How to Run a Bulletproof Negotiation

Negotiation is one of the most difficult, and in my opinion, poorly understood aspects of the sales process.  If there's at least one thing I've learned about leading sales reps, epecially less experiences ones, they do not know how to negotiate effectively.  Even if they run a flawless sales process, they give up loads of value after having created so much in everything they did prior.  While the customer ultimately gets the better end of this deal, it's not effective for building a business over the long term.  Heavy discounting erodes margin and eliminates a business's ability to invest back into their own people, which in turn, limits the quality of the total customer experience.   

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Is Inbound Selling an Oxymoron?

Is-Inbound-Selling-an-Oxymoron-Dwight-Schrute-False.jpgWhat Is Inbound Selling?

I just found this direct quote on the Square2Marketing site -- a Diamond HubSpot Partner (who I don’t work with, full disclosure) -- and I love how they define Inbound Sales:

“Inbound sales is the guiding strategy that helps each prospect along their unique buyer’s journey, ultimately ending in an informed decision to sign on the dotted line.”


Digging further at my own company, HubSpot, this is a great resource that further defines the attributes of Inbound Selling, and specifically the Inbound Sales Process vs. the Inbound Sales Methodology.

As defined by HubSpot, the Inbound Sales Methodology is:

  • Inbound selling is helpful, not hostile -- Your prospects will decide if you are worth their attention or not. In order to win them over, you need to provide value. Old school, high pressure tactics don’t work anymore.

  • Inbound selling is about a partnership, not a power struggle -- There’s no longer any question about where the power lies in the salesperson - buyer dynamic - it’s all in the hands of the buyer. For sales professionals to be a part of a buyer's’ process, they need to demonstrate how they can add value by acting as a partner and trusted advisor.

  • Inbound selling is about building trust, not being tenacious -- It used to be that tenacity and dogged pursuit of a lead was the only way to close a sale. Now, it’s easier than ever for buyers to block out annoying and interruptive messages from salespeople. Everyone has a spam folder, and everyone has caller ID. Sales professionals need to build trust and a relationship with buyers to keep the lines of communication open.

Comparatively, the Inbound Sales Process itself looks something like this:

HubSpot’s Inbound Sales Process


If Inbound Is Based on Attraction, Does that Mean a Sales Rep Can Only Be Reactive?

Yet, this still leaves one MAJOR question to be answered.  Is Inbound Selling an oxymoron?  Is Inbound Sales even possible considering that the first stage in the methodology is to Attract leads to you as opposed to interrupting them.  In other words, the typical sales approach is more proactive; whereas, the Inbound Sales Process would suggest to be REACTIVE.   So do you have to just sit around and wait for leads to fall into your lap to be an Inbound Seller?  My thought is -- “Absolutely not.” Inbound Selling is just as much a mindset as it is a process.

Most people assume that Inbound Selling is predicated on Inbound Marketing and Inbound Lead Generation.  In other words, that Inbound Selling is -- by it’s definition -- passive, and the complete opposite approach to what most sales teams and leaders practice.  While practicing Inbound Marketing to enable a sales team will certainly accelerate results, it is not necessarily a requirements to make Inbound Selling work or worthwhile.  

Many Marketing Directors I speak with, at first, will say something to the effect of, “We get the value of doing Inbound, but we don’t have the luxury of waiting around for it to work.”  While there is partial truth in this objection, it doesn’t mean that a sales team has to wait around to start implementing Inbound Selling.  It does not have to be passive, but it does require a different approach to the way you may have sold in the past.

The first step in understanding Inbound Selling is realizing that you do NOT have to wait around for leads to come to you.  There is no part of of the approach that suggests it is predicated on a visitor coming to your website, filling out a form, and then calling them right away.  While that helps start a conversation, there are many more ways to trigger that first Inbound Sales interaction.  

If you’re a sales rep or sales leader looking for a more effective way to sell to your prospects, here are some action items you can start thinking through now.


Four Tips to Ease Into Inbound Selling

1. Define Your Ideal Buyer Personas, NOT Your Target Account List

In the traditional sales model, reps and sales leaders think through the list of businesses that should be buying from them or doing business with them.  The issue with this revolves around the fact that there are going to be a lot of false starts before a solution/ fit is found.  The underlying root cause is the incorrect assumption that these businesses on the target account list actually need help with something that your company solves.  They may, they may not.  This approach is centered around YOUR business.  Flip your thinking and redefine the way you think about a target account by defining a broad set of challenges your ideal customers face instead.  This is PROSPECT-focused and allows you to be more of a magnet than a sledgehammer when it comes to the prospecting process itself.  If you want help thinking through how to build a buyer’s persona, this is a great resource.


2. Create Your Own Proactive Series of Trigger Events  

Your website visitors converting on forms through landing pages is the most common way a rep would initiate an Inbound Sales process; however, we don’t always have the luxury of waiting for the right prospect to find us.  Instead, we as sales reps need to find them.  In line with the first point above, there are proactive steps we can take to monitor the world of potential buyer challenges while still being an Inbound Seller.  

  • First, social provides a publically available channel where people are openly admitting or expressing their challenges in one way, shape, or form.  Joining LinkedIn groups or online forums where your buyers “hang out” is a great way to get involved in the conversation.  Doing something as simple as setting up Twitter streams for keywords (in tools like HubSpot’s Social Inbox or Hootsuite, to name a few) related to the challenges your prospects might have is another easy way to find your own trigger events.  

  • Second, subscribing to a company’s blog or email updates is another way to understand what they care about and how your products or services might help them.  One of the easiest ways I’ve gotten in front of prospects is simply subscribing to their email campaigns and forwarding it to one of the people I want to introduce myself to.  Since I’m leveraging their own content to trigger a response, they’re typically more open to engaging with me.

  • Third, setting up news alerts and digests is an easy way to better understand your buyers’ universe.  What are the big issues in their world, their function, or their industry?  How does what your company solves for relate back to those issues?  Again, the more research you do here the better off you’ll be and the more willing your prospect will be to listen to you.  I realize this sounds like an incredibly simple and outdated step, but speaking from experience it’s a tool I see completely underutilized by even the best BDRs and Reps I’ve worked with. 

  • Finally, leveraging the myriad of sales and marketing technologies available -- most of which are free or very, very low cost -- is a must do for any rep looking to more deeply engage their prospects.  For example, YesWare or Sidekick by HubSpot enable the rep to understand if and when a prospect opens their email, reopens an old email, or clicks through any link that was ever sent to a prospect.  Again, I have won a number of sales deal simply by knowing when to re-engage a prospect.  If I talked to someone six months prior and see they were recently clicking through some collateral I sent them back then, that is an instant trigger to follow up.


3. Reframe the Way You Think about Starting a Sales Conversation

Based on experience being on the buyer side, many reps attempt to start a conversation with a prospect with their agenda, the types of customers already work with, or the “big problem in the world” that their company solves.  They do this in the hope that it will catch their prospect’s attention.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  Instead -- and just try this out once to see how it works for you -- focus relentlessly on your prospect.  What are they working on?  What’s on their priority list?  How did their priorities get put in that order?  What’s standing in their way from getting those things done?  How can they look smarter?  How could they work smarter, not harder?  What will get them promoted?  As a general rule, try to focus 90%+ of your initial conversation with a prospect learning about THEM and avoid, almost at all costs, talking about what your company does.


4. Do Something Unexpected -- Take Off Your Sales Hat and Put on the Consulting Hat

You have to lead with value and make sure you don’t do what a prospect expects you to do.  HubSpot recently published a very simple, yet powerful blog post titled, “Wake Up, Cold Callers: 6 Reasons I’ll Never Buy From You

In the article, they outline that those six reasons are as follows: 

  • The sales rep won’t let the prospect off the phone,
  • The sales rep wants the prospect to buy something right away,
  • The sales rep is reading from a script,
  • The sales rep has no idea who their prospect is,
  • The prospect has no idea who the sales rep is, and
  • The sales rep launches right into their pitch

If you’ve ever been on the buyer’s side, you’ve probably experienced a handful of these issues.  But as a sales rep, it’s JUST as important if not more so to fully understand what frustrates our potential prospects.  If they’re shutting down from the first second, we’re never going to have a chance at being heard.  So when you get a prospect on the phone, turn the conversation around on them.  Be the inquisitor; be the investigator; be the journalist; be the consultant.  


One of the easiest ways to think about this is to speak with the prospect as if they’re a good friend telling you about a business they’re starting.  And that friend needs help, you’re just there to listen and ask questions.  By applying this consultative approach you will immediately lower your prospect’s guard.  And through leading with value, they should be more open to at least initiating a conversation with you.  One more tip… as you attempt to be helpful they may say something like, “Ok, enough.  Pitch me.”  The key here is to NOT pitch them... I might respond with something like this: “I have nothing to pitch.  I know very, very little about you and your business at this point so to “pitch” and assume I do would be a waste of your time.  Would you agree?  I’m happy to give you a brief explanation of how we help businesses like yours, but that won’t necessarily mean that we can help”  Again, anecdotally, I’ve tried this approach myself and it went something like this: Prospect, “Brian, how can your business help us?”  My Response: “I don’t know if we can. [Long Pause]”  Prospect: “What do you mean you can’t help us?” My Response: “I didn’t say we can’t; I just said I’m not sure if we can.  I don’t know what you’re working, what your priorities are, and what you’re looking for help with.  Maybe if you shared some of that with me I could give you a better answer?”


This works because it is COMPLETELY unexpected.  The prospect thinks, “What the hell is going on?  What sales rep in their right mind wouldn’t try to sell me?  isn’t that what they do?” The truth is that if you have the right intentions behind what you’re doing, and you’re actually being different, you will gain not only your prospect’s attention, but most likely their trust.   


If you have thoughts or opinions -- on this approaching working, or not -- your comments are welcome.

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Brian Signorelli
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