One of the basic truisms used in developing an inbound sales process is to “sell people how they wish to be sold, rather than the way you want to sell them.” This requires, for some, a dramatic shift in how they view the sales cycle and, even more fundamentally, how they communicate with people in general. The biggest skill most salespeople need to develop to truly excel in this type of selling is simply the ability to listen.
Salespeople have a reputation for talking too much and trying to overpower buyers with glowing details about their solutions. This approach can be likened to traditional outbound marketing where an advertiser has to capture attention quickly and hard sell a product to unknown prospects sitting at the other end of a television or radio spot, or a print ad. Listening doesn’t quite work here…only a compelling pitch can produce leads this way.
Inbound marketing requires a change in the sales proces
Now that people use search engine queries and social media to guide their buying decisions, marketers are now focusing their attention on inbound marketing, where prospects find them through their content and interact with them willingly. In this new world, prospects often provide their valuable contact information freely and basically invite companies to sell to them. Social media only works, however, if brands are listening to what their audience is saying through their interactions. This same model should be used in the inbound sales process.
Instead of overpowering buyers with a fifteen-minute pitch about how great your company or product is, you should ask questions to better understand your buyer's motivations. This invites participation, and also provides valuable information as to what is important to the prospect, and where their “pain” is. That information should then be used to present your servce as the solution to that pain, but salespeople cannot ever get to that point if they don’t determine what the prospect’s reality is.
Here are some of the key benefits of truly listening to prospects in the consultative sales process:
Prospects will reveal what is important to them, as they will inevitably mention their families, jobs, goals, etc. This information is not only invaluable for closing this sale, but for follow-up marketing purposes as well.
Salespeople will be able to steer the conversation in any sales cycle by asking follow-up questions based on answers their prospects give them.
Buyers will trust you more, as they will you as a trusted advisor rather than a pushy salesperson.
Cost objections can be mitigated. An ability to steal business away from lower-priced competitors that don’t take the time to really find out about their customer’s needs can be gained.
As they talk about themselves, prospects might mention other people in their circle that could benefit from what their salesperson has to sell, leading to more business.
What is an inbound sales process?
An inbound sales process is not an unstructured process, it is actually quite a directed activity. An analogy is how a good medical doctor might approach a case, with smart questions that allow a patient to discuss what he feels is wrong with him so further probing and follow-up questions can occur. The point is not for salespeople to listen as if they are performing psychoanalysis, but to listen as a way to get the vital information needed to solve the prospect’s problem with their offering.
A good inbound marketing process provides lead intelligence to salespeople so that they can structure sales conversations to reflect the buyer's situation and interests. For example, inbound marketing software like HubSpot will tell salespeople:
- what pages buyers have viewed on your website
- which blog posts and topics the buyer has accessed
- demographic information like job title and function for buyers and size, industry and other details for their companies
- which emails they've opened and which links within those emails they clicked
Taking this information into account helps you develop a sales conversation that focuses on the buyer's issues. Be careful, ask questions to confirm the assumptions you've developed from the lead intelligence.
Salespeople can their effectiveness by implementing an inbound sales process to serve buyers better, increase closing ratios and generate more referral business. Use the information gained through the inbound marketing process to structure your sales process and you will not only sell more, but you will also enjoy selling more. After all, wouldn't you rather help buyers solve problems than annoy people with high-pressure sales tactics?