Inbound Sales: How to Sell the Way Prospects Buy

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Mark Roberge
Mark Roberge


Today, the power in the buying and selling process has shifted from the seller to the buyer. The buying process is transformed.

Salesperson leverages inbound sales to close deals.

Which is why inbound sales is a critical foundation of any successful sales team strategy — because as the buying process changes, the sales process needs to transform, too. 

Whether your sales process relies on inbound leads or targeted outreach, whether you’re a big company or small, and whether your sale is complex or simple — inbound sales is relevant. That’s because inbound sales transforms selling to match today’s empowered buyer — so sales reps can sell the way people buy.

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What is inbound sales?

Inbound sales is a personalized, helpful, modern sales methodology. Inbound salespeople focus on their prospect's pain points, act as a trusted consultant, and adapt their sales process to the buyer journey.

what is inbound sales?Inbound sales starts with attracting qualified leads through inbound marketing — this includes using video marketing, social media, and blogging to attract interested audiences.

Next, as an inbound salesperson, you'd want to connect with the lead to learn more about their problems and challenges. This can help you determine whether your product or service is a good fit for their needs. 

Once you've determined it's a good fit, you'd work with the lead to explore areas of opportunity and explain how your solution can help them reach their goals. 

As you deepen the relationship with the prospect, actively listen to their concerns, and express genuine interest in helping them solve their problems, you'll be able to turn qualified prospects into customers and brand advocates.

And that's all without wasting your time sales pitching to people who don't have an interest or need in your product or service. 

Next, here's how to understand the difference between inbound and outbound sales.

Essentially, with inbound you are attracting interested customers by providing incomparable value through inbound marketing materials.

With an outbound approach, you're using a sales funnel to get in front of as many people as possible, potentially wasting your efforts by engaging with consumers who are uninterested in what you're selling.

To understand the power of inbound sales, let's take a look at a few quick stats: 

  • 76% of buyers are ready to have sales conversations on social media. (Source)
  • According to LinkedIn, 62% of B2B customers respond to salespeople who connect by sharing content and insights that are relevant to the buyer. (Source)
  • When asked about quality content, 65% of B2B buyers said informational, easy to consume content is an important factor in their buying decisions. (Source)
  • 41% of B2B buyers view 3-5 pieces of content online before interacting with a salesperson. (Source)
  • 74% of business buyers conduct over half of their research before making a final purchasing decision. (Source)
  • Personalization can help breed inside sales success. When both the message and subject line are personalized, emails have an average open rate of 5.9%and a click rate of .2%. (Source)
  • Email is nearly 40x more effective than either Facebook or Twitter at new customer acquisition. (Source)
  • Sales reps that focus on the value they can deliver to a customer during calls are 96% more successful. (Source)

By comparison, outbound sales can be more difficult to implement, particularly since it requires salespeople to conduct cold outreach to people who may or may not be interested in your product or service. 

However, there are instances in which outbound sales is incredibly effective.

For instance, let's say you sell education software specifically for schools. In this case, you might call the superintendent of a school district and explain how your solution has already helped other schools in the surrounding region.

Even if the superintendent hasn't expressed interest by reading your blog posts or engaging with your social media pages, it doesn't mean she isn't interested – rather, it could mean she doesn't have existing knowledge of the types of solutions you and your competitors' offer. 

Additionally, outbound sales can be a good opportunity for your organization to tap into new markets. If there are qualified leads who haven't heard of your company, you don't want to ignore them in hopes that they'll eventually be attracted through inbound marketing. This is where both inbound and outbound sales can help your sales organization hit their targets. 

What is easier, inbound or outbound sales? 

Outbound sales is a more difficult process, and it can be more challenging to succeed with outbound selling. With outbound sales, salespeople need to take it upon themselves to conduct research, identify pain points, and cold call a decision-maker with a pitch that outlines how their solution will fit that company's needs — without that buyer ever demonstrating interest in speaking with a salesperson. 

Outbound selling is also incredibly time-consuming. Consider, for instance, how it takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer. And when you do finally reach the buyer, you need to convince them that your product or service is a good fit for them even if they've never heard of your business before. Basically, you're starting from scratch. 

Inbound selling, on the other hand, is much easier in some respects.  While the initial inbound marketing foundation can be hard to build — i.e. creating a website with a strong SEO ranking, writing high-converting blog posts, and expanding your social media presence to reach new audiences — once the foundation is established, it's much easier for your sales team to pitch to leads who've already expressed interest in your brand.

Additionally, creating a strong inbound selling strategy is difficult, since it requires your sales leaders to create a strategy that aligns with the buyer's journey. All of this takes time, effort, and dedication. 

Simply put, inbound sales might take more work upfront, but it's ultimately the easier approach once you've created a strong inbound selling strategy. Outbound selling is more time-consuming and challenging because you're selling to people who haven't expressed interest in your brand. 

Let's review some tactical steps to get you started with inbound selling, next.

inbound versus outbound sales

Inbound Sales Techniques

  1. Define your buyer's journey.
  2. Develop a sales process that supports the buyer's journey.
  3. Identify your ideal buyer persona.
  4. Lead with a helpful, customized prospecting message. 
  5. Craft customized questions to uncover the prospect's pain.
  6. Give a tailored presentation.

1. Define your buyer’s journey.

Legacy sales teams build their sales process around their own needs, not their buyers’. Legacy salespeople focus their energy on “checking the boxes” their sales manager laid out for them instead of listening to the buyer and supporting them through the purchasing process. As a result, the seller and buyer feel misaligned. Furthermore, this self-serving process delivers minimal value to the buyer. Buyers don’t want to be prospected, demoed, or closed. These steps add zero value to the buyer because all the information they get in these meetings can be found without a sales rep’s help.

If salespeople cannot add value beyond the information buyers can find on their own, the buyer has no reason to engage with salespeople at all.

Inbound sales teams avoid this issue by starting with the Buyer’s Journey. Before they ever pick up a phone or send an email, they make it a priority to understand their buyer’s world.

We recommend the following three-part framework for the Buyer’s Journey:


During the awareness stage, buyers identify a challenge they are experiencing or a goal they want to pursue, then decide whether or not it should be a priority. In order to fully understand your buyer’s awareness stage, ask yourself:

  • How do buyers describe the challenges or goals your offering addresses?
  • How do buyers learn more about these challenges or goals?
  • How do buyers decide whether the challenge or goal should be prioritized?


During the consideration stage, buyers have clearly defined their challenge or goal and have committed to addressing it. They evaluate different approaches or methods available to solve their challenge or pursue their goal. In order to fully understand your buyer’s consideration stage, ask yourself:

  • What categories of solutions do buyers investigate?
  • How do buyers perceive the pros and cons of each category?
  • What differentiates your category in the buyer’s eyes?


In the decision stage, buyers have decided on a solution category. They create a list of specific offerings and vendors in their selected category and decide on the one that best meets their needs. In order to fully understand your buyer’s decision stage, ask yourself:

  • What offerings do the buyers typically evaluate?
  • What criteria do buyers use to evaluate available offerings?
  • What differentiates your offering in the buyer’s eyes?
  • Who needs to be involved in the decision? How does each stakeholder’s perspective on the decision differ?

To put this all in context, here is an example of a buying journey for a fictitious recruiting company called Tyre Recruiting.

Let’s say Tyre Recruiting has 10 employees, all of whom are on-staff recruiters except for their CEO. Tyre Recruiting helps companies find salespeople to hire. The firm targets U.S.-based companies in the technology and health care sectors with less than $100M in revenue.

Recruiters at Tyre Recruiting seek out companies that fit their target profile and convince the company to hire the recruiter to source sales candidates. The CEO of Tyre Recruiting decides to use the inbound sales methodology to drive their customer acquisition process.

Here’s the journey Tyre Recruiting’s clients go through when selecting a recruiting firm:

inbound sales buyer journey

2. Develop a sales process that supports your buyer through the journey.

Once the buying journey is defined, the next step is to build your sales process. Unlike legacy sales teams that design their sales process first, inbound sales teams build a sales process after the buying journey has been defined. This inbound sales process supports the buyer through their purchasing journey. As a result, salespeople and buyers feel aligned through the buying and selling process, not at odds with one another.

In order to develop an inbound sales process, ask yourself what your salespeople can be doing at the awareness, consideration, and decision stages to support buyers. We recommend the following four-part framework for your sales process, or the Inbound Sales Methodology:

  1. Identify
  2. Connect
  3. Explore
  4. Advise

inbound sales methodology

Inbound salespeople Identify strangers who may have goals or challenges they can help with. These strangers become leads.

Inbound salespeople Connect with these leads to help them decide whether they should prioritize the goal or challenge. If the buyer decides to do so, these leads become qualified leads.

Inbound salespeople Explore their qualified leads’ goals or challenges to assess whether their offering is a good fit for the qualified leads’ context. If it turns out it’s a good fit, these qualified leads become opportunities.

Inbound salespeople Advise these opportunities on how their offering is uniquely positioned to address the buyer’s context. If the buyer agrees the salesperson’s offering is best for their context, these opportunities become customers.

Here’s Tyre Recruiting’s hypothetical sales process, mapped to the buying journey, for Tyre Recruiting.

inbound sales buyer seller journey

3. Define your "Identify" process.

During the Identify stage, legacy salespeople are unaware of which buyers are active in a buying journey. Instead, legacy reps identify buyers they believe are a good fit and start calling those buyers randomly.

Here’s the problem: Many buyers have already entered the Awareness stage of the buying journey before they engage with salespeople. These active buyers should be targeted first, but legacy salespeople fail to differentiate active buyers from passive buyers.

Inbound salespeople are able to separate active from passive buyers, so they focus their time on buyers who are already in the awareness stage of the buying journey. These buyers may have recently visited the company website, filled out a form, opened one of the salesperson’s emails, or left a clue of their need in some other way.

Before you can identify potential buyers, you need to define which buyers you can help and which buyers you can’t. This is called the ideal buyer profile, and defines which buyers are a good fit for your offering and which ones are not.

Once the ideal buyer profile is defined, use the following hierarchy of lead sources to prioritize leads.

  1. Inbound leads: Visitors to your website who provide their contact information via a conversion form and are from a company that matches your ideal buyer profile. Do not worry if the contact is not your buyer. Focus on their company.
  2. Inbound companies: Anonymous visitors to your website from companies that match your ideal buyer profile. In this case, you have the company name but no contact information on the buyer. You can use the Prospects tool in HubSpot CRM to identify these companies
  3. Trigger events: Watch out for trigger events that suggest a buyer is active in a buying journey. Hypothetical trigger events include social media mentions of your company or a competitor by potential buyers, social media mentions a keyword or hashtag aligned with your value proposition, a social media post or blog post by a potential buyer, or a new role or new executive hired by the company.
  4. Social selling: Invest at least a few hours each week publishing content, responding to relevant conversations, and sharing other content that would be interesting to your buyer. Doing so not only develops your personal brand with your buyers, it also helps you identify additional leads to pursue.
  5. Common connections: Passive buyers who fit your ideal buyer profile who you are connected to via professional acquaintances, personal friends, or maybe even family.
  6. Passive buyers: As a last resort, identify passive buyers who highly match your ideal buyer profile.

In all cases, enrich your identified leads with information about the buyer’s interests and demographics.

4. Define your "Connect" process.

During the Connect stage, legacy salespeople focus their prospecting efforts on cold emails and cold voicemails. These cold outreaches highlight the same generic elevator pitch and attempt to entice buyers with offers to see a presentation about the salesperson’s product. When legacy salespeople actually get buyers on the phone, most of the effort is spent qualifying them on the size of their budget and their authority to spend it.

However, modern buyers do not rely on messages from salespeople to learn about products and services. This information is readily available online whenever buyers are interested. And modern buyers are not ready for a presentation at this stage of their journey. They want to have a two-way conversation with an expert who can help them frame their goal or challenge.

When inbound salespeople reach out to buyers, they lead with a message personalized to the buyer’s context. This context could be the buyer’s industry, role, interests, or common connections. In their opening outreach, inbound salespeople make an offer aligned with the Awareness stage of the buying journey. For example, inbound salespeople may offer a free consultation or ebook about the area the buyer is researching.

Inbound salespeople prepare themselves for the Connect process by defining their personas. When defining personas, segment your target market by company type. Then, pinpoint the different types of people you target within those companies. For example, you can segment the companies you target by industry, size, or geographic location. You can segment the people you target by role, title, function, or common behaviors.

In our Tyre Recruiting example, the firm has six personas:

  • Persona A: VP of Sales at a technology company
  • Persona B: Director of Recruiting at a technology company
  • Persona C: CEO at a technology company
  • Persona D: VP of Sales at a healthcare company
  • Persona E: Director of Recruiting at a healthcare company
  • Persona F: CEO at a healthcare company

Once personas are designed, inbound salespeople outline their outreach strategy, or sequences, for each. The persona sequence defines how you will reach out to the buyer (phone, email, social, etc.), when you will reach out, and how often you will reach out.

Finally, inbound salespeople develop the outreach content for each attempt in the sequence. It is critical to personalize the outreach to the buyer’s context uncovered during the Identify stage.

An example sequence for Persona A for Tyre Recruiting is show below.



Action / Content

Next Attempt in:



Passive Call #1 / Persona A

0 days



Passive Email #1 / Persona A

0 days



If Twitter handle exists, follow and retweet.

2 days



Passive Call #2 / Persona A

0 days



Passive Email #2 / Persona A

0 days



If company blog exists, subscribe and comment on recent article.

3 days



Passive Call #3 / Persona A

0 days



Passive Email #3 / Persona A

0 days



If the buyer responds on social, send a LinkedIn connect request.

4 days



Passive Call #4 / Persona A

0 days



Passive Email #4 / Persona A

0 days



If the buyer responds on social, send a LinkedIn connect request.


5. Define your "Explore" process.

During the Explore stage, legacy salespeople transition into presentation mode the moment a buyer expresses interest. But legacy salespeople do not understand the buyer’s context well enough yet to deliver a value-adding presentation. Because the buyer context is underdeveloped, legacy salespeople revert to generic presentations, outlining information buyers already have access to.

Inbound salespeople transition into exploratory mode when a buyer expresses interest. Inbound salespeople recognize they do not have the level of trust and understanding with the buyer to deliver a personalized presentation. In fact, inbound salespeople are not even sure whether they can help the buyer at this stage.

Instead, inbound salespeople leverage initial buyer interest to develop additional trust and uncover buyer goals through an exploratory conversation. They use their own credibility to probe deeper into the buyer’s specific goals and challenges. As experts, they can assess whether they can help the buyer efficiently and more thoroughly than prospects can on their own. Through proper value positioning and a strategic questioning process during the Explore stage, inbound salespeople guide prospects to draw their own conclusions about whether a product is right for their needs.

Inbound salespeople build an exploratory guide to ensure the discussion is effective for the buyer.

Here’s a sample exploratory rubric that Tyre Recruiting uses to guide conversations with buyers, along with what these steps sound like in a real sales conversation:


Sample Questions and Comments

Build Rapport

  • So, how well do you know [Common Connection]?
  • That article you wrote the other day was great. How did it perform?
  • Did you go to the local chamber event the other night?

Recap Prior Conversation

As we discussed on our initial call, you aren’t happy with your current website. You and your partners feel that it does not accurately reflect the scope, quality, and impact that your work has. It’s also just not attracting top-notch new hires. You’re losing candidates because smaller, nimbler, and more web-savvy firms are being found online instead of you. Their marketing is working. But yours is not. You are interviewing firms like ours to figure out how you can fix these problems and turn your website and blog into recruiting magnets. Does that recap sound right? Would you like to add anything?

Set Agenda

Typically, I’d like to make the goal of this call to figure out how I can best help you. I’ve worked with hundreds of mid-sized professional services firms like yours who were losing to more digitally savvy firms. I can certainly share some advice based on my previous work with them. But I find that everyone is a bit different, so it usually makes sense for me to get more context around your goals, other challenges you’ve faced or anticipate facing, any relevant plans you have in place, as well as timelines and other constraints you might have. Are you comfortable having that conversation today?


Oftentimes, when I’m speaking with partners at health care firms such as yourself, they have one or more of a handful of challenges. Most have dabbled with internet marketing over the years, but have never really found success. They’re tired of spending money on the next shiny object and redoing their website every two years without any kind of measurable ROI. Most of the time they’re blogging, but not really getting much benefit from it. And sometimes, they have a web company that’s doing some social media, SEO and pay-per-click advertising for them, but they feel like it’s a wasted expenditure, as nothing really ever seems to improve. Have you ever faced any of these issues?


Let’s step back a bit. Now that we’ve discussed the challenges of marketing the business to job applicants, does it make sense to talk about your recruiting goals? Often, we can work backwards from your goals to figure out the right plan.

  • As a partner in the firm, do you have specific hiring goals you are responsible for achieving?
  • Have you calculated exactly how many candidates you need to interview in order to make one good hire?
  • Have you calculated the number of applicants you need to generate in a year to reach those goals?
  • Are there other goals you’re hoping to accomplish with your hiring efforts?


  • What are you doing now regularly that helps you hire new salespeople?
    • What’s working well?
    • What have you tried in the past that hasn’t worked?
    • What are you thinking of doing next?
  • What are you doing to get more traffic to your careers page?
    • Can more people in your firm contribute to the blog?
    • Can you do it more frequently?
    • Are there subject matter experts who could contribute if someone interviewed them and then wrote posts for them?
    • Have you considered outsourcing some of the writing to external SMEs?
    • Do you create content that is optimized to rank in search engines? How do you monitor and improve rankings?
    • How does your firm manage social media?
    • Have you thought about doing online advertising with Google or LinkedIn?
  • What are you doing to convert more of your traffic to leads?
    • You had to complete a form to downloaded an ebook of ours. Have you considered creating an ebook and using it to capture leads on your site?
    • Could you do a webinar or a seminar?
    • Offer a free consultation?
  • What are you doing to convert leads into applicants?
    • Are you doing an email newsletter now?
    • Do you nurture leads at all based on the content they’re reading on your site?
    • Do you have a recruiter dedicated to calling leads?
    • Do you have multiple approaches to connecting with them?
    • Does every partner and associate schedule time, then make calls on a regular basis?
    • What does your hiring process look like?
    • How do you track your current applicant funnel?
    • Do you have weekly meetings to review pipeline and brainstorm how you can move deals forward?
  • Sounds like you are not doing much of this regularly. Is it because you don’t know that these are best practices or because you don’t think it’s all necessary?
  • Have you thought about using an agency like ours to help you build a solid hiring plan? How about an agency that can help you execute this or even execute much of it for you?
  • Would it help if I showed you how other firms have used us to meet or exceed hiring goals?


  • What happens if you don’t start hiring more salespeople by the end of the year?
  • Do you have a date when you need to hit X number of salespeople on staff?

Negative Consequences

  • If you don’t achieve this goal, what happens to the company? What happens to you? What happens to others (your boss, coworkers, etc)?
  • How important is overcoming these challenges to your company?

Positive Implications

  • When you start hitting your sales hiring goals again, what will you do next?
  • When you no longer have to worry about losing sales hires to other local firms, how will you feel?


  • How have decisions been made like this in the past?
  • Who needs to be involved in this decision?
  • Usually, when my clients are making this decision, the following people need to be involved: Multiple partners, the associates who will drive the ongoing work with our firm and the partner who manages the budget for outsourced services. Oftentimes, there’s a vote. How do you do it? Who covers those responsibilities for your firm?


It sounds like if you do not increase the pace of sales hiring, you run the risk of shrinking your firm. With 25 employees on the payroll, this will be fairly devastating to the family culture you’ve built over the decades. You also run some personal risk of not being able to retire because your younger associates may jump ship to join growing firms where they stand a better chance of building a career.

  • Do you have budget set aside to avoid these issues?
  • What do you plan to invest going forward so that you’re 100% confident that you’ll hit your goals?
  • If I were to come back with a plan that projects we can get you to five new hires per quarter, what would you be willing to invest now?

6. Define your "Advise" process.

During the Advise stage, legacy salespeople deliver the same presentation and same case studies to all buyers. Legacy salespeople might do some light discovery around buyer needs -- just enough to know there might be interest. Then, they revert to autopilot and deliver their generic presentation.

However, modern buyers have already seen the content of this generic presentation online. They struggle to connect the company’s generic value proposition with their specific challenges, and legacy salespeople fail to help the buyer make these connections.

On the other hand, inbound salespeople tailor the presentation to the buyer’s context, leveraging the information gathered during the Connect stage. During the exploratory conversation, inbound salespeople discover whether the buyer can be helped, wants their help, needs their help, or is prioritizing goals the salesperson is uniquely positioned to help with.

By uncovering the buyer’s context and tailoring the presentation accordingly, inbound salespeople add tremendous value to the buyer’s journey beyond the information available online. Inbound salespeople serve as translators between the generic messaging found on the company’s website and the unique situation of the buyer.

In today’s selling environment, salespeople have to realize that they serve a completely different function than their predecessors. Legacy salespeople who only serve as sources of information will find themselves unable to compete with inbound salespeople who serve as translators between the generic information available online and the unique needs of the buyer. Enter the modern world of sales and get started with inbound sales today by taking HubSpot Academy’s Inbound Sales class.

sales plan

Topics: Inbound Sales

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