Buyers are getting smarter. They often do their research, comparison shop, and make a purchase, without ever interacting with a salesperson. If you don’t have a seat at the table, how do you put your product in front of a lead and how do you differentiate yourself from the pack?
The answer is inbound sales and without this methodology you may find yourselves on the sidelines more often than not. Resistance is futile. You must meet the buyer on their home turf and sell the way they want to buy.
You can no longer hang your hat on a glossy brochure stuffed with product details and testimonials.
Most leads will already have this information and want to know what else you are offering. And, if you have nothing, they will be on their way.
Understanding and leveraging why the prospect is looking for information, what challenges led to the research, how they want to use this data, and when they need the solution to be implemented, is far more effective than a universal sales pitch devoted to the superiority of any given product. In other words, the context of the buyer’s interest is paramount.
Taking the Buyer’s Journey
To make this methodology work the buyer must be front and center in everything you do. To help stay on course, it is helpful to think of the process every buyer goes through on the way to a purchase. By acknowledging and respecting this process you are far more likely to be meeting the needs of your prospects through every phase of their decision-making process.
The Buyer’s Journey can be simply expressed with the following three stages:
- Awareness When someone becomes aware of a challenge they are facing, an obstacle they have run up against, or a goal they feel might be beneficial, they have entered the awareness stage.
- Consideration Once aware of a challenge or goal, a prospect will make the decision to prioritize a solution and begin investigating the best course of action to take. This is the consideration stage.
- Decision After careful research and consideration, potential buyers decide on a solution. During this decision stage, different vendors and partners are weighed against each other to find the best fit for the ultimate solution.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
To align with a potential buyer, an inbound sales methodology should be followed that supports the prospect throughout each stage of the journey, and adds value to the customer with respect to their context at the time of the offer. To accomplish this, follow these four steps:
- Identify At any given time, there are millions of strangers with challenges they are hoping to overcome. An inbound salesperson looks for strangers with a challenge they can help with either through an offer of education or a product or service. When this happens, the stranger becomes a lead.
- Connect Once a lead is identified, inbound salespeople connect with them to better understand their challenges and determine if they should be prioritizing a solution. If the lead decides to move forward, they become a qualified lead.
- Explore A salesperson still must decide whether the products or services they provide are a good fit for the qualified lead’s challenges. To do this, they explore the details surrounding the buyer’s context. If they are confident they can offer a solution that is good for the buyer, the qualified lead becomes an opportunity.
- Advise Based on everything they have learned about the buyer’s challenges and goals, and with respect to what they know about the buyer’s context, an inbound salesperson advises how their solution is a unique offering designed specifically for the needs of that individual buyer. If the buyer agrees, the opportunity becomes a customer.
Notice the absence of long sales pitches about the product and sophisticated price matrices. That is not what inbound sales is about. To sell in the digital age, the methodology must be buyer-centric and respect the context of the buyer. Doing this will lead more buyers deep into the exploration stage and keep your ROI high with less false leads and wasted time.
The Evolution of Inbound Sales Methodology
Over the past fifty years, the approach to sales has slowly changed. What was once exclusively a product-driven environment has now moved into a new age; an era of customer-centric best practices. Sure, the old value propositions and universal pain points still make an occasional appearance but they are less prominent throughout the sales process and far less likely to be the centerpiece of a successful presentation.
This change has been coming for some time and can be marked by the rise of popular methodologies over the last several decades.
From Solution to Challenger Selling
In the late 1970’s a new methodology emerged in sales which changed the buyer-seller relationship forever. “Solution Selling” sought to understand pain points and repackaged products as solutions to problems. Solution selling soon gave way to an even deeper relationship between sales professionals and the prospects they courted. It became evident that establishing trust and assuming an advisory capacity with potential buyers was a great way to keep in contact and be available to offer solutions when the timing was right. This consultative strategy required a heavier investment of time but paid dividends in the long run with customer loyalty and repeat business.
When Matthew Dixon wrote “The Challenger Sale” in 2011, it marked a further departure from industry norms. In his work, Dixon identified five different seller personalities with “The Challenger” being the most successful. This persona was successful based on knowledge of the customer’s business and was able to push for critical thinking and problem solving to address challenges the potential buyer faced.
Inbound Sales Redefines the Customer Relationship
Taking into account these successful shifts in sales approach, new attitudes toward buying by the general public, and the development of accessible and informative channels to deliver more personalized messages, the inbound sales methodology was created to better service the needs of modern consumers.
By adhering to a few simple rules, inbound has captured the attention of the buying public, and changed the way sales are made.
Personalize the Experience
You can no longer get away with one-size-fits-all thinking. Customers are looking for personalization. They have specific challenges to overcome and expect you to help them toward a solution to their unique situation. Your entire process must be engaged in collecting information to personalize the experience. If not, your prospects are likely to find someone else. Someone they feel is a better fit.
Always be Buyer-Centric
In the face of increasing competition both for dollars and attention, products have an uphill challenge to stand out from the crowd. This is why addressing the buyer’s needs is the smarter approach. They hold all the power. You cannot sell based on product information; they already know it. You must add value in other ways or else be excluded from the journey.
Assume an Advisory Role
Interruptive marketing is over. No one wants to be hounded for a sale or their lives disrupted by yet another sales call. Building a relationship through whatever channel possible is now the best way to make connections and be a part of the buyer’s journey. Become an advisor and act in partnership with your potential customers. This will get you a seat on the same side of the table when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.
Measuring Your Inbound Sales Success
Implementing the inbound sales methodology can be confusing unless you use the right metrics to gauge your performance, understand your successes, and identify ongoing challenges. Most metrics are rooted in the lifecycle stages of your customers and speak to the movement from one stage to another or the lack thereof. The two best ways to gain an understanding of your sales performance is to evaluate your lead to opportunity conversion rate and your opportunity to close percentage.
Lead to Opportunity Conversion
This metric can tell you a lot about your sales team and even your marketing efforts. If your sales force has a high percentage of lead to opportunity conversions but still can’t meet their quota for opportunities in the pipeline the answer is simple. You don’t have enough qualified leads or maybe leads in general.
This might be a marketing problem and not a sales issue at all. You want to make sure Sales and Marketing are aligned early on. If your salespeople are being given ample qualified leads but are missing the boat when converting these leads to opportunities a number of issues could be to blame. Most likely the follow-up is too weak or not personalized.
Opportunity to Close Conversion
You’d like to think every opportunity should become a closed deal but that is not realistic. Every industry has a reliable percentage which represents a healthy close rate. Using this as a benchmark for your own efforts is a great way to evaluate your performance and issues you may have. If your rate is extremely high, congratulate your sales team and ask yourself how much money you are leaving on the table. By only taking the best prospects to the final round of your process, you are leaving many potential buyers behind and that means lost revenue.
If your rate is too low, invest in training for your sales staff immediately. No one can afford to lose too much business this late in the game. Strengthen your approach and make sure you are offering the most personal solution possible and the value is immediately apparent.
Implementing the Inbound Sales Process
Inbound sales is the best way to reach your ideal buyer (You have by now created your buyer persona, we hope). Relying on attraction rather than interruption will lead to more sales opportunities and better close rates. Pay attention to the buyer’s context, always personalize the journey, and become an advisor instead of a seller and you will make your fair share of sales.You will be selling the way people want to buy.