I want to start by differentiating automated outbound sales activities vs. outbound activities manually done by a salesperson. This article focuses on the latter, as the former just doesn’t work in the mid term, and annoys the heck out of your buyers.
Inbound's Success has Created Its Own Problem
Inbound marketing was a term coined in 2005 by Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, and referred to the process of using content to attract interested buyers at various stages of the buying process. It has been hugely successful, and is adopted widely across many industries. The rise of inbound marketing subsequently generated a large increase in inbound "leads," so organizations have had to create dedicated inbound sales teams to pre-qualify these potential buyers.
Fast forward a decade, and content marketing budgets have exploded, with the best B2B marketing teams spending 29% of their entire budget on content marketing. However, with content marketing on the rise, we are seeing a decrease in efficiency on the sales side. In the 2016 Sales Development Metrics report from the Bridge Group, they reported the average number of attempts per prospect has gone up 46% since 2012 to maintain the same number of quality conversations.
source: The Bridge Group
So what is happening?
Marketers are now in an “arms-race” of content: who can be the most interesting, most viral, most frequent source of content in their space. This creates two types of reactions from buyers:
Fatigue: there is too much noise, so they don’t pay attention to anything
Lower Intent to Purchase: the content itself may be so valuable, that it doesn’t indicate a real need to buy your product
Both require more follow-ups for inbound sales reps before a connection is made. This doesn’t mean you should stop developing inbound leads, but it does mean you can’t ONLY be focused on inbound.
Trust Trumps Content
After spending the last 16 years in marketing and sales technology, working with some of the most advanced teams around the world, I saw one common theme. At the heart of every big deal that was closed, was the trust formed between the salesperson and the buyer.
There was a great article written by Jason Lemkin, on Why the Greatest Sales Teams Kill it on Dec 31st. The reason he gives is simple:
It isn’t the slick sales pitch you delivered in the process
It isn’t the discount that magically disappears on Jan 1st
It isn’t the current year’s budget flush they have to spend
The reason is the relationship. Over the course of the sales cycle, the salesperson has delivered so much value to the buyer - understood their challenges, exposed new insights, and showcased a path to success – that the buyer wants to return the favor and do something for them…close the deal and help them hit their own goal.
So how do you build that kind of trust?
The Vision Group wrote a report on How Salespeople Establish Trust and Credibility with Senior Executives, and found these three items were critical during a sales process:
Works well with staff
Knowledge of their industry
Knowledge of the sales person’s industry
So a salesperson’s ability to work and leverage resources within the executives organization is the most important aspect in building trust, even more important than understanding their business needs. The reason is that the executive assumes if their team trusts you enough to spend time with you, then they can and should trust you.
Outbound Account Based Selling is the Future of Sales
So why is outbound becoming more important than inbound? Let’s set aside the recent movement towards account based marketing, which is generating a lot of need for account based selling as its “partner in crime”.
Outbound sales is generally associated with targeted accounts, which are larger potential customers, with larger annual contract value. Most companies that are focused on scaling growth have adopted a strategy using outbound sales development where account executives sell to a set of accounts that meet their ideal customer profile (ICP). This can be incredibly successful if done properly.
But let’s look at the difference between inbound and outbound sales from a relationship perspective and how each path leads to building trust.
In this comparison I think that outbound puts the burden of value creation squarely on the salesperson’s shoulders, and doesn’t assume anything about the buyer. And although you can have very interested buyers through inbound, you can also easily have mismatched expectations which starts the relationship off on the wrong foot.
In a recent interview with Liam Surridge, VP of Corporate Sales Americas at Hootsuite, he revealed the importance of having his sales reps do proactive research on their target accounts in order to provide value with their outreach. This process allows reps to build trust with their target accounts long before the sale is discussed and accelerates the process by skipping over the time it takes for an inbound lead for their account to surface.
It is pretty clear to me that if developing trust with buyers is critical to closing deals, outbound sales is much more aligned to that trust building process than inbound. I think also outbound positions your business to differentiate itself through value during the sales process, while inbound can lead to a race to the bottom, where the lowest price will win.
What are your thoughts? Is outbound really the new inbound?
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