14 Actionable Tactics for Inbound Sales [2021 Update]
Every company would love to have more inbound sales.
They represent a steady stream of prospects coming directly to you, signing up and entering your sales funnel, all with the goal of them ultimately becoming loyal, happy customers.
Beyond just sales, they are also a good indicator of a company’s performance and serve as an effective forecast for the health of your business. By checking on the inbound leads coming in, you get a picture of how many deals you can expect to close, what companies you’re attracting, and the revenue you can expect to make in any given month.
But how can you make the most of those leads? I’m going to share with you some of the inbound sales strategies that bring in over 1,000 inbound leads every month to Reply, along with the mistakes you need to avoid.
Carefully target your inbound leads
To create this content and messaging, it’s even more important to know who your ideal customer is. Go beyond the demographic data and dig into the psychographics. Find out what problems they’re facing. What’s their biggest challenge? Just as important, what isn’t a concern? For example, if your ideal customer works in an enterprise-level business, they’re unlikely to be worried about making their first hire or a list of free tools. However, to a startup, that kind of content could be invaluable.
The best way to research this is to talk to your existing customers. Get them on a call and find out what’s on their mind. Find out the specific ways your product or service has helped them, and why they chose you over your competitors. When you know exactly who you’re talking to, it becomes much easier to create content and use messaging that appeals to them – making your inbound marketing much more effective.
There’s a time and place for inbound
In case it hasn’t been made clear already, I think inbound sales are great. But that doesn’t mean they should be the one and only focus of every business. Outbound sales are still an important part of the process, particularly for startups.
New businesses have to reach out to hundreds (or even thousands) of prospective customers, usually people from their existing network who could be a good fit and use them to validate their product. You don’t hit them with a hard sell; instead, you say something like:
In the early days, you probably don’t have much money to throw around. You need to focus your efforts on the least expensive and most effective outreach, delivering the biggest ROI. Today, that’s cold email. Whether you’re reaching out to prospective customers, investors, partners or affiliates, you don’t want to do that one email at a time.
Inbound sales take time. Your prospects need to know about you, to be able to find you. You need to be putting out targeted content, optimized for your audience, over a significant period of time. In the beginning, that means outbound is your only truly viable option.
However, as your business grows, inbound will start to take over as the primary source of leads. At Reply, we reached a point when we had to temporarily stop our outbound sales because we were simply getting too many inbound leads! Our sales team was booking 10-15 meetings a week, that’s 2-3 a day for each member of the team, all because we were attracting more inbound leads than we could handle.
Make the most of your data
A key principle, one behind many of these inbound sales tactics, is understanding that there’s more to inbound sales than leads magically coming in, all eager and ready to buy. Inbound sales aren’t magic; they take work, both to procure and to convert.
To start, when a lead comes in from a landing page, you are going to want all the relevant data on them you can get. However, long forms with lots of questions are likely to put off prospective customers.
As a result, many people reluctantly settle for less information, making do with nothing more than a name and an email address.
At Reply, our first step to converting our inbound leads into sales is to enrich the data.
Anytime an inbound lead comes in, we want to see all the important details, which for us includes the size of the company and their location. Using tools like Clearbit and Leadiro, our business development team will look at the number of employees, the size of their sales team and their annual revenue, seeing how they match with our ideal customer profile.
Segment and be relevant
Of course, there are plenty of other criteria besides company size you can use to segment your leads. The specific criteria you’ll use depends on your company and the kind of product or service you offer. We’ve already mentioned researching the demographics and psychographics for your ideal customer in our first tactic, and these can also be used to separate your leads into different lists. For example, demographics could include location, budget, and the number of years they’ve been in business. When it comes to psychographics, you might find that your solution is ideal for several different use cases.
You can also segment based on behavior and actions. For example, you might want to prioritize leads who’ve visited your site or opened your emails multiple times, or send different messaging depending on articles they’ve viewed or ebooks they’ve downloaded.
Segmenting is excellent for inbound and outbound leads but, in both cases, it’s essential to exercise caution. Despite what some may tell you, it is possible to segment your leads too much. If your segmentation goes from being helpful to being complicated, it’ll become much harder to implement and, likely, will end up being abandoned. When I’m deciding on how much to segment, I ask myself if more segmentation will enable more significantly relevant messaging. If it will help, then I’ll break the audience down further. If it doesn’t though, then there’s no need to segment further.
It’s important that we spend the right time with the right customers, so we segment those users based on verticals, how they act, how they talk, and more. We are then able to send them content that’s directly relevant to them.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, at Reply, we primarily segment based on company size. For example, with a company of 50 employees, we’ll be very hands on.
Our support staff will chat with them and talk them through the demo step-by-step. Usually, it’s just one, maybe two people on their team who need to see Reply, the ones who will ultimately make the buying decision.
On the other end of the scale, what about a company with thousands of employees and hundreds of salespeople?
Now we try not to just contact the one original lead, but instead, we try to expand into that organization and talk with other sources in the same company. With companies of that size, there are going to be multiple divisions and teams, meaning more prospective leads who are going to want a look at Reply.
We want to make sure we talk to them and give them the attention and the information they need.
Re-nurture with a clear funnel
When inbound leads come in, not all of them are going to convert. In fact, for most companies, 90%-95% of inbound leads won’t convert, and you need to be prepared for that. You need to take those users who haven’t converted and re-nurture. If you want to increase your chances of converting them, you can’t let them go stale. You can’t just send one email and, if they don’t get back, assume that’s the end of the conversation.
I talk to a lot of companies and ask them about their process and what they’re doing for their inbound prospects, how they’re nurturing them. And for most of them, that’s where they stop. They send those 2-3 emails and if they don’t get a response, that’s it. No re-nurturing, just game over.
We typically send 4-5 emails, but we’ll also try to reach out in more ways. Our marketing team will get involved. They take a look at this lead and ask why aren’t they interested in buying. They send them relevant content to nurture them. They surround them in social channels. They place ads.
More importantly, we circle back to the growth team at Reply. They start looking at those not converting, looking internally into those companies, and targeting other people in those same companies. If one person has expressed interest, then there’s a good chance others will too.
If you visited us, we want to nurture you in more than just one way. One drip has a lot of ripples to it within the company.
Bonus: Reply’s Inbound Funnel
To help you see these tactics in action, let’s go deeper and take a look at a typical inbound sales funnel at Reply:
There are two types of inbound requests we get. The first is demo requests. The request comes in and the lead goes into our campaign email sequence, made up of 3 emails. If they respond to the first or second email then Reply automatically stops the sequence. For this kind of request, Meshelle on our sales team is getting an 88% open rate and a 66% reply rate.
Remember, these are all people who’ve expressed an interest in our service. So even though 100% of these people have come to us to request a demo, only 87% are actually bothering to open our emails.
The other type of inbound request we receive is for a 14 day trial of the software. Here the open rates drop to 80% and the reply rate to 25%.
If we left it there, that’s a lot of inbound prospects not converting. So we don’t leave it there.
Now we nurture via marketing and our growth team. Those people who never responded, go into another funnel. We’re going to still message you, we’re not stopping there! This nurturing currently has a 12% conversion rate. But there’s still more. We then use social to re-target these leads, bringing in another 2-3% percent of those leads.
Now, in isolation that might not sound like a lot, but bring it all together and it adds up.
We’re not just sending you one email: Wham, bam and gone, hope you come back. We’re going to bring you through a complete cycle to convert the maximum number of leads.
Use your inbound leads to feed your outbound teams
Through the inbound process, you have the opportunity to learn a lot about your leads and customers. Your marketing team should be looking at what type of inbound users you’re attracting and using that to decide what kind of content you should be creating and marketing to those types of users. While that information can then be used to improve your inbound process, it would be a mistake to leave it there.
This is valuable information.
As well as inbound sales, we also use what we learn to improve our general marketing and social presence.
For example, you might see a significant proportion of your inbound leads are coming from unexpected markets.
Maybe your accounting software for SMBs is attracting interest from freelancers or enterprise level companies? Maybe your CRM SaaS for marketers is a big hit with recruitment agencies? By passing that information onto your marketing teams you can improve your targeting and possibly tap into new unexpected markets.
Share what you’ve discovered with your outbound sales teams and use it to optimize your outbound marketing messaging.
Revisit your messaging and tactics
A big part of meeting those expectations is message matching. If a lead has followed a link to your site and ended up on a landing page, you need to reassure them that they’re in the right place and that you’re going to fulfill your promise. For example, let’s imagine your inbound strategy includes promoting a free ebook, . When an inbound lead clicks through to learn more, show them the ebook title straightaway. Show them an image of the ebook. Show them what they’ll learn. Don’t confuse them by showing them different offers or, even worse, leading with a sales pitch.
The most important thing is ensuring that, at every stage, your message is clear. It can be tempting to try and get clever with your messaging, but clarity will always be more effective than any snazzy wordplay. While your inbound messaging should be designed to grab attention, it should never confuse your leads. If someone lands on your website, they should be able to tell within seconds who you are, what you do, and why that matters.
Match your message with your actions
Drift carried out a study of companies’ response times. Of the 433 companies they reached out to, only 7% responded within 5 minutes. The vast majority took over 5 days to respond if they even responded at all.
The study found that even a delay of 10 minutes in responding decreases the chances of qualifying a lead by 400% (compared to a 5-minute response).
This highlights one of the biggest mistakes I see companies making with their inbound leads. They may be getting thousands of leads but they lack a process to manage those leads. They fail to get those leads to sales in time. For them, their inbound sales funnel is just one big leaking bucket.
For us, when an inbound leads come in, they’ll be getting their first email from us within minutes.
But we’re not just sending emails. Anyone can send an automated email. To stand out you need to do more. At Reply, that first email is personalized and sent from a named salesperson, along with their personal, direct number.
We also have a dedicated sales number: +1 888 340 72 31.
Go ahead and give it a call, it’s toll-free.
A real person will pick it up. If we don’t answer it’s because we’re all on the phone, but, when someone leaves a message, that doesn’t get put off and forgotten. We have a sales and support team that follow up on any calls as soon as humanly possible.
Sure, you can automate a lot of the process, and I encourage you to do so. The best option for your sales and support team automation would be implying a call center phone solution that offers call collaboration dashboard and call widget embed possibility, call forwarding and keeping records of every single (even missed) call.
Our whole business is focused on helping people automate the sales process. But automation is only good if you can back up what you’re saying with attention and action.
Build the A-Team of inbound
If you’re building your inbound team from scratch, there are several specific roles you’ll need to fill. You’ll need a writer to create compelling content that will draw leads in, as well as a designer who can take that content and make it visually appealing. You’ll need sales reps who can nurture and convert those inbound leads. You’ll also need someone to manage your inbound campaigns, someone who can take the lead, set goals, and come up with a winning strategy, as well as reviewing the data from earlier campaigns to optimize future efforts. As you expand your efforts and move into different channels, you’ll want to grow your team to include more specialists who can focus on getting the most from each step.
For smaller companies or those just starting out, you’ll likely have people take on multiple roles. In that case, you should ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities and can meet them. You might decide to outsource certain tasks, which can be a huge help when you lack the workforce or an expert on staff. However, by keeping ownership of the overall direction of your inbound marketing, you can ensure your messaging and content are consistent across the company.
If you’re hiring new members of your inbound team or outsourcing certain roles, there are some things to look out for to increase the chance of a successful outcome. While it would be great to find someone with decades of experience and a proven track record, I’ve found that it’s far more important to bring on people with the right qualities. Many skills can be taught, but if someone isn’t willing (or humble enough) to learn, if they don’t share your company’s values and goals, then they could end up holding your team back.
When you’ve found the right people to join your team, get them off to the best start with a comprehensive onboarding program. When Kyle Racki, co-founder and CEO of Proposify, described their hiring process for inbound sales reps, he explained how they were able to get two new hires (Amy and Ryan) up to speed:
By building the right team, onboarding them properly, and implementing an ongoing training program to keep them sharp, you’ll get the best results from your inbound marketing.
Save money with the right software
To carry out a comprehensive inbound campaign, presuming you’ve got a smart team in place, they’re going to need the right tools.
You can’t just expect your team to be responding to all their leads and nurturing them with a standard Gmail account. The good news is, even if you’re short on cash you can get started without investing in a lot of software.
For your emailing and re-nurturing, Reply is an easy and affordable way to do the job. You can also use it to send marketing content to your leads, or if you prefer you could use a tool like Active Campaign.
When it comes to PPC and Facebook ads, you don’t need any fancy software or agencies. At Reply we take care of all this in-house. We’ve taught ourselves how to write high performing ads, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same.
By choosing your toolset wisely, if you’re willing to educate yourself to carry out the process all in-house, you can save money and still see massive results.
Document your buyer journey
While you can’t ensure every visitor is a perfect match for your ICP, you can have a good idea of the journey they take. Despite what you might hope, it really does take a journey for someone to go from casual visitor to happy customer, one that takes time with multiple steps; unless your product only costs a couple of dollars, you’re not going to see a lot of impulse buys.
You should always remember that it’s the buyer’s motivations that drive their journey, not you. Maybe you want your inbound leads to head straight to the checkout, or you have a beautifully designed website and you want to show off every single page.
Your leads will have other ideas. You can’t create their journey for them—the best you can do is learn their journey, then make the steps as smooth and easy for them as possible. It’s like planning a road trip, where no matter how much you think you know better, your prospect is the one who dictates the route. However, you absolutely can (and should) make their chosen route as pain-free as possible, keeping it well maintained and clearly sign-posted.
So, what does a typical buyer journey look like? First of all, before their journey can truly start, your prospects need some level of awareness.
They need to know they have some kind of problem, an itch that needs to be scratched. So for our inbound leads, that might be something like: “I spend way too much time reaching out to prospects, which means I don’t have enough time to engage with them.”
They’ll then consider their different options. What’s the best way of dealing with their problem? How have other people dealt with similar issues? “I could delegate my outreach to someone else, or I could try sacrificing quality for quantity, or I could try automating personalized emails.”
Finally, they’ll make a decision. Of all the options they’ve considered, which specific solution is the best? “What’s the best automated email solution? Which plan is the right one for me?”
Three simple steps, but making sure you’ve accounted for each of those steps and made them as frictionless as possible will help more of your inbound leads complete that journey. That means having the right content, in the right format, for the right stage (more on this later).
Communicate and engage
One of the biggest mistakes people make with outbound sales is keeping it all one-way, blasting out messages to prospects without listening to what they have to say.
However, you can easily make a similar mistake with your inbound strategies. Even though the idea is to attract prospects to you, that doesn’t mean you should be completely passive in the process. With inbound, your prospect has reached out to you because they like what they see and they want to learn more. Ignoring them isn’t going to help anyone.
However you get your prospects, two-way communication is a huge advantage.
Fortunately, current technology means communicating with prospects is easier than ever. For example, solutions like Drift allow you to chat with site visitors in real-time.
When a prospect hands over their email in exchange for a lead magnet, you can have an auto-responder set up to start a conversation as well as automatically adding them to Reply for your next campaign. You can also use a multi-channel platform like Reply Now to manage all your incoming messages in one place.
Still, it’s important to remember what makes inbound so attractive to your prospects. They’ve reached out to you.
You don’t want to ambush them with a hard sell or bombard them with marketing. Instead, you should take full advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the prospect. Show genuine interest in them and find ways to add value, rather than working out how much you can sell them.
One powerful technique is to use Socratic questioning. Originally used by Socrates to teach his pupils, the method uses disciplined questioning as a way to learn more. Rather than lecturing students, Socrates would ask them questions that allowed them to find the answers themselves. It can also be used when you engage with your prospects to learn more about them and their pain points. Asking about the prospect, their situation, their problems, and how they’re currently dealing with them allows you to provide the best solutions.
Of course, once you’ve asked a question, it’s important to actively listen to what they have to say.
Ask clarifying questions where necessary, and never be afraid to go off the script if that’s where the prospect’s answers lead.
Make it easy for the prospect
The whole process from start to finish should be as easy and simple as possible for your prospect. That means no friction preventing your prospect from getting all the information they need to make a decision. Then, once they have that information, the actual sale should be just as simple.
We’ve already discussed the buyer’s journey, which is a great way to start thinking about what content you might need. Work out all the potential questions your prospect might ask at each stage, then make sure the answer is easily available.
Of course, the best way to make sure you’re answering the right questions is to talk to your prospect! Solutions like Hotjar allow you to see how visitors are using your site, with heatmaps that identify where they drop off.
Tracking search terms, both the ones that bring visitors to your site and the ones people use while on your site, let you know what information people are looking for. Using live chat or triggered surveys, you can talk directly with your prospects and listen to their questions.
In rare situations, you might decide not to tell them everything.
For example, at Reply, companies interested in an enterprise-level package have to contact us for pricing. The reason is simply that all enterprise packages are unique and tailored to the customer. However, even where you don’t have all your information publicly available, it’s essential prospects easily see how they can get that information. In our case, that means a button on our enterprise pricing page that opens up a chat with our sales team.
It’s not just information that should be readily available though. The process itself should be easy to follow with as few hoops to jump through as possible.
A great example is Amazon’s one-click checkout. Rather than having to fill out your details every time you place an order, everything can be done with a single click. While that may not be plausible for your business, it’s wise to regularly examine your process, test your site, and see where you can make things easier for your prospect.
Become a thought leader
To get more inbound leads, you need to give them something unique.
You need to give them valuable content. We’ve just talked about giving them the information they need, but there are plenty of other sites out there who are all happy to give out that same information. To stand out from your competition, you need more.
The first step is to produce content that’s truly valuable to your prospects. When we think of value we often think purely in terms of how much it helps your prospect achieve something important to them.
A video on how to set up your e-commerce site is much more valuable than a blog post showing off your holiday snaps.
However, value is also tied to how unique an item is. Supply and demand mean the more the items in short supply and high demand fetch a high price.
That means if your ‘valuable’ content is just recycled from the top ten results on Google, it won’t be as valuable as you might think. That doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from other pieces of content. However, you need to make sure you add significant value to what’s already out there.
One way to produce unique content is to put your spin on it. We’re all unique individuals, with different backgrounds and experiences, all of which give us a unique viewpoint. By leaning into what makes you unique, you can create unique content.
Of course, all the unique content in the world won’t do you any good if it’s just a thinly veiled sales attempt.
People expect you to promote your product, just as we expect adverts at the start of the Youtube video. However, if your content is nothing more than a sales pitch, people won’t stick around. When we produce content at Reply, obviously we’d love it if people who found it useful went on to sign up for a free trial. However, our goal is for our readers to always get value from our content, to learn something helpful, whether they sign up for Reply or not.
By serving your inbound leads, by focusing on their needs and pain points, you’ll be a trusted resource, a teacher and mentor that your prospects turn to when they need help.
Effective Inbound Sales Takes Effort
Inbound sales are a powerful asset for any company, including Reply, but they also require an investment of time and money. It’s not a case of ‘Oh, you sent us an email, click the button, job done.’
You also have to keep working on your inbound process.
Is your messaging working? Does it need to be changed? Can it be optimized? Have our ideal customer profiles changed? Are we selling to the same people? Are we getting too many small/big leads? You have to be asking yourself these questions all the time.
However, by following these tactics and avoiding the common mistakes your competitors are making, you can enjoy a regular stream of interested prospects who convert to happy paying customers.
Want to learn more about how Reply can help you with both your inbound and outbound sales? You can sign up for a demo here, or if you’d prefer to talk with one of our team then drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get in touch.
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