In this post, you'll learn about inbound sales and how to advise prospects.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
To start, let’s make sure that we're clear on the inbound sales methodology.
Inbound sales requires that you personalize everything for:
- Who a prospect is -- their buyer persona or client profile
- Where that prospect is located in their buyer’s journey -- awareness, consideration, or decision
When you think about the modern buyer's journey in a digital-first world, typically, 70% or more of that buyer's journey is over before these prospects are ready to speak with somebody from your sales team. This is a big change in buyer behavior.
During the last couple of years, if they could get away with it, there are many prospects who would take this salesperson avoidance all the way to 100% of their decision-making before speaking with someone from your sales team.
For some business models, this is already the case; for example, hotel reservations, ground transportation, airline tickets, purchasing from Amazon, downloading music, or streaming movies. How much of this requires human interaction? Plus, there’s OpenTable for restaurant reservations and ZocDoc for doctors' appointments. And the list keeps growing.
When you think about the inbound sales methodology and why this is especially relevant to the modern buyer, there are four stages of the inbound sales methodology:
- Identify -- When you think about identifying your prospects and leads, look for website conversions, such as filling out a form for an eBook or registering for a webinar. Also, identify inbound companies; anonymous prospects on your website are identified using reverse IP address lookup software so it can determine with a high degree of confidence what company visitors are coming from. In addition, you can identify leads from trigger events, such as positive or negative news about particular companies or individuals, mentions of your company's name or competitors’ names, and mentions of industry keywords or hashtags.
- Connect -- When you connect with leads and use inbound sales to advance leads into qualified leads, those leads are still likely in the Awareness stage of the buyer's journey; perhaps maybe in the consideration stage of the buyer's journey. When connecting with prospects for the first time as part of inbound sales, do not assume that every prospect is Decision stage and ready for a sales conversation. That's about as ridiculous as a car salesperson assuming that every person who walks into a car dealership is ready to purchase or lease a car on that visit. When you Connect with prospects, the goal is just to be helpful. “Hey! I saw you were just on our website and signed up to get our eBook. Did it download OK for you? Oh, cool, what were you looking for help with?” If they're open to talking with you for a few minutes, that's great. If not, just help and make a great, highly-professional first impression.
- Explore -- When Exploring, you're learning if you can help and how you can help. In sharp contrast to traditional, legacy salespeople, Inbound sales professionals routinely deal with suitability issues as part of the Exploratory process. Inbound sales also opens prospects’ eyes to a better state beyond their status quo. When successful, you should be able to advance your qualified leads to sales opportunities.
- Advise -- The focus of this post, Advise, is the fourth and final step with inbound sales. Inbound sales puts a relentless focus on the buyer’s needs, not the salesperson’s needs. Typically when you have somebody that is in the Advise stage, that person is at the Decision stage of the buyer's journey. When you’re successful at the Advise stage, you're able to advance sales opportunities to clients.
How Inbound Sales People Differ from Legacy Sales People at the Advise Stage
Think about how legacy salespeople look at selling compared to inbound salespeople.
Someone from a traditional, legacy sales team will pitch the same presentation and deck to every single sales opportunity, no matter what. Maybe, best case scenario, there are two different versions at the absolute most, either by industry or role. But for the most part, it's the same presentation, the same PowerPoint or Google slide deck all of the time.
Legacy salespeople tend to use promotions and discounts to close sales. You'd be amazed at how many companies say they're strict adherents of inbound sales. Yet when push comes to shove, and it's the last couple of days of the month, out comes the aggressive discount like a classic car salesperson playbook. That’s not inbound sales; it’s legacy sales.
Traditional, legacy sales is very focused on the salesperson's need, the quota, and making their numbers. Legacy sales is all about the salesperson, not the buyer.
Inbound sales is very different. Inbound sales professionals very heavily customize their presentation deck for the buyer context, and what they know about that particular buyer persona.
In practice, if your product team has built a slide deck with 70 slides, you will never show all 70 of these slides to anyone.
With inbound sales, your job is to pick the 15 or 20 slides that are most relevant to a particular sales opportunity, to a particular contact person, to a particular prospect -- and only show the content that matters most to them.
How do you know what matters most to a particular prospect? Hopefully, you were paying attention during your Exploratory session because that's where the rubber meets the road, so you can understand exactly what needs to be covered in the Advisory session where you talk about your recommendations.
In addition, whereas the legacy salesperson focuses on closing based on discounts and hitting their quota, the inbound salesperson is a lot more tuned into their buyer’s buying cycle.
Inbound salespeople know where their prospects are in the buyer's journey. So their timing gets centered around the buyer's timeline, and the internal needs that you discovered during your Exploratory session.
When needed, you also must be able to translate one-size-fits-most messaging on your website to the unique needs of this particular buyer -- again understanding who they are, their buyer persona, and where they are, their buyer’s journey stage.
Two Big Requirements to Make This Work
First, there’s a key mindset with all of this: To be successful in the Advise stage of the inbound sales methodology, you need to have a relationship where you're now sitting on the same side of the table as the buyer, where the buyer has truly opened up to you on their point of view.
Second, suitability is incredibly important. Sometimes, you will uncover something at the Advise stage that calls into question whether your company is the best option for this prospect. You can't be afraid to walk away when your company is not the best answer.
In the modern buyer’s journey, with the Google Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), your brand is no longer what you say it is. Your brand is the collective wisdom of what somebody finds out about your brand when that person asks a search engine or social media platform about your company. In other words, no matter how tempting it is to attempt to close all sales opportunities, your company cannot afford to have bad-fit clients.
If there are suitability issues, you either need to resolve the issues or be prepared to walk away. And this is why it's so important to have your core buyer personas and negative buyer personas so that you can uncover the qualifiers and disqualifiers much earlier.
Step by Step at the Advise Stage of the Inbound Methodology
So the key steps for the Advise stage:
- Start by reviewing and recapping your findings from the Exploratory session -- These should largely be the same findings that you put in the recap email that you sent out after the Exploratory session, typically within one business day. At the conclusion of that email, you recapped what the next steps are going to be: the next meeting and who will attend. You also asked if there are any questions or concerns that need clarification. It's very common to meet with one or more influencers during an Exploratory session and for the decision maker only to be brought in at the Advise stage when you talk about your recommendations.
- Advise on how this company can achieve its goal and overcome its challenges -- Also, be prepared to talk about the pros and cons of different approaches that were brought up during the Exploratory session. Since it's also possible that there may be one or two different approaches brought up for the first time during the Advise session, you need to be able to anticipate the questions based on what you know about this buyer persona; or what traditional salespeople would call anticipating and overcoming objections. Also, be prepared to intelligently talk about the pros and cons of those different approaches and why your approach is the best choice, offers the best outcome, and makes the most sense for their unique situation based on what you've learned about their challenges, goals, plans, and their timeline.
- Confirm the details -- Is this planned engagement budgeted? Is everyone that needs to be involved in the decision-making present and involved at this stage? If you get a “no” or “not sure,” you probably should put the brakes on that meeting and suggest that you put some time on the calendar to loop that person in. Does the timeline you talked about in the Exploratory session, which was covered in your recap email, still make sense?
- Get the commitment -- Once you've confirmed these key details, you should be ready to ask for a commitment to move forward.
Tactical Checklist for Your Advise Meeting
- Introduce yourself to anyone new that wasn't at the Exploratory meeting. If someone from your team is attending with you, make sure to introduce your co-worker or your boss.
- Review who's been involved so far on the client side.
- Review what you've been told so far; basically, the contents of the recap email.
- Make sure you really understand the “why” -- their motivations -- behind wanting to move forward. Their reasons are so critical. It's not enough to just want this. You really need to understand what happens when this company achieves this goal.
- Why now? -- What happens if they decide not to move forward? What are the negative consequences of delay?
- Keep repeating back their responses and probe deeper.
- Walk through how you will work together to get to their goals and address their challenges. How will you work together to close the gap between where they are today and their particular goal?
- Heavily customize the conversation for what you know they care most about. How do you know what they care most about? Did this opportunity start out as an inbound lead or inbound company where there's some lead intelligence to analyze even before your lead research and Connect conversation? Are you thoroughly prepared to add additional insight beyond the Exploratory session? You should have a pretty good idea of what they care most about.
- Address any newly discovered questions or concerns - Be ready to adapt the conversation as needed. Don’t gloss over or skip over something important to the parties that you'll be looking to work with.
- Deliver insight beyond what they’ve been able to see on your website and in your recap email. Getting an opportunity across the goal line into “Closed Won” almost always comes from personalizing the Advise stage and your recommendation very heavily by context for who they are and where they are in the buyer's journey.
- Emphasize how your team is uniquely qualified to help and why. Talk about how you’ve worked with similar companies on similar challenges to meet similar goals.
- Talk about how to get started
The Bottom Line on Inbound Sales: How to Advise Prospects
The inbound sales process is all about personalizing your entire approach for who they are, based on what you know about their buyer persona or profile, and where they are.
Where they are at the Connect stage is very different than where they are during the Explore stage. And where they are at the Explore stage is vastly different than where they are at the Advise stage. So make sure to personalize everything.
The key mindset or prerequisite with all of this: you need to be in a position where you’re being invited to the other side of the table, to sit next to this person, as a team member of theirs, to get them to open up on their point of view. If your prospect is still reserved and putting up a big barrier, that's an enormous problem, and you're probably not ready to Advise yet on recommendations.
So recap what you learned during the Exploratory meeting. Make sure that there's nothing else that's come up that you need to know about. Talk about how you're going to get to their goal and overcome their challenges. Be prepared to talk about alternatives they've been considering, the pros and cons, and why your company is uniquely suited to address this challenge and help reach their goal.
Be sure to dot your I's and cross your T's to confirm that this has been budgeted, that everyone that needs to be at this meeting is present, and that you understand their timeline.
And finally, discuss how you're going to move forward.
In this post, we've looked at the inbound sales process and how to advise prospects during the fourth and final stage of the inbound sales methodology.
How have you used inbound sales to advise prospects better? Let me know in the comments.
And if you're using inbound sales as a strategic growth engine for your company, be sure to enroll now in our free 7-day eCourse: Go-to-Market Strategy 101 for B2B SaaS Startups and Scaleups.
Topics:- B2B Sales Strategy