Because the sales experience is entirely different for an inbound lead it requires a different set of skills, mindsets and behaviors for the business development manager to be successful.
Over the last 7-8 years, most professional services firms have been doing everything in their power to migrate from an outbound sales and marketing model to an inbound one. While the inbound methodology, originally coined by Hubspot, has become synonymous with the concept of content marketing, the reality is it’s just a web-enabled version of the thought leadership marketing model used by consulting firms for decades. Albeit, with a few bent rules.
There are no more editorial gatekeepers. Or, at least there are fewer of them. Anyone can start a blog. Anyone can shoot a low cost video and post it to YouTube. Anyone can pick out a niche, and develop themselves into a position as an industry expert given enough time, hard work and pattern recognition. But, what do you do when it actually happens? How do your firm’s sales mindsets and selling behaviors need to change when your leads start coming to you rather than the other way around? And, what does that change mean to who you staff and how you staff them?
Having lived on both sides of this coin (as well as the delicate balancing act that lives in the middle), I feel like I’m in a pretty good place to offer some advice on the change in mindset and behaviors that have to occur for sellers to be successful in an inbound marketing model.
The 7 Characteristics and Behaviors of Outbound Selling
When we work with firms that have excelled at outbound selling for some time, we usually find a combination of these mindsets and characteristics in place within their business development managers:
#1 – Door Openers
The central, and most difficult, task of business development is generally seen as just opening the door. A lot of business development managers see their primary job as just finding a way in, demonstrating relevancy, and then handing things off to a partner or practice leader who can carry a deeper, more substantive dialogue with the prospect.
#2 – Pursuit Mentality
This is simply having a nose for the deal. Clearly not a bad thing. Business development leaders that excel in an outbound environment are high competitive drive individuals. They thrive on the chase. And, love the idea of bringing down the big whale.
#3 – Product-Oriented
There is a tendency with some business development professionals (and firm leaders) to bind their firm’s ability to operate along a few narrow dimensions. “We do these things for these types of companies; let me show you some examples.” Effectively positioning a firm is critical to success, and business development managers in an outbound model are laser-focused on finding opportunities that fit within that box. In a sense, they have a hammer and they’re looking everywhere they can for things to nail.
#4 – Project-Oriented
Business development leaders often see themselves as pursuing project opportunities. They’re keenly on the look out for the next project that fits within the firm’s sweet spot. And, they often see that one small project as a potential entry point into a slew of other potential larger projects.
#5 – Leads are Names on a List
When business developers talk about leads in an outbound environment they’re describing a target list of companies they’d like to do business with and the people or project opportunities they’re targeting to make it happen. Their list is driven by aspiration and is largely unbounded by any relationship (or lack thereof) that the people on that list have with the firm. Of course, a successful business development manager will work that lead list based on where they see the most potential via prior relationships or contacts within their network. But, how they work the leads list is often largely based on intuition and a model that exists somewhere within their mind.
#6 – Client is in Control
Ultimately, because the firm is in pursuit-mode they operate under the belief that the client is in control of what happens when and the firm’s job is to respond. The client has the money so they’re dictating what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. The firm needs to be ready to crank up the interview and proposal machine on a dime.
#7 – Client is Vetting You
In an outbound situation, the client is constantly on their heels. “Why are you contacting me? Why should I listen to your firm? Don’t contact me, I’ll contact you.” The client is retreating in the sale and the business development professional is forced, both by their nature and the situation they’re in, to pursue.
Clearly, I’ve oversimplified some of these things to paint a simple picture of the mindsets your outbound business developers bring to the situation. For the last 8-9 years, most firms have adopted some sort of Challenger Sales methodology. So, very few business development people will allow the client to stay in complete control of the sales process. They’ll look for ways to push back, create healthy conflict, and collaborate with the client to develop a solution. But, doing that from an outbound position is quite hard because the client often doesn’t trust the business development person yet. The client sees themselves as in control — after all, they didn’t ask you for help — and, they logically assume that allows them to dictate the terms of the sale and the process by which they’ll make a buying decision.
The 6 Characteristics and Behaviors of Inbound Selling
If a firm makes a successful transition to a predominantly inbound marketing model the dynamics of the sale change dramatically. The relationship between buyer and seller changes and the expectations for both parties changes as well.
#1 – Qualifying the Client
Unlike in an outbound model, the business development manager is no longer the professional door opener. The door has already opened. The first conversation takes on a whole new dynamic. The business development professional is now less focused on prying open an otherwise closed door. And, more focused on peaking inside the door that’s been opened and seeing if the firm wants to go inside. In the earliest stages of the sale, it’s the business development lead’s job to qualify the prospect and see if they’d be a good fit for your firm’s client roster.
#2 – Helping Mentality
In order to qualify an inbound lead, the sales person needs to ask the hard questions, and gauge how the potential client responds. What is the client hoping to accomplish? What reality are they trying to change? What business problem are they hoping to solve? The business development professional is looking to help the client get to the heart of the issue and identify the right resource that can help them get where they want to go. They recognize that resource may exist within your firm. And, it might exist elsewhere. And, they’ll quickly send the client elsewhere if it’s the right thing to do for either the client, or the firm, or both parties.
#3 – Directing and Orchestrating
A successful business development leader in an inbound model acts more like an orchestrator of the sale. They’re less focused on responding to the potential client’s request. And, they’re more focused on ensuring that the sales process is moving in the right direction, at the appropriate pace, with the appropriate people. They’re constantly asking the question — Who needs to be involved on both sides of the relationship? How? These aren’t just qualifying questions on a list. They’re real mindsets the business development manager is bringing to the sale in order to advance the client’s cause.
#4 – Firm is in Control
When a client contacts you they’re looking for you to take control. They’ve come to the realization that they need help. You’ve architected a solution by way of your thought leadership. Their assumption is that you’ll take over. And, they want you to. This makes the business development leader responsible for providing the client with advice on how to buy what they’re trying to buy and helping him or her make a good decision. An inbound marketing model will fail if your thought leadership is surfacing leads, but the business development leader defers to the client for how to move forward at the point of sale.
#5 – Leads are Nuanced
When a firm is generating inbound leads the definition of what a lead is becomes much more nuanced. Yes, a lead may still just be a name on a list — someone we’d like to work with. But, it’s also anyone who has given us permission to market to them. This includes people who’ve subscribed to a newsletter, downloaded an eBook, attended a webinar, etc. This forces the firm to bring more rigor and structure to how it manages its lead profile. It needs to be more clear about the types of clients it’s looking to do business with. This requires setting some boundaries on the size of organization (demographics and firmographics). And, some expectation of what constitutes interest in the firm’s services (behaviors). This forces the firm to bundle its leads into 4 groups:
- Unqualified leads are exactly what you’d expect — people in the database that have yet to be qualified.
- Marketing qualified leads are those folks who are demographically qualified to work with us.
- Sales ready leads are folks who’ve made a direct inquiry about our services or who’ve demonstrated behaviors that warrant a direct, one-on-one outreach.
- Worked leads are those folks in the system that don’t meet our qualifying model.
#6 – Bi-Directional Vetting
In an inbound situation, both parties are vetting each other. The business development leaders can’t let just anybody in the door. Generally, this means being less focused on the firm’s “products.” Less focused on the pursuit of a specific project. And, more focused on pursuit of a perfect fit. This, of course, requires having a clear definition of what constitutes a quality lead and bringing a helping mentality to the sale.
Now, I think you’ll notice that this is a mix of skills, mindsets and behaviors. Some of these are just the nature of how the sale is developing and how the business developer needs to respond. Others are very changes in the function (moving from a door opening role into a facilitator role). Some of the skills of an outbound model are healthy ones that logically should remain within your team as you make the transition. Some are skills that need to be completely unlearned and replaced with new concepts and behaviors. Most firms will probably never operate in one model or the other. It will probably be some kind of hybrid operating model that requires skills and mindsets from both sides of the coin.
Can Your Business Developer Make the Transition?
This is a big and important question. I’m not a sales consultant nor do I “play one on TV.” But, I’ve lived on both sides of the model. And, I’ve hired people to fit into both of these roles. I’ve even hired individuals who’ve filled each of these roles for us at different points in the progression of our agency.
Given those experiences, the answer is yes. People can migrate from one operating model to the other. But, when we ask them to do so we need to be clear about what’s changing and what’s not. We need to recognize that people have natural tendencies and habits they’ve developed in the sale over time. They have certain mindsets they bring to the sale based on their past experiences. And, those mindsets drive the behaviors they’ll bring to the role. So, making the transition will require some coaching and training over a period of time. In my experience, a talented and seasoned business development leader will naturally understand what needs to change and how. And, they’ll work quickly and diligently to re-shape how they operate in order to fit with what’s now expected of them.