In this episode, we're going to talk all about how you can connect with prospects inbound-style -- how you can use inbound sales and a little bit of inbound marketing to connect with your prospects.
Reviewing Inbound Sales
So the first place to start, when it comes to connecting with your prospects inbound-style, is to make sure that you and I are on the same page about inbound sales.
The inbound sales methodology is all about personalizing every interaction that you have with prospects for:
- Who they are -- what buyer persona that particular person fits in with or ideal client profile that person fits in with
- Where they are -- where this person is at in their buyer's journey
And there are a couple of different ways that you can identify those prospects before you decide to connect with them in an inbound way:
- Website conversions -- For starters, the easiest and most straightforward way to connect with prospects inbound-style is if your website is already generating inbound leads from inbound traffic: attracting the right strangers into website visitors, converting those website visitors into leads, closing those leads into clients, and delighting those clients so that most become promoters -- all of the basics of the inbound marketing methodology for attracting the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context. If you're generating leads from your website on targeted landing pages and forms, where you're providing a lot of value in your premium content offers -- including eBooks, special reports, white papers, downloadable checklists, and downloadable templates -- and you're getting a decent amount of contact information to work with, you’re off to a good start. These website conversions can also be more middle of the buyer's journey type of conversion events (Consideration stage): webinars, lunch and learns, breakfast seminars, calculators, or buyer’s guides. The website conversions could even be Decision-stage content, where people are signing up for tours, demos, consultations, audits, and assessments -- a whole bunch of conversions that show that somebody is closer to getting ready to make a decision, and is ready for some one-on-one sales contact.
- Inbound companies as anonymous prospects -- Another way to identify prospects and leads are inbound companies. These are anonymous prospects that are on your website. And your software is able to identify, with a pretty good degree of certainty, what company or what organization that person is coming from. Now depending on how well calibrated that software is, sometimes it can pick companies up. Sometimes it can't. And sometimes the reverse IP address lookup technology mistakenly identifies the internet service provider (ISP), as opposed to the company utilizing that ISP. But if you are seeing that a particular company has a visitor and then a day or two later another visitor. And then that first visitor comes back again, and you're able to see the pages, the titles of the content, all these people are looking at, this gives you an idea of what's going on inside of that company; what kind of challenges and problems that they're trying to solve. What are some of the goals that they're trying to achieve? From there, identify a company that's worth doing some outreach to, connecting with those prospects inbound-style.
- Trigger events -- The third category for identifying prospects is based on trigger events: positive or negative news about a company. And usually, the company identifies a person that person might be quoted in a news article. So, unlike an inbound company, with a trigger event, you usually have a person to start with. Besides positive and negative news events, you might also want to monitor social media for mentions of your company, your competitors, and industry keywords and #hashtags that are especially relevant to your core buyer personas.
The Modern Buyer’s Journey in a Digital-First World
When it comes to connecting with prospects inbound-style, success starts with understanding that 70 percent of the buyer's journey is now over before most prospects are willing to speak with somebody from your sales team.
And for a lot of your prospects, if they could get away with making your sales team irrelevant -- so they’re 100 percent of the way through that buyer's journey without talking to someone from your sales team, they would.
Think about your own personal behaviors when you book hotel rooms, make airline reservations, call for Lyft or Uber car service, or reserve space on Airbnb.
In a digital-first world, all of these tasks that used to require talking with a human being can now be managed without human contact. And this is exactly where many of your prospects are coming from. Again, this should all be validated by your owner buyer persona research and buyer’s journey mapping, so you understand what exactly your ideal clients are looking for when they're looking for a company like yours.
But remember your company is now being judged in the context of other digital blue-chip brands, and household names. In other words, many of your buyer personas are likely subscribers to Amazon Prime. They use Uber. They stream digital content through Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify.
While your prospects aren’t expecting your company to be quite at that level, this digital transformation is nevertheless the lens that your company is being judged through.
This fundamental change in human behavior has massive implications and shifts power from sellers like your company into the hands of buyers.
These buyers have become really empowered as they've become big adopters of search engines, social media, and mobile computing to begin just about every one of their buyer's journeys.
Why Connecting with Prospects Today is So Different vs. as Recently as Five Years Ago
So how can you earn attention when connecting with prospects?
How can you get to the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context?
How can you connect with prospects inbound-style in a way that advances leads -- at least some of them -- into qualified leads?
Bear in mind, when you connect with prospects, they are likely in the Awareness and Consideration stages of the buyer's journey.
Don't make the hugely-flawed assumption that every prospect you reach out to is at the Decision stage and is ready for a sales conversation.
Meet the Car Salesperson That Loses at Least Two Deals Every Day
Think about this analogy: Imagine that you're in the market to purchase or lease a new car. So you walk into the dealership, and the salesperson is convinced that you are going to buy or lease today -- which is not true at all. It's your first time visiting any dealership. Maybe you're tall like me: 6’ 1”. And as you might imagine, someone that’s 6’1” also has kids that are tall. So for most of the Feinberg family, legroom and headroom in both the front and back seats are important.
So chances are, buying or leasing a car is not going to be a one-and-done kind of thing. You know that, but that salesperson is convinced that you are there to buy on the spot. There will essentially be a major collision of personalities and priorities because of this, as this salesperson is completely misreading your context and doesn't understand where you are in the buyer’s journey.
You have such an antagonistic experience -- what are the changes you return to that salesperson or dealership when you are ready to buy or lease? Pretty close to zero, right?
Quiz: How Many More Old-School Sales Professionals Does the Digital-First World Need?
If you are connecting with prospects and making the super-flawed assumption that everyone is immediately ready for a sales conversation, your prospecting efforts are not going to go very well -- especially in a digital-first world where buyers are empowered and no longer have to speak with salespeople anymore to get the information that they need.
Sales professionals instead have to make it worth their while -- they have to earn attention. Now I'm not saying to bribe prospects with gift cards or any other nonsense like that. But you do have to come across -- position yourself -- as a subject expert and a trusted adviser, not as a sales person.
Old School Outbound Prospecting vs. Modern Inbound Prospecting
Your goal early on is really just to be helpful, not harassing. The whole idea of old-school, outbound prospecting is very different from modern, inbound prospecting.
But the problem is: a lot of veteran sales professionals haven't gotten the memo on how much buyer behaviors and preferences have changed.
A lot of traditional sales people still depend very heavily on cold calling and leaving completely untargeted, scripted, almost robotic-sounding voicemails.
To go along with these interruption-focused prospecting efforts, traditional sales people send out a lot of cold emails and cold LinkedIn pitches where there's very little, if any, personalization.
Outbound sales people are just completely regurgitating a script that's in front of them. Smile and dial. Spray and pray. Totally obnoxious, selfish interruption marketing and sales. Any efforts early on to qualify are strictly based on budget and authority -- from the BANT model: budget, authority, needs, and timing.
Od-school, outbound prospecting doesn't work so well anymore now that people are in control and there's been this huge shift of power during the past five to seven years. A lot of old-school sales teams just haven't caught up to that reality.
How is inbound prospecting different, when you connect with your prospects inbound-style?
For starters, the modern strategy for connecting with prospects focuses on their goals, plans, and challenges -- not yours.
In a world where prospects no longer need to talk with a salesperson, the sales process is no longer about you or your company. Connecting with prospects inbound-style is all about them.
Personalize everything that you do for who they are and where they are in the buyer’s journey. If you don't know what their goals, plans, and challenges are, you need to invest more time in lead research. Why?
For starters, lead research should get you into the right ballpark. Chances are, whether your findings are for the company, the influencer, or the decision maker, something should turn up on a search engine or a social media channel that gives you a starting point for understanding their world, what they do, and what a day in their life is like -- while understanding some of the typical goals and of challenges that somebody like this buyer persona will face. This is “buyer personas 101” and should inform everything that you do with your more modern, inbound-enlightened prospecting.
The Three Steps to Connect with More Prospects Using Inbound Sales
When it comes to actually connecting, there are three steps you need:
- Buyer personas
- The steps or sequences that you're trying to execute for each buyer persona
- Content to use for each of those steps
1. Buyer Personas
You should have a primary and a secondary buyer persona that prioritizes the two most important kinds of people that you want to connect with. If you’re brand new to connecting inbound-style, don't overwhelm yourself by having a half-dozen different buyer personas right away. Just start with your two most important, core, ideal buyers.
By thoroughly researching and developing buyer personas, you’ll be in a much better position to personalize your connections, your connect sequences, and your content approach with much greater accuracy than if you are just prospecting completely cold.
Buyer personas -- or at least, ideal buyer profiles -- are absolutely critical for connecting with prospects inbound-style. This will allow you to segment by industry and their role. For example, maybe your primary buyer personas is at a mid-sized financial services company as the CEO. And your secondary buyer persona works at the same kind of company as a sales director.
Again, if you are new to connecting with prospects using inbound sales, start with one industry and one role. Then once you have that fleshed out, move on to a second industry and a second role -- or the same industry and a different role. In other words, don’t try to tackle more than two buyer personas, or two ideal client profiles, at a time until you've gotten good at this.
To prepare for connecting, be sure that you can answer this extremely important question:
What does a prospect in the Awareness stage of the buyer's journey in that industry and in that role care most about?
If you can't answer that question, you are not ready to start prospecting and connecting.
Keep doing your research until you can answer that big question for each kind of prospect.
In this particular industry and specific job role, for someone in the Awareness stage -- that is not yet considering their different options and is not at the Decision stage where they're ready for a sales conversation:
- What's keeping them up at 2:00 o'clock in the morning?
- What are their goals, plans, and challenges in the Awareness stage?
- How do those goals and challenges align with your company's value proposition?
- How does that persona go about learning about that goal and that challenge?
- What are the opportunity costs and the consequences of procrastination around addressing that goal or solving that challenge?
- What are the biggest mistakes and myths about that particular goal and challenge?
When you can answer those handful of different questions about a particular buyer persona, you will be in a much better place to add value to prospecting and connecting than if you go in completely cold using a static pitch and pretending like it's 20 years ago.
Always remember that people today have a choice about whether they're going to talk to you -- or whether they're going to use a search engine or social media channel to make you a heck of a lot less relevant because they're getting their information elsewhere.
2. Key Steps in Your Sequences
Second, outline your steps in your sequences for each persona. And identify how you are going to reach this persona:
- Are you going to call?
- Are you going to email?
- Are you going to send an email immediately following the voicemail if you don't connect?
- Can you follow this persona on Twitter and retweet their posts?
- Does this persona have a blog that you can subscribe to? And add unique, insightful comments to?
- Can you connect with this persona on LinkedIn? Can you customize your invitation message with a buyer persona-specific hook? For accepted connections, will you use LinkedIn messages as another communications channel?
So think about the different ways that you can reach this particular persona for prospecting, for connecting with inbound-style.
In addition, think about the timing and frequency of your planned cadence:
- When will you connect?
- If you're unsuccessful at first, when are you going to try again?
- How many connect attempts are you going to make before you move on?
- And what time period will these connect attempts span?
3. Content to Support Your Sequences
What kind of unique content will you be using during at step of the sequence for each buyer persona?
When you connect inbound-style, you need to add value. And you need to frame those connect attempts around something that teaches each prospect something that helps them in their job role -- perhaps adding insight with an expected challenge or explaining how to better get from point A to point B on something that you know is relevant because it aligns with that buyer persona.
So to successfully connect with prospects using inbound selling, you’ll need unique content for
- Each industry -- for each business model or vertical market
- Each role within that company
- Each stage of the buyer's journey -- what somebody cares about in the Awareness stage is very different than what that person cares about in the Consideration stage. And what that person cares about in the Consideration stage is vastly different than what that person cares about at the Decision stage.
Why Sales and Marketing Need to Collaborate on Content That Supports Inbound Prospecting
As a starting point, audit your existing content. If you are in a sales role, you may be thinking that content audits, content creation, and content promotion are all marketing. Not anymore!
In a traditional company, 10 or 20 years ago, sales people could ignore content responsibilities. However, in the modern buyer’s journey, where 70% or more of decision-making is happening without sales people even getting the chance to speak with prospects, sales needs to be involved in content strategy, content creation, and content promotion.
In an enlightened, inbound-focused company, marketing and sales work together to decide where there are holes in their content map for each buyer persona they want to reach -- especially at different stages that somebody goes through in between when they're a stranger to a visitor, a visitor to a lead, a lead to a sales opportunity, and ultimately a sales opportunity to a client.
- Keep it brief -- The good news? When you’re talking about content needed to support connecting with prospects inbound-style, touchpoint should be short, concise messages.
- “You” is your friend -- Whether it's voicemail or email, use the words like “you,” “your,” and “yours” at least twice as often as talking about yourself. All too often, sales people that are coming from a traditional sales playbook love to brag about how wonderful their companies are, how awesome their products and services are, how great their pricing is, how smart their teams are, how amazing their facilities are, and all the awards they've won. But you know what? Nobody cares about any of that until they've perhaps -- maybe -- reached the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey. During the Awareness and Consideration stages, it is all about them. Using words like “you,” “your,” and “yours” will help you stay grounded in that undeniable reality.
- Always end with a question -- Also, be sure to end every one of your touch points with a question. Does that make sense? It could be a “yes” or “no” question. It could be an open-ended question but always try to conclude with a question.
- Stay upbeat and helpful -- When in doubt, be even more helpful. Still in doubt, try even harder to be even more helpful than you’ve been so far.
- Use your persona research to know how to help -- What do they need help with? Your buyer persona research and individual lead research should yield valuable clues.
- Aways personalize your subject line -- Inbound Selling 101: Personalizing all of your communications for who they are and where they are now.
- Use others’ thought leadership content temporarily if needed -- If you don't have your own thought leadership content and relevant educational resources, It's not ideal. But early on, you can use content from other thought leaders to educate, build trust and accelerate leads into qualified leads and sales opportunities. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about plagiarism or copyright infringement. It’s more like, “Hey Bob! I saw this article in Forbes that I thought you’d find really helpful. Does this help?” Over time, it's really important that you and your company make a concerted effort to be seen as thought leaders, to improve your competitive positioning, to use this as a really strong lever to differentiate early on.
- Offer free consultations -- One of the best ways to advance that sales process at the Decision stage is to offer a free consultation, which by very definition is very heavily personalized. Just don’t make the flawed assumption that all of your prospects are Decision-stage and ready for that sales conversation. The overwhelming majority of your prospects that you connect with initially will not be ready for a sales conversation right out of the gate.
Best case scenario, you successfully connect with prospects during their Awareness stage, when they're just starting to research broad-based problems.
Connecting Based on Inbound Leads, Inbound Companies, and Trigger Events
So again, when it comes to inbound leads and connecting with prospects inbound-style, your strategy and approach needs to be all about their interests, not yours. It's absolutely critical that you keep that in mind. It's all about their goals, plans, and challenges.
For inbound companies, basically anonymous visitors, you can again approach this with something like, “Hey Bob! Some people at your company have been looking at content on our website about this particular challenge. With that in mind, you and your team members might also get a lot of value from this educational resource that talks about this challenge in more detail. You can download it here. And since I know that addressing that challenge can truly be a team sport, feel free to share this resource with your co-workers. Does this help? Let me know if you need anything.”
For trigger events, you’ll have some context to make connections based on that trigger, plus what you know about that buyer persona.
If you’re looking to connect based on common connections -- people that you both know -- you could have customer referrals, employee referral, and referrals from influencers -- essentially colleagues from outside of your company.
You could even use your prospect’s thought leadership as an icebreaker.
If a persona blogs on a regular basis, the content is a conversation starter.
If a persona posts to Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube on a regular basis, that could also be a conversation starter.
If a buyer persona is hosting a webinar or an event that you can register for, attend and learn what’s being talked about.
Be interested in what they're interested in, to try to find some common ground with how that aligns.
At the absolute minimum, this will help you advance your understanding of making successful connections with other people like this buyer persona. Many time, it can also be a natural way to advance that particular opportunity. Again, just be careful to make sure that your efforts come across as natural and sincere, rather than selfish and pushy.
Tools That Help Connect You with Prospects Using Inbound Sales
In terms of basic tools to keep track of all of this, there are a handful of different technology needs that should be relatively inexpensive to get up and running -- but which can make a huge difference in terms of your productivity:
- Email template library management -- To prospect a lot more consistently and efficiently, you should have some way to manage your email templates and organize them by buyer persona, and buyer's journey stage or lifecycle stage.
- CRM system -- Use some kind of customer relationship management (CRM) system so you can log your activity, especially around your calls, voicemails, emails, meetings, tasks, notes, and deal stages. CRM is really important.
- Email sequence automation -- You should have some way to send email sequence, preferably using some scheduling and automation. While these emails definitely need to be very heavily personalized, you also need some ways to make sure that leads don't fall through the cracks with your intended prospecting sequences. Whether your connect attempts are three business days or five business days apart or wherever it is, it's really easy to get busy and to let those things fall through the cracks if you don't have some kind of system or automation that helps organize everything.
- Be super-careful to avoid sounding impersonal -- Make sure that with all of these tools that you avoid sending impersonal emails, or making impersonal-sounding phone calls, or leaving voicemails that are screaming of using cheesy mail merge or auto dialers. Why? Quite simply these shortcuts kill your personalization, erode trust, completely destroy your ability to be seen as a trusted adviser, as a subject matter expert, and as a thought leader -- because you look just like everyone else. Remember: It's impossible to stand out if your company is effectively the anti-differentiator.
The Bottom Line on Connecting with Prospects Inbound-Style
In this episode, you’ve learned all about how you can connect with prospects inbound-style. This included:
- Reviewing the definition of what inbound sales is all about
- How to identify prospects and leads
- Where all of this fits into the modern buyer's journey
- Why it's so critical to earn attention to connect with prospects inbound-style, to advance leads into qualified leads
- How old school outbound prospecting is vastly different than modern inbound prospecting
- Three basic steps to be more successful when connecting inbound -- including buyer personas, your steps of your sequences, and creating necessary content for each step
- Being tuned into and really focused on what's most important to prospects
- Inbound companies
- Trigger events
- Common connections
- Using thought leadership as an icebreaker
- Productivity tools
I'm so glad to have had you with us for this episode of the Inbound Sunshine Podcast.
I am Joshua Feinberg, and we look forward to seeing you back again next time.
If you learned something valuable from this episode, please subscribe to the Inbound Sunshine Podcast on iTunes and leave us a review.
To get notified about upcoming episodes, be sure to visit www.sphomerun.com/inbound.