Since when did accepting a connection request on LinkedIn mean that I’d immediately receive a pushy sales pitch? When did it become okay for salespeople to scrape my email from a HubSpot partner listing page and send unsolicited emails saying that they have an amazing offer, and asking if I’d give them just 15 minutes of my time? Since when did a Twitter follow mean I wanted to get a series of direct messages offering to sell me the latest new product? When did it become standard practice to cold call me, ask me how I am doing, ask a foolish question, and expect me to jump for joy at your brilliant offer?
I don’t know about you, but I would never want to engage with a company or salesperson making use of these intrusive tactics. The salesperson who still believes in spray-and-pray, pitch-and-hope methods, who figures that if they annoy enough people, a few will have to buy, is failing strategically. Companies who do this create such a bad experience right off the bat that I am shocked they stay in business at all.
I challenge everyone who gets spammed like this to post negative reviews and low ratings, and share with your connections the fact that these companies do not deserve our attention, much less our business. Leaders that allow these tactics to continue deserve to fail. These companies deserve to die. Why? Because they don’t respect us, and they don’t have any understanding of how to help us or really make a strategic difference in our businesses.
Help Early, Help Often
The mindset that leads to annoying your prospects instead of helping them stems from a selfish place. If you think about the product or service first, then the logical next step is to figure out who might need this product or service, and then attack them. Anyone who does this is not thinking about the buyers or their specific issues and goals, and is certainly not thinking about helping them first.
Salespeople are still able to control the sales process, but only if they start from a position of helping. Yes, salespeople still hold a lot of cards, but they fold right away if they lead with annoying prospecting tactics.
Many buyers do not know how to solve critical problems that your solution may be able to address. When dealing with more complex sales, buyers need a guide, an expert — someone with business smarts, not sales tricks — to help them navigate the competing visions for the future within their company. Buyers need help not only with the product aspect of the buying process, but also with the politics they face internally. Buyers need help influencing key decision-makers and keeping the process on track. Buyers need context for their situation and a roadmap to a better future. Buyers need the right answers at the right time to keep their careers on track and to fulfill obligations to their employer.
In every case, buyers need your help — not your product, and certainly not your annoying pitch.
Trust as the Foundation of a Business Relationship
“Inbound selling is a modern, buyer-centric form of sales where the seller prioritizes the buyer’s needs ahead of their own. Inbound salespeople focus on the buyer’s problem and context above all else. The inbound salesperson customizes their sales process and solution, should one exist. Smart leaders will take the time to learn about it, teach your sales reps how to become inbound sellers, and start using this method as a competitive advantage for your company in the age of the empowered buyer.”
– Brian Signorelli
How do you build trust in order to develop a relationship in which your salespeople have a chance to be helpful? First, adopt the core inbound belief that being helpful to the buyer is the reason you exist. You must believe that being helpful first is the best way to build a relationship and, more importantly, to deliver the exceptional experience that buyers want.
Other characteristics of an effective inbound salesperson are listed below.
- Inbound salespeople are respectful, friendly, and human — and focus on helping first.
- Inbound salespeople listen to buyer feedback, make thoughtful recommendations, and leverage strategic content to provide the right information at the right time.
- Inbound salespeople take care to move at the buyer’s pace and look to create
long-term relationships with fit customers.
- Inbound sales teams base their entire strategy on coordinating the buyer journey.
- Inbound sales teams deliver information in the buyer’s context and personalize the entire sales experience, rather than running the same sales process for everyone.
- An inbound salesperson creates a strategic process to reach, connect, discover, and understand where a buyer is in the process, their previous experiences, and the help they need to make the right decision.
Inbound selling does not mean never reaching out to someone you do not know. In fact, if you really believe you can help a person or company and you have a help-first attitude, you owe it to them to reach out. What you do not owe them is any of the annoying sales pitches mentioned earlier. If you believe you can help, your obligation is to connect with people that fit your target buyer persona in a way that acknowledges the buyer’s ability to control the interaction, respects their time, and starts the process off in a positive way.
How to Start the Process in an Inbound Way
Content is critical to helping. Before most prospects want to talk to you, they want to read or watch content that describes their situation and their issues. They need context for the problem you think you can solve. Build credibility by creating content that helps, and then helps some more with a bit of education thrown in along the way. No pitching, no product dump, not catalog pushing. Creating content requires you to think about the buyer and to organize your thoughts in a way that brings clarity and understanding to the buyer’s situation.
Hopefully, your marketing department is following the same thinking, with content that attracts and educates online and generates leads for salespeople who are already happy with your company and their interactions with your brand.
Connection is next. Use helpful content to open up a conversation. A connection request, email, or even a phone call is far more productive and likely to lead to an ongoing conversation if it starts with something helpful. How hard is it to create a piece of content that shows the buyer the costs of ignoring a certain problem, lays out the risks involved, maybe shares some third-party data, and helps them think about the situation from a different perspective?
It’s also critical to ask questions that will help you understand prospects’ situations. I’m not talking about a long list of qualifying questions — you should already know that a prospect is qualified based on your upfront research and persona building. If you have to ask a lot of questions to get to the point of adding value and being helpful, you will find that very few people will be willing to engage with you. Use your content, paired with insightful, expert questions, to build trust early on. This will open the door for further discussion.
Collaboration happens when you build enough trust to convince the prospect to share more details regarding their specific situation and goals. Salespeople are the guides, the experts, the resources that help the buyer achieve their goals. This happens by collaboratively working through the many issues that arise on the way to a buyer adopting a solution and hiring your company. Inbound salespeople know they can help, and are patient and focused enough to keep the buyer as the focus of the process without reverting to a sales pitch or product push.
“Many salespeople and business owners have a tough time connecting the dots between helping first and hitting their quota or sales goals. ‘Helping sounds nice, but if they don’t buy, it won’t pay the bills’ — that is the fear-based excuse for selling at all costs.”
– David Weinhaus
In the age of inbound buyers, radically increased competition, and product parity, helping is selling. Helping first is the only sustainable sales strategy. Leaders should check their sales process and make sure the beliefs that modern buyers want you to hold are truly a part of your culture. If you simply keep pitching, interrupting, and annoying, your competitors who understand inbound will be the only ones succeeding.
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