You’ve probably heard about inbound marketing, but what exactly is inbound sales? The inbound sales methodology is a sales process that closely aligns with today’s buyer preferences and behaviors. To better explain how inbound sales fits in today’s business environment, let’s first explain a bit of history.
In 1898, American businessman E. St. Elmo Lewis introduced the AIDA sales funnel model based on the four psychological stages a buyer goes through when purchasing a product or service: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. The AIDA model described the basic process by which people were motivated to make a purchase and how they were influenced by sales reps.
Fast forward 120 years… people buy products and services differently today. Studies show that up to 80% of consumers now research products online before ever speaking to anyone in sales. Buyers can learn almost everything they need to know about a product before stepping foot in a store or picking up the phone. This transfer of power from sales to consumer means that salespeople are no longer the gatekeepers of product information.
The modern buyer’s journey now consists of three stages: Awareness of a problem, Consideration of potential solutions, and the Decision of a specific solution. Due to the shift in this new way buyers want to buy, a new sales methodology, known as “inbound sales,” has evolved to support leads as they move through their buying journey.
Inbound Sales Methodology
The inbound sales methodology is a sales process that aligns with the preferences and behaviors of modern buyers. It consists of 4 phases: Identify, Connect, Explore and Advise. Throughout the sales process, reps must position themselves as trusted advisors, using the buyer’s unique context to personalize the customer experience as much as possible. We’ll take a look at each of those phases in turn and explore how you can put the inbound sales methodology into practice in your business.
First Things First
Before you can begin implementing an inbound sales process in your business, you need a thorough understanding of your ideal buyer. Once you have a better understanding of their needs, you can become highly effective in providing them with the informative content that moves them through their buying journey. For B2B businesses, this means understanding both your ideal buyer profile (or which companies are a good fit for your offering) as well as your buyer personas (or generalized representations of your ideal customer). You can segment your target companies by things such as industry, size, or geographic location, and you can target people by things like job role, job title, function, or common behaviors.
Once you’ve defined your buyer personas, you can use a simple prospect fit matrix like this one to ensure that you’re focusing only on best opportunities. Knowing what to look for makes efficient use of time and helps salespeople create a predictable, scalable sales funnel.
4 Phases of Inbound Sales
As mentioned above, inbound sales consists of 4 phases: Identify, Connect, Explore and Advise. Below is a more detailed look at each phase of the inbound sales methodology phases and how you can implement these practices in your business.
In the first phase of the inbound sales process, your sales team identifies ideal buyers who are already active in their buying journey. Leads are actively researching and reading content aimed at identifying their problem. You know they’re active because they’ve visited your website, filled out a form, opened one of your sales rep’s emails, or expressed interest in your products or services in some other way.
Sales reps can also search for active buyers on websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, comments on your blog (or other relevant industry blogs), Quora or Reddit threads, just to name a few.
At this stage in the buying journey, it’s important to provide your prospects with educational information that helps them understand their problem. This helps to convert those total strangers into leads.
The Connect phase aims to qualify leads and move them from the buyer’s awareness stage to the consideration stage. Modern buyers who have just identified that they have a problem are not ready for a heavy-handed sales presentation. What they want is to have an open conversation with someone knowledgeable who can help them understand the fundamentals of solving their problem.
During this phase, inbound salespeople connect with leads and ask personalized questions about the prospect’s unique goals and challenges. Salespeople can use context like the buyer’s industry, role, interests, or common connections to help frame their discussion.
The role of your sales team in this stage is to build trust with honest advice. If the buyer agrees that their challenges and goals require further action, these leads are considered qualified.
Inbound salespeople aim to convert qualified leads into opportunities in the Explore stage. You’re trying to understand the problems they are going through and educate the lead on potential ways to solve the problem. At this point your salespeople won’t even be sure if they can help, so their job is to dig deeper into the lead’s goals, challenges, timeline, and budget to assess whether your product offering is a good fit. This requires a level of trust that comes from open, honest dialogue between the lead and the salesperson.
Guided by the sales rep, it’s the buyer who determines whether the product is right for their specific needs. If it turns out that it is, these qualified leads become opportunities and move on to the next phase of the inbound sales process.
During this final phase, inbound salespeople present information customized with the context they uncovered during the Connect and Explore phases to showcase why their solution is uniquely positioned to address the buyer's needs.
At this point, your salesperson would highlight how they can help the buyer achieve their goals, why they benefit from choosing your company, and specifically how your product will solve their challenges. If the buyer decides that your offering is the best solution to their problem, they become customers.
Inbound sales is a vital sales process that companies need to implement in order to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. By presenting your leads with helpful, educational content that solves their challenges (well above and beyond the kind of information they can find online) - you establish trust and add tremendous value to their buyer’s journey.
Simply by encouraging a helpful dialogue, you can improve the efficiency of your sales team. Want to learn other ways to sell better and faster? Download our free guide or give us a call.