Selling Through Influencers: The New Challenge With Inbound Sales Adoption

Mark Roberge
Mark Roberge



Every day, I see many sales reps face a new challenge – one I'm hoping some of you can chime in on. 

I'm hearing more and more salespeople complement their outreach with inbound sales approaches and use technology to listen for prospects entering the buying process. Almost everyone I speak to is extremely bullish about the approach. Most claim to have more calls turn into qualified opportunities that close faster. 

But a new challenge arises with the inbound sales approach that many account-based sales reps aren't used to: Selling through the influencer

Oftentimes, the inbound lead contact is not a C-Suite executive. Instead, the contact is a frontline employee conducting research on behalf of the company. The problem is most salespeople are trained to call high and lead with the elevator pitch – but this approach doesn't translate well to the frontline employees.

In these situations, what tactics are you seeing work? I'd love to discuss in the comments section at the bottom of this article. To help get the discussion started, I'll share an approach that has worked well in HubSpot's buyer context. 

Engage the influencer with a value proposition they care about.

We've found that many influencers don't care about the same things decision makers do. The traditional elevator pitch caters to the C-Suite and focuses on growth, margins, and COGs, among other areas, and are not relevant to influencers.

Influencers care about ease of use, time-saving opportunities, and getting their boss off their back. Understanding this difference in buyer context early in the buyer journey has worked well for us. Example questions we use are: 

  • What are [influencer's name] responsibilities?
  • How is [influencer's name] measured?
  • What does [influencer's name] struggle with?

By understanding the influencer's context, we can now describe our product value proposition in ways that matter to them.

Once influencer buy-in is achieved, restart the buyer journey for the decision-maker. 

I have been on many calls during which the influencer screams out “I AM SOLD!” which certainly brings a smile to my face. However, despite that proclamation, that deal is far from done.

Our more seasoned salespeople recognize that this milestone is simply a step in the buyer journey, which means it's time to restart the sales process around the decision-maker’s needs.

All too often, influencers assume that their boss will buy software because it will save them so much time … and less experienced salespeople make the mistake of believing them. In my experience, that is when a contract sits on a desk for a month and collects dust.

We try to avoid this trap by leveraging the influencer to gain the insight we need. If we have done our job well in the buyer journey, the influencer understands we are a trusted advisor and can help the influencer acquire our product. Good questions to ask them include:

  • What has [decision-maker's name] been talking about in team meetings lately?
  • What has [decision-maker's name] been on your case about?
  • What was discussed in the last company meeting?

If you successfully sell the value of your product to the influencer, that person will be more likely to provide any information you need to make the critical sell to the decision-maker.

Don't let the influencer sell on your behalf. 

As motivated as the influencer may be to buy a product, they are often hesitant to give salespeople direct access to the decision-maker. However, this direct access is crucial to getting the deal done. So we remind the influencer how much they want our product and assure the influencer that we will represent them well in front of their boss.

Now, if the influencer simply won’t give us access to the decision-maker, we shift gears and become the influencer’s sales coach. Unless the influencer is in sales, that person may not have an optimal approach to this type of discussion. They need our help.

We ask how they will position the product to their boss, offer to put together the presentation deck, and provide additional talking points that are aligned with the decision-maker’s top priorities. We need to leverage our trusted advisor status to help the influencer get this deal over the finish line.

This is the approach that works best in our buyer context. I'm curious to hear whether other folks come across this challenge and the tactics that work in their buyer context. Feel free to share in the comments.


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