What is Inbound Sales and How is it Changing in 2020?

13 min readJune 15, 2020

What does inbound sales mean in 2020? If you ask five different companies how they define inbound sales, you may just get five different answers. That’s because sales processes vary wildly from organization to organization. Some companies split salespeople into dedicated inbound and outbound sales development teams, while other companies task reps with both prospecting and responding to inbound leads. 

The Definition of Inbound Sales

Let’s keep it simple: the definition of inbound sales is the act of responding to sales leads that are generated by marketing activities. These activities might include:

  • Attending a webinar
  • Downloading an eBook or infographic
  • Filling out a webform
  • Talking to a chatbot
  • Dialing a number on the website

How Inbound Sales is Changing in 2020

Role Specialization

Sales used to just be sales. And at some companies it still is. But over the past decade, more and more companies are splitting sales development reps into inbound and outbound-focused teams. The reason is that going from inbound to outbound sales activities requires some major context shifting. 

Anyone who has ever tried to do outbound prospecting knows how hard it can be. It requires a lot of focus to dial down lists of leads. In the process, reps may not notice hot inbound leads that are coming in through webforms, chatbots and other means. 

By having reps that are laser-targeted on lead response, you can minimize lead response time. It turns out that this is ridiculously important. According to an MIT study, responding to web leads within five minutes increases contact rates by 900%. By having dedicated inbound lead response reps, companies can ensure that high value leads don’t fall through the cracks.

Reporting to Marketing

According to the latest data from The Bridge Group, nearly half of inbound sales teams now report directly to marketing. “Why marketing?” you might ask. The reason is because Marketing often owns the technology that makes inbound reps successful. As one example, marketing automation systems can be used to help reps prioritize inbound leads in real time via complex lead scoring mechanisms. These systems are also used for nurturing leads throughout the buying cycle. 

ebook cover The B2B Marketer's Guide to Managing Inbound Sales RepsAnother reason that inbound sales reps are increasingly reporting to marketing directly relates to another shift happening within marketing departments. Traditionally, marketers were completely focused on lead generation. Marketers once saw their mission as being accomplished once they qualified leads for sales. After that it “became sales’ problem.” But lately, more marketers have adopted a more sophisticated approach. Marketers now often focus on adding value throughout the entire buyer’s journey, across various stages of engagement. They are therefore taking a more active role in ensuring that inbound sales reps are successful at converting marketing qualified leads (MQLs) into opportunities.

If you’re a marketer managing reps, you should definitely check out our free ebook The B2B Marketer’s Guide to Managing Inbound Sales Reps.

Guided Selling

Another major shift in inbound sales relates to a concept that is becoming more common in sales organizations: guided selling. Guided selling solutions provide sales reps with intelligent guidance throughout the sales process. For example, at ringDNA we offer a solution that can prioritize leads in real time for inbound sales reps. And then, when reps reach out to those leads, ringDNA can provide contextual messaging that helps them book meetings and win revenue. When inbound sales reps can focus on taking the next best action at all times, without wondering what that action is, they can do a far better job of driving powerful results.

Chatbots

One of the biggest changes to inbound sales recently has been the advent of chatbots. Chat bots use AI and algorithms to serve up relevant inbound chat experiences when leads visit a website. The bot can handle much of the lead qualification and only route leads to human reps once they’ve been successfully qualified by the bot. In fact, some companies are completely replacing forms on their site with chatbots and hiring dedicated reps to simply chat with inbound leads. 

Some chatbot solutions, like Qualified.com, even allow human reps to proactively “pounce” on inbound visitors, before they even interact with bots, thus allowing reps to apply outbound prospecting techniques to inbound website visitors. 

Since marketers commonly operate chatbot technology, this is another reason why inbound sales reps are working closer with marketers, if not reporting to them outright. 

Inbound Sales: How to Prioritize Inbound Leads

As qualified leads come in from various sources, some are obviously to be more sales-ready than others. Likewise, some leads may be interested in purchasing a higher product volume or a more expensive product. 

By responding to the best leads first, inbound sales reps can cut down on wasted sales time and focus on the activities most likely to drive revenue. Unless companies can effectively prioritize those leads, a lot of revenue gets left on the table. So how can you help your sales reps know who to respond to first?

ringDNA Lead Prioritization

It just so happens that the same marketing automation data that marketers use to score leads can be shared with sales reps in real time to help them prioritize those leads. Better yet, guided selling solutions can capture various data points in Salesforce and automatically prioritize leads based on how likely they are to convert. Here are some datapoints that can be used for lead prioritization:

Timestamp 

Whether you’re selling real estate or really good technology, the first responder often gets the deal. That’s why the time since the lead was submitted is often the most critical factor in prioritization. By capturing a timestamp of when a lead filled out a demo form, engaged with a chatbot, or downloaded content, it helps sales managers track whether reps are calling or emailing those high priority leads back in a timely manner. The best inbound sales teams often set up strict SLAs around how quickly they should be responding to leads that interact with various sources.

Requests for Product Information 

Businesses often use forms that enable inbound leads to request additional product information. These may include contact forms, demo requests and pricing requests. You may find that leads that fill out a particular request form (such as a request for pricing form) are higher value leads than others. Leads requesting specialized information can then be automatically assigned to reps that will prioritize them.

Job Title 

While marketers put significant time into creating elaborate customer profiles, for many B2B companies, perhaps no factor is more significant than a job title. Most of the time, for example, a Chief Operating Officer is more likely to be a decision-maker than a Sr. Project Manager. That’s why many companies using marketing automation systems ask for the information up front, then adjust lead scores based on job titles that are more likely to represent key decision makers. 

Named Accounts

According to data from Sirius Decisions, 92% of B2B marketers cite account based marketing as “extremely important” to their overall marketing strategy. When inbound leads come in from high value target accounts, this can be one of the most important prioritization triggers available. A variety of tools like Clearbit and 6Sense can help reps automatically recognize web visitors from named accounts. And the ringDNA Guided Selling engine can automatically prioritize those leads for reps in real time.

Overall Lead Score 

Marketers frequently use lead scores in order to help determine when leads are ready to hand over to sales – what many companies call “marketing qualified leads.” A lead requesting a product demo, for example, may be assigned 20 points, while a lead that clicks in an email may earn just 3 points. It’s up to each company to define a lead score threshold that signals Sales that a lead is ready to be contacted by a sales rep. You can enable sales reps to see lead scores via email alerts, or in screen-pops during inbound calls. Reps can also sort by lead score within their CRM.

Other Factors to Help Prioritize Inbound Lead Response

  • Company revenue 
  • Company size 
  • Time at present job (since new employees often have a mandate for change) 
  • Recent funding history (since funding typically equates to budget) 
  • Content engagement type • Compatible technology used 

Optimizing Inbound Sales Calls

For years, pundits have predicted the death of not only the email, but also the phone call. But in fact, leads that pick up their phones to call a business are often the most valuable leads. According to a BIA Kelsey report, 66.4% of companies surveyed report calls as a high-quality lead source—higher than any other lead source. 

So how can companies transform more of these inbound callers into customers? Well, optimizing inbound sales calls should begin with efforts from the marketing team. Some ways that marketers at top companies are optimizing inbound calls include:

  • Tracking, recording and measuring all inbound calls
  • Optimizing the marketing campaigns responsible for generating the most valuable calls 
  • Ensuring calls are properly routed to the right sales reps – after all, by the time prospects call you, they’re often ready to have a serious conversation
  • Providing reps with contextual data that helps them have a better understanding of who is calling and why they’re calling

ringDNA Call Tracking Image

Here are some key steps that can help companies optimize inbound sales calls:

Step 1: Set Up Inbound Call Tracking 

Call tracking enables you to measure not only the volume of calls driven by your marketing efforts, but also which of those inbound phone leads turn into customers. Companies use call tracking systems to provision local and toll-free numbers that can then be associated with any online or offline effort. When a call tracking system integrates with a CRM tool such as Salesforce, marketers can finally see which efforts not only drive the most phone leads, but also drive the best phone leads – those that result in the most revenue.

Step 2: Measure and Monitor 

Measure and monitor both the volume and results of calls coming in. The concept is the same as measuring web leads – you’ll want to see how many leads are coming in, how many are qualified, how many opportunities are being generated from those phone leads, and – most importantly – which marketing efforts are driving the most revenue. If you’re like most companies, you’ll uncover amazing new data about your investments that is sure to influence your strategy. 

Step 3: Optimize Call Routing

As you get more data, you’ll soon see that much like web leads, not all inbound calls are created equal. Depending on how your sales organization is structured, there are different call routing options that can help your team maximize inbound sales revenue. Here are four of the most common call routing considerations: 

Availability-Based Routing 

If you’re lucky enough to have a group of similarly-skilled reps, routing inbound calls based on the first-available agent is often the best option. 

Skills-Based Routing 

Some companies employ what’s known as skills-based routing in order to route callers to the most qualified sales agent available. For example:

  •  Product – Send callers from specific product marketing sources to reps with matching product expertise 
  • Close Ability – Route calls from certain high-value marketing campaigns to the most experienced closers

Time-Based Routing 

The most important factor in inbound sales is making sure someone is available to take calls. For that reason, time-based routing is based on the time of the incoming call. This helps companies spanning various locations ensure that there’s always a sales rep able to speak to an interested prospect. For example, companies with offices nationwide might route callers to an office on the east coast during hours that west coast offices aren’t open. During hours that neither office is open, calls could be routed to a 24-hour call center. 

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) 

IVR systems – commonly known as telephone “menu options” – often annoy sales prospects, but do reduce costs. The main benefit of IVR systems to sales teams is ensuring that they don’t handle many billing or customer support calls, and can do what they were trained to do: sell.

Step 4: Provide Inbound Sales Reps with Prospect Data

By pairing call tracking, CRM and computer telephony integration (CTI), inbound sales reps can be presented with a “screen pop” of contextually relevant information that can help them have more successful conversations.

 For example: 

  • Geolocation 
  • Title and company information 
  • The web page or marketing source they viewed prior to calling 
  • Search keywords 
  • Past engagement history
  • Past purchasing history 
  • Social media data 
  • Suggested talking points 

What does this all boil down to? With the right data presented to sales reps at the time of an inbound call, reps can often understand a caller’s intent before the first words are even spoken. And that gives sales reps the edge they need to qualify leads more successfully, and if appropriate, create opportunities. 

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The Importance of Relevant Content to Inbound Sales

Marketing teams often spend hours creating content that’s designed to generate leads. But it’s absolutely vital for marketers to create content that’s designed to resonate with prospects throughout their buying journey. 

Content should be used to guide buyers through various stages of the sales funnel. And also to identify where a buyer is in their journey. After all, buyers do a lot of self-education and it can be difficult to know where they are in their buying process without looking for key clues. As an example, a buyer that downloads a case study or uses an ROI calculator is likely to be further down in the funnel than a lead that downloads a more general infographic. 

Mapping Content to the Buyer’s Journey

Here are some types of content that might resonate with different buying stages:

Awareness Stage

The awareness stage is when a buyer might not even be aware of their problem let alone of your solution to that problem. At this stage, it often makes sense to engage prospects with content that helps them identify their problem as well as builds brand equity for your company. Some examples include blog posts and infographics.

Information/Evaluation Stage 

This is the stage where prospects are actively seeking information. At this stage, prospects might be interested in attending solution-based webinars or downloading case studies and data sheets. When prospects interact with this type of content, it makes sense to alert inbound sales reps so they can follow up.

Decision Stage

At this stage, prospects can interact with content that helps them make a decision such as using an ROI calculator or downloading a free trial. 

The Power of Real-Time Alerts for Inbound Sales

Many inbound sales teams work with marketers to get real-time alerts when prospects interact with various types of content. But the most successful teams use technology to actually prioritize those leads based on buyer intent data. 

As an example, Guided Selling from ringDNA can prioritizes prospects in a rep’s list of contacts based on the content they download, their industry, if they’re a target account and a variety of other factors. That way, reps can reach out to the inbound leads first that are most likely to convert into customers.

Metrics to Track for Inbound Sales Success

Tracking the right metrics ensures that marketers are filling the funnel with qualified sales leads. And also, that salespeople are doing a successful job of following up with and converting those leads into customers.

Here are some metrics that inbound sales teams and demand generation teams should be tracking in unison. 

Qualified Lead Velocity Rate 

Marketers should be tracking the sheer number of qualified leads (calls and web leads) they are handing over to sales reps each month. Qualified Lead Velocity is an essential metric for aligning Sales and Marketing, and marketers need to ensure that inbound sales teams always have enough leads to work. Improving the number of qualified leads month-over-month often correlates with increased sales ROI. 

Lead Response Time 

Marketers often invest heavily in organic and paid search in order to inspire leads to call and fill out forms. But when those leads do reach out to your company (and don’t connect with a live rep in real time) are sales reps responding quickly enough? Data from Harvard Business Review reveals that sales reps are seven times more likely to have a meaningful conversation with prospects if they call back within the first hour. 

Inbound Leads by Campaign

It’s important to know how many inbound calls and web leads are being generated by each marketing campaign. This can help you predict how many reps will be needed to respond to inbound phone leads from various campaigns. However, it’s also important to tie calls to revenue, because you don’t want to invest in campaigns that drive a lot of calls from unqualified leads. 

Inbound Leads by Keyword 

Marketers routinely track which paid search keywords result in web leads. But it’s just as important to track which keywords are generating calls, since inbound phone leads are often sales-ready. By using a marketing automation solution and a call tracking tool, marketers gain 360 degrees of visibility into which keywords are driving valuable leads. 

Inbound Calls by Time of Day 

Is your lead qualification team properly staffed to respond to incoming calls? Tracking call volume by time of day can help marketers work with sales managers to ensure that no hot inbound leads fall through the cracks. By using intelligent call routing, marketers can help ensure that leads are always routed to the right reps or queues while minimizing hold time. This can have a profound effect on inbound call conversions. 

Conclusion: Inbound Sales Success

In a challenging economic landscape it can be harder to drive pipeline with outbound prospecting. While companies are not abandoning their outbound sales efforts, it has become far more important to optimize the sales experience for inbound customers. Chatbots that help inbound sales reps connect with website visitors are gaining a lot of traction, and are becoming  omnipresent across certain industries. And tools like ringDNA Guided Selling, that help prioritize inbound leads for reps in real time are also critical. Companies simply don’t have the luxury of letting hot inbound sales leads slip through the cracks.

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About the Author

Jesse WestDirector of Lifecycle MarketingringDNA

Jesse Davis West is Director of Lifecycle Marketing at ringDNA, focusing on improving the experience and maximizing the lifetime value for customers across their entire journey. Drawing on 9 years of B2B marketing experience, Jesse is passionate about communication, branding and strategic marketing. He also plays a mean lead guitar and can throw down at karaoke.