Creating an Inbound Operating System

Inbound marketing files on desk.

Everyone wants to grow, but not everyone wants to change.

To grow with modern buyers — yes, even industrial ones — your business must change to reflect today’s new purchasing landscape, in which buyers are in control of much more of the process than ever before.

In my last article, we talked about why your mission is so critical and why it is the first step in changing to grow, followed by creating a customer-centric culture. Your mission is your “why,” defined by your ideal customer and the goals that your company helps them reach.

Building a Company Culture

The culture is the environment in which your people to do their best work; culture reflects the ideas that your organization believes in and values. Or, as I put it in my book, “Inbound Organization,” “Corporate culture refers to an evolving set of values, attitudes, ethics, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature.”

A product-centric culture puts technology and products at the core of what happens in a company. The product becomes the basis of most decisions, even if leaders pay lip service to putting customers first. A product-centric culture creates a solution that companies think is helpful, and tells the salespeople to go ahead and sell it.

In regard to a customer-centric culture, HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah says, “The first and most important step is to shift the organization’s mindset to focus on solving for the customer. Make decisions based on what’s in their interest — because what’s in the customer’s interest is in the organization’s interest too.” (This quotation and further details can be found in “Inbound Organization.”)

Customer-centric organizations start at a high level, and the goals of the customer need to permeate every conversation and meeting that takes place. In other words, it’s not for salespeople; it’s for everyone, and it forms the core organizational culture.

Creating an Inbound Operating System

Align mission and culture with buyers’ expectations. The next step is to create an inbound operating system. An inbound operating system is a part of your “how” — the guardrails you set up to keep your teams focused and on track. This is how you activate your values and beliefs.

An inbound operating system provides the tools to support nonhierarchical communication, provides employee feedback, and gives teams the information they need to be successful — which is defined by how well they are helping your prospects and customers. The operating system connects everyone together to perform as one unit, with the same mindset, in pursuit of the organization’s overall mission to help customers.

An inbound operating system also serves as an early warning system for potential issues or roadblocks. When teams are succeeding, leaders don’t need to spend much time inspecting their work. The operating system identifies potential problems, so management can get a sense of how teams are moving forward and help ensure alignment with the company mission and strategies.

Inbound operating systems will be different for every organization, though there are some consistent components. These include open communication tools that foster transparency, employee feedback mechanisms like Net Promoter Score (NPS), regularly scheduled and structured interactions with everyone hearing key messages and information from leaders, a documented culture code, and a regular review of the mission and goals in a way that is specific to each team and person.

Traction is a very popular operating system tool for inbound organizations. All of this is an example of how teams work, but not why they do it. The “why” must go back to the organization’s overarching mission.

Changing Company Culture Through Inbound

Once you’ve changed the way you think and everyone understands their new role, you’ll experience a massive shift in your culture. This will manifest in every aspect of your customer interactions.

Express your new inbound approach everywhere — in the content on your website, in how your sales team interacts with prospects, in how your service team connects with customers, and even in the way your back office frames their work and its impact on the customer experience.

This is crucial with today’s buyers, because the experience they have with your team, product, and process will determine if they themselves become valuable salespeople through rating, reviewing, and “liking,” and sharing their experience with others.

Developing Specific Inbound Strategies

The next step in the growth process with modern digital buyers is to develop your inbound strategies. Your inbound strategies are your “what” — what you are going to do to accomplish your mission and reach your goals by helping customers achieve theirs. In other words, how exactly are you going to help your target customer?

Your inbound strategy is the guiding force in directing your organization’s actions to solve your customers’ problems and help them overcome their unique challenges. In the next article, we will outline the various components of an inbound strategy.

For more information on implementing inbound organizational principles into your industrial business, check out “Inbound Organization,” now available. My next article in this series will outline specific strategies for attracting buyers and further growing your business.


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