Customer discovery, communication, and satisfaction can be seamless and organic provided you have the right digital strategy and the right digital tools. Digital sales tools can go a long way in refining your customer relationships, nurturing your social networks and identifying promising business opportunities right from the start. Establishing effective digital sales strategies at your company will enable you to use the power of personal relationships to establish authority in your field and to boost your sales especially in the B2B sector.
Learn to navigate the terrain of online sales and become a digital sales pro.
Use digital sales tools and discover and delight your ideal customers.
Channel the power of your social networks to boost your online sales.
The rules of sales and marketing are being reinvented in this era of digital disruption. Innovation, collaboration, integration, automation, and competitive pressures are reinvigorating commerce. As a result, the rules dictating how enterprises do business now, as well as in the future, are being entirely rewritten. Modern day consumers are dictating the rules when it comes to how commerce is done using websites, blogs, vlogs and social platforms. They have the world at their fingertips and are increasingly well-informed, aware of what they want and vocal in sharing their experiences. These consumers also have access to a wider range of retailers, thanks to e-Commerce platforms like Amazon and Alibaba. They are highly connected thanks to social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. They can now shop however, wherever, and whenever they want–whether that be in stores, online, or by mobile. As a result, the power in the buying and selling process has shifted from retailers to consumers.
All of the above also signals that outbound sales techniques (think broadcast TV, radio, direct mail, ads, print, cold calling, etc.) no longer appeal to today’s customers. In fact, they consider them intrusive. Statistics suggest that 57% of a prospect’s buying decision is complete before that prospect ever contacts a salesperson. This presents retailers with some mind-boggling questions:
Through this primer, we aim to demystify inbound sales, share our assessment of the current and future landscape, and help you to answer the key questions related to inbound sales, including the two listed above.
As an introduction, consider this example: The CEO of a branded apparel company was wondering why recent sales were disappointing and a significant number of customers were moving away after their initial purchases, despite having spent substantially on tactics such as TV, print, and radio ads. The company had decided to adopt these marketing tactics after studies had shown that they offered the highest return and because, of course, they are tried and tested. Nevertheless, customers were increasingly going for retailers (their competition) with a different marketing approach–one that leveraged digital platforms such as social media channels, and blogs to attract shoppers to its website.
This is the reality in today’s business world, especially for organizations that deal in consumer products, financial/insurance services, travel, healthcare & pharmaceuticals, industrial and manufacturing, and SaaS products, among others–industries where it’s easy for consumers to compare products. Shoppers are increasingly becoming uncomfortable with intrusive marketing tactics, and instead prefer tactics that enhance creative interactions. Enter: Inbound Sales.
According to HubSpot, Inbound sales methodology refers to a personalized, helpful, modern sales methodology. Inbound salespeople focus on their prospect’s pain points, act as a trusted consultant, and adapt their sales process to the buyer’s journey. It becomes more powerful when implemented with your inbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is a strategic method that involves educating and nurturing prospects through the sales process.
Data suggests that 32% of marketers believe “print advertising” is overrated. In fact, many marketers are abandoning outbound marketing tactics completely, seeing them as merely a waste of time and resources. Inbound gives higher ROI– 46% of marketers reported that inbound methods resulted in a higher ROI, while only 12% reported outbound doing the same.
The inbound sales method is an improvement of the outbound sales method. Outbound sales entails companies reaching out to leads and trying to educate them about their products by pushing them to buy. For instance, salespeople will use tactics such as cold calling to reach potential customers. The downside of outbound tactics is that companies using these methods don’t really know their leads and their pain points, so they are forced to try to promote products and solutions without a clear understanding of if their leads really need them. This is why enterprises need to adopt inbound sales. With this method, prospective clients discover your products and services through your blog posts, white papers, E-books, social media channels, etc. They naturally and organically come to your website to search for information on how they can find solutions to their challenges. While the outbound sales method appears intrusive, the inbound sales method places focus on listening to customers and hearing their challenges, rather than simply promoting your products and services to whatever audience may happen to be there.
In order to develop a solid inbound methodology, organizations need a strategy in place that will enhance the process for customers. Here’s a detailed look at how organizations can develop and implement a solid inbound sales methodology.
As mentioned earlier, in today’s business environment, the selling and buying process is largely defined by consumers. Consequently, companies need to build their sales processes around their buyers. In the past, salespeople had one channel for all their clients. Perhaps it was a face-to-face sales force or a call center, or they sold primarily through resellers or distributors. But in today’s information age, the proliferation of digital channels has changed all that. Buyers today, regardless of segment, expect to engage with companies using the channel of their choice at any given moment in time, and at all the various stages of the buying process. This phenomenon has created complex buyer’s journeys. Companies, therefore, need to adopt a unique and differentiated approach that will enable them to understand their buyer’s world.
But first, before we look at how a typical buyer’s journey looks, let’s see how a buyer’s journey in a B2B environment compares to that of B2C.
But all in all, the buyer’s journey typically consists of three stages. These include the awareness stage, the consideration stage and the decision stage. Each stage is explored further below:
During this stage, consumers outline their pain points or a need they need to fulfill. In order for companies to fully understand their buyer’s awareness stage, they need to ask:
This stage is particularly tricky in regards to the B2B space, where consumers often find it challenging to identify the right product or service. This means that companies especially in the B2B sector should help make it easier for their prospects by leveraging digital tools. For example, one agrochemicals company was able to increase its customer base by developing a “soil analyzer” application which farmers can use to get a first indication on possible yield increases remotely. The application takes them through a streamlined process of soil sampling, crop planning, and buying a package of yield-enhancing products. This resulted in a substantial increase in orders.
During this stage, consumers have clearly defined their pain points or needs, and have given them first priority. They subsequently carry out research to see the different solutions available to solve their challenges. In order for companies to fully understand their buyer’s consideration stage, they need to address the following questions:
In this final stage, consumers create a list of specific offerings and retailers in their selected category and decide on the one that best meets their needs. In order for companies to fully understand their buyer’s decision stage, they need to ask:
After defining the buyer’s journey, a solid inbound sales methodology dictates that companies need to create a sales process that will support leads through their purchasing journey. The essence of this strategy is that it enables leads and salespeople to feel aligned and seamlessly collaborate throughout the buying and selling process.
In order to create a solid inbound sales process, companies should adopt the following steps: Identify, Connect, Explore and Advise.
During this stage, companies identify strangers who may have needs they can help with. When done right, this process can result in these strangers becoming leads. But this is not always a straightforward process, since organizations often don’t really understand which buyers are already active in a buying journey. As a result, they fail to differentiate active buyers from passive buyers. This is because most prospects have already entered the Awareness stage of the buyer’s journey before they engage with salespeople.
So how can companies ensure a smooth process in this stage?
Companies should understand that at this stage, the modern day buyer expects a personalized journey that does not include sales pitches or presentation. They instead want to have a two-way conversation with an expert who can help them frame their pain points or needs.
This means that when a company decides to reach out to prospects, they should lead with a message personalized to the prospect’s context. This context could be the prospect’s industry, role interests, or common connections (consider, for example, a free consultation or e-book about the area the buyer is researching). In essence, organizations should do the following when it comes to this stage:
At this stage, even though a buyer might express some level of interest, companies should understand that it’s not yet time to start selling or doing presentations. This is because the buyer context is still underdeveloped, and hence, enterprises do not have the level of trust and understanding with the buyer to deliver a personalized presentation. Enterprises should instead leverage initial buyer interest to develop additional trust and uncover buyer goals through an exploratory conversation. They can use their own credibility to research deeper into the buyer’s specific pain points and needs, and assess whether they can help the prospect efficiently and more thoroughly than prospects can on their own. To achieve this, organizations can do the following:
At this stage, organizations will need to exercise some level of finesse, especially when it comes to crafting out content/presentations to prospective buyers. Don’t simply deliver the same presentation and same case studies to all buyers, as this might do you more harm than good.
The key here is that enterprises need to tailor the content/presentation to the prospective buyer’s specific needs; they can do that by leveraging the information gathered during the Connect and Explore stage. Examples of tailored content/presentations include:
By providing personalized content that connects their pain points and goals to the offering, a prospect will get added value. This improves the overall experience.
The need for Smarketing
To make the entire inbound sales methodology seamless, companies should ensure that both the sales and the marketing departments are always on the same page through a process called Smarketing. When sales and marketing teams work together, companies see 36% higher customer retention, and 38% higher sales win rates.
Essentially all the data that the salespeople use when they make a personalized call or send a customized email comes from inbound marketing tactics. A prospective buyer can come from anywhere, be it from filling out a form on the landing page in exchange for a whitepaper or an e-book, engaging with the company’s content such as a blog post, or coming from a social media campaign. That’s why aligning both inbound sales and marketing will allow for a seamless process.
Here’s a look at some of the inbound sales tools that companies can adopt.
A CRM refers to a system that helps organizations improve customer service relationships, enhance customer retention and thus drive sales growth; the system works by managing and analyzing customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle. CRM tools compile customer data across different platforms or points of contact between the customer and the company. This includes the company’s website, telephone, live chat, marketing materials and social media. A solid CRM system will have the following capabilities:
There are various CRM systems that companies can leverage, which include Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and HubSpot, among others. The HubSpot CRM, for instance, offers an extremely user-friendly interface, along with email integrations and Google chrome extensions to automatically log and track calls, emails, email opens, clicks and responses. It is a free CRM tool and allows companies to have up to 1,000,000 contacts without any expiration date.
Companies need to adopt a solid collaboration tool(s) to connect the sales department and the marketing department. This will help break down silos, improve communication, and help bring the marketing team and the sales team together. These tools can also improve the way organizations conduct meetings. Companies can simplify the scheduling process, record meetings and much more. Some of these tools include Slack, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Monday.com, Skype, HubSpot Meetings, Zoom, etc.
Businesses need the right technology in place when it comes to sending invoices. Manual processes are cumbersome and consume to much time. With the right technology, organizations will be able to track and manage each customer’s invoices in one simple interface–not to mention that user friendly software can help with onboarding customers. Here, companies can leverage tools such as Quickbooks, Zoho Office Suite, and Invoicera, among others.
The inbound sales methodology is surely gaining traction in industries far and wide. Recent years have seen various companies adopt new technologies, or rather practices, that improve the overall inbound sales process. Let’s look at some of the hottest trends in inbound sales that organizations can adopt today.
Personalization provides a unique buyer experience that enhances an emotional connection and brand loyalty, in turn leading to higher conversion rates. Instead of providing current and prospective customers with the same content, successful companies are now leveraging all their available data to precisely target prospective buyers with tailored content on the web, in mobile platforms, using social media, via email, and with SMS/text, among others.
More than 90 percent of B2B buyers use a mobile device at least once during the decision process. This means that companies should optimize all there digital content for mobile devices, including order entry, purchasing, and order history. This is especially important for organizations with large numbers of customers on the move. Grainger, an American Fortune 500 industrial supply company, for instance, developed a mobile application, whereby technicians who may be responsible for maintenance on dozens of hotels or other commercial properties could quickly live-chat with a Grainger product expert to get answers to repair or parts questions. As a result of these and other features, 15% of Grainger’s ecommerce traffic comes from mobile devices and is rapidly growing.
Numbers from research by Price Waterhouse Cooper showed that 78% of consumers were influenced by social media in some way when purchasing, while nearly half said that reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their buying behavior. Social selling refers to an approach to selling that enables salespeople to do their prospecting with laser-target precision, establish rapport and trust through existing social media networks and connections. It helps salespeople fill in their funnel with the right prospects, relationships and insights.
The effectiveness of this trend has even big brands like IBM adopting social selling in their sales processes. More specifically, IBM evolved the way they sold their IT services to consumers through a customized digital selling program that trained the company’s insider sales team to reach potential clients using the power of social networks.
As the “consumerization” of B2B takes shape, companies will need to adopt an omni-channel approach when it comes to interacting with consumers. An omni-channel strategy is an approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers in a way that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience. The customer can be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick and mortar store–regardless of location, the experience will be seamless. This strategy can help companies increase profits and market share.
Corporate clients at the Netherlands-based bank ING, for example, have a single point of access to real-time account overviews, customized reporting, and the ability to execute payment and hedging transactions, regardless of their locations. As a result, this omni-channel strategy for retail and corporate clients has led to 23% growth in profit, and a 15% increase in its share price.
There is no denying that digital tools are a necessity for organizations in today’s business environment. In fact, B2B organizations that leverage digital tools effectively enjoy 5 times more growth, compared to their counterparts not utilizing digital tools. However, according to a recent survey by McKinsey, customers especially in the B2B space prefer a great digital interaction, coupled with a human touch.
This means that enterprises need to use technology to power and optimize both digital and human interactions. By adding a human touch to digital sales, customers will be able to relate better to a brand, thereby creating a better overall buyer’s experience.
Analytics, especially when used for lead qualification and scoring, can really prove to be a success in the long term when it comes to growing sales. Data analytics can evaluate, for instance, the likelihood that a lead coming from a particular type of buyer or particular channel, such as a website or a referral from a conference, will result in a sale. This enables the sales team to prioritize their time and efforts. On the same note, enterprises can leverage analytics to make ongoing deployment decisions about which sales reps should go to which accounts in which markets, and how much quota to assign.
Organizations should also use analytics to identify customer trends and patterns that provide next-product-to-buy or related-purchase recommendations tailored to each client, thus delivering an unforgettable customer experience.
57% of enterprises believe the most significant growth benefit of AI and machine learning will be improving customer experiences and support. We’ve seen how Automation has already transformed inbound marketing, and now inbound sales is following suit. The best organizations are now using AI and machine learning to understand and improve the sales process. These technologies are, in fact, reinventing contextual content, personalization, and sales forecasting.
A good example is one leading chemical distributor who decided to use a machine-learning application to see how collaborating with product experts affected sales. The system gathered and mined gigabytes of metadata from phone records, Calendar entries, and Email traffic, among other statistics. The Ml application discovered that its top-quartile product experts increased sales by 65%, whereas its bottom-quartile experts had zero impact. Furthermore, the chemical company found out that its high-impact product experts had networks of salespeople three or four times bigger when compared to those of their other product experts, and conducted four times as many monthly calls, as well as 12 times as many meetings. With this data, the company developed precisely targeted processes to improve connectivity and increase sales.
The sales process has completely transformed; digital innovations and transformations are happening faster and at a greater magnitude, presenting challenges for enterprises across the globe. Organizations need to accept the fact that consumers are clearly in the driver’s seat, enabled by digital technologies. They are constantly connected and more empowered than ever before to drive changes in purchasing behavior. That’s why some of the world’s nimblest and fastest-growing retailers (think Amazon, Alibaba, JD.com, Apple, Zalando’s- Germany-based e-commerce fashion specialist, etc.) have been able to garner much success–they’ve recognized that the buyer behavior is not where it used to be, and are now prioritizing metrics such as customer experience and satisfaction by leveraging essential tactics for success, such as inbound sales.