How to adapt your sales process for inbound vs outbound
Its all in the sequencing
Most growing SaaS businesses build their sales pipeline through two prospecting motions:
Inbound prospecting—buyers requesting a demo through the website.
Outbound prospecting—buyers responding to salesperson outreach.
The biggest mistake many salespeople make is running the same sales process for prospects across both motions.
Buyers coming through inbound prospecting are typically further along in the buying cycle, which means they:
Are aware of the problem they are trying to solve.
Have a solution in mind based on research they’ve done.
Have an approximate timeline in mind for solving the problem.
Want to know pricing.
In contrast, buyers responding to outbound prospecting are typically early in the buying cycle, which means they:
Are less aware of the the problem.
Are unsure how to solve it.
Do not have a timeline in mind for solving it.
Are not thinking about budget.
Given these key differences, if we handle inbound and outbound the same way we end up either frustrating eager inbound prospects or failing to engage skeptical outbound prospects.
The key to solving this without having two separate sales motions lies in how we sequence our information gathering.
How to handle inbound prospects
Understand the buyer’s existing point of view — it’s important to get this out of the way upfront because inbound prospects are impatient. A simple “what prompted you to reach out today?” will likely illicit a fair amount of information spanning pain points and potential solutions. Using active listening and probing will help surface how much research the buyer has done, how much of solution they have in mind and the degree to which the solution they have in mind aligns with the solution you sell.
Acknowledge the buyer’s desire to know pricing — many inbound buyers want to know pricing (especially if its not published on your website) and nothing is more frustrating for them than getting a vague answer. An easy way to handle this is to say, “of course, do you have a budget in mind you are trying to work with?”, using that as a starting point to ask about their needs and then coming back with a range, for example “well, based on what we’ve discussed, we’re looking at somewhere between $7,000 and $9,000 depending on your final requirements”.
Determine the buyer’s existing critical event — a simple “do you have a timeframe in mind”, or “where does this fit into your plan for the year” will usually get you the information you need to identify a critical event.
Understand who else is going to be involved in the buying process — at some point the buyer will say “my boss asked me to research what’s out there”, or “I’m doing the initial research to review with our team”. This is the cue to ask about the boss and other members of the team and the additional criteria they are using to evaluate options, which informs the next step of the sequence.
Help the buyer describe the impact — even the warmest of inbound prospects will still have to sell their boss and maybe their finance team on selecting you as their partner. The most effective way to do this is through helping the buyer describe the impact rather than list the features, as bosses and finance teams typically care more about business outcomes than lists of features, which will be evident in the criteria they are looking at.
How to handle outbound prospects
Get the conversation started — using an agenda to set expectations for the call and asking , “what else would you like to cover?” followed by a simple, “what piqued your interest when we reached out?” will get the conversation started in the right direction.
Use insights to probe for pain — outbound prospects won’t easily list their problems, because they have not yet spent the time to understand them and organize their thoughts. Insights are powerful way to accelerate for this because they frame the problem in a customer-centric way, which in turn prompts the buyer to consider their own situation. The important thing is to align the insights as closely as possible with your own value prop so that you can flow into the next step in the sequence.
Use insights to describe the impact — with the problem framed in the buyer’s mind, its time to show how your current customers are solving the problem by using your product. Many companies use case studies to do this, however a far more effective way is to use aggregated insights from your customer base as they demonstrate that you are solving the problem on a much larger scale.
Use impact to create a critical event — if a buyer doesn’t have a timeline in mind, the most effective way to create one is to have them consider the impact of maintaining the status quo. Most business processes have a rhythm to them, resulting in peaks and troughs of effort throughout the year. Helping the buyer imagine going through the next peak of effort without making a change yet knowing it could be avoided is a proven way to create the desire to make change.
Understand who else is going to be involved in the buying process — we leave this until the end because we need the pain → impact → critical event narrative to be clearly established before the buyer is going to feel confident bringing their boss and colleagues into the discussion. The way to accelerate this is to prospect the boss and colleagues in parallel, using the same insights from the sales process, so that the narrative sounds familiar when the buyer brings it up.
What else have you found effective in handling inbound vs outbound prospects? I’d love to hear from you!
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