Understanding the Inbound Sales Methodology | Lucidchart Blog
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Cash flow is at the core of every business: Revenue must come in to offset revenue going out. Since many variables control how costs can be determined or minimized (minimum wage, federal tax rates, and business loan interest rates are uncontrollable costs, for example), most businesses fare better in their cash flow by increasing revenue coming in rather than mitigating uncontrollable costs. 

And the best way to increase revenue and income is by increasing sales—of any product or service. 

The natural next question becomes “What’s the best way for my business to increase sales of my product or service?” There are many methodologies to refine and improve the sales process—depending upon your industry, these different schools of thought may lead to the best sales solution for your business or team. Still, there are a variety of factors to consider: the typical client and their needs, the price of your product or service, the information necessary from a consumer to close the sale, and many, many others. 

This piece will focus on the inbound sales methodology as a school of thought—and how the inbound selling process may be beneficial in supplementing your sales process. 

inbound sales overview
Inbound Sales Overview (Click on image to modify online)

What is inbound sales?

Inbound sales is a sales process that hones in on the prospective buyer’s challenges, pain points, priorities, and interests. Contrary to traditional sales, inbound sales focuses less on pushing a product or service and closing a deal and more on educating, supporting, and guiding prospective buyers through the buying decision. 

Sales analysts estimate that in modern sales funnels, most B2B companies have already made a purchase decision before visiting a prospective provider’s website. This means an inbound salesperson’s job becomes nurturing the interest of the buyer through education, interaction, advocacy, and guidance. Inbound sales methodology teaches that, instead of focusing energy on closing a sale as soon as possible, inbound salespeople act as a trusted consultant, nurturing the client relationship from the awareness and consideration phases of the consumer journey to the close of the sale and beyond. 

In inbound sales, every prospect receives a customized, personal approach in their interaction with a brand or company, all based on how they interact with the company’s product or service offerings and even accompanying content. This philosophy implies that with sophisticated data analysis, thorough and thoughtful application of this analysis, and the eventual closing of the sale, each prospective becomes not only a source of revenue but a supportive advocate for the company they are purchasing from. 

How do you succeed in inbound sales?

In order to begin using the inbound sales framework, you and your sales org will need to: 

Define your buyer’s journey

In traditional sales, buyers can be viewed as prospects to be won over, demoed, or simply a deal to be closed. When the buyer and seller’s intentions aren’t aligned, and when the buyer feels used, it risks the close of the sale—and the company’s possibility of completing a sale in the future. 

The inbound sales funnel, then, focuses on adding value to every potential buyer—value beyond what any potential client can find on their own. This process begins by identifying and understanding the buyer’s journey, which includes three phases:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision

In the awareness phase, prospective clients are addressing problems or challenges or a goal they want to achieve.

In the consideration phase, buyers have defined their challenge and are actively seeking solutions or options in addressing it.

After these phases are complete, a potential buyer then enters the decision phase, where they select a resolution to their challenge or walk away from the interaction altogether. 

These steps can take on many different forms, but to better understand and give it context, let’s look at an example customer. 

Innovative Technologies, Inc. is a quickly growing startup tech company, who just received a boost in funding and needs to streamline operations. Their awareness phase, then, involves identifying where work processes can be sped up or simplified. They may identify the need for supportive software to make workflow and project management more clear and more organized. Innovative Technologies, Inc. would then enter the consideration phase, where they might research different work management software solutions, opting to demo different software or learn about different products from sales professionals. Ultimately, Innovative Technologies, Inc. would enter the decision phase. At this point, they could purchase and adopt a project management software, decide a larger problem needs to be solved instead, or even determine that there are no ideal solutions for their challenges. 

No matter the outcome, the decision-making process is virtually the same in all buyer journeys. 

Develop a sales process to support the buyer’s journey

The role of the inbound sales strategist is to support the already existing buyer journey, rather than exploiting buyers by enforcing an impersonal sales strategy. This inbound sales framework has four key steps:

  1. Identify
  2. Connect
  3. Explore
  4. Advise

The inbound sales strategist first identifies strangers with a potential problem or problems and converts them to leads.

Once a lead is identified, inbound sales strategists connect with a lead, helping them define if there is a challenge or goal and if it should be prioritized. If so, these leads become qualified leads

Next, the job of the inbound salesperson is to explore the goals of their qualified lead and the different options they can provide in accomplishing said goal. If they have a reliable option available, the qualified lead then becomes an opportunity

RELATED: Lead vs Prospect vs Opportunity: How to Identify Potential Customers

Finally, the inbound salesperson advises their opportunity on the specific value proposition of their product or service in accomplishing the opportunity’s goal or solving their problem. If both parties are in agreement and a purchase is made, the opportunity has finally become a client or customer.

Consider using visuals to map out your sales process or funnel and clarify the expectations you have for your sales reps.

content map with funnel
Content Map with Funnel Example (Click on image to modify online)

Identify your ideal buyer persona

As a key way of building the inbound sales marketing funnel, a salesperson must first define their buyer personas. The goal is to build a customized sales experience, and knowing the personas of the clients or customers you want to attract will help you design your customized approach. 

Think of buyer personas as prototypes: fictionalized examples of the customers who’d benefit most from your product or service and who, once identified, can inspire an educational, engaging sales process that’s in line with each of the phases of their buyer journey. 

This last step includes initializing with a helpful, personalized outreach message, drafting personalized questions for each persona to discover their pain points, or creating supplementary content tailored to each persona. Identifying your buyer personas—and then customizing experiences to each persona—is a vital step in converting strangers to leads, qualified leads, opportunities, and ultimately customers. 

user persona card example
User Persona Card Example (Click on image to modify online)

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

Inbound sales may seem intuitive, or like the obvious methodology without a basis for comparison. Traditional sales have operated under an outbound sales methodology, relying on outreach like cold calls, product or service demonstrations at trade shows or conferences, or purchasing qualified lead lists. In short, outbound sales focuses on “pushing” a product or service, while inbound sales “pull” prospective buyers from strangers to customers.

While inbound sales are supported by other modern processes, there are still elements of outbound sales that can be adopted alongside inbound strategy. For example, since outbound sales involves the process of sourcing leads, defining your buyer personas and analyzing digital body language is a great way to qualify leads who can then be nurtured through the inbound sales process. 

A combination of inbound and outbound strategy is essential for the full growth potential of any company. 

Making inbound sales work for you

Becoming familiar with inbound sales framework may be the ticket to amplify your company’s sales strategy, and building sustainable relationships with every person who engages with your product or service. 

With the inbound strategy, each prospective buyer is armed with knowledge and value, regardless of whether or not they convert to a closed sale. While seemingly counterintuitive or even counterproductive, each engagement in the inbound sales strategy turns leads into advocates—when people feel they are valued and being offered value, they naturally return to make a purchase later, or refer someone else to your product or service. 

With these steps and proper implementation, any company can construct a savvy sales strategy. 

Not sure if this framework is the best fit for your sales org? Learn about other sales methodologies:

Sandler Sales
MEDDIC
Miller Heiman (Conceptual Selling®)