A Guide to Inbound Sales

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By Kurt Buttress - February 10, 2017

Anyone who's in marketing and sales (be it modern or legacy) will tell you that the modern buyer has influenced the way today's sales get conducted. You become tasked with having to redefine your approach to sales, if you wish to compete in the modern world and have your tech offering stand out from the rising sea of competitors.

What does redefining your sales approach entail?

Differentiating your business could be a highly sophisticated renovation or a really simple excursion from the norm. It all depends on the size of your company and your individual ambitions. What is the core component of redefining your approach? Positioning the buyer as the most important aspect of your sales and marketing campaign should be your main concern. This is a drastic shift from traditional marketing, where the product/service and what it can do for you once took the spotlight.

This format refers to the Inbound Marketing approach where, not only is the sales strategy based on the buyer, but the entire experience is personalised according to the buyer's context as well.

"Due to the proliferation of marketing materials on the internet, the modern buyer is no longer dependent on salespeople to access information to make purchase decisions." - HubSpot

The Power of the Buyer

Buying power is solely in the hands of the consumer as information is now relatively easy to come by. Users everywhere can do research and price comparisons with just the click of a mouse or handheld devices.

It's advantageous for the modern business, and business owner, to accept this fact and reposition your sales strategy to cater for this 'next level' consumer. By tailoring your approach and researching who your buyers are and what they're searching for, businesses may actively become involved in the buyer's journey. You can begin to create hypothetical buyer personas with the aim of creating specific marketing and sales campaigns to target clients who are interested in your products and services.

It's not a secret that traditional sales methodologies have lost their lustre and ability to secure the modern buyer. They simply don't work very well anymore – leaving plenty of stressed out salespeople and executives scratching their heads and wondering, "What are we doing wrong?".

Well, succeeding at sales and reaching the modern buyer requires a shift in approach. At a recent Struto workshop, HubSpot's Aviva Walsh stepped up to the plate to discuss how sales enablement is the key to securing those all important sales.

It all starts with Inbound Sales and the buying cycle.

What is Inbound Sales?

As we've mentioned before, the buyer's journey has changed dramatically thanks to the internet making a wealth of information available and encouraging buyers to do their own research when deciding on a purchase, versus relying on a salesperson.

In fact, it's this shift in buying behaviour and the inability of sales teams to adjust that results in the disconnect many teams experience with their buyers. Inbound sales simply transforms sales to match the way the modern individual buys. This is done by refocusing the entire sales strategy on the buyer instead of the seller, and by creating a personalised sales experience for buyers.

But why should you care about Inbound Sales?

If you're reading this blog, chances are fairly good that you want to see your sales team succeed, and have been facing a couple challenges in getting them to do so. Inbound sales addresses these challenges by equipping sellers with the right information, in the right format, at the right time to ensure your target buyer's needs are met and a sales opportunity can be seized and moved forward.

If your salespeople have been saying any of the following, it's time to consider implementing an inbound sales methodology.

  • "It just keeps getting more difficult to get responses from prospects."
  • "Our marketing isn't working because we're never able to close the leads they send."
  • "It's challenging trying to come up with content and items that offer the value our prospects are looking for."
  • "We just don't have the right data and tools to be successful in closing these prospects into sales."

Traditional sales methodologies are falling dismally flat in a world where it's easier than ever to block and screen calls, to avoid pesky sales pitches and completely disengage when a brand reaches out to you at an inconvenient time. 

Whereas the sales team was previously responsible for a huge chunk of the sales cycle, things have now flipped around, and your buyer or prospect is owning the process. They're the ones researching, learning, making decisions and ultimately deciding to reach out when they're ready – and any attempt by sales to reach them before this moment is often met with disastrous consequences. 

With so much of the sales cycle taking place without person-to-person interaction, your sales team can feel at a loss as you move towards embracing the inbound model. That's why it's up to you to educate your sales team when it comes to not only the inbound marketing model, but also the nature of the modern buyer's journey and the technology that comes with facilitating effective customer relationship management.

Inbound Marketing and Inbound Sales

The Inbound Sales methodology is the answer to the conundrum. The Inbound Sales response to the contemporary scenario can be understood through its two underlying philosophies, which are:

  • Inbound sales teams base their entire sales strategy on the buyer instead of the seller.
  • Inbound salespeople personalise the entire sales experience to the buyer’s context.

By looking at the Inbound Marketing Methodology stages – Awareness, Consideration, Decision – Inbound Sales may then parallel these stages with tailored content and strategies which form the Four Legs of the Inbound Sales Journey: Identify, Connect, Explore, Advise.

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1. Identify – The Identifying stage of Inbound Sales is concerned with the Awareness phase, where strangers become leads through being served valued and tailored content. Before this happens, Inbound Sales people have already sourced the correct customer through the use of tools and technology. They have already identified the level of interest of the buyer and where they are in their buyer's journey.

2. Connect – Connecting is the continuation of the Awareness phase in trying to convert strangers. This stage is concerned with making contact with the buyer only once they have expressed interest or are searching for a solution.

3. Explore – During the Exploration phase, the Inbound team ascertain whether they can help the qualified lead to solve their problem. Like the Consideration phase in marketing, Inbound Sales people leverage the buyer's interest and their credibility as a thought leader to delve deeper into the prospects specific goals and the various challenges they face.

4. Advise – The Advising stage deals with the Decision phase in marketing where an opportunity has been identified and followed through with the prospect now firmly established as a customer. Getting to this point means that the company would have to offer some value to the buyer, as identified during the explore stage, all the way advising and guiding the prospect to the right conclusion.

Are you Smarketing yet?

Another interesting departure from the traditional marketing approach is the alignment of marketing and sales, Smarketing if you will. By aligning your marketing and sales efforts, no lead, be it marketing or sales (MQL or SQL), falls by the wayside. With these two teams operating side by side, lead nurturing through the various stages or phases of the buyer's journey gets comprehensively tracked. Aligning your marketing and sales efforts means that your buying funnel takes on a holistic approach with only the most qualified leads being passed on through the sales funnel.

Becoming a Thought Leader

With technology so prevalent in today's buying world, what's the point of even having a sales division? If consumers can visit your site and get all the information they need, and even make a purchase, why would they want to talk to another salesperson ever again?

Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your respective industry is the final step in ensuring interest and return patronage. It instils trust in your products or services and is the key to redefining your sales approach. It means that your traditional sales team gets transformed into thought leaders who are knowledgeable and informed about the industry and marketplace. They are truly concerned with finding a solution to the prospects' problem, instead of pushing a product on them, an approach that goes a long way in turning your customer into a promoter.

A Sales Parable to consider

Meet Legacy Louis of MilanSolutions, a Cloud ERP vendor for SME’s. As co-owner of the company Louis fulfils many roles, including heading up the sales and marketing departments.          

The company’s five-year objective is to grow the business to enterprise level. For this purpose, Louis has hired an elect team of super salespeople, chosen for their determination, tech-savviness and persuasiveness. The MilanSolutions’ sales team can sell ice to a Laplander.

To equip his team for success Louis purchased prospect lists as well as a list of his competitors’ clients. The game plan for Q1 and Q2 is simple but powerful:

  1. The sales team would reach out to all the names on the lists via email and cold calling with a compelling pitch on how MilanSolutions could solve their operational challenges.
  2. The marketing department would execute a paid advertising campaign across social channels to generate new leads, which they would pass on to Sales.
  3. Prospects who agreed to a meeting would be presented with MilanSolution’s slide deck that details a list of the benefits of Cloud based ERP systems and two SME specific case studies.

Legacy Louis is confident that his expert Sales and Marketing teams are geared for growing the business to the next level.

The Challenges of Reaching Modern Buyers

A year down the line, Louis has to face the MilanSolutions board to report on sales and marketing ROI. Despite the significant investment in recruiting top-notch sales and marketing employees and unprecedented campaign expenses, they have barely generated enough new business to keep the doors open.

The struggles of connecting with their prospects have been manifold:

  • The average sales development rep made 52 calls daily, and yet took them about 18 dials to connect with a single buyer.
  • The team was 4.2X more likely to get an appointment if they had a personal connection with a buyer, yet 99% of the names on their lists were those of strangers.
  • Like 61% of B2B marketers, MilanSolutions’ marketing team sent all leads directly to Sale. Only 27% of those leads were qualified.
  • 50% of the legitimate leads were interested but not ready to buy yet. Like 65% of B2B marketers, they had not established a lead nurturing process. This meant that the team had no way of guiding buyers to progress along their decision-making journey.
  • Leads responded to within 5 minutes were 100x more likely to be qualified but by the time the marketing team had passed on a lead, the prospect had already forgotten that they’d made an inquiry. Like an estimated 95% of marketing teams, they did not take advantage of a full-featured marketing automation solution
  • At the end of the day, 79% of marketing leads never converted into sales.

Louis has to come to grips with the reality that all legacy sales people have to face sooner or later:

Legacy sales tactics are wholly inadequate for establishing a connection with the modern buyer. 

Legacy Louis - Adapt or Die

The harsh reality for sales managers like Legacy Louis is that modern prospects have no need for sales reps unless they offer them more than what they can find on their own with the help of the Internet.

Stay tuned for the next part of this blog where we’ll delve into how the buying process has been transformed, and why your sales process should be aligned to match today’s empowered buyer.

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