For that last few years marketers have been using the term “inbound” to define a major shift in buyer behavior. With so many ways to block out unwanted messages and traditional outbound marketing and sales efforts, smart marketers have turned heavily to an approach that is more about being found than going out and hunting.
The primary tool of the inbound marketer is content. Content that creates awareness, builds trust, causes engagement and content that educates. Today, content is everywhere and while it plays an important role there’s a missing piece.
Content has now reached the obligatory marketing rung on the ladder and therefor it’s becoming less useful, generic almost, in the eyes of the overburdened buyer.
This is why sales has to get into the inbound act.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of the world still views the role of sales and selling as mostly outbound. This is why we still have sales managers that promote cold calling and the use of telemarketing firms.
The cornerstone of the shift I’m suggesting is the need for individual sales professionals to create content and build expertise that attracts opportunities through a more personalized approach that is over and above, but hopefully in chorus with, the efforts of the marketing department.
Here’s what an inbound selling effort would look like.
Sales professionals need to engage as many tools as possible to listen to what their customers, prospects, competitors, influencers and even journalists are saying and sharing in every channel.
By creating Twitter lists, setting up Talkwalker alerts, subscribing to blogs and following industry discussions on sites like Quora, sales reps can begin to spot expressed needs, changing connections, requests for help and opportunities to build deeper relationships in near real time.
This kind of listening behavior is the launching point of any inbound sales effort.
Everyone else is selling solutions, but inbound sales professionals build and sell problems that prospects don’t even know exist.
This is why listening is such an essential step. You get invited to the table when you use what you’re hearing to provide insight over information and to diagnose much bigger or impending challenges while your competitors are focused on making a sale this week.
Challenging customers to think much bigger about success, failure and everything in between is how you build a reputation that attracts.
If you want to make LinkedIn pay, you’ve got to produce great content. If you want to get invited to present your ideas, you’ve got to spell them out in blog posts. If you want be asked to share your ideas with groups of prospects they have to find you when they search.
Sales professionals today must produce a layer of content that demonstrates insight on the front lines. Few marketing departments can do this and the tandem efforts of marketing producing branding while sales produces stories is what’s necessary in today’s glut of “content for content sake” world.
Buying today is more of a journey than a destination. There’s a path that an ideal client moves down and sales professionals need to take charge of lighting this path.
They must identify their own ideal leads, demonstrate how they personally can add value and then build awareness, respect, belief, and trust with content, processes and campaigns that move a potential buyer to the stage of consideration.
And further, they must take charge of what happens after the sale so they can guide the process of additional sales through proven results and referrals through a remarkable experience.
Lastly, sales professionals need to build their individual authority. This one will get me in trouble with the sales manager and marketing department, but prospects care about who you are – not so they can become your new best friend, but so they can understand what value you can add.
One of the quickest ways to raise your value is to raise your profile. When you begin to share your ideas and content consistently, when you put yourself on stage at industry events, when you champion your customers in ways that increases your value to them, people take note. Heck, Google takes note and that’s how you win deals today.
Yes, this is a rallying cry for sale professionals to take charge of their individual reputation and status.
No, inbound selling is not an overnight play, but it will make you more valuable to your company and to your customers – both good things.
At the very least it will allow you to build an asset that you own and control and that you can take with you wherever you roam.
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