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Inbound Sales Methodology

Inbound Sales Methodology

In this episode, we’re going to talk all about the inbound sales methodology: how to sell using inbound.

Let’s start by reviewing how inbound marketing differs from inbound sales.

Inbound Marketing vs. Traditional Outbound Marketing

Inbound marketing has been around a long time -- it goes all the way back to 2008 or 2009, shortly after HubSpot was founded.

But the whole idea of inbound sales didn’t show up until four or five years after that, right around the time that HubSpot started talking about a Sidekick, which became Signals, which became HubSpot Sales Professional -- and around the same time that HubSpot announced the HubSpot CRM.

Now inbound marketing, as compared to traditional outbound marketing, is quite different -- the same way that inbound sales is pretty different from outbound sales. There are a number of big contrasts.


Traditional outbound marketing focuses on interrupting people. Inbound marketing is quite different. It’s not about interrupting or harassing. It’s about helping people. You look to attract strangers into visitors, convert visitors into leads, close leads into clients, and delight clients into promoters.

Inbound marketing is perfectly optimized to capitalize on a big piece of thought leadership that Google published a few years ago about the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

Now that people are doing so much research on search engines and social media before they purchase anything, the buyer's journey is really different.

People no longer have to talk with sales reps to get information. They can find all of this information online.

In the world of the Zero Moment of Truth, your brand is no longer what you say it is. Your brand is what the collective wisdom of the web and social media says that your brand is all about.

This brought a big shift in power from seller to buyer. And that’s what the modern buyer's journey is largely about: the active research process that someone goes through in between when that person has a goal, problem, or challenge that that person is trying to solve and when that person makes a purchase.

Inbound marketing can be very effective in filling the top of your sales funnel. But a lot of people that are new to inbound marketing drop the ball right around there. They get leads but wonder how leads turning into customers and revenue. And that’s the reason why there’s a sales funnel and four boxes in the inbound marketing methodology:

  • Traffic generation or attracting visitors alone is not enough.
  • Lead generation and converting visitors into leads is not enough. 

You need that critical error to close leads into clients. 

In a world with Zero Moment of Truth, you’re not done when you close leads into clients. 

The clients need to be delighted clients that become brand ambassadors and evangelists for your company, that are singing your praises from the rooftops. So you need to make sure that clients are delighted, so they become promoters and help bring your company more strangers into the top of your sales funnel. 

In the world of inbound marketing, the static pitch of one-size-fits-most doesn’t work anymore. 

Buyer personas, the buyer’s journey, and personalization are extremely important. 

If you’re actively involved inbound sales, content creation and content promotion are really critical. In a sales role, you don’t have to be the one writing all of the content. 

But typically people that sell products and services like to talk. So sales professionals supporting inbound sales can certainly be interviewed in audio or video formats,  and work with content creators, producers, and promoters to help get that content in front of the right people. Content that helps to educate and build trust, and completely changes how your positioned and perceived by your existing clients and potential clients.

Inbound Marketing vs. Inbound Sales

So when you think about some of the differences between inbound marketing and inbound sales, start with the modern buyer's journey. 

Think about how much your clients’ research and purchase decisions, and other habits, have changed. This is where there are a lot of similarities between the inbound marketing methodology and the inbound sales methodology. Both are focused on just how much peoples’ habits have changed. 

The release of the original iPhone back in 2007 is largely viewed as the beginning of the tipping point for mainstream adoption of mobile devices. 

Around the same time, mobile bandwidth got a lot faster. The apps got a lot better. Search engine adoption and social media adoption really took off for the perfect storm of why this all changed. 

Way back before that, sales teams used to spend a lot of time answering questions from potential customers and clients. But buyers don’t really like to go to sales reps anymore to get questions answered if they can avoid it. 

Buyers prefer to get answers themselves from search engines and social media. And because modern buyers are able to find answers to their questions on search engines like Google and Bing, or with assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, or on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn -- they’re able to get answers all over the place. 

So there’s been a shift in power as search engines, social media, mobile, and cloud have become more a lot more mainstream. This change has shifted power bigtime from sellers to buyers. 

Inbound marketing matches the way that people research and make purchase decisions, and provides helpful answers at the exact moment that someone is asking the question. 

However, and this is a big however, a lot of sales teams haven’t caught up to that vision. Many sales teams are living in the past. They’re not really matching up with the way the modern humans buy products and services -- and the way that the buyer's journey has changed so radically. 

So what ends up happening: your company is not discovered at all in the early parts of the buyer's journey. By the time a prospect speaks with someone from your sales team, that prospect has already had someone else build up a trusted advisor relationship with him, because that person earned a seat at the table much earlier on and was able to successfully frame all of the purchase criteria in a way that heavily stacked the decks in favor of their firm. 

When your company gets found this late, your sales team is immediately treading water. So what can you do differently with the inbound sales methodology to help this work a lot better?

Focus On the Buyer, Their Buyer’s Journey, and Their Problems (Not Yours!)

For starters,  focus on the buyer and their buyer's journey, their problems, their challenges, their questions, and their goals. 

And this may sound like, “Duh!” 

But for a lot of veteran sales professionals, that have been around the block, around for a long time, they tend to focus on their own problems: how they’re going to

  • Get leads
  • Make some of those leads progress to sales opportunities
  • Close sales opportunities into new clients
  • Make and exceed quota
  • Grow the size of their commission checks 

The reality: those are all your problems and your company’s problems. But they are not your buyer’s problems. 

In a world where people have access to so much information and the Zero Moment of Truth has happened, people are much more empowered. 

Remember many people have gotten so fed up with getting interrupted that there are entirely new business models that have been born out of that. Netflix, iTunes, and satellite radio. They’re all basically scratching the same itch. People got fed up with getting interrupted and are even willing to pay to keep you out. 

So do you survive and thrive in a world like that? 

We start with the modern buyer's journey and thinking about what they care about most. 

Traditional sales is about hammering the heck out of a person -- by phone, by email, and by cold canvassing in person. You use brute force and beating prospects into submission until you have their attention. “Gosh darn in: I’ll call that prospect every day for the next two months until she agrees to meet with me!” We may be slightly exaggerated, but it’s not that far off. 

Cold calling. Cold emails. Door to door canvassing. Is that really helping? In many cases, it may be construed as another “h” word: harassing. And you don’t wanna be perceived like that.

Personalize the Entire Inbound Sales Experience

So in order to do inbound sales the right way, you need to personalize the entire sales experience for:

  • Who they are (their buyer persona)
  • Where they are in the buyer's journey (their context) 

How do you know their buyer persona? 

Well, let’s look at this another way. Should you really be engaging with people if you don’t have an idea of what kind of company they’re from or what kind of role they’re in? These are concerns on the B2B side (business-to-business). 

On the B2C side (business-to-consumer), we also need to be able to, relatively quickly, identify what kind of buyer persona we think they fit. 

And this is the whole reason why marketing teams, with the input from sales teams and other people in your company, as well as external stakeholders, develop these buyer personas so you you know what to look for:

  • Their sound bites
  • Their identifiers
  • What makes them tick
  • Their goals
  • Their plans
  • Their challenges
  • What’s keeping them up at 2:00 a.m.
  • Where they hangout online and offline
  • What they do on social media
  • (And most of all) What they want from a company like yours 

Look for ways to personalize the whole experience based on who they are and where they are in their journey. And don’t make silly assumptions. 

Just because they show up and have a sales conversation doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy on the spot. 

That’s no more accurate than if I went to the car dealership this weekend to lease or purchase a new car. And the car salesperson made the boneheaded assumption that every person that walks through the door was ready to buy immediately. Come hell or high water, he was going to do whatever it takes to either get you to buy or go the heck away and never come back. 

But is that really the best approach building up the reputation of not only that sales professional but the dealership that the car salesperson action works for? 

So make sure that you customize not only for who they are, but where they are in the journey.

How to Be More Helpful

Also think very carefully about how you can be perceived as a lot more hopeful. 

How can you provide resources, advice, information, education, and training that are especially relevant to this buyer persona? 

How do you know what they care most about? 

You and your coworkers have built buyer personas. Again, just to make sure that you and I are on the same page with this. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of one kind of your ideal client based on actual research and educated speculation. It’s not all based on guesswork or speculation. There needs to be actual research, whether you or somebody from your marketing team are hopefully going to sit down to do face to face interviews with clients, or interviews by video conference or by phone. You can send out surveys and review lead intelligence. 

You can see what these people say when the participating in social conversations and recorded during sessions at conferences. 

You need to get their exact words and find consensus. Why? Because this is the blueprint to get you the best leads and sales opportunities. 

And this is the exact same blueprint that you and your team doing inbound sales are going to use to figure out whether you’re talking with somebody that fits the buyer persona and is potentially a really good fit, or somebody that isn’t quite a match. Or isn’t even close to being similar to one of your main buyer personas and perhaps isn’t qualified. 

So buyer personas are an inbound sales prioritization tool. It’s definitely a way to help you avoid wasting time on wild goose chases with people that either won’t close. Or if they did close, could wind up being terrible customers or clients for your company. 

Using the inbound sales methodology is a lot about being much more helpful; being perceived as a resource person, a subject matter expert, a trusted advisor, a guru, and an educator.

Dramatically Improved Positioning and Game-Changing Shift in Sales Leverage

The whole difference in mindset is this:

Potential clients want to come to you because they see you as the expert. 

Inbound sales is not about you chasing them, spamming them, or cold calling them and begging with, “Oh, pretty please. Can I have 10 minutes of your time?” 

No, you don’t want to do that! 

You want a flip it around, so they already know who you are. They’ve read and heard your advice. They’ve seen you, whether speaking at a conference, guest appearing on a podcast, in recorded videos, sharing helpful blog posts or curated content on social media. They know that you’re the expert. 

And because you’re the expert, they want to book time on your calendar, as opposed to the other way around. It’s a complete shift in the power dynamic when they are the ones coming to you. 

So you want to do everything you can to position you, the inbound sales professional, in that light. There’s no more begging for time on their calendar. They book with you. This is a complete game-changer for eliminating or at least limiting the back and forth, where you spend an hour trying to arrange a 15-minute meeting.

The Four Stages of the Inbound Sales Methodology

Now, we could spend quite a bit of time going over the specifics of building our, refining, and optimizing your entire sales process around the inbound sales methodology. 

But let’s start with a quick overview of what that’s all about.

  1. Identify -- During the first stage of the inbound sales methodology, you identify whether a particular prospect is a good fit and worth investing time with. Does this person look like a match with the profile of someone similar to one of your core buyer personas? Either your primary or secondary buyer persona? Just as important: does this person raise any red flags and alarms of matching one of your negative buyer personas? In other words, could this contact be just like someone your company has proven to be an especially bad fit not only for becoming a client but from investing time from a sales perspective?
  2. Connect -- You meet them briefly for the first time. You connect with them either through a phone call or an online meeting using a tool like WebEx or GoToMeeting. So ideally, if you can, you’d want to connect and meet with them in person.
  3. Explore - After you’ve connected and determined that there’s a good enough fit to explore potentially working together, you set up a time for a more in-depth meeting to learn about and better understand their problems. You explore. You talk about their challenges, their struggles, their goals, what’s going on with their team, and what’s going on with other teams within the rest of the company. You go through their questions. You guide them and help them understand what a better state could look like with their challenge, problem, or goals. It’s all about exploring their needs.
  4. Advise -- Then you come back and finally advise them. You give them a “prescription” for what you think they should do next, almost like a doctor-patient relationship. You tell them about our solution. You talk about next steps, and you see if you’re on the same page. 

So the four stages of the inbound sales methodology need to be very heavily personalized for who they are and where they are in the journey. 

But at the highest level, you should have a stage for identifying, connecting, exploring, and advising.

Bury the Static Elevator Pitch and Learn to Add Value

Another big misnomer that a lot of people bring to the table when they’re brand new to inbound sales and selling using inbound: 

They still think that they need an elevator pitch. 

We over the buyer persona and one of the questions we get from sales teams:

“What’s the elevator pitch for that person?” 

My response: There is no elevator pitch anymore. You don’t use a static elevator pitch anymore. 

You need to understand why someone came to you in the first place -- what their biggest challenge is. And you need to frame that with a power statement, a positioning statement, of how you can help them address that challenge, their biggest problem. 

How can you help that person reach their goal? 

The static elevator pitch, when you use it in the context of cold calling or even at a networking event, let’s face it: it’s all about you. 

You may think that your elevator pitch is about them. And you could be right a very small percentage of the time. What you’re focusing on may not be, and isn’t likely to be, their particular challenge that’s driving them nuts. 

In order for you to build that relationship, to advance the inbound sales process, you have to add value. You can’t be demanding value. 

One of the more annoying and limiting parts of the static elevator pitch is that you’re demanding attention before you’ve even figured out if you can even help that person. 

So figure out how you can add value as early as possible. That’s what connecting and exploring before you advise is all about.

Earn Your Seat at the Table as a Trusted Advisor

At the end of the day, you need to be able to earn a seat at the table as a trusted adviser. 

So you’re able to educate, build trust, and influence the purchase criteria. 

This means that you and your company need to intercept potential clients early enough to matter. In the modern buyer's journey, 70% or more of their decision is likely going to be made before they even meet you or meet with you. 

So the question is: how can you intercept each person early enough with thought leadership content that addresses who they are and where they are -- in a way that educates, builds trust, adds value, and positions you as the expert that they want to come to when they’re ready for that conversation? 

And they will have already been indoctrinated by your way of seeing the world and how your company sees the world.

The inbound sales methodology is a very different approach than legacy sales. This is very different than outbound sales and interrupting people. 

Inbound sales is all about building up your positioning in a way that you’re seen as a helpful advisor -- helping as opposed to harassing: being able to provide contextually-relevant information for where they are and who they are is a highly personalized way.

The Bottom Line on the Inbound Sales Methodology

Those are some of the big drivers of success with using the inbound sales methodology. In today’s episode, you got a quick of overview of

  • What inbound marketing is all about
  • How inbound marketing contrasts with traditional marketing that’s focused on interrupting people. This is a really good place to start because there are so many parallels between the differences between outbound marketing and inbound marketing, and outbound sales and inbound sales.
  • The big differences between inbound marketing and inbound sales
  • The importance of focusing on the buyer -- especially their journey, their problems, and their challenges as opposed to yours
  • How critical it is to personalize the entire sales experience
  • Why you need to bury the static elevator pitch back in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s where it belongs
  • How to be perceived as a lot more helpful and completely turn the tables with the game-changer of prospects coming to you for your advice because of your reputation, as opposed to begging for time on their calendar
  • The four stages of the inbound sales methodology
  • Why inbound sales helps you earn that critical seat at the table as a trusted adviser early enough to shape the purchase criteria and gain leverage over the entire sales process 


Topics: Inbound Sunshine Podcast, B2B Sales Strategy

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