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I’ve blogged in the past about the challenge many companies have with closing inbound leads. We see it all the time here at Quintain. There are lots of companies that have been successful with inbound marketing. Their website traffic is steadily increasing, they’re pulling in lots of new leads, and the numbers look great – that is, until you look at the bottom of their sales funnel and realize they aren’t closing those leads. If you look harder, you might even find they aren’t actually working the leads.

These aren’t lazy or disorganized companies, so what is going on here? Sometimes we hear from sales teams that inbound leads just aren’t good. Other times we hear that there is no effective process in place to notify sales when a lead converts. And then other times, salespeople are contacting the leads but they’re not closing deals.

In most cases, it all boils down to one common problem. Prospective customers have changed the way they buy and in response, the company has changed the way it is marketing, but what they haven’t changed is the way they are selling. Why? Getting experienced sales people to change their behavior – the way they sell – is incredibly difficult, and maintaining that behavior change over long periods of time is even harder.

An easier solution is to simply hire people with the right behaviors and skill sets in the first place. There are lots of estimates about the true cost of a bad sales hire, and almost all of the ones I’ve seen are well into the six figures. Regardless of the exact amount, there is no denying that hiring the wrong person is costly. Not only will you waste money on salaries and training, you incur huge opportunity cost due to deals that don’t close.

So how do you hire an inbound sales rep that will be successful? It all starts with an understanding of the traits necessary for success, and then testing your candidates to see if they possess those traits.

Here at Quintain, we use the Objective Management Group’s Sales Assessment to evaluate potential sales reps for both ourselves and our clients. It’s an incredibly effective tool that has been proven to get great results. Whereas only 28% of salespeople hired without an assessment are found to be effective, a whopping 92% of those hired as a result of the OMG assessment are typically within the top half of their sales teams within one year of being hired. Pretty impressive, right?

The OMG assessment helps us evaluate sales candidates against 21 core competencies that are needed for successful inbound sales reps. These are traits that are necessary regardless of the products or services you are selling. They are broken down into four categories:

  • The will to sell
  • Sales DNA
  • Tactical skill sets
  • Ability to use systems and strategies

Here’s what each of these involves…

The Will To Sell

Measuring a salesperson’s willingness to sell takes into account four components. The first is whether they have a strong commitment for sales success. Are they willing to do whatever it takes to succeed? Many salespeople are conditionally committed, meaning that they’ll only do what it takes if it’s not too difficult or scary. For example, some salespeople don’t like to make phone calls, even if they get an inbound lead who has essentially raised their hand and said “call me.” They might agree in principle that a phone call makes sense, but they’re more comfortable reaching out by email and tend to default to that unless pushed.

The next trait that indicates a willingness to sell is a strong desire for sales success. How badly a person wants to succeed in sales is very important. When you lack strong desire, your incentive to do the hard work isn’t as strong.

Outlook is also important. It encompasses your attitude about the company, your job, your career, and yourself even in your personal life. When your outlook is not as strong as it could be – and that is often the case when someone is looking for a new job – it can affect your desire or commitment. It can cause things like excuse-making or other conditions that negatively impact your sales performance.

Think about yourself. Let’s say you have a lousy outlook in the morning. You get up. You’re having a bad day. How well do you think you’re going to interact with potential clients or prospects?

Finally, a sense of responsibility is important. When a salesperson steps up and takes responsibility for their results or lack thereof, they’re more likely to become more effective in the future. Salespeople who make excuses will seldom improve, as they fail to see the part they played in their own sales failures. For example, they might think “Well, I didn’t sell enough this month because I didn’t have any good leads or the product information isn’t good enough or the list I was given was bad.” Effective inbound sales reps that have the strong will to sell will take responsibility for their actions and won’t be looking for excuses for failure.

Sales DNA

With sales DNA, either you have it or you don’t. DNA can be hard to measure because its not something easily observable in an interview or during an application process. There are six components of Sales DNA:

No need for approval 

Many people choose sales because they’re told that they’re a perfect fit for a sales position. They could sell ice cream to Eskimos. They’re nice. They’re outgoing. Everybody likes them, and they thrive on that because they have a need to be liked. This may sound like a good thing, but it’s not. When you don’t have a deep-seated need to be liked, you’re more willing to have the difficult conversation with a customer and as a result, you’re going have a higher level of success. By contrast, sales reps with a strong need for approval will avoid the difficult conversations and push them off to their manager or tell the client what they want to hear in the hopes that they can fix it somewhere down the line. Think about the kinds of problems that causes. If you have a high need for approval and somebody is giving you excuses about why they need more time to make a decision and you’re accepting it, then this will delay the process to close.

Supportive buy cycle

The buy cycle is the way that a sales person makes a major purchase for him or herself. When someone buys in a way that supports the selling process, it is called having a supportive buy cycle. Most effective inbound sales people have supportive buy cycles meaning that they do their online research, appreciate engaging with a salesperson who isn’t going to waste their time going over ground they’ve already covered, and aren’t buying simply on price. This type of salesperson, will push to move discussions with prospects forward at a much quicker pace and won’t have empathy for stalling or price sensitivity because they don’t do that themselves.

Comfortable talking about money

A salesperson who is comfortable talking about money will have no problem discussing budget or increasing a budget or the cost of your product or service even if your prospect has said it costs too much. Sales people who are uncomfortable talking about money are typically uncomfortable escalating a question about budget or affordability to the next level. Their discomfort prevents them from helping a prospect figure out how to pay or where to find the money for a purchase. Sales reps who ARE comfortable with talking about money will have those conversations and think nothing of it. They’ll stick to their pricing instead of automatically giving a discount when it’s asked for. They’ll ask questions to try and solve the monetary shortage.

Controls emotions

An effective inbound sales rep will also control their emotions. I’m not talking about crying or getting angry and screaming. I’m talking about getting emotionally invested in a meeting. Sales reps who become emotionally involved tend to think about, analyze, create, or strategize – in other words, talk to themselves – when a prospect catches them by surprise or asks them a question they weren’t ready for. They become emotionally involved and start talking to themselves instead of sticking with the moment. That causes them to miss what’s being said. It affects their listening skills. When that happens, they’re more focused on themselves and how they should’ve answered the question instead of focusing on what the prospect is saying and they’re missing important points. At some point in this process they lose control of the interaction. A sales rep who has control of their emotions deals with those types of things in a different way. They take a step back, listen to what the prospect is saying, and give themselves a little time to respond. They won’t talk to themselves and strategize and have this whole conversation in their head while staring at the customer and not hearing a word they’re saying.

Supportive beliefs

Every one of us has as many as sixty beliefs that support the selling process. For example, you have the ability to be effective with senior level executives or sabotage it. You might not like making calls, or you might not feel comfortable talking to Presidents of companies. A truly ineffective rep will have ten or more of these self-limiting beliefs, whereas a strong inbound sales rep will have few, if any.

Rejection proof

Successful inbound sales reps don’t let rejection bother them. If someone says no to them, it doesn’t matter. They keep trying to find a way to get it done. Those sales reps that have a rejection issue tend to get bothered by it, and it slows them down. They don’t do as much work. They need more recovery time and that affects their bottom line.

Tactical Skills

There are seven tactical tactical skills that an effective inbound sales rep must have.

Hunting skills

The first is hunting skills. You might ask why hunting skills are important especially if you’re only working inbound leads? The truth is that in order to be successful at inbound sales you have to be skilled at hunting down additional information and finding out more about the client before you sit down and talk to them. So even if you are only working inbound leads, hunting skills – or what we might call “reaching skills” – are still important.

But the truth is most inbound sales reps have a responsibility to drive outbound leads as well and that means that they need to find opportunities themselves. They have to have really strong hunting skills to do that. Hunting skills doesn’t mean old school brick and mortar knocking on the door, walking in the office, and saying “Can I speak to the person in charge?” It has more to do with the ability or the willingness to prospect and develop opportunities in today’s digital world.

Inbound sales posturing skills

The posturing skill measures your ability to effectively position your company, your products, or your services in a way that makes an impression and helps you move a deal forward. With inbound leads, people have in most cases already done their homework. They‘ve learned a lot fast, and they’re going to expect you to build a strong relationship quickly and collaborate with them towards a result. To do this successfully, inbound reps must build relationships early, be problem solvers, think analytically, employ consultative selling, and have sales empathy.

Consultative sales skills

Selling has changed quite a bit over the years and today, it’s harder to reach prospects. They don’t have the time to meet. The engagement is very different than it used to be because they’ve done their homework ahead of time. In most cases, they don’t need you for information, and you’re invited into the process later. There is more price sensitivity because so many companies are putting their pricing on their websites, and in many cases, buyers view all companies the same.

Consultative selling can help an inbound sales rep address these challenges. It is helpful in selling on value instead of price, differentiating yourself, and establishing yourself as a trusted collaborator or adviser. To be a good consultative salesperson, you have to ask the right questions. You have to dig deeper. You have to know when not to answer a question and understand why the question is being asked in the first place.

Qualifying skills

All salespeople need to qualify, but sales reps that work inbound leads have a slightly different challenge than those simply doing outbound selling. Whereas outbound sales reps identify prospects that are a good fit for the company and then try to determine if the prospect has a need, with inbound leads, it is just the opposite. They have a demonstrated need, but might not always be a good fit. As a result, good qualifying skills are essential.

Qualifying inbound leads requires you to go deeper than identifying the prospect’s stated need and connect to the business need. This is often not uncovered until the reaching the 2nd or 3rd level of questioning. A good qualifier will ask about every facet of that process in addition to challenges and issues internally that could be preventing the lead from moving forward.

Presentation skills

When it comes to presenting a proposed solution to a prospect, the timing of the presentation is just as important as the presentation itself. At worst, prematurely presenting information to a client that’s in a research mode could cause you to lose the deal, and at best it could extend the time it takes to close the deal. The same is true for asking questions the buyer has already found answers to or spending time covering information they have already digested. Learning when to present and having the skill set to present at the proper time when there’s a commitment to make a decision – a commitment to buy – is an effective attribute of an inbound sales rep.

Closing skills

The closer competency is about the ability to convert qualified opportunities at the time they become closeable. While you may be happy to get the business at a later date, delays can be dangerous because oftentimes deals that fail to close at the first opportunity never close at all. The closer competency, or the ability to close, is about being able to recognize that moment in time when you can close and getting the prospect to make a decision.

Establishing relationships early

Establishing a relationship early in the sales process is critical. Oftentimes salespeople are able to establish rapport but fail to create a relationship. When relationships are developed early enough in the process, prospects feel more comfortable sharing important confidential information. This helps strengthen your ability to collaborate and shorten the sale cycle. This presents a problem in the inbound sales world where buyers are doing quite a bit of the research well in advance of contacting a sale rep, and sales reps in general are entering the sales process at a later time.

How do you correct this? Good inbound sales reps will actually develop the skill set required to become their own inbound marketers. They will see the value of getting in front of prospects earlier in the sales cycle and will actively participate in the content creation and promotion process. They’ll use social media and share content – both company content and their own original material. In doing so, they will make content with prospects and stay top of mind.

When the time comes to connect (whether over a phone call or in person), good inbound reps won’t jump right into selling. Instead they will engage with the prospect in a contextual way by referencing content they’ve downloaded or read and prove to the prospect that they understand their problem or need. This approach is effective in establishing rapport and opens the door for a sales conversation down the line.

Systems and Strategies

All of the traits and skills mentioned above are important, but they can’t be fully leveraged if your inbound sales rep isn’t using the systems and strategies that you’ve put in place. By this, I mean, will they follow your sales process? Are they going to use your CRM? Do they have the skills necessary to put together a plan of attack to achieve the sales goals you establish for them?

What Does Success Look Like?

Too often, when we interview candidates, we look for someone just like ourselves. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good way to hire and often results in a bad fit. The traits necessary for a good Sales Manager or VP of Sales are not the same ones necessary for a good inbound sales rep. Fortunately, tools like the OMG Assessment can help any company objectively evaluate candidates for sales positions.

Using the information provided by the assessment, you can identify those candidates that have the right sales DNA, possess the skills necessary for success, and will be able to thrive when working inbound leads. They will have a deep understanding of inbound marketing and how it works, and will quickly be able to apply what they know to working the leads they’re given and to developing their own inbound opportunities.