The way we sell has changed.
Sales used to be ruled by people who were seen as being naturally good with people. People who were good at schmoozing and getting their prospects to like them in order to buy their product or service. The way reps prospected for clients was totally different. There were much more prevalent direct marketing and sales methods, such as door-to-door and cold calling. And after a sale, there might not be much interaction besides the occasional "checking in." To quote Roger Sterling from Mad Men, the series based on the advertising industry in the 1960s, "The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them." That was the old mentality.
One major thing has shifted all of this: the Internet. A few key things it has affected for small business owners and their sales reps is...
- Competition: There are now more options easily available to your prospects as they research products and services they want to buy on the web.
- Work, life balance: You're never really off the clock anymore, thanks to mobile email and social media.
- Insights: Every marketing and sales activity is tracked (as well as prospects' and customers' activities with your company's online marketing).
- Relationships: Everyone now has a company and personal brand that lives both offline and online that your prospects and customers have a relationship with.
So instead of the old school ways of seeking your prospects out and then leaving them as soon as they become a customer or client, successful small businesses are now implementing parts of the methodology HubSpot has dubbed "inbound selling" that obviously goes hand-in-hand with inbound marketing.
Here's a link to a great rundown HubSpot put together of how they see the 6 Principles of Inbound Selling:
1) Know more about your prospects.
2) Discover why they might buy from you before you even reach out.
3) Time and place your attempts.
4) Be interested, not just interesting.
5) Build up your thought leadership and following.
6) Be wicked SMAHT.
Solve, Don't Pitch
What these all have in common is instead of pitching, inbound selling focuses on solving. To quote Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder of HubSpot, "Solve pain. Everyone has pain. Great sales people are very, very good at finding that pain efficiently and crafting solutions to make that pain go away. Solve pain."
So while some basic pillars are still around like the necessity for your prospects to like and trust you, in this information age what will really help accomplish that—besides great looks and a winning personality—is being seen as an authority on what you're talking about. Seen is the key term here. You may genuinely know your industry inside and out, but if no one else knows that, no one's going to buy from you.
That's why I want to focus on three main themes with inbound selling that I think are so significant:
1) Building authority—online and offline
2) Listening to your prospects and customers—online and offline
3) Being socially savvy—again, online and offline (or hire the right people who are)
Let me give you a scenario to show what I mean.
Old School Selling: Focuses Primarily on In-Person Relationship Building
In scenario A we have a small business owner who has a great, relevant education. The business owner is trying to build a name for themselves and bring in business, but they find the market is so saturated that it's hard to differentiate themselves and locate opportunities in a cost effective manner. They focus primarily on networking events and one-on-one meetings to get to know their clients better but progress is slow. They're on social media as a consumer and also use Google to search for things like auto repair shops when they need to buy something, but haven't really done anything online for their business to bring in or nurture leads. The only time they "nurture" a lead is when they see them face to face.
Modern Inbound Selling: Focuses on Research, Social Media, and Minor Technical Expertise
In scenario B we have a small business owner who has a similar education, their personal and business online profiles are all filled out, they're friends with their prospects and clients on social media, and they have a blog where they write (or have someone on their marketing team ghostwrite) about helpful advice and relevant news their prospects and clients might find helpful or interesting.
Someone in their area gets on Google and types in a question they have such as "tips for drafting an NDA" and, because Google knows their location, the blog from the relevant, local firm pops up in their search results. They read the blog and then fill out a rich content download with some even better, relevant information like, "5 Must-Have Legal Business Documents You Won't Know Your Business Needed—Until It's Too Late."
The small business owner gets an email with the leads' information, takes 5 minutes to research them and their business online, and then immediately calls or emails them to see what the prospect is looking for and how their firm might help solve that problem WHILE the prospect is in research mode and thinking about it, not a week later when they're standing in the grocery store. The prospect thanks the business owner for the call and explains why they're researching NDAs. The owner listens and then tells the prospect that based on what's going on with their business, they might want to do a more comprehensive consultation so they can lay out a roadmap of everything they might need and voilà! The appointment is made and everyone is happy. The tone is set for the prospect to see the small business owner more as an authoritative consultant than an order taker, and a great foundation is built for a long relationship. They connect on LinkedIn, the prospect continues to digest the helpful information the firm puts out, and the business owner continues to build that relationship in an effective and manageable manner, while also staying front of mind.
Meanwhile, the small business owner in scenario A continues to run around town pitching his business at local meetings wherever he can and crossing his fingers that someone with a need for his exact business product or service will see him, hear him, like him, and follow up with him to close the deal. If they don't talk when they meet, they might never meet again as he does not connect with prospects on social media after getting their business cards...
The difference? Pipeline.
One is getting fuller much faster than the other's (guess who) and as a result, they are able to quickly increase their rates as demand increases for their service; They continue to stay front of mind for their existing prospects, and new ones continue to finding them on search and social media. The business also nurtures people who might not be ready to buy quite yet, but one day will be, and when they are, they will know exactly who to go to and how to find them.
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on the power of social selling for small businesses.
Posted by Jackie Connors
Jackie Connors is the Founder & CEO of Digital Marketing Direction, a top-tiered HubSpot Solutions Partner agency based in Texas. She provides inbound training, consulting, and content marketing services to mid-market companies.