Inbound Selling: Effective tactics for the modern B2B sales team
Over the past 10 years, the way B2B buyers research and buy products, services and solutions has changed. Inbound selling is all about aligning how you sell your products and services with how the modern buyer buys. By embracing the inbound mentality of being human, holistic and helpful at every stage of the buying process you can build stronger relationships, authority, trust and close more deals than ever before. So the time is now for you to change how you sell and embrace the inbound approach to selling.
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[VIDEO] Modern Customer Acquisition
The way we all make buying decisions has changed forever, the impact this has had on the traditional sales process has been profound, with buyer’s no longer dependant on the sales person to provide the information they need to make their buying decision.
What is Inbound Selling ?
Now B2B buyers are doing all their own research online, once they are aware they have a challenge, problem or opportunity. The modern buyer is visiting websites, reading blog posts, asking quesitons on social media and watching videos to answer their questions. Some of those questions include:
• What is included in your product, service or solution?
• What does it cost?
• How does it compare to your competitors offerings?
• Who else is using your product, service or solution?
• Do they like it?
We all expect a personal buying experience
Buyers also expect a far more personalised buying experience, one that is human, holistic and helpful placing their needs and goals at the heart of the process in a buyer centric and not sales centric manner.
This is where Inbound Sales excels and modern B2B sales team recognise that they must transforms their entire sales process, so they are focused on helping the buyer and aligning how they sell with how the modern buyer researches and buys.
Remember with Inbound Sales you are not trying to sell to a buyer but helping the buyer to buy.
Traditional Sales vs Inbound Sales
Traditional sales teams have relied on a broadcast mentality and pressure sales techniques which simply do not work in the modern digital age.
Some of the characteristics of traditional sales approaches are:
• Failure to identify active buyers and where they are in their buying journey.
• Cold calling outreach with generic qualification processes.
• Sales centric approach which kicks into presentation mode as soon as a prospect shows any interest.
• Delivers the same presentation over and over.
• Always price led – offering discounts to try to secure a sale rather than building value.
The modern sales team adopt a very different approach:
• A focus on active buyers and understanding exactly where they are in the buying journey.
• Provide personalised insights and content to help the buyer make the right buying decision for them.
• Build trust and authority through “thought-leadership” and sharing helpful advice.
• Move into exploratory and discovery mode when a buyer shows any interest.
• Personalise the presentation to each individual buyer and adjust the sales process to fit the buyer’s timeline not their own.
• Define the value in their solution to ensure that price is not a driving factor in the buying decision.
The inbound mentality to sales is all about attracting the right people, then connecting, engaging and helping them to make a decision. Be a magnet not a megaphone. Attract and help buyers to make the right decision for them.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
The Inbound selling process is focused on the four key stages of Identify, Connect, Explore and Advise.
The biggest mistake most sales organisations make is that they fail to execute a process for identifying “good fit” prospects. A criteria for who may be a good fit for your business could include:
• Size Of Business
• Buyer Personas
• Geographic Location
Once you know your good fit audience, then you need to connect and engage this audience. Your sales team then need to make an initial “connect” call to identify goals, challenges, gaps and timescales. As Dan Tyre discusses in this blog post from Hubspot – Always Be Closing Is Dead:How To Always Be Helping – the approach here is to help your buyer understand where they are, where they want to be and that it is possible to get there.
You now need to have a longer “exploratory” meeting to demonstrate what help is required and how you could be one of the options they consider. We need to dig into specifics at this stage and ensure we fully understand their needs and that our product, service or solution can help.
Finally, once you have all the specific information and have helped the buyer to move along to the decision / selection stage – we can present a well-informed solution presentation to advise the buyer on their various options, costs and timescales.
The entire process is aligned with the stages of the buyer’s journey, to ensure that it remains contextual with where the buyer is on that journey and always being helpful and valuable to the buyer.
The Buyer’s Journey Revisited
In the Ultimate Guide To Inbound Marketing we discussed the importance of understanding your buyer’s journey. You can see in the Inbound Selling Methodology above, the way you now need to sell, has to align with how modern buyer’s are buying.
However it is worth a revisit, as the first step in moving to an Inbound Selling approach to sales, is to understand the way your customers buy your product or service. This is known as the Buyer’s Journey which is simply the active research process that someone goes through leading up to a purchase.
Buyer’s want to be helped, educated, supported and guided through their buying process.
A quick recap on the stages of a simple buyer’s journey
Stage 1 – Awareness
The stage where a buyer first becomes aware of a problem or opportunity, they ask general questions to give it a name and frame it. Remember the thing the buyer is becoming aware of at this stage is their problem and not your solution.
Focus on understanding and answering these questions:
• How do buyers describe their goals or challenges?
• How do buyers educate themselves on these goals and challenges?
• What are the consequences of inaction by the buyer?
• Are there misconceptions that buyers have about addressing the goal or challenge?
• How do buyers decide whether the goal or challenge should be prioritised?
Stage 2 – Consideration
Once the buyer has framed the pain, challenge or opportunity, they now move onto considering the available solutions. At this stage the buyer has clearly defined their goal or challenge, they have given a name to it and they have committed to addressing it, they have evaluated the different approaches or methods to solve their challenge or capitalise on their opportunity.
Focus on answering these questions:
• What categories of solutions do buyers investigate?
• How do buyers educate themselves on the various categories?
• How do buyers perceive the pros and cons of each category?
• How do buyers decide which category is right for them?
Stage 3 – Decision
At this stage the buyer has already decided on the solution category, they will have created a list of specific offerings in their specific category and decide on the one that best meets their needs or they may go with the solution they find first.
A key component of an inbound sales strategy is connecting with the buyers before they enter the decision stage. The buyer’s journey is important for two reasons in inbound sales.
Firstly, it allows sales to prioritise “active” buyers who are aware they have a problem and need help, rather than “passive” buyers, who may or may not require help. We will discuss the importance of this in the Identify stage later on in this guide.
Secondly, it allows the sales process to always remain relevant to the buyer and by delivering the right content, to the right person at the right time, sales can naturally help the buyer move along their journey. Focus on sharing advice, help and insights that ignite interest and allow you to explore this further with the prospect, starting a natural sales conversation and establishing trust and authority at the same time.
The key to effective inbound selling is to understand the buyer’s interests, identify their priorities and offer guidance. Show a genuine interest in helping your prospect accomplish their goals and overcome their challenges. This approach will build trust and increase the likelihood that the buyer will want to move forward with the solutions that you suggest.
Identifying “Good Fit” Customers
We discussed above, the identify stage and the importance of finding good fit prospects and customers. A good fit customer is someone who fits your criteria of buyers who are likely to benefit the most from your product, service or solution. But don’t forget, that a good fit customer is also someone who is actively involved in the buying process, not a passive buyer. By identifying people who are actively buying you will only be speaking to the very best prosepcts every day and cut out the wasted time of speaking with people who are not going to buy.
The final thing to consider in your “good fit” matrix, is identifying people you actually want to work with. As there can be signs early on that they may not be a good fit as a client you want to work with. Identifying this early can avoid pain down the line.
Active Buyers vs Passive Buyers
One important step here is to separate Active buyers, who are already engaged in a buyers journey and have an intent to buy from Passive buyers, who are people who are not yet ready to buy but may be in the future.
You can find active buyers by using social media, finding groups where your buyers are asking questions and answer them, read blogs that your buyers are reading and create and write your own blog posts and engage with thought leaders in your industry, this will help you identify active buyers and also position yourself as an expert and trusted thought leader.
The experience we want to provide here is that feeling of giving a name to a problem they didn’t know they had. Share an insight or content with the Passive buyer to help them and this will leave them with a great impression.
The Four Stages of Effective Inbound Selling
Let’s look at each of the four stages of an effective Inbound Selling process and explore how they work together to create a sales approach which aligns with how the modern buyer wants to buy but also ensures your sales team are only working on good fit prospects and buyers.
Stage 1 – Identify – Finding Your MQL’s
Spending time on identifying which are good fit leads including segmenting active buyers from passive buyers to ensure that your sales team are always creating a predictable funnel of opportunities. These leads are called Marketing Qualified Leads or MQL’s.
One of the cardinal sins that a sales team can make is by wasting time on unqualified leads who are not a good fit and will never by from them. It is vital to discover this early on in the process and eliminate these leads, to free up more time to work on leads which are a good fit.
An MQL can be defined as those who have visited the website, downloaded content, read blog posts, filled in forms or engaged with an email, it is vital you develop a process or system of identifying these buyers. Using a system such as Hubspot is perfect for notifications of this type of activity from buyers.
Good inbound sales teams will also develop target account lists based on buyer personas and ideal buyer profiles, through research on social media platforms such as LinkedIn plus ask for referrals through existing customers, to their good fit leads.
4 Signs a lead may not be a good fit at the Identify stage
- Company Size – Make sure you know what your typical customer company size is, define it and use this to disqualify if they are too small or too large.
- Company Revenue – As with company size, define what size of revenue represents a good or bad fit. If higher or lower than this then disqualify.
- Industry / Vertical – Does the company fit your Ideal Company Profile target market.
- Geographic Location – Are you best fit customers within a certain geographic location ?
Stage 2 – Connect – Turning Your MQL’s into SQL’s
Once you have identified these good fit leads, now is time to reach out with a personalised connect call that offers value and focuses on the prospect’s goals, challenges and pain points.
Remember the goal here is to turn a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) into a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) , which is when the buyer decides to prioritise the goal or challenge they are facing.
In the connect stage you introduce yourself to the prospective buyer for the first time. The experience you provide here should make it clear that you understand their context. This could be understanding their industry, role, interests, common connection or more – in this opening out reach make an offer in-line with the awareness stage of the buyers journey or whichever stage the buyer is in at that moment.
The key is to identify the buyer’s interests and priorities and offer guidance. Show a genuine interest in helping your prospect accomplish their goals and overcome their challenges. This approach will build trust and increase the likelihood that the buyer will want to move forward with the solutions that you suggest.
Remember, this is your first contact with a prospect or lead so again look out for signs they may not be a good fit.
4 signs a lead may not be a good fit at the connect stage
- Rude or discourteous – This should be a huge red warning sign, as it will make communication difficult later on.
- Emotional response – If the lead appears to respond on emotions rather than facts this can be a big indicator that they do not have the authority or know enough about the company goals to make a decision.
- Unresponsive – If the lead is not answering any questions then this is anothr sign they are unengaged in the process.
- Uncompromising – If the prospect is wanting to control everything and not willing to comrpomise on anything this can be a warning.
Stage 3 – Explore – Converting SQL’s into Opportunities
The purpose of the connect phase is to confirm that the prospect has a problem that you can help with and to set up a time when you can explore that problem in depth. The explore phase is the most important phase of inbound sales. It is where you can find out if your prospects need your help and whether they want it.
You will explore the unique challenges that your qualified leads are experiencing to decide whether your services are the best fit for their context. If it is a “good fit” you will convert these leads into opportunities.
It is important that at this stage you establish yourself as an expert and assume a consultative role. Leverage the buyers initial interest and this expert position as an authority to probe deeper into the buyer’s specific goals and challenges. Remember that you are the expert and you can assess whether you can help the buyer more efficiently and thoroughly than they can help themselves on their own.
4 signs a lead may not be a good fit at the explore stage
- Conflicting – The prospect makes statements which do not appear to be truthful or add up.
- Competitive – The prospect does not appear to want to work with you to create a plan of action but is actinge in a competitive manner.
- Lack of Resources – A sign that the prospect does not have the time, money or staff to execute the strategy you are discussing with them.
- Lack of Priority – Although you have identified a need for your product, service or solution, it does not appear to be a priority of the prospect or their company.
Stage 4 – Advise – Close Opportunities into Customer
In the final Advise stage, your goal is to advise the prospect on the ways your product, service or solution is uniquely positioned to address their goals and challenges. If they decide this is right for them, they will become a customer.
This is the grand finale of the experience we have provided. At this phase we will prepare a personalised solution presentation, showing why you are uniquely positioned to help.
This presentation should include:
• A slide deck presentation – emphasising the value propositions aligned with the buyer’s needs and using the buyer’s terminology.
• A product or service demonstration – illustrating only the features important to the buyer, in order of importance to the buyer. Also include case studies and testimonials.
• An Return on Investment Analysis – customised to the buyer’s metrics and business.
• A proposal – contract or agreement that spells out the client’s goals, agreed upon scope of work, and metrics that indicate success.
By uncovering the buyer’s context and tailoring the presentation accordingly you will add tremendous value to the buyers journey, beyond the information available online.
4 signs a lead may not be a good fit at the advise stage
Now you have got all the way to presenting a solution to your prospect, it may seem that this is not the time to abandon a deal. But there are sign here to look out for too.
- Silver Bullet Syndrome – beware of prospects who think that executing your strategy or implimenting your product will give instant results or not rake hard work.
- Lack of following simple instruction – If you ask them to read a piece of content or do some work to teach them something and they fail to do it, this could be a sign of a deeper problem.
- Repeated Meeting Cancellations – Beware of prosepcts who cancel with short notice, no notice or repeatedly – something is not right.
- Lack of Understanding – You have to go over the same material more than three times before your client actually understands it. Again this could be a probelme client to actually work with.
6 Essential Inbound Selling Tools – Your Tech Stack
One of the secrets to effective inbound selling is the alignment between marketing, sales enablement, sales and service. The key to this alignment is in developing a tech stack of tools which enables a focused single view of each contact, be it a lead, prospect or customer.
Here are six tools which will make this alignment easier and ensure that your business maintains a buyer centric view:
1. Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)
A central database of contacts and companies that the business engages with, recording each touch point and conversation with a lead, prospect or customer to provide a central system for all departments to use and update.
Our weapon of choice for world domination is the Free HubSpot CRM
After using Hubspot ourselves and for our client’s projects it is clear that it is far more than a CRM, with Marketing, Sales and Service tools plus world-class analytics and reporting tools. We regard it as the go-to B2B business growth platform.
2. Marketing Automation – Lead Nurturing
Lead nurturing is all about providing the right information, to the right person at the right time and by using automated work flows, sequences, Calls To Action (CTA’s), landing pages and email marketing plus effective social media management to publish to the right channels you can achieve this and provide a very personal experience to the user.
Leveraging Marketing Automation tools such as Hubspot’s Marketing Hub can make lead nurturing human, holistic and helpful rather than feeling un-personal and robotic through their suite of automation tools.
3. Sales Automation & Sales Enablement Tools
Once leads and prospects are in your CRM and engaging with you regularly, you need to be able to see where they are in your sales pipeline.
Aligning this with their own buyer’s journey, providing valuable, relevant content and insights to help move them towards making an informed buying decision.
Sales tools for planning meetings and using email follow-up sequences can maintain a level of engagement with every prospect as they move along their journey, allowing the sales team to effectively explore, advise and present their solution to the right people at the right time.
Again we use the HubSpot Sales Hub to measure every phase of the sales process and progress prospects along. The hub even allows you to upload documents and receive notifications whenever a prospect opens or reads it.
4. Personalised Video Prospecting and Follow Up Tools
Every buyer demands highly relevent personalised outreach and there is little more personalised than a video created just for them.
Emails still works but reading a long text email from someone is not very personal or engaging.
However using tools such as Vidyard or Wistia Soapbox you can create short engaging videos talking direct to a prospect or customer, which cut through the noise and instantly connect. We have been using this approach for the past year and seen open rates and engagement increase by 56% since we started using this in our own sales process.
5. Live Chat and Chat Bots
When did you last complete a form on a website ? Be honest – forms are dead.
Buyer’s simply will not complete a form and wait 24 hours for you to get back to them, they want answers now and using live chat, messenger and chat bots for communication and conversations is by far the most effective tool to achieve this.
Hubspot CRM provides a free chat bot tool or other apps such as Drift can be used as conversion tools and to shorten the sales cycle. You can set up URL specific Chat Bots, so that you can deliver relevant information about the page that a visitor is visiting i.e On you Pricing Page – set up a chat bot to say “We see you are looking at pricing – can we help ?”
6. Support and Service Tools – Customer Nurturing
Your customers are your greatest asset and also your greatest source of feedback and new business.
Using tools such as HubSpot Service Hub, Survey Monkey and Trustpilot to support and nurture customer relationships, cross-sell, upsell, ask for referrals, survey opinions, gather reviews, testimonials and case studies will allow the service department to constantly develop content, insights and leads for your inbound selling efforts.
10 Key Metrics To Measure Inbound Selling Success
The availability of analytics tools and software means that every element and stage of your inbound selling process can be measured from end to end, so where do you get started with sales metrics and reporting on your inbound selling success ? As you can see from these 10 areas that need measuring, you can measure everything to
1. Sales KPI’s
At the top of the sales metrics has to be those aligned to the company -wide performance and growth goals. So how do these goals feed into the overall company growth. These would include revenue metrics, LTV or lifetime value of a customer, NPS or Net Promoter Score, cost of sales etc. If you have to pick one of these focus on revenue generated.
2. Sales Activity Metrics
Successful inbound selling and sales is all about activity. Not just being busy but activity in the right areas so you must measure metrics around activity to identify star players and the weak links in your sales teams i.e if a sales person is not hitting targets and you dig into their activity to find they are not sending enough emails to generate the number of calls they need to make.
Activity is key to success – so pick key metrics such as calls made, emails sent, conversations, social media interactions, meetings scheduled, presentations made, referral requests and proposals sent to get a good overview of activity.
3. Pipeline Sales Metrics
In the bid to chase down new deals, you must ensure that your sales team don’t leave money on the table by missing out on cross-selling, upselling, repeat orders and expanded contract opportunities with your existing customer base.
Key metrics here are Average length of sales cycle, ACV – average contract value, Win rate and conversion rate by sales funnel stage.
4. Lead Generation Sales Metrics
How active are your sales team with their prospecting ? Measure metrics such as how often they are adding new opportunities, average lead response time, percentage of qualified leads and the big one here is COCA – Cost of Customer Acquisition.
5. Email Sales Metrics
These can indicate a healthy inbound selling process or not – so focus on open rates, response rates, engagement rates and percentage of recipients who progress to the next stage.
6. Primary Conversion Metrics
These are huge in sales, how well your team is converting opportunities into business. So focus on closed / won percentages, no decision made, opportunities lost to competitors, number of conversations per won and lost opportunities.
7. Social Media Metrics
A good salesperson will be active every day on social media, connecting and engaging with leads, prospects and clients on LinkedIn and Twitter for B2B sales. So look at the % of LinkedIn connection requests accepted, Inmail response rate, social engagement, number of meetings set through social media and number of qualified opportunites generated through socila media.
8. Sales Productivity Metrics
Sales productivity metrics focus on how quickly the sales team are hitting their targets, the shorter the time the more productive they are as a unit. Focus on the percentage of time they are spending on selling activities, percentage of time on manual data entry, percentage of time creating content, average number of sales tools used daily and percentage of high-quality leads followed up with.
9. Leading Indicators
A leading indicator predicts your results. It shows you which direction you are trending. They are easier to influence than lagging indicators. Focus on these leading indicators:
- Pipeline Deal Mix
- Pipeline is all early stage ?
- Pipeline is all late stage ?
10. Lagging Indicators
A lagging indicator reflects your ultimate results. They are reactive with metrics such as your sales team’s target attainment at the end of the month. Lagging metrics could indicate some of these areas:
- We are losing deals above a certain value ?
- We are losing the majority of deals after the explore stage ?
- We are losing deals to no-decision or no budget ?
- We are losing deals after submitting a proposal ?
- Sales team are hitting their targets but not enough new leads in pipeline ?
- Sales team are missing their targets and not enough leads in pipeline ?
- Prospecting activity is too low ?
- Sales cycles are getting longer ?
- We are losing deals to a certain competitor ?
The key here is to get started with a few inbound selling metrics that give you a good overview of your sales effectiveness as a business and also the performance of your team, so mix it up and then layer more specific metrics on top over time. This will put you ahead of the game , allow you to analyse progress, hit your goals and increase revenue in a predictable manner.
Lets Get Started On Your Inbound Selling Strategy
As you can see, when it is broken down into predictable steps, account-based marketing strategy is all about creating a remarkable user experience and using inbound marketing principles to attract, engage, convert and delight new and existing customers.
Simply focus on identifying those “good fit” target accounts, then use effective inbound marketing tactics to connect, engage and attract them to your business.
At DME we are experts in helping B2B business to grow better, through inbound marketing and sales tactics that work. We can help your business to plan and execute your next Account-Based Marketing campaigns, to drive 20 – 30% year on year growth in traffic, leads, customers and revenue.
Simply get in touch and let’s talk about your business growth goals.
Let's talk about your business growth
If you own, run or work in a B2B business and are looking to grow your business leads, customers and revenue by 20 – 30% over the next 12 months, then let’s have a 15 minute chat about your goals, challenges, gaps and timescales. Unlock the true power of inbound marketing, sales and account-based marketing.
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Tel: 01522 837259