Inbound marketing was introduced in 2005 as little more than a tantalizing theory. Today, it’s a staple strategy that’s become so effective that over 80 percent of all businesses practice it to some degree. It was only a matter of time before sales started feeling the winds of change … and that time is now. The latest prediction is that inbound sales will fully replace outbound sales in B2B exchanges within the next five years.

The inbound sales strategy uses information collected by inbound marketing campaigns to determine precisely when a buyer is ready for a sales conversation, and exactly what that conversation should be. Unlike outbound selling, inbound sales’ primary focus isn’t on personal gain; its goal is to educate and guide buyers in a respectful, non-intrusive way, and it accomplishes this by using lead intelligence to develop a deeper understanding of the buyer’s wants or needs.

When done correctly, sales forces will experience significantly shorter sales cycles, higher closing rates, increased revenue and the potential to make a lot more in commissions and bonuses. But getting there is easier said than done. Here’s how to make the switch from outbound to inbound sales.

1. Get Senior-Level Management Buy-In

It’s nearly impossible to transition your sales department from outbound to inbound without buy-in from senior level management. Depending on the state of your organization, making the switch could require a sizable investment, as your organization will need to properly equip both sales and marketing with the right technology to drive this data-reliant selling strategy. You’ll need someone at the top who understands how vital the investment is to the future of the organization. You may also experience push back from employees who are reluctant to change, and you’ll need the authority to persuade these individuals.

2. Get Support From Marketing and Sales

For inbound sales to work, marketing and sales departments need to fully align and function as one coherent unit. Considering the decades-old feud between the two, making amends might not be as simple as it sounds.

Set up a workshop with sales and marketing teams (including department heads) in one room to discuss why it makes sense to align, how it can be done and (of course)—what’s in it for them. Skip the lecturing and allow it to be an open forum. Everyone should feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns and get answers. This may take more than one session, and the goal is to get everyone in agreement about working together.

3. Build the Team

Successful inbound sales professionals have more than skill and experience: They have character, they fit into a culture that values team mentality, and they’ve got a dash of that undefinable sales swagger.

If hiring new employees for your inbound sales force, look to candidates who are inherently tech-savvy. They should be aggressive in their desire to succeed, curious and ready to listen. You want individuals who will train easily, so they can quickly understand what your organization offers and how to help others realize the value of your products or services.

Confidence and high self-esteem are also classic qualities of a successful salesperson, but most importantly, they must be likable. Inbound sales is about genuinely connecting with buyers, asking tough questions and helping them find a true fit for their wants or needs.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Convincing sales reps who have been in the game a while will be one of your most difficult challenges. Every organization has at least one sales prodigy—that person who pulls in a quarter of a million dollars in revenue for the company each year and is known for landing the big accounts. And this person will wage war to protect their process. Why fix what’s not broken, right?

Wrong. The reality is, outbound sales doesn’t garner the success it used to. Consider this:

  • Cold calling only receives a 1 percent call-back rate
  • Less than 24 percent of sales emails are opened
  • More than 25 percent of all B2B sales cycles take seven months or more to close
  • If a lead interacts with your website, waiting just 10 minutes to take action drops the likelihood of qualifying the lead by four times
  • Currently, only 27 percent of Web-generated leads get contacted at all
  • Half of buyers choose the vendor that responds first

There’s no arguing the value of a data-driven sales process, or the statistical dysfunction of outbound sales strategy. In the end, you may not be able to get some of your more experienced sales reps to follow suit. Providing mandatory rules and training will help, but managers may face some tough decisions.

4. Creating a Closed-Loop Reporting System

Once you’ve got your inbound sales force in place, and marketing and sales agreeing to a cease-fire, your organization must create a closed-loop reporting system through which information will seamlessly flow between sales and marketing. Sales needs a sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, and marketing needs a Marketing Platform (MP) that supports marketing automation. These two systems should be compatible with each other and fully integrated. But more importantly, both departments must commit to using the assimilated system religiously.

Sharing Information

To refine marketing campaigns and recognize what a high-quality lead looks like, marketing needs to know when leads become sales-qualified, how long it takes to close and how much revenue the lead generated. Likewise, sales needs lead intelligence (including a lead’s website activity, campaign engagement, download history, etc.) and lead alerts when hot leads are partaking in sales-ready engagements. This helps sales better understand who the buyer is, when they are ready for a sales conversation and what that conversation should be about.

5. Developing the Process

Finally, your technologically equipped inbound sales force will need to adjust its process. The outbound sales process went something like this:

  1. Prospect: Go out and find leads
  2. Hunt: Cold call and create opportunities
  3. Close: Convert leads into customers
  4. Upsell: Increase revenue

Your inbound sales process should look something like this:

  1. Monitor and anticipate: Know the buyer’s wants or needs
  2. Qualify: Use data to determine who’s sales-ready (in real-time)
  3. Educate and guide: Create content and engage in thoughtful communication empowered by data
  4. Close: Teach buyers how to be your customer

The major difference? With inbound sales, leads come to you. You aren’t prospecting out of the office or cold-calling people who aren’t even aware your company exists. You’re watching buyers who independently choose to interact with information about your organization. You’re learning as much as you can about them through your marketing department’s lead tracking software, and you’re reaching out to them the moment they indicate they’re ready with precisely the information they need next to reach a purchasing decision.

Inbound sales isn’t about trying to convince buyers or box out the competition. It’s about being available and using every possible bit of information to understand how best to help buyers find a solution to their wants and needs. In the end, it’s your expertise on their unique situation that will seal the deal.