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The Death of a Salesman: Outbound vs. Inbound Sales

By Jessy SmulskiDec 14, 2015

inbound salesPicture a salesperson. What do you imagine? Is it a smooth-talking man with a Crest-white smile selling “the most durable” tupperware on the market (which likely won’t survive the top rack of your dishwasher)? Or is it a stern-looking woman wearing a finely pressed suit, talking too fast and phrasing everything as if you’ve already made a deal?

Of course, these are stereotypes. But the fact remains—consumers don’t have a high opinion of sales professionals. Ever hear someone say, Never trust a salesman? Unfortunately, there’s a legitimate reason for the skepticism.

Sales historically has used outbound strategy to generate revenue. Sellers go out in search of leads, or cold call to create opportunities to sell. And because buyers don’t anticipate the sellers’ outreach, sellers developed some unique skills to get what they want. One might describe the traditional salesperson as foxy and well-trained in the art of persuasion; charming, but only to give the illusion of trust.

Spoiler alert: Just like the classic protagonist, Willy Loman, this breed of salesperson is long gone. In fact, the entire idea of outbound sales is dead and the murder weapon is lead intelligence. Information has given rise to a new strategy called inbound sales and it’s changing everything about the way buyers and sellers see one another.

Why the Sudden Change?

The shift from outbound to inbound sales isn’t sudden at all. It’s been slowly creeping up on us since the advent of the Internet. When the World Wide Web became accessible to buyers, and the information floodgates opened, it wasn't long before buyers started doing their own research about products and services. After all, they didn’t trust their sales representative. Sales went from owning the vast majority of the buyer’s journey to only a tiny portion. Quite literally, consumers decided how they wanted to be sold to, and sellers had no choice but to comply. Inbound sales is the adaptation that we sellers forged to reclaim our place in the buyer’s journey.

What exactly is inbound sales? Simply put, it’s a selling style that places a majority of the focus on the buyer’s wants and needs. How do sellers know the buyer’s wants and needs? They use intelligence collected via marketing software to monitor buyer behavior, better understand the buyer’s needs, and anticipate the exact moment the buyer is ready for a sales conversation. Instead of selling, inbound sales representatives are listening. When it’s time to pitch, they aren’t convincing, they’re teaching. And instead of focusing entirely on the purchase, inbound sales professionals are guiding buyers to the best possible solution for their unique wants or needs, whether it’s their own offering or not.

Sounds much more likable, right? Here’s how the two processes contrast.

Outbound Sales Process

In outbound sales, representatives must prospect for their leads. They attend networking events, purchase lead lists, cold call and send out blanket emails. Once they detect a scent, they hunt leads for as long as it takes to close. Beyond basic demographics, the only information outbound sales representatives use to guide their strategy are details they collect after initial contact has been made. And because the focus of outbound sales is to generate commission and revenue, up-selling is always the ultimate goal.

Here’s what’s wrong with this process:

  • It takes about 18 dials to reach a single buyer, and only 1 percent of cold calls result in a call back, which means cold calling is highly ineffective.
  • Sales emails are hardly opened—only 24 percent, in fact, get opened.
  • Because buyers don’t necessarily anticipate being sold to, the B2B sales cycle can last for months or even a year.
  • There’s no concern for what the buyer already knows about a product or service.
  • The profit is being valued more than the relationship.
  • The process doesn’t address the buyer’s unique wants and needs.

Inbound Sales Process

In inbound sales, leads are delivered to the sales representative. It’s also not a solo endeavor. Marketing is an integral part of the process. Here’s the gist of how the inbound sales process works:

1.  Marketing adopts and utilizes a sophisticated marketing platform (MP) with automation, sales adopts and utilizes an advanced customer relationship management (CRM) system, and the two systems are integrated to create a closed-loop reporting system for the logging and sharing of lead intelligence.

2.  Sales educates marketing on what a quality lead looks like, sales-quality lead personas are created, and marketing launches campaigns to target these personas and inspire engagement with the brand.

3.  As leads interact with campaigns (on their own accord), marketing shares key analytics with sales, who is all the while monitoring and anticipating what the buyer needs. Analytics and real-time alerts help inbound sales representatives determine:

  • Where buyers are in their journey
  • What their wants/needs are
  • What they already know about the product or service
  • When they are ready for a sales conversation
  • Exactly what that conversation should be about

4.  When precisely ready for a connection with sales, a representative reaches out to the buyer with information specific to where they are in the buyer’s journey. At this point, the representative’s job is to further the buyer’s education and respectfully guide the buyer toward a solution.

5.  With each interaction, the sales representative logs their activity in the CRM for marketing to review. This includes indicating when a buyer closes and for how much they closed.

6.  With the information sales feeds back into the system, marketing determines which campaigns are most effective and learns more about what a high-quality lead looks like. Buyer personas are fleshed out, campaigns are retargeted and greater-quality leads are drawn into the sales cycle.

What’s the Point?

If you treat your buyers with respect and honesty, they become so much more than a single sale. The inbound sales process delivers the kind of experience buyers want and expect today. It creates a positive impression on the buyer that not only converts them into a brand advocate, but inspires them to refer others to your business. A whopping 84 percent of B2B decision makers begin their buyer’s journey with referrals. They are also five times more likely to engage with your brand if introduced by someone they know and trust. With a personal connection, you are 4.2 times more likely to get an appointment with a buyer and furthermore, referral leads close 30 percent more often and have a 16 percent higher lifetime value. In other words—referrals are your golden ticket.

Inbound sales will also decrease the length of your sales cycle, because you’re working with buyers who already know your organization has what they want. And because you are using hard data to prioritize and qualify leads, your closing rate will also increase. Ultimately, sellers can expect to generate more revenue, which subsequently means greater commission. Best of all, you can feel good about what you’re doing. Inbound sales is about turning marketing into education, and sales into service. Pride yourself on helping others, and make a better living at the same time. Everybody wins.

PIVOTING YOUR PLAN with Inbound Marketing

Additional Topics: Inbound Sales
Jessy Smulski
The Author

Jessy Smulski

Jessy is a professional creative writer with over 8 years of experience working with businesses, marketing agencies, news papers, and magazines. Intrinsically empathetic, her talent is transforming the experiences of others into meaningful recounts that connect brands with customers, readers with stories and words with purpose. She also specializes in brand development and content marketing. When she’s not creating content, you can find her snowboarding out west, backpacking or capturing life through the lens of her camera. She takes her coffee black, her wine red and her books non-digital. Catch Jess on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter @Jsmuls.
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