Inbound Sales Calls: The Ultimate Guide to Higher Conversions
Could anything be better than an inbound sales call?
More qualified prospects, higher conversions! The likelihood of converting an inbound sales lead — a prospect who calls your business number — is far higher than that of any outbound call.
But it is really that rosy?
If you have been handling inbound sales calls for a while, you know that they have their own challenges — and many of these challenges are far more complex than those in an outbound call.
An inbound sales call is, in my opinion, the most difficult call types to handle.”
– Steve Benson | CEO, Badger Maps
Inbound Sales Calls — More Challenging than you Suspect!
A successful inbound sales call strategy requires an approach that’s the world away from what an outbound sales specialist would expect.
If you’re wondering ‘why’, consider this: Unlike outbound sales call, where your team members have time to study a prospective client and plan for a call, an inbound sales call usually comes out of the blue.
Who is the person at the other end of the line? A startup CEO, A VP who has business-centric questions, a developer who’s got some technical queries about your platform or just an intern preparing a preliminary report?
Your sales team will not only have to figure out the motivation behind the call but also gauge the caller’s level of knowledge. Using jargon might confuse your prospect while using layman’s terms might sound as if you don’t know what you are talking about.
Did they call you because they have heard about you before, or did they just click on an ad? Just because they have called you do not necessarily mean that they are keen to do business with you. In 99% of cases, they have more certainly called your competitors too.
Finally, just because someone’s calling you doesn’t mean that they are ready to buy. Maybe they are just doing their preliminary research will end up not buying at all. How can you convince people in the earlier stages of the buyer’s journey to choose your offering? Or should you even pursue such a lead? Not an easy question to answer is it?
A World of Promise
No doubt that inbound sales calls have their dark underbelly. Nevertheless, chances are that the caller knows a bit about your company and offerings. Even if they haven’t heard rave reviews about you or are simply calling because they saw an ad, the very fact that they’re initiating the conversation makes them more favourably disposed towards what you have to say.
That presents your sales team with an opportunity like no other — a ready audience with a prospective client who’s at least willing to hear you out.
How do you use this opportunity to convince the caller that ‘you are the one?’
This article is a deep dive into how to build a high-performing inbound sales function. We have covered the basics as well as advanced tips.
The Research Behind the Article.
This article is based on three sources of information:
- First, this is based on our own experiences at Knowlarity — a major cloud communications company. We get more than a hundred inbound sales calls a day. Over the past 7 years, we have built up a customer list of more than 15,000 companies. Our inbound sales function has played a large role in building up our customer base.
- Second, the best way to get better is to draw ideas from the experiences of other companies who also do a great job of handling inbound sales calls. That’s exactly what we did. We spoke to several people who have had extensive expertise in handling inbound calls — CEOs, Sales VPs, Sales Experts & Coaches and other sales leaders. You will find several of their quotes throughout the article.
- Lastly, this is based on my own experiences of handling inbound sales. I have run a corporate training company for five years. During this period 85% of my business was generated through inbound sales calls.
This article is divided into four chapters. I recommend that you read the entire post, but you can also skip to a particular section by clicking the links below.
Chapter 1: Processes for Handling Inbound Sales Calls
Chapter 1: Processes for Handling Inbound Sales Calls
The movie, the ‘Wolf of wall street’ is a perfect playbook of how to not run a business ethically! I would never recommend you to do what they were doing.
However, the movie demonstrates a vital lesson in sales that all businesses should follow:
It’s not just about what you do during the call, it’s about what you do before. If you are a founder or a sales ace, you will really not find it too tough to handle inbound sales calls. But how well will a less experienced salesperson do? Certainly not as well as you!
You know how tough it is to hire good salespeople. But what if you didn’t have to hire great sales folks? What if you could decent people and they performed nearly as well?
How? By implementing a rock solid process for handling calls. A well-designed process can have the same effect as adding years of experience to a rookie salesperson! In addition, your system should not leave everything to the individual. Rather, it’s about how to leverage the power of your entire team as well as using the power of the right technology.
This chapter is all about building your inbound sales process.
Many successful outbound sales professionals suck at inbound sales calls.
After all, their selling skills are solid. They have a proven track record. It’s because of a subtle difference in mindset, that can completely change the game.
In an outbound call, your sales reps reach out with this message: “This is who we are, this is what we’ve done, so let me persuade you that we can help in case you need something.”
But when the prospect’s coming to you, your response needs to be a tad bit different: “Okay, so that’s who you are and that’s what you want. Guess what, we have a solution that’s just right.”
Here’s the most important thing that you need to remember about inbound sales calls. The focus of the conversation should not be your products or services, whether from a benefits or features standpoint. It needs to be about one thing only — the prospect’s pain.
They certainly do have a paint point. That’s why they have called you in the first place. Don’t try to prove how good you are by flaunting your client list or industry awards. All you have to do is demonstrate that you understand the prospect’s pain. Because understanding that pain is the first step in offering a solution to resolve it.
The goal of an inbound call is not usually ‘sales’ but more ‘customer service’ or ‘customer success’. “Would you be interested?” is a very different conversation from “How can I help you?
– Steven Benson | CEO, Badger Maps , formerly in enterprise sales roles in Google, HP and IBM
Therefore, you need to suspend the ‘sales mindset’ and think only in terms of how you can help the prospect. In other words, you need to shift your focus from your own sales goals to your prospect’s goals. More about this in the Advanced Tips Chapter.
The Missing Core Ingredient
Ever had chicken soup without chicken?
It’s surprising how many companies fail to get this one basic thing right, considering that their conversion rates would shoot up if they invested in this. It’s product knowledge.
I am not talking about just having a superficial knowledge of what your products are and what they cost, you need to go far deeper than that.
Companies who target enterprise customers have salespeople who are extremely knowledgeable about a particular industry. However, when it comes to inbound sales teams, many of those same companies have people who are not as well-versed in their own products.
It is crucial that you have someone answering the phone that is extremely knowledgeable in your business. Even though you don’t have information prepared, like an outbound call, if you can answer all questions right when the person calls in, it will improve your chances of closing. I’ve had so many people tell me that our company was the second or third digital marketing agency they called. I was able to solidify the first meeting though because of my responsiveness and knowledge of the business.
– Jason Parks | President, Media Captain, featured in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Inc., Yahoo News, Entrepreneur.com, etc.
Just a few hours of training a week can do wonders for your team’s product knowledge.
Using specialised training and by involving your product teams, it’s possible for you to equip your sales team with the knowledge they’ll need for even the most rigorous and in-depth call. Cover every aspect of what your product does, and don’t leave anything out. Your inbound sales team needs to be well-versed with all issues that may come up in a conversation. This could be technical details, about implementation, or a question over reliability.
At Knowlarity, we have taken product training very seriously. In fact, passing a product training exam is now a criteria for employment in our company.
The Power of the Triage
Let’s face it.
Training has its limits. How realistic is it to expect a 1-week old salesperson to have a detailed understanding of your products? Very often this sales rep will have no inkling about what the answer to a caller’s question might be.
When that happens here’s the wrong way to respond: “I will get back to you with that answer.”
This response has the effect of winding down the conversation, which you might not want. Which is why your inbound sales call systems need be designed around a team, not just an individual. Steve Benson’s recommended solution is a ‘Triage’
“Triage in a hospital emergency room is where a nurse determines who the doctors will work on first based on need and importance — come in with a head wound, you skip to the front of the line.
Similarly, you can have a less experienced rep that can only handle 80% of the calls answer the phone, and ask what the question is so that they can ‘transfer the customer to the right department’. Then when the customer says what they need, that rep can step in and help them on the spot, and if the question is too advanced, they can transfer to a more senior rep.”
Simple, isn’t it?
Yet, this can make a huge difference to the likelihood of converting the call. Besides, there is the added advantage of having the junior rep screen the call for junk leads or unqualified leads. More about this later.
The Football Coach Hack
Managers often complain that they don’t have enough time to train their people. True, which is why your training should come in the form of a scalable solution — by preparing a sales playbook.
Your Inbound Sales Calls Playbook should have a list of the most common questions that callers ask.
It may feel like an infinite number of questions when you first think about it but have your reps that are currently answering the questions write them all down as they come in. My guess is that 80% of them are probably the same 25 questions
– Steve Benson | CEO, Badger Maps , formerly in enterprise sales roles in Google, HP and IBM
A playbook is a low-cost onboarding instrument that can have a dramatic impact on the productivity of new additions to the team. Even if you have a formal onboarding training, a playbook will contribute to reinforcing the training on an everyday basis. Therefore, if you don’t have a playbook already, start building one today.
Never view a playbook as a one-time activity. You should keep adding to the playbook. Have a system in place where your salespeople will have the opportunity to suggest additions. Your sales manager or sales head can sift through these suggestions and determine which ones could be included in the playbook. You could have a monthly meeting to discuss new additions to the playbook.
Another great thing about inbound sales calls is that you can use a playbook during the call!
You can have playbooks spread out in front of you because another advantage to inbound sales is the customer can’t see you. This allows you to follow scripts, playbooks, written notes — all the things that are sitting in front of you — as you talk to the person that’s making the inbound call.
– David Mattson | CEO, Sandler Training , one of the largest training companies in the world with more than 250 offices worldwide. David is also the author of the new book, The Sandler Rules for Sales Leaders.
Your playbook should ideally be in two formats — physical as well as digital. A physical one will free up the computer monitor to look at other information, while a digital one is useful if you need to use the search function to quickly look up something specific. These small details make it easier for your salespeople to focus their attention on the sales conversation rather than be distracted by flipping through pages or toggling across windows.
Your Sales Toolbox
Finally, you need the right set of tools to support your inbound sales function. Here are a few essential tools that will make a massive difference to your productivity.
First of all, your salespeople should have headsets to keep their hands free to take notes or use their keyboard. Make sure that the headsets are wireless. You don’t want them to get tangled during a call! Wireless headsets also make it possible to get up and walk around while talking. Some salespeople perform far better when they have the liberty to move around.
During a call, your salespeople will have to refer to various sources of data. They might need to check out the CRM system for any previous interactions with the caller, look up their LinkedIn profile to find out what their role in the buying process is and check out their website too.
I hate to admit it, but yes, your team will have to multitask as it might get them valuable nuggets of information without directly asking the prospect. This multitasking can become far simpler by installing dual monitors at each workstation.
Lastly, it’s not all about technology — even something as simple as a pinboard or a notebook/scribble pad works wonders at boosting productivity.
A Call Handling System
No one likes to talk with the robot or punch in a bunch of numbers before they get to speak with a person so we answer every call we possibly can
-Benjamin K. Walker, Founder and CEO at Transcription Outsourcing
Let no call go unanswered is a mantra every sensible business abides by. A call handling system where every caller is attended to is essential. You can’t afford to let calls ring through to voicemail. That old adage of striking the iron when it’s hot? This is where you apply it.
Equally important is having the right person available, and the ability to transfer calls to the right people. Make it too tough to reach the right person, and the caller will grow impatient or lose interest. Knowlarity’s cloud telephony tools let you do just that — By setting up a customised call flow system with hooks into your CRM database it’s possible to equip your sales team with a powerful tool that lets them focus on the conversation.
The Right CRM
Also essential is a CRM suite, which lets executives glance at the entire call history of any prospect while adding their own notes to enable a more efficient and personalised call experience in the future. Something which works across your offices, perhaps even on mobile devices (a great way of empowering execs out in the field), and makes your client and customer information easy.
Prospective leads might call on multiple occasions, some might even be existing clients who’ve tried out a trial version of your product or have used another product of yours. Why waste their (and your) time by starting every conversation afresh?
A CRM linked to the phone system now gives the company another piece of information on the potential customer as the call gets appended as another piece of information which can be analysed and used for future interactions. It also allows managers to analyse the rep’s interactions to determine if there are areas of improvement which can help with future calls.
– Josh Brown, Content & Community Manager at Fieldboom. Josh was formerly the head of the Northeast sales team for Computer Motion (merged with Intuitive Surgical)
As Josh says, a CRM can serve as a sales enablement tool as well. Now that we have discussed the systems your inbound sales team needs, let’s talk about what you do when you actually receive a call — the sales conversation.
Chapter 2: The Inbound Sales Call Conversation
Chapter 2: The Inbound Sales Call Conversation
In an outbound sales call, the first conversation is usually at a superficial level. Your objective is to build just about enough interest for the interaction to move to the next stage. However, an inbound sales conversation is usually far, far deeper. And you know next to nothing about the prospect.
In this day and age where calls have become infrequent, the fact that they called you means that they are interested. However, it also means that they have extremely high expectations from the conversation. What do you need to do to convince them that you are the right fit?
Redefine the Purpose
Many companies have inbound sales teams whose skill level is limited to talking about a few product features.
This approach might have worked a couple of decades ago when it was a seller’s market and buyers had very little information about what products and options were available, but that’s hardly the case anymore. If your buyers wanted to know about features, they could simply have gone through your website or downloaded a brochure. The fact that they have called you means that they want to have a deeper conversation.
A deeper conversation doesn’t just mean that you simply answer just what the caller asks and proceed to push for a sale — a sales team is not meant to replace an FAQ. The caller can ask you anything at all — how will a specific feature be helpful in their unique situation, what challenges can be expected in implementation in a specific scenario, etc.
Then there’s the problem of a lack of clarity about needs. In an ideal situation, the caller will have done his/her research and would have a clear idea about their needs. This makes it easier for your salespeople to explain how you can solve their problem.
But how often do you come across a prospect who knows exactly what they need or want?
It’s usually your sales team which has to help the client figure that out. If that’s the case, your team needs to go the extra mile — reading between the lines, asking questions of their own to help flesh out the callers’ needs, and finding out more than just what’s obvious.
To do this, your sales team will need to ask great questions and be perceptive listeners.
If you want to increase your inbound sales conversion rates, you need to redefine the very purpose of your inbound sales team from an FAQ team to an advisory team. Evolve from the ‘salesperson’ tag to the ‘advisor’ tag.
How do you do that? That’s what this chapter is about.
The Experienced Professional’s Mistake
Want to hear an uncomfortable fact? Being more experienced can often work against you.
Experienced salespeople often fall prey to one of the biggest mistakes in business — making assumptions about the prospect.
“As an inbound sales professional, don’t make assumptions about your prospect and their request just because you think you’ve heard it all.”
Nick Kane, Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group , an award-winning sales performance company. He’s also the Co-Author of Critical Selling: How Top Performers Accelerate the Sales Process and Close More Deals
Making assumptions can hurt your conversion rates in a multitude of ways.
Here the most common ones:
- Making assumptions means that you have already made up your mind about what your prospect should be doing. That prevents you from even trying to understand the subtleties of the caller’s challenges. As a result, whatever you say to your prospects won’t hit home that often and the vast majority of them will be unconvinced. Meaning — they will go elsewhere.
- Making assumptions subconsciously pushes you to prematurely past the ‘analysis’ stage of the conversation to the ‘pushing a sale’ stage. This is a sure fire way of diminishing your credibility in the eyes of the prospect. They would feel that you are simply interested in closing the sale without being sufficiently aware of their challenges and requirements. A clear turn-off.
- Besides, moving prematurely to the ‘solution’ from the ‘analysis’ stage also gives off an ‘I’m in a hurry’ vibe. It’s almost as if you are not too interested in their business and have better things to do at that moment rather than prolong the conversation.
- Often, you might appear to be plain rude! Some of the more intelligent and seasoned prospects might feel that you are being arrogant or condescending if you presume to understand their exact challenges without hearing them out first.
- Making assumptions will compromise your ability to accurately qualify the client. Your sales team might spend precious hours following up with someone who has an extremely low likelihood of buying.
- And let’s not forget one of the most damaging consequences of making assumptions and incorrect qualification. Your salespeople offer a solution that in the seems like a perfect fit, and you close the sale. However, eventually, the customer turns out to be a terrible fit for your business — something which your implementation teams realise after the sale has been made. Not only would you have your wasted time, money and resources, but you would have to issue a refund to your customer to prevent a serious escalation or even a legal dispute.
If you don’t have the right remedy, be honest and help them find another solution. Many headaches are avoided by not trying to shove a size 13 foot into a size 7 shoe.
Dan Posner, VP, Business Development, Big Leap, an internet marketing company based in Lehi, UT.
Therefore, unless you are in an industry where there is only a very specific type of buyer, you need to keep a very open mind during the call. But it’s a natural human tendency to make assumptions, especially as you gain more experience. How do you fortify yourself against this tendency?
Two ways. First be aware that your mind will have a tendency to make assumptions and be on your guard. Next, make sure you ask lots of questions during the call. These two measures will keep you from falling into the assumption trap.
Structuring the Conversation
The key to a successful inbound sales call lies in understanding the prospect’s needs and then positioning your offering in terms of their needs. To truly position yourself as a competent advisor, the prospect needs to feel that they are having a conversation, not just going through another sales call.
Always use the phrase “What can I help you with today?” within the first two sentences of an interaction. Not only will this question prompt the caller to explain why he or she is calling (standard), but it will also shed light as to where the caller found your information, how much she knows, and if they are ready to purchase
Evan Harris, Co-founder & Director of Communications, SD Equity Partners, a San Diego based real estate finance company.
The first few lines will set the tone for the entire conversation. A friendly and self-assured opening gives the caller the confidence that they have taken the right decision in calling you. It will also determine how they begin to perceive you — as a salesperson or an expert advisor. As the old adage goes, first impressions matter.
Additionally, as Evan Harris says, this will also open up the possibility of getting valuable nuggets of information about the caller — who are they, what are they looking for, how ready are they to buy.
Most callers would be ready with a number of questions. The more experienced the prospect, the more questions they would have. However, as I have mentioned before, simply answering a prospect’s questions relegates you to acting like an FAQ sheet! Even if you answer every single question correctly, it will do little to place your offering in a better light than your competitors’.
To make a truly remarkable impact on your prospects and maximise conversions, you should be the one asking the questions, and your prospect should be doing most of the talking. Asking questions helps you maintain control over the conversation and take it in the direction that you want.
Why is it so important for you to be asking the questions?
For three broad reasons.
Firstly, your prospect has called you because they have a problem that they want to solve. There is a certain narrative in their head about exactly what the problem is and how it needs to be addressed.
The more they talk the more information they will reveal about the various facets of the problem. What’s the prospect missing out on because of the problem? What is it costing them? Who is it affecting? How long has it been affecting them? What have they tried so far? What are they expecting in a solution?
Having answers to these questions will help you in several ways:
- You will have a clear picture of the narrative inside the prospect’s head. Anything that you say and any solution that you offer will be from the standpoint of that narrative.
- Your offering might have several features and you might offer customised products or services. Having a clear picture will help you focus only on those features that matter to a particular prospect.
- You will not have to make any assumptions and end up saying something that does not resonate with the prospect.
Before an outbound call, you’ve performed research about the individual and their company. But with an inbound call, you need to ask good questions that reveal their current situation and needs — and you need to do that pretty quick.
Robert Feifer | EVP Sales, Chargeback, a SaaS based, technology driven fraud prevention and recovery company.
Secondly, asking the right questions will turn the call into a conversation. You will be able to make the prospect feel more comfortable about you. Besides, the more people talk and express themselves, the more they begin to like you.
Finally, asking questions is essential for qualifying the prospect. I have spoken about qualification at length in the next chapter.
Asking great questions is not an easy job. Anyone can ask basic questions, but it takes a seasoned salesperson to ask questions that get to the root of the problem. The best salespeople ask questions that make the caller think about the problem from a fresh perspective and also help them to realise how your solution can help them in ways that other people can’t.
How to Ask Counter- Questions
In most cases, the prospect will ask you a question about your offering within the first ten seconds. You will need to postpone answering their question and ask a counter question instead. Many beginner salespeople find this a bit awkward. Here’s a simple way to do it:
Caller: Can you tell me about X product?
Salesperson: Sure! Happy to. To answer your question with the right context, may I ask you what business you are in?
Once you ask the first question and the caller responds, it becomes easy to ask a follow-up question, and then another.
Once you do start asking questions you can continue asking follow-up questions, listening to the answer and then making a comment. Of course, they will be asking questions too. To continue asking the questions, ask one right after you finish answering one.
Remember- as long as you ask most of the questions, you are in control of the conversation. You can steer the conversation in the direction that you want — from the analysis stage to the solution stage to the close.
“Don’t forget to listen. Although this seems obvious, this is easily and often time overlooked by sales professionals that handle inbound sales…Inbound calls may get into your products or services but should be initially focused on the buyer and their problems and challenges.”
Nick Kane, Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group
An inbound sales professional has to have far better listening skills than an outbound salesperson.
In an outbound call, your executives have the luxury of doing their homework in advance, making sure they have a decent understanding of the prospect’s business and how your offering can help them. But in an inbound call, it’s an assessment they have to take on the spot. You just have a few minutes to make a powerful impression on the caller.
Essential keys of active listening:
- You caller might not be able to clearly articulate exactly what’s on their mind. You have to help them define their requirements as clearly as possible by asking the right questions.
- Use confirming statements to let the customer know that you have heard and understood them.
- Clarify what they mean with follow up questions if you are in doubt. Don’t make assumptions.
Here’s some on-the-ground advice from Nick Kane:
“Pay close attention to what the customer is communicating and consider not only their words but also the meaning and feeling of what they are conveying. Clue your listening in on points where they become more excited or less, etc.
And pay attention to ‘customer words’. These are the words they use to describe their situation. Make note of the exact words they are using and use them in your solution presentation. This will ensure they know you are paying close attention to them and their needs and ultimately help build trust quickly.”
Finally, to be a better listener, you have to build higher levels of empathy towards your prospect and be more mindful during the call. More about that in the Advanced Tips Chapter.
Active Listening is crucial for addressing objections. Your prospect may not explicitly state what their objections are. You will have to figure that out. Look for signs of hesitation or pauses. It’s not just about what they say, you need to look for what they don’t say.
“Answering a new prospect’s questions is usually quick and simple, but what I look for is an underlying theme or what is really motivating these questions so I can address those deeper needs. A simple example would be if someone asks about our pricing and then hums-and-haws or pauses for a long moment. From this hesitation, I know there’s a deeper root cause to this so I can further drill down to respond directly to any reservations they may have about cost or how we package and price our services.
However, finding this deep pain point may not be as simple or obvious, and you have to rely on your experience talking to past customers and how those conversations led from an innocent-seeming question to an “ah-ha” moment for the prospect”
Jeff Kear, Founder, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Planing Pod, a Web-based event management and registration software.
Who is the caller and where do they fit in the buying process?
While you are figuring out the prospect is looking for, you need to simultaneously figure of what role he or she plays in the buying process. Is the caller an IT expert whose technical input will guide the final decision? Is it a project manager concerned about efficiency and collaboration? Are you speaking to a product head who needs to know how well your offerings work with their platform? Or is it a new hire who’ll just be passing on the findings to his bosses?
You’re speaking to someone who’ll have a well-defined role in the buying process, with their own set of concerns, queries, and biases, you’ll need to discover those before offering a solution. Anything that you say to the caller and the language that you use will have to be tailored to the caller’s universe, not just what the caller’s company wants. Unless you can do that, they will not take the sale to the next stage.
Script — Yes or No?
And finally, the infamous sales script! These might still work in outbound calls, but it would be a mistake to rely on these in inbound sales where don’t know who you’re speaking to and have zero context for an effective script.
“The savvy customer can tell when you’re reading from a script, so unless you’re required by law to give certain disclaimers stay off the script and instead be more interactive.”
Jacob Ackerman | Chief Technology Officer at SkyLink Data Centers
Inbound sales calls require a more flexible and interactive approach. Spontaneity leads to a conversation which the caller appreciates and most importantly — remembers!
Reading out answers from a script will make the caller question your sales team’s expertise. And if they feel that your sales team isn’t good enough — what kind of a perception will they develop about your product/service?
Josh Brown, Fieldboom agrees:
“The sales team shouldn’t be working from a script as this will come off as insincere and you won’t be able to demonstrate a genuine understanding of the prospect’s problem or a desire to help them solve it. The conversation should be dynamic and the way it progresses should be built on previous responses.”
Should you Totally Dump the Script?
Is there any scope for using a script in an inbound call? Yes — in a limited way.
Your entire conversation should not be a script, but there are specific sentences that can be scripted.
How you open the call, how you ask key questions and follow up questions, how you close, etc. It’s best to have scripts for these sentences based on the type of caller — their role, personality type, etc.
For the rest of the conversation, forget the script!
What about a Script for Rookies?
I understand your problem!
How can expect a rookie salesperson to work without a script?
I agree that a script can help them to a certain extent, but that’s not the best option. A far better way is to give them a structure they need to follow the call — sort of a flowchart. This can be part of your sales playbook.
Give them the freedom to be spontaneous as long as they stick to the structure. They will do far better and will have the opportunity to develop their skills on the job. A script will not even allow them to learn.
The Brick Wall
We’ve all hit the metaphorical brick wall at times. It happens to everyone, and some might even say that the sales domain — where success boils down to persuading someone else to trust you — is where this happens the most.
What if things just aren’t going your way… Can’t seem to explain what exactly they’re looking for? Or the caller doesn’t seem to be enthused by your solution? And yet, the lead seems to have potential?
At this point, you might be tempted to wind up the call, promising to send more details over email, and making a note for a possible follow-up a week later.
But that might not be the best course of action. Just emailing sales collateral won’t help. If the caller is not too enthused after a one-on-one conversation with your sales experts, it’s unlikely something else will win them over.
Collateral plays a support function — it might clarify, it might explain, but it can only build upon an existing relationship. It can’t create that rapport and trust. Only a conversation can. The longer you talk to someone, the more likely it is that you find some common ground.
Ask Hard Questions
Therefore, if the call isn’t going well, start asking hard questions. What is it that they mind missing in your solution? What have they found appealing in other companies they have looked up?
Here’s an example of a statement that might give you a break:
You could say, “I can see that you are not too happy with whatever you have heard so far, what would you need to know to seriously consider our solution?”
Asking this question will do one of two things. Either it will give you information that can turn the conversation around, or you will know that the caller will never buy and you can safely proceed to wrap up the call.
Either way, it’s a far more effective tactic than sending over collateral!
Chapter 3: Qualifying Inbound Sales Calls
Chapter 3: Qualifying Inbound Sales Calls
“Always qualify inbound leads as soon as you can during the call to avoid wasting either person’s time. Have an ideal client persona in mind.”
David Benedet, Client Growth Specialist, seoplus+, a digital marketing agency based in Ottawa, Canada
Qualifying any new lead is vital as it allows you to direct resources towards the most important calls. Not all calls carry the same long-term prospect and you can’t afford to have your best salespeople spend energy and effort on leads that are unlikely to pan out. Your sales team, while understanding the caller, also needs to ascertain how much more effort they have to put in. In fact, recommending a particular course of action is only possible after qualifying the prospect.
For example, We spoke about understanding the caller’s role in the process. As a corollary to that rule, your sales team also needs to determine how far along the buying process the caller is.
What if there’s a caller who’s just ‘looking around’ and is unsure whether they even need a new solution? If your team is already busy with several promising leads to follow up, this particular caller might be best served by the additional material or a link to case studies showing the effectiveness of your product, with a follow-up contact planned for sometime later.
At the other extreme might be someone who’s just about to take a decision and might be ready for a face-face presentation by a senior member of your sales team within the next day or two.
“Inbound sales calls can be a wildcard: it could be a decision-maker in the late stages of the sales process, or an intern performing investigatory work for a purchase still far in the future.”
Robert Feifer, EVP Sales, Chargeback
Qualifying leads effectively is a crucial skill your salespeople will need in order to maintain a high conversion rate and a high ROI on your sales expenditure.
Rely on BANT? It’s time for a change
For many years now, the BANT philosophy has been considered the gold standard of the sales qualification process. Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe — these neatly encapsulate a sales prospect, leaving no space for guesswork.
But in a world where ‘products’ and one-off sales have lost primacy to ‘platforms’, ‘solutions’ and long-term partnerships, BANT doesn’t seem to be enough — It’s too seller (and sales) focused for this day, and its individual pegs have lost some of their relevance.
Budgets are flexible, with cloud technologies, SaaS tools, many-tier offerings, and subscriptions increasing accessibility. Next, with multiple stakeholders and decision makers involved, there’s sometimes no clarity on the ‘Authority’ aspect. Besides, BANT does not cover a crucial element — what is the goal that they are trying to achieve? Is that something you can deliver over the long term in a world where your success depends on renewals and recurring revenues?
You can of course, still continue to use BANT, but there’s a newer alternative that might suit your qualification process better.
The new kid on the block — GPCTBA/C&I
Marketing automation platform Hubspot now recommends the GPCTBA/C&I process for any sales-driven activity — Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority, Consequences and positive Implications. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of GPCTBA/C&I (it’s complex enough — and deserving — of its own stand-alone article), here’s a quick overview:
Your sales team gets started by discovering the Goals the caller hopes to achieve. Once you’ve ascertained these (you might even have to walk the caller through, especially if they haven’t quantified their goals), it’s time get to know their Plan and the Challenges they’re facing. This gives your sales team an opportunity to figure out exactly how you can help the caller. Next up, it’s the Timing the prospect is looking at — this helps you gauge what would be required from your end.
Next up are Budget and Authority — How much is the lead willing to spend, and who’ll be taking the final decision — which is essential for you tailor an effective pitch. And finally, your sales team will arrive at the Consequences and Implications stage — What happens if the prospect fails to meet its goals, and what are the rewards should your company help them succeed?
While this is no means an exhaustive look, it must be clear by now how the GPCTBA/C&I process makes for a more comprehensive, leave-nothing-to-chance sales experience.
Unlike BANT, which has served sales teams well for several decades but falls short in an age where the emphasis is on solutions and relationships, GPCTBA/C&I seems to deliver by prioritising the caller’s requirements. At the same time, it can give your team a more accurate understanding of a sales prospect.
Chapter 4: Advanced Tips for Converting more Inbound Sales Calls
Chapter 4: Advanced Tips for Converting more Inbound Sales Calls
Want some bad news?
Whatever I have mentioned so far isn’t enough. Many of your competitors will also be doing nearly everything that I have spoken about. To build a phenomenal inbound sales team that can beat the competition and deliver truly impressive conversion rates, you need to take your game up a few notches higher.
What you need are a few advanced approaches and systems. That’s what this chapter is about.
1. “Who’s there?”
Inbound callers come from all stages of the funnel.
A caller might be someone who has heard about you before and has done a fair amount of research about your company. On the other hand, it might be someone who just clicked on a Google Adwords ad and has been aware of your existence only for the past 10 minutes.
How can you make use of this distinction to have a more fruitful sales conversation?
If you can determine how the caller found you, you can tweak your selling approach according to the stage of the buyer’s journey that prospect is in. This can make a huge difference to the quality of the conversation.
If the prospect is calling you after they have downloaded and read your product brochure, it’d be safe to assume that they have at least looked around and have a fair idea of what you do. But if the call comes through on the number you’ve used for an Adwords campaign, your sales staff might have to spend more time on educating the caller about your brand. Categorising the prospect early in the call will give your sales team a sense of direction, help them ask the right questions, save time and build a better rapport with the caller.
By the way, saving time is important in an inbound sales call. While you don’t want to rush through the call, you should not spend time on unnecessary details either. After all, you don’t want your team to miss out on taking additional calls, right?
Determining the Lead Source
How do you figure out how they have found you? The old school way would be to simply ask them. However, there are several problems with asking.
To effectively tailor your sales call, you will need to have this bit of information as early as possible — preferably within the first 30 seconds. However, asking this question too early on, before you have begun to build up a rapport is a little awkward. Honestly, it feels a little bureaucratic — almost as if your caller needs to justify why they are calling you.
Or you can hope they reveal that when you ask “How can I help you?”. But good salespeople don’t depend on hope!!
How to be 100% Sure
Thankfully there’s an incredibly simple solution that will ensure that you never have to ask how they found you. Just use unique virtual numbers in your marketing collaterals. Use a unique number for your Adwords campaigns, website, Ebooks, banner ads, newspaper ads, etc. Even before picking up the call, your salesperson will know which source the caller has found you from.
Knowlarity’s cloud telephony solutions come in handy here as you can assign separate virtual phone numbers to all your marketing channels — website (for organic searches), Google Adwords, direct banner ads, etc.
Knowlarity also offers a Click-to-Call feature. All you need to do is install a widget on your website/ landing pages and the caller can reach you will the click of a button. Our customers find this to be another great way to track the exact sources your prospects are calling from.
Both these features will help you reduce a lot of the uncertainty in your inbound sales calls.
2. The Power of Language
Another aspect of a great call experience is using language, terms and industry jargon judiciously. Your sales team should figure out who’s on the other end — is it a developer? A business manager? Any solution you provide to them should stick to language, terminology and focus points they’d be familiar with.
There’s no point in getting into a deeply technical discussion with someone who’s more keen on the bigger picture. Yet a technical discussion may well persuade a developer into recommending your product at the monthly project meeting. Just think of it as speaking the same language! It’s not that hard.
Making note of the caller’s language plays a role not only during the first inbound call but also during the entire sales interaction with that particular prospect. Here’s what Nick Kane, Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group advises:
“Pay attention to ‘customer words’. These are the words they use to describe their situation. Make note of the exact words they are using and use them in your solution presentation. This will ensure they know you are paying close attention to them and their needs and ultimately help build trust quickly.”
Before we move on, a word about using industry jargon. Excessive use of acronyms and industry jargon never creates an impression of expertise. The only effect it has is to make the caller think they’re on the phone with someone who’s trying to sound impressive.
Dave Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, one of the largest training companies in the world, also emphasises the importance of picking up on behavioural clues from your buyer and adapting to the caller’s behavioural style.
He suggests that you use a behavioural model assessment tool to understand yourself better.
“If you know who you are, then it’s easy to make sure that you’re flexible in your communication style when talking to somebody else who doesn’t have the same style that you do.. Buyers change the way that they want to buy. You adapt to them.”
Sandler uses the DISC assessment tool — a simple behavioural model with four different types of communication styles and behavioural styles.
3. Adopt the Right Mindset
“Successful salespeople are generally goal-oriented. They achieve success by directing the selling process and closing sales. Yet when a prospect calls in, it’s important for salespeople to put their goals aside, and focus on being totally present to the prospect instead.”
Joy Rains, a mindfulness for Sales Expert and author of Meditation Illuminated
One of the strongest traits of the best-performing salespeople is empathy — the ability to put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. The better you can do that, the clearer you will be about the conversation that’s going on in the prospect’s head.
This is important in all types of sales calls, but probably a lot more important in inbound sales. That’s because inbound sales calls begin with knowing next to nothing about the caller. You have to be perceptive enough to figure it out.
Many successful outbound salespeople have difficulty adapting to an inbound sales role. When you are on a call with a prospect, are you thinking about the prospect’s goals or your own targets? If you think you have trouble focusing on the prospect’s goals, Joy Rains recommends a solution:
Using affirmations can help, such as silently repeating the phrase, “When prospects call in, my complete focus is on understanding their needs.”
Repeating this affirmation before you begin your day and before you take each call will help you become far more mindful and perceptive to your prospects’ needs.
In today’s world, new products are being developed at a pace never seen before. This is true especially in the technology space, but valid for most industries. Your inbound sales function will have to keep improving their selling skills, their product knowledge and invest in the latest sales technology.
Follow the principle of Kaizen — of continuous improvement. This is not just flashy a management jargon. In today’s world, the market keeps changing very rapidly and you must keep up. Because if you don’t, your competitors will.
Inbound sales calls are a whole different ball game compared to outbound calls. The demands they put on your team are greater, but the rewards match that increased difficulty. Your sales team will need patience, spontaneity and a willingness to put the desire for a quick sale on the backburner to achieve success in this sphere.
Do share your thoughts and ask us your questions in the comments section below.
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