, custom workflows, and custom sequences.
This process can start at any time in the buyer’s journey. Some leads may not be ready to speak to a salesperson until they’ve digested a lot of marketing content. Others may be sales ready immediately.
How to Switch to Inbound Sales
It can be a process to make the switch to inbound sales. Businesses that are set in their ways don’t always accept change easily, either. You’ll need to get buy-in from everyone on your team. There will be an educational and training period. Then, you’ll have to put what you’ve learned into practice quickly.
If you’re already doing inbound marketing, you’re halfway there. You’ll have inbound leads coming in and they’ll already be in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. If not, consider doing some research into inbound marketing to see if it’s right for you (it is).
Here’s how to get started with inbound selling.
1. Make the Change from the Top Down
Depending on the size of your business, switching to inbound sales could be a long process or a relatively short one. But nothing substantial will happen until there’s a concerted effort by upper management to make the change.
Your salespeople may need to educate themselves, learn new technologies, and develop new internal processes. If you need to switch to inbound marketing as well, it may require more time to switch your entire organization to an inbound model.
Both inbound marketing and inbound sales require technology. You’ll need a CRM, a website platform, productivity apps, conferencing apps, deep analytics and more. An entire ecosystem of APIs has arisen out of inbound marketing, so you have some decisions to make.
If you don’t already have these types of technologies, you’ll need to take time to identify which technologies are most important, find vendors you like, and make an investment. This investment will have a substantial return.
There may be employees who push back against the switch, but they’ll be easier to convince if their managers lead the charge forward.
2. Educate the Old Guard
Some of your salespeople may be reluctant to change because they’ve been doing sales the same way for years, maybe even decades. It’s hard to blame them. They’ve made it this far with their tried and true sales regimen, so why change now?
The truth is, the world has changed around them. Buyers are more skeptical than ever. Old-fashioned sales tactics may work in a few cases, but most people will be turned off by them. Here’s what you should arm your reluctant salespeople with.
To educate the old guard, you’ll first need evidence – data to back up the efficacy of inbound selling and why your company should make the switch. They may believe they are the exception to the rule. If they still push back, remind them that they are a part of a team and they need to adapt to work well with their team members.
Breaking old habits is hard. Some of your salespeople may not be accustomed to social selling or they might be too reliant upon sales scripts. They may need to educate themselves and practice before they get the hand of inbound selling.
Try doing role-playing exercises to help with their conversations. Set time aside for training purposes. Let them attend conferences and seminars or watch instructional videos on inbound selling. For example, HubSpot has an entire library of inbound courses where they can learn and earn certifications.
If some of your salespeople have long eschewed your CRM, now’s the time for them to get accustomed to it. They’ll need that data to bring context and personalization into their sales conversations. Give them time to take online training courses and learn from their coworkers.
Content can do a lot of the heavy lifting in the sales process. Make sure your salespeople have a library of well-written, well-organized content to choose from when they’re speaking to prospects. Encourage them to read the content as well. They’ll have a better understanding of when to use it and what their prospects have already read.
There are many different types of content, each corresponding with a stage of the buyer’s journey. Blog posts, eBooks, and other types of educational content are good for the awareness stage. Comparison white papers and expert guides are good for the consideration stage. Case studies, product literature, and live demos are ideal when the buyer is close to making a decision.
Image by HubSpot
If possible, you can even create videos, webinars, or podcasts to engage with your buyers. “Content” doesn’t always refer to written content. it can even include live interactions.
3. Align Sales and Marketing
For inbound to work properly, your sales and marketing teams need to be working towards the same goals. That means neither team can be siloed. Instead of marketing doing its thing and sales doing theirs, they’re all part of the same team – no more finger-pointing!
Aligning sales and marketing is a challenge for most businesses, but there are a few ways to get ahead. For one, you should have a closed reporting system. That means marketing and sales use the same data, the same reports, and the same CRM.
While marketing tends to focus more on conversions, they should also be focusing on lead quality, lead scoring, cost-per-lead, and your lead to close ratio.
Likewise, sales should be making use of everything marketing is producing. Give them access to marketing content, so they can use it as an asset in their conversations. Your salespeople can even help your marketing team create content, so they can bring in more qualified leads, build trust and showcase their expertise.
Achieving this isn’t always easy, but simple steps like holding regular meetings and changing the arrangement of your office can encourage more open communication between the teams. You could also arrange a service-level agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing and align their goals.
4. Define a Clear Sales Process
To finish making the switch, develop a clear process for your sales team – essentially, set a process for how they follow up with leads. You can use the inbound sales methodology as a starting framework.
Marketing should be bringing your sales team plenty of inbound leads, but sales can do their own prospecting as well. For example, they can engage in social selling online, find passive buyers on LinkedIn, and go to events to network.
All the while, they should be monitoring their inbound leads to identify actions that move them to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
Once your salespeople connect with a buyer, they should know how their process should play out. Here’s an example:
- Identify active buyer
- Conduct research on active buyer
- Connect with active buyer
- Hold discovery call
- Schedule exploratory call
- Send follow-up email(s)
- Hold exploratory call
- Set buyer expectations for next steps
- Send follow-up email(s) or make follow-up calls
- Conduct demo, presentation, or proposal
- Let buyer deliberate over options
- Send follow-up email(s) or make follow-up calls
- Close the deal
No sales process is the same, and much of yours will depend on your organization, your industry, and your buyers.
While your sales process should be clearly defined, remember to prioritize your buyer. They may be ready to buy quickly, or they may wish to spend a long time weighing their options. If they’re ready for a demo, don’t hold back just because you haven’t had your exploratory call yet. If they aren’t ready to move forward, don’t be too pushy. Follow back with helpful content, instead.
Once you have a process, measure the results over time. Your process may need to evolve as you discover methods that work and methods that don’t.
A New Way Forward for Sales
It may take time to make the switch to inbound sales, but it’s a much more informed and personalized approach for today’s empowered buyers. Identifying and focusing on active buyers will bring your sales team better results than cold outreach alone.
With the help of inbound marketing, your sales people will be armed with content, data, and insight so they can run a frictionless sales process from start to finish.