Why Do We Have Inbound Selling?
You’ve heard the term – Inbound Sales or Inbound Marketing – and you may feel it’s a fad that will come and go. It really isn’t.
At my gym we have a team of personal trainers whose job is to support our fitness goals. They come alongside you, see where you are and what you want to achieve and then support you along the way with insightful advice and ideas to make the most of your journey. They do not push too much; sell you health supplements or a new contract. They’re there to support you.
In the same way, this is how inbound selling works or should work.
We already are familiar with the following two concepts, I’ve written about them plenty of times:
- Buyers are in control and use the internet to research solutions and obtain references from their networks. They want to do the buying themselves.
- Buyers don’t need salespeople anymore, not traditional ones.
They have their buying process. As an inbound salesperson we need to be adept at knowing what this is and when the customer makes contact, we need to quickly ascertain where they are on their journey and then support them, just like my personal trainer.
It’s not that much more complex.
A New Sales Process
We create and align our sales process alongside theirs with the sole aim of supporting their buying so they keep control. Beforehand we need to study carefully who our buyers are, what problems and struggles they have, what solutions they are researching, where we can help.
We provide content, a lot of content. We work alongside marketing to create and disperse this. The content we put out is all about answers, expertise, solutions that we know full well the clients are seeking. We put out blog posts, articles on various websites, white papers which bring the customer to our website. Videos on YouTube and Vimeo, our social media streams are full of solutions and links to content. We constantly update this content with new ideas and solutions and we make them accessible to all prospective buyers. When they’re ready they’ll find their way to our website.
A Client Case Study
One area of specialism I have is selling protection products for financial advisers. I smother the web with my articles and writings, videos and podcasts which teach salespeople how to perform this vital skill. Just last week I received an email from a prospective corporate client who runs a chain of mortgage brokers on the south coast. His email stated that he’d been researching and found my writings, in fact it was mainly LinkedIn that allowed him to find me. We began talking on the phone this week and my first objective was to align my sales process with where he was with his research.
He told me once I asked the question: “How far are you in your search for a solution here?”
He mentioned that he’d researched the web for ideas and articles and found mine. He’d passed the thought process about doing it himself, as he’s really busy. He was at the final selection of provider stage and was concerned about removing or illuminating any risk in his decision. So that’s where I started – remove risk, fact-find and proposal stage.
It all sounds rather soothing, never having to cold call or push a customer along the sales process but in reality it will be different for you. As a full time inside salesperson, you’ll have targets to achieve and a manager on your back if you don’t. She’ll be measuring against some very traditional sales KPIs and may not be bought into the concept of inbound selling. A few things need to be changed if you’re going to succeed in this new bazaar.
The Salesperson’s Role
I’ve already mentioned the need to put out content alongside your marketing colleagues.
You also need to be very adept at monitoring activity and analytics from your websites and social media streams so you can pick up potential customers who are browsing and downloading whitepapers and other specialist content. Many companies ask for full contact details to download white papers and the like. This is dangerous and you can put off a buyer who wants to maintain their anonymity and control. An email is fine but not address and phone number. Seriously, this will hamper your progress.
So you have a buyer on your website who’s just downloaded some content or has started following you on Twitter or Facebook. What do you do? The worst sin is to pick up the phone and try your old sales process or email a request for an appointment. Just don’t to this, your role is to support their buying.
You email them and subtly ask if they have any questions to ask about the content they downloaded. Or you offer them some more content that might help them. Recently I noticed a corporate customer link in with me and follow me on Twitter. Instead of emailing them or phoning them to fix up an appointment, I stopped and thought, what’s going to be their major concern and struggle at the moment and why are they wanting to link in with me?
They were from a company that advised second mortgages and loans to consumers. Now because I keep my ear to the ground, I knew that they were going to be thinking about regulation under the Financial Services Act which kicked in for these companies in 2016. I knew they were thinking about Training and Competence schemes and exam training for their teams. I emailed my new contact with a White Paper entitled “How to Create a Training and Competence Scheme for Regulated Companies”.
This white paper tells them everything I know; the lot. I don’t leave anything out to entice them to call. If they want to solve the problem or give the paper to their training manager – that’s fine. My value position is not to just deliver training anymore, it’s to consult and provide tailored solutions for corporate clients. If she wanted to do it herself that’s fine, if not I’m here and she knows it.
I put her details into my CRM and incubator, as I call it. She’s now receiving regular updates from me in the form of sales tips and videos and the odd long-form article.
As an inbound salesperson, you need to be able to provide additional support for any buyer. You need to be crystal clear as to your buyer – who she is and the challenges she faces – this is why you fully understand your marketplace. This knowledge makes you very different to traditional salespeople and you are able to consult rather than just sell.
You’ll have a CRM system – something like Hubspot – which allows for email campaigns and auto responders to be sent out as soon as someone enters the database. These emails contain useful further information, download links and personalised suggestions.
Say you’re into website optimisation as a business and a contact is made. You may email an article on search engine optimisation with Bing, but you’ve also been onto their site and realise there’s a couple of quick fixes that the customer can do themselves, so you put this in the email as friendly advice.
You support them. You know their buying sequence – which normally looks like this:
- Problem awareness
If they’re in research mode- help them to do so. When they get into decision mode, help them to do this, but don’t be pushy – remember buyers don’t need or even like salespeople anymore.
Just like the buyer who has more information than ever at their fingertips, in the same way the salesperson also has enormous amounts of data and information. So use it. Seek out prospective customers, those who may be struggling with a problem that you can solve. Put yourself in their way online. Join in discussion forums where they hang out. Know where they might hang out and be there: forums, discussion groups, webinar audiences, on line conferences.
The Sales Manager’s Role
In my experience the manager finds this transition to inbound sales the biggest challenge. Their job is to produce revenue from their team of sellers and they receive intense pressure from above for this to happen. Inbound selling can take longer to get going so if the manager is looking for quick results, they may revert back to the old way.
It’s a new philosophy.
The manager is the first person to buy into the concept and then provide support and encouragement to their teams. Their coaching and observations must change to support a different set of skills. They must think about recruitment – what kind of individual is better served in the new bazaar? They consider training – is this fit for purpose?
The Sales Trainer’s Role
The old way of sales training doesn’t work anymore – prospecting, cold calling, overcoming objections, closing techniques. People still demand it and sales trainers still deliver it.
But in the world of inbound selling a whole new range of skill sets are needed.
I read about a technology company in the USA who ran a very interesting on boarding training scheme for their team’s inside salespeople. They were asked to get under the skin of their potential buyer, to understand who they were and mimic their situation as much as possible. This company’s customers were small business owners who wanted to drive more traffic through their websites and their main product offering was a CRM system that would make this objective far easier to achieve.
They set up a mock company to mirror their potential buyer.
They found out how their buyers researched, where they researched, what questions did they have unanswered from the research, what information did they seek, where did they get this from. This way our new salespeople knew where to post content and what questions to ask their buyers when contact was made.
Then the salespeople were tasked to dive into their buyer’s world even more by setting up their own micro business and creating a website and social media streams to solve the problem of new business generation. This allowed them to realise the problems and produce solutions from their own expertise.
The result. They became accustomed to helping the buyer, supporting them in their quest rather than wanting to sell them their products. They had changed their philosophy. That’s effective training.
It’s a mind-set change, it won’t go away, the old days of cold calling prospects and pushing them along the sales process set by head office are long gone or are leaving your industry for good. Are you ready to change?