A lead generated through inbound sales shakes hands with a sales rep

Inbound Sales for Startups

Think of the last time you purchased a solution to a particular problem. How did you discover this product or service and decide it was a good fit? 

If we had to guess, we’d say you relied almost exclusively on internet research. You read blogs, followed influencers, watched videos, and downloaded useful resources until you were ready to make a purchase.

How do we know? It’s how most people shop these days. Whereas in the past salespeople were the main source of information at all stages of the buyer’s journey, today shoppers go online to learn more about their challenges, the available solutions, and the companies offering them.

“Today, the information that buyers need to make a purchase decision is just a click away,” Harvard Business School professor Mark Roberge wrote on the HubSpot blog. “The power (…) has shifted from the seller to the buyer.”

This shift gave rise to a new approach to selling called inbound sales.

What is inbound sales?

HubSpot defines inbound sales as “a scalable sales strategy that focuses on attracting interested prospects and building lasting relationships to help customers succeed.”

Breaking down this definition can help make it clearer:

  • It’s a scalable sales strategy because it enables companies to reach an unlimited number of customers.
  • It focuses on attracting, as opposed to pursuing, and it targets interested prospects as opposed to people who may or may not be interested.
  • It focuses on building lasting relationships as opposed to selling, and on helping as opposed to closing. 

As a result, inbound is less intrusive than outbound and more aligned with how modern customers prefer to buy.    

What is the difference between inbound and outbound?

Inbound sales and outbound sales employ different strategies. Publishing search engine-optimized content and making white papers available upon signup is an inbound sales strategy. Cold calling, cold texting, and cold emailing are part of an outbound sales strategy. 

In inbound sales, the leads are said to be “warm” because they’ve shown  interest in the product or service that the company offers (or, at least, in the problem that it’s trying to solve). They may have done this by clicking on an item on the company website, downloading an ebook, signing up for a webinar, or mentioning the company or product on social media. 

The leads in outbound sales are said to be “cold” because, although they may have some or all of the attributes of a company’s ideal customer (also known as a buyer persona), there is no indication that they are seeking information on or have the intention of buying the company’s products and services.

Another difference is that inbound sales is handled by Marketing, whereas outbound sales is typically managed by the Sales or the Business Development team.

Leveraging inbound and outbound

Both inbound and outbound sales approaches have their pros and cons.

Inbound is an affordable and powerful method of lead generation for organizations of all types and sizes. Half of marketers across B2B, B2C, and nonprofit sectors use inbound (i.e. content, social media, SEO) as their primary lead source. 

That said, creating content for lead generation is time-consuming, as marketing specialist Diego Garzon notes, and warm leads aren’t guaranteed to convert. As sales training firm Richardson explains, many inquiries are exploratory, without real intent to move forward, while others are uninformed, meaning that the solution offered by the company doesn’t solve the customer’s challenge.

Additionally, outbound sales techniques are also effective. Cold emails, for example, are a proven method of lead generation for startups.

Luckily, these sales methods aren’t mutually exclusive. Startups can use inbound and outbound tactics to generate and nurture leads.

Inbound sales techniques

Outbound is traditional sales. Inbound is a modern approach to selling that aims to “sell the way people buy.”

Roberge detailed the steps of inbound selling on the HubSpot blog. We summarize them for you below:

Define your buyer’s journey
Understand the buyer’s journey and identify the questions and needs they might have at each stage.

Develop a process to support the buyer’s journey
Once you understand the buyer’s journey, think of ways to support them at each stage. For example, at the consideration stage, you can share relevant and personalized information via email to help them determine if your product meets their needs. At the decision stage, you can hop on a call with them to answer specific questions.

Define your ideal customer
Create one or more buyer personas and use them to decide who you can help  and what lead sources you’ll prioritize. 

Connect with a helpful, customized prospecting message
Reach out to prospects with a tailored message—you can create a template with optional fields in TextExpander for this—sharing useful information about the product or service as it pertains to their role or industry.

Ask questions to discover pain points
Invite prospects to an exploratory conversation. Come up with strategic questions beforehand; listen attentively to uncover their goals and challenges.

Give a tailored presentation
Leverage the information gathered in exploratory conversations to deliver targeted presentations based on prospects’ specific contexts.

Sales reps as trusted advisors

These days, buyers prefer to learn about products and services through independent research, but they still need help putting the information they find online into context and identifying the best solution for their particular needs. 

Using a modern approach to selling, sales reps act as trusted advisors, providing anticipated, personal, and relevant guidance to customers. By demonstrating empathy and authority, they can position themselves as guides who can equip customers with the tools and strategies they need to succeed.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on inbound vs. outbound, or on inbound for lead generation. Let us know what you think in the comment section below!

For crafting personalized messages and tailored presentations, there’s no better tool than TextExpander. Discover what TextExpander can do for your startup.