The Salesperson’s Guide to Inbound: How to Build Awareness and Drive Conversions Without Selling

The Salesperson’s Guide to Inbound: How to Build Awareness and Drive Conversions Without Selling

Before the internet took off, businesses relied solely on proactively introducing themselves and their products to potential buyers. Fast forward to today, with the entire digital world at our fingertips, it should come as no surprise that the way customers make purchases has evolved, which means so did the way companies sell. 

And while cold outreach remains a major part of modern-day sales, businesses now also focus their efforts on building and growing their digital presence to organically attract potential customers. 

Considering that most people in need of a product or service like yours will go online to research solutions and compare different options, it becomes paramount to ensure they come across yours, and then consider giving it a shot.   

Welcome to the world of inbound sales. 

First things first: What is inbound?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the word, but what does inbound mean, really? Overall, inbound refers to something moving towards you, in our case — potential customers, rather than you making the first move towards them. 

Inbound sales and marketing are the accumulation of workflows that aim to increase your company’s online exposure and entice your audience to look further into your product, features, and pricing plans to consider a purchase. 

Inbound is not about showcasing your products to the fullest extent to every lead that comes your way but rather providing value, educating, or solving their pain points. It comes as no surprise that inbound has grown so much in recent years given the rapid shift to a customer-centric selling/buying approach of today. 

In general terms — your marketing content and experiences will passively attract your audience as they embark on their buyer journeys until they eventually show a sign of interest in your product, and that’s when and where inbound sales teams come into play for meaningful nurturing.

Inbound marketing 101

There’s no understanding of inbound sales without first diving deep into the world of inbound marketing. While fruitful inbound is a multi-team job, marketers play a pivotal role in strategically positioning your online brand to attract and build trust with your audience, which sales teams then leverage to provide meaningful assistance. But first, let’s start with the basics and define inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

At its essence, the definition of inbound marketing is a digital marketing strategy that revolves around creating content and experiences that resonate with your audience and attract them to your business. Sure, the ultimate goal of such strategies is to bring in more customers and grow sales, but rather than aggressively advertising and pitching your products, inbound marketing relies on providing valuable, problem-solving content to achieve that goal. 

Inbound marketing strategies are built on a clear understanding of your audience’s buyer journey and unique pain points, allowing businesses to craft the most relevant content and experiences that align with their intricate, singular needs. This comes in handy considering almost half of B2B buyers will interact with 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. 

Modern buyers will appreciate your genuine effort to help them without expecting anything in return, helping you build trust and credibility for your business. So when a potential customer stumbles on your insightful content addressing their challenges, they will be much more likely to consider your solution should they decide to make a purchase. 

Inbound vs outbound marketing

Just as in sales, marketing efforts will pay off the most when there’s a synergy between inbound and outbound strategies. As mentioned above, inbound marketing focuses on organically attracting potential customers to your business, whereas outbound marketing works by proactively reaching out to them with marketing content to spark interest. 

In the most basic form, an example of inbound marketing is writing niche-related valuable content, which your audience will naturally come across when researching for tips or suggestions on a certain topic. Only then will they discover your product and perhaps show interest, giving the green light for sales outreach.  

On the other hand, an example of outbound marketing could be creating paid targeted ads on social media or sending out cold marketing emails that aim to promote your product and capture your audience’s attention. Unlike inbound, this strategy entails marketing teams sparking the first interaction with potential buyers, rather than waiting for them to show interest. 

When comparing outbound vs inbound marketing, it’s important to note that there is no superior strategy, but rather an opportunity to double down on both for a wider audience reach and multiple lead generation streams. 

What’s the typical inbound marketing funnel?

With modern buyer journeys being more complex than ever, mapping out your inbound sales and marketing strategies is far from easy unless you follow a clear-cut inbound funnel. 

These funnels act as a roadmap to aligning your inbound efforts with your customers’ journeys to deliver the right content, in the right place, at the right time. 

In the simplest terms, today’s customer goes through a 3-stage purchasing journey — they become aware of a problem that requires a solution, they begin considering their options to solve that problem, and finally, they make the final decision.   

The typical inbound funnel helps establish the marketing and sales strategies that best resonate with the needs and purchase-readiness of prospective customers in each of these stages.  

In the awareness phase, at the very top of the funnel, an inbound marketer will capitalize on creating valuable and captivating content that catches the attention of their audience. At this point, they have just identified a problem in their day-to-day life and are interested in what the common solutions may look like, probably before considering your product as an option. 

The main objective here is to clearly identify your audience, their key pain points, map out how they would go about solving them, and then strategically create that relevant content and conversation. Leads are not looking to make a purchase just yet, and pitching them too soon will just scare them away. 

In the consideration phase, the funnel gets narrower in the middle as some of your inbound leads start showing signs of potential interest in a solution such as yours. At this point, businesses can start slowly connecting with prospects and exploring how their product can be the perfect solution to the pain points that initiated their buyer journey in the first place.  

This is an excellent opportunity to finally connect with leads, still not to pitch your product, but to better understand their unique needs. With effective CTAs and sign-up forms, marketers can assist inbound leads in taking the next step in their journeys, still giving them the space they need to make an informed decision. 

At the very bottom of the funnel, qualified inbound leads are now weighing their options and preparing to make the final decision. This is where personalized and meaningful engagement is critical to tipping the scales in your favor, and turning leads into happy customers. 

It’s definitely time to begin showcasing your product and advising on exactly how it can solve their specific problems, discovered in the previous stages of the funnel. The content and conversations will now switch to tailored product demos, relevant case studies from similar clients, etc., emphasizing assistance and not pushing for the sale. 

All in all, the inbound marketing funnel is anything but a fixed pathway, but it does a great job at predicting potential customers’ journeys to best align the marketing content in terms of relevancy and timing. It helps businesses find the perfect balance between providing value and assistance yet not pushing to make a purchase, which ironically, increases the odds of closing a deal in today’s market.  

5 inbound marketing channels to explore

There is no shortage of inbound marketing channels that businesses can leverage to attract and engage interested leads; it all depends on your specific industry and niche. Once again, it goes back to “where do my potential buyers go to seek information and solutions?”. 

In the B2B world, the 5 inbound marketing channels that showed great results for us over the years are: 

  • Company blog — this is your hub of all the content and resources that are your main inbound lead magnets, so make sure to invest in it. Research your audience’s most trending topics; always craft top-notch, SEO-optimized content; and increase your reach by exchanging guest posts for other B2B companies. 
  • Website — more often than not, inbound magnets will lead to your website’s landing pages, where leads get to learn more about your business and product(s) for the first time. Your website is like a digital front door, and should therefore be optimized for all devices to the fullest, textually and visually, for a gratifying first interaction. 
  • Social media — regardless of your industry, it’s hard to picture your leads not being active on social media, and that includes researching solutions to their business needs and entering relevant discussions. LinkedIn, X (Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram are all great platforms for sharing content on your company accounts and/or industry-related groups and channels. 
  • Email marketing — not to be confused with cold email campaigns, inbound email marketing is about keeping a consistent flow of valuable content tailored to your interested leads, such as those who’ve signed up for your newsletter. This is a fantastic inbound nurturing channel that keeps your business on the radar for potential future deals, but at the very least — pumps up your brand awareness.

  • Events — at Reply, we are huge fans of webinars and other virtual events, especially co-hosting with other companies in the B2B space. Hosting events is a great opportunity to connect with your audience directly, showcase your niche expertise to build credibility, expand your brand reach, and most importantly — provide value to your potential and existing customers. 

Here’s an inbound marketing example of our recent virtual conference where we had the pleasure of hosting some truly outstanding sales leaders from different companies and walks of life: 

Watch the Sales Development Excellence ’23 recording

8 common inbound marketing strategies

Implementing inbound marketing strategies involves a mix of enhancing your content, conversations, and experiences while making the most of the inbound channels mentioned above. Some of the most proven inbound strategies include: 

  1. Create an extensive content plan: besides ensuring that every piece of content is full of value and actionable insights, it’s crucial to tick all the boxes of mastering inbound marketing content. This includes researching trending topics, posting consistently, optimizing all content for various devices, supplementing articles with visual content like images, infographics, and videos, and mixing it up with long forms like PDFs and whitepapers.
  2. Go beyond textual content: there’s no ceiling on creativity when it comes to content nowadays, so you could definitely incorporate some less common content resources in your inbound marketing strategy. Just as an example, we’ve recently decided to create a sales podcast library for our audience’s enjoyment and growth. If someone visits it, finds a podcast they like, and leaves — it’s still a win in our books.    
  3. Optimize with SEO: inbound efforts are only successful if they are within your audience’s reach, and this is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. This happens by researching the most relevant titles, keywords, and meta descriptions, and then optimizing your content with them, which in turn ensures high rankings in search engines like Google, increasing your content’s visibility, and ultimately — organic traffic. 
  4. Gate exclusive content: regarding more extensive content pieces such as PDFs, e-books, industry reports, etc., it’s more than appropriate to “gate” such content. You’re still providing all that value for free, but also asking for the interested person’s name and email to access it. Most people understand that that means giving consent to marketing emails, but if the gated content is worth it, most of them won’t mind. 
  5. Include CTAs: it’s common practice for marketing content to have various calls-to-action (CTAs) from time to time. And while in the inbound world those CTAs are often not product-related like “book a demo” or “contact sales for more info”, it’s still a great idea to entice your audience to take the next step. CTAs are a great way to customize landing pages with the most relevant ‘next step’ for each customer segment, where a small change in wording can make all the difference. 
  6. Stay active on social media: simply creating company profiles on various social platforms won’t cut it unless you commit to staying active on them. From an inbound point of view, social media presence is less about selling products and more about engaging with your audience, entering discussions in relevant communities, replying to messages and comments, etc. With social listening tools, you can also stay on top of all of your brand mentions to swiftly address any questions or concerns.    
  7. Personalize your inbound emails: a good rule of thumb? Every single email you send should be personalized to some extent, especially for inbound marketing emails. Since your inbound leads have already shown some sign of interest and what triggered it, your marketing emails and value proposition should be tailored around exactly that. For instance, someone who signed up for your webinar on email deliverability could get an email inviting them to check out your deliverability article.  
  8. Leverage collaborations: whether it’s collaborating on content, swapping product descriptions in each other’s listicles, co-hosting events and podcasts, or simply exchanging shout-outs on social media — co-marketing is an excellent inbound strategy, especially for small and midsize enterprises. Besides expanding your audience and brand awareness, networking will always be a great investment in the business world.

Inbound marketing examples

Time to put theory into practice with a few examples of inbound marketing. 

Let’s take a step back and look at how most leads go through the inbound marketing funnel, and how we do our best to align our strategy to each stage. 

In our case of B2B sales, the initial trigger to embark on a potential buyer journey may be a simple and straightforward pain point such as writing personalized emails takes too long, but generic emails don’t produce great conversions

Our leads would then go online and google something like how to create personalized emails at scale?, which may lead to our SEO-optimized article titled Mastering the Art of Email Personalization: Tactics and Tools for Relevant Outreach at Scale

While reading it, they will encounter a CTA block showcasing our gated ‘Image personalization’ e-book, which some would find a really valuable resource for improving their cold email conversions: 

We now have the green light to nurture them with value-packed emails promoting other articles and webinar invitations on topics related to email outreach and personalization. 

Some time goes by, and after reading a few more articles, it becomes clear to the lead that to streamline personalized mass email outreach, they have to automate this process with a reliable AI engagement tool. 

How convenient, considering we have an AI-powered sales engagement platform ourselves! ????

And just like that — our product is on their radar for possible solutions. At this point we can gradually adjust our sales and marketing engagement from solution-based to product-based content, showcasing how Reply can handle their email outreach problems and beyond, perhaps with more direct CTAs like this: 

Generate sales emails and sequences, handle replies, or book meetings in a click with Jason AI

Try now for free

Inbound marketing tools

Inbound marketing tools come in different forms, but all have the ultimate goal of strategically improving your online presence to attract, nurture, and eventually convert interested leads through the channels and strategies we’ve discussed.  

These are some great inbound marketing tools we’ve come across over the years.

  • Inbound content marketing — crafting engaging, quality marketing content has never been easier with the rise of natural language processing (NLP) technology like ChatGPT. Anyword and Writesonic are similar AI-writing tools that are designed to craft top-class marketing content, from social media posts to landing page copy. 
  • SEO optimization — we’ve touched upon the importance of SEO in your content’s visibility, so it’s best to gear up with a reliable tool like Surfer or Semrush early on. These tools analyze content topics and research important keywords to optimize your content for search engines, ensuring that your writing efforts are visible and pay off. 
  • Inbound lead engagement  — AI-powered engagement platforms like Reply.io will fully automate outreach at each stage of the funnel, tailoring the messaging, value propositions, and CTAs depending on each inbound case (trial user, demo request, content download, etc.).

  • Social media management — companies usually have accounts on multiple social media platforms for engaging with their audiences. And considering it’s one of the top ways potential customers learn about products, social media management tools are a must. Sprout Social and Loomly are both great alternatives for businesses to make the most of their socials and turn them into powerful and engaging inbound channels. 
  • All-in-one inbound marketing suite — for larger companies with a substantial online presence, some might consider keeping all their inbound marketing workflows under one roof. HubSpot Marketing and Mailchimp are excellent ways to provide a comprehensive overview of all your inbound marketing operations that, understandably, comes at a price. 

Getting started with inbound sales

Inbound sales is closely related to inbound marketing, and it is this synergy that creates the complex workflows that organically bring potential customers to your business. While they work hand in hand, inbound sales has its own special set of tasks and processes. 

What is inbound sales?

In light of a complete customer-centric business culture, inbound sales has emerged as a modern approach to selling that is based on providing value, building meaningful connections, and personalized assistance. 

It involves understanding a potential customer’s unique pain points and needs, and consulting on how they can be solved, gradually building trust through meaningful engagement. Utilizing inbound call center software can significantly streamline this process, enabling sales teams to efficiently manage incoming inquiries and maintain high levels of customer service without compromising personalization. Rather than aggressively pitching the product and going for the sale, B2C and B2B inbound sales first provide value to the customer, determine whether there is a fit, and only then proceed to selling their products or services. 

As inbound marketing generates organic traffic and leads that are potentially interested in your solution, inbound sales then gets into the game with the objective of nurturing these warm leads through their buyer journeys.   

Outbound vs inbound sales

The traditional sales method, outbound sales, focuses on cold outreach to potential leads through various channels to try to make a connection and introduce your product. Inbound sales on the other hand is a strategy built on engaging with potential customers who have already interacted with your business one way or another. 

Let’s take a look at inbound vs outbound sales in practice. For instance, there’s a prospective customer who’s discovered your cybersecurity software by stumbling upon one of your webinars covering the best practices on protecting proprietary information in the digital world. This is a prime opportunity to send your first inbound sales email: 

Sometime after, as their company started growing their operations and landing bigger clients, it was time to upgrade their data security provider. Remembering your expertise in the field and the value you provided earlier on, they decide to contact your firm to discuss things further. 

This is one of many examples of inbound marketing doing its job. With the first connection now made, your battle-ready sales reps can focus all their efforts on consulting these inbound prospects, determining whether there is a fit between them and your product, if so — nurturing them into becoming long-term clients. 

In outbound sales, your sales reps would instead reach out to decision-makers from companies that often require security software like yours, either by researching their contact info or collecting it from dedicated contact databases.

Perhaps, the company from our previous example would get on the list as well. The only difference with outbound is, sales reps don’t have the luxury of having that first connection established, and instead have to focus on breaking through their inbox with introductory emails or messages.

3 tactics for inbound lead generation 

We’ve discussed numerous inbound marketing lead generation strategies such as valuable content, SEO, webinars, social media engagement, etc., but now let’s take a look at how sales teams come into play. 

  1. Analyzing inbound leads gives sales teams a full picture of the most common pain points leading potential customers to seek solutions. In addition, sales teams can get a glimpse at what marketing content each prospect interacts with to provide more meaningful sales engagement. This also helps navigate outbound engagement strategies by optimizing cold outreach with the most relevant value proposition and pain points, as shown through inbound leads. 
  2. Segmenting inbound leads is the next course of action after a thorough analysis, which in our case could be based on demographics, psychographics, or the specific inbound use case. For instance, inbound leads can be segmented into low purchase intent groups like “newsletter signup” and “webinar registration”, along with high intent purchase intent groups like “demo request” and “trial signups”. Each inbound segment will have its unique nurturing sequence for a more personalized approach right from the get-go. 
  3. Optimizing inbound lead magnets with the data and information derived from analyzing your inbound leads and customizing them for each separate customer group will reinforce your lead generation engine. Fusing sales and marketing data helps create the most relevant lead magnets and CTAs that help businesses attract quality leads at each stage of the sales cycle, fully aligned with their pain points and purchase readiness.  

Once you’ve got a steady flow of quality leads at the top of the inbound funnel (in the awareness stage), that’s when sales teams can really take charge by beginning their inbound nurturing efforts. Sales teams will provide meaningful engagement to the inbound-generated leads by revolving their messaging around their unique needs, as discovered by the inbound marketing. 

This will look somewhat similar to old-school outbound sales engagement, the only difference being — leads will already know about your company and have shown some sign of interest, meaning tailored assistance will supersede sales pitches in these cases.    

Bonus: What is social selling the inbound way?

Social selling is another powerful inbound lead generation method that bridges the gap between your audience and your company. When businesses are active on social channels like LinkedIn, Quora, X (Twitter), and so on, they have the best opportunity to directly engage with their audience and grow their brand awareness. 

By building the personal profiles of employees (especially execs), you will passively market your company to the world, and as their following grow — so do the number of new leads learning about your company. And considering these leads followed or interacted with one of your employee’s profiles, it’s quite likely that they could be prospects, or are at least in the same industry.   

Social selling on LinkedIn is ideal for high-level company representatives who also have the unique ability to share their expert insights with their audience, gradually becoming thought leaders in their industries. 

Besides doing wonders for your brand awareness and inbound traffic, sharing expert industry knowledge also significantly boosts your company’s credibility with the online audience, increasing the likelihood of them checking out your blog, signing up for your newsletter, and who knows, maybe even giving your product a shot. 

Moving forward: How to handshake inbound marketing and sales?

In today’s complex business landscape, the lines separating sales and marketing are getting blurrier by the year. Marketing data can enhance sales processes with the most relevant personalization points for sales engagement, and vice versa, sales reps can discover new insights from talking to prospects to improve marketing strategies.    

It is this synergy and data flow that allow companies to provide the most relevant content and messaging at each stage of the buyer journey, emphasizing your company’s mission of providing value to each prospective client, which may be today’s only effective sales method. 

Inbound sales and marketing teams have to work together to sustain a smooth generation of high-quality leads through valuable marketing channels, nurturing them with personalized sales assistance, and eventually converting them into happy loyal customers. 

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