What is inbound sales?
Inbound sales: definition
Inbound sales refers to a modern strategic approach in which a company attracts potential customers by creating valuable and relevant content, establishing a strong online presence, and utilizing various marketing channels.
The whole approach consists of reversing the traditional way of getting leads. You don’t directly reach out to clients, you have them reaching out to you, asking you questions about your product or your service.
The inbound sales methodology is client-centered rather than being product-centered. Its core principle is to align with the buyer’s journey and provide helpful and personalized information at each stage through educational content (blog posts, webinars, etc.). By doing so, you address the needs and concerns of your target audience and build long-term relationships based on trust and credibility.
Educational content and lead nurturing are just one way of implementing an inbound sales strategy but there are others, such as:
• Referral: from a customer to one of their friends or relatives who might need it as well (qualified lead)
• Search engine advertising: basically any Google Ads link at the top of a search engine results page, in relation of the keyword that was used ;
• Social media marketing: promotional posts by either your marketing teams or partner content creators.
Outbound sales methodology: pros and cons
Now you know what inbound sales is. As for outbound sales, as the name suggests, it is almost the exact opposite: reaching out to leads through cold emailing or cold calling regardless of the lead’s level of qualification.
Outbound sales, while a core aspect of many business models, come with both advantages and challenges. On the plus side, outbound sales is a proactive approach: your sales reps contact a broad audience first and then refine their parameters accordingly by evaluating who are the qualified leads and who aren’t.
It also enables your company to establish a direct connection with the prospects. This is a good thing because it provides you with an opportunity to control the sales process. Generally speaking, outbound sales efforts enable swift responses to market changes and competitor actions.
That being said, outbound sales however also presents quite a few drawbacks. One of the main challenges you will have to contend with is the potential for resistance from prospects who may view unsolicited contact as intrusive. This tends to be more and more frequent nowadays. As we will see further, the buyer’s journey has been going through changes in the last two decades: the evolving landscape of consumer preferences demands constant adaptation to avoid being perceived as pushy or outdated.
Second major disadvantage: the success of outbound sales is narrowly tied to the quality of leads, requiring comprehensive research and accurate targeting to avoid wasting resources on uninterested parties. To put it simply: outbound sales can be quite expensive and time-consuming.
In summary, outbound sales offers a proactive approach to customer acquisition but requires a delicate balance to navigate potential obstacles and ensure a positive impact on the overall sales strategy.
Inbound sales: advantages and limitations
This article being mainly about inbound sales doesn’t change the fact that it presents you with a few challenges as well.
For instance, the amount of time required for the inbound sales process to yield results can be seen as a hindrance, as you will want to build a strong online presence and attract a substantial audience. And those take quite a lot of time, we’re talking months at the very least.
Besides, effective implementation demands a consistent and high-quality content creation strategy, which can be resource-intensive. To generate leads, inbound sales also relies on adapting to evolving digital marketing trends and algorithms to maintain visibility and competitiveness online.
Yet, inbound sales come with a lot of positive aspects too. Inbound sales has made a name for itself with its focus on attracting leads through content marketing and personalization of the buyer’s journey. By creating valuable content and optimizing for search engines, you can organically attract qualified leads genuinely interested in your product. This is important: you save a lot of time because you don’t need to work on qualification, since the leads will do it themselves.
Outbound sales enable direct contact faster but inbound sales fosters trust and establishes long-term relationships with customers, as they always initiate contact based on their needs.
Additionally, inbound sales often leverages automation tools and analytics, providing insights into customer behavior and streamlining the sales process. It pushes further the efforts made for targeted and personalized communication and better customer experience across the board.
Inbound sales: understanding the buyer’s journey
Call for a change
Before making decisions and taking action, you have to get a good grasp on the modern buyer’s journey. Remember, this is a client-centered methodology, so try and put yourself in their shoes!
Until around the mid 2000s, all was about selling or failing. Sales reps would cold call all day long or send generic emails by the hundreds to solicit prospects. Things did not change overnight but rather progressively, in parallel with the use of technologies. Forums were created, blogs started to appear and gain in popularity, video platforms came and went viral, social media were born.
The point is that as time went by, people learned to use other media, they got gradually tired of old-school advertising and sales processes. Of course, it didn’t disappear, but inbound sales was developed on the need of doing things differently and also thanks to the technical evolutions we just mentioned.
In what follows, we’ll focus on the three successive steps of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration and purchase decision.
Step 1: Awareness
The prospect begins their journey by progressively becoming aware that :
1. They have a problem and/or a need to address, for example watching TV while traveling on a bigger screen than the phone ;
2. A solution exists : tablets and laptops ;
3. Products exist : all the specific laptops and tablets available on the market.
This awareness can be the result of personal experience but can also come from advertising or referral.
During the awareness stage, the prospect will also be conducting research on how to solve their problem. They will identify their pain points and educate themselves to be able to get a refined picture of their problem and need.
How this research and where this is research is conducted is what inbound salespeople have to figure out. It will help them nurture clients into making their purchasing decision by providing them with the right informative content at the right time. For now, leads don’t need to get information about products, they need content about solutions.
Step 2: Consideration
By now, the prospect knows quite clearly and accurately the problem they have to deal with. They are also quite informed about the available solutions but need time to explore their product options.
The prospect will resume their research and start to compare products and to make pros and cons lists. Once again, the information given by an inbound sales team has to be delivered right in time to guide them toward your offer which they have to see as the best fit for their need.
Your inbound sales team should have perfect knowledge of :
• the different products the prospect is looking into;
• how does your product compare to your competition?
Step 3: Decision
This is the shortest to explain but it might not be the shortest for the prospect. Speaking of prospects, this final phase is when they have come up with a short list of options and are ready to either become a paying customer of your company or buy another product or nothing at all. In any case, they stop being a prospect. At this point, the best you can do is offer a simple and easy to navigate buying experience.
How to implement your inbound sales strategy?
While the buyer’s are going through their journey, inbound sales people take a parallel road, with four stops: Identify, Connect, Explore and Advise. Each of these steps of the inbound sales process represents a series of actions they should perform along the buyer’s journey.
Inbound sales strategy: Identify
You’ll have to start the inbound sales process by some research of your own on :
• market studies ;
• social media ;
• satisfaction surveys.
The idea is to define your target audience and establish an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). You’ll need as much data as you can gather on :
• demographics ;
• pain points ;
By this point, potential buyers are generally at the awareness stage of their buyer’s journey. This means you need to analyze their online behavior:
• where do they come from? website forms? referral? social media?
• how much and how frequently did they interact with your company? (likes, retweets, visit time on your website, number of pages they visited, etc.)
• which content are they most interested in? specific product pages, pricing charts, company values, blog posts…
Once it’s done, sort out qualified leads from passive buyers. The former ones are a tangible business opportunity. The latter ones might become qualified leads someday (i.e. taking interest in your product), but there is not much you can do about them right now. This is where the ICP comes in handy.
Inbound sales strategy: Connect
You know who you are going to deal with. Now it’s time to establish contact, build rapport and develop a relationship based upon trust. Remember this is a first contact, you just need to set up an open conversation. Introducing your product or service is possible but you don’t want to come across as a pushy sales rep. Inbound sales focuses on the client and the problem rather than on the product and the solution.
Most prospects will still be at their awareness stage so plan your first contact carefully. Tailor your approach according to the results you gathered during your identification research :
• which communication channel are they on and which do they prefer to use: mail, Instagram direct messages, phone, software like Whatsapp, FaceTime, Google Meet, Discord, etc.
• what kind of information will they need?
• do they prefer formal or warm business relationships?
• how much time do you think they can give you?
If you want to know more about how to approach your potential customers, discover our following article: Solution selling: is it outdated?
Inbound sales strategy: Explore
As you enter this phase, the Consideration step of the buyer’s journey has already begun. They’ll be busy narrowing down their options and weighing the pros and cons.
What you need to do is once again gather information. But this time, do it directly from the potential buyer, since you have established a connection. The goal is different from the Identify phase. You already know whom you will be talking to, now you need to see if their pain points, interests and budget align with your product. Simply put: are they a good fit or not?
Inbound sales strategy: Advise
For the potential buyer, this corresponds to the Decision stage. For you, this is when you make your case: you have all the information and the preparation you could possibly need so it is time to guide your prospect through the end of the sales funnel which is the purchase.
To make the conversion :
• give personalized advice, that kind of guidance is always highly valued ;
• show how your solution matches their challenges ;
• set them up for the buying process: details about signature, timeline of delivery, etc.
Inbound sales represent a paradigm shift from the vanilla sales process as it is client-centric. By aligning sales efforts with the buyer’s journey, you can create authentic connections, understand needs, and provide tailored solutions. It is all about engagement and trust.
Inbound sales not only drive revenue but also cultivates long-term customer satisfaction. In an era where consumers seek personalized and meaningful interactions, inbound sales stands as a beacon for building sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships. Obviously, there are many methods to help your sales teams optimize their process, such as territory management or sales enablement.
Shifting approaches, exploring every avenue, opening to new perspectives are just the way we like to operate at CoachYZ. Every day, we help managers and decision-makers do things differently to make the most of their full potential. If you want to join them, start your coaching journey!