What is Inbound Sales? We Take a Look at the Modern Sales Process

Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales
There’s a very simple distinction between inbound and outbound sales. Outbound sales are initiated by your sales team: someone makes a call, sends an email, or visits a business in person to speak with a prospect. Inbound sales are initiated by the prospect. They fill out a contact form, call your sales team, or stop by your location to learn more.

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Understanding the New World of Inbound Sales & the Effect it Has on Modern Sales Teams

Most people are familiar with the typical salesman stereotype: A fast-talking, sharp-dressed charmer who says whatever it takes to get the deal done.

But the advancement of the internet has changed nearly everything about selling. The big difference now is that almost all of the information – and power – is in the hands of consumers. Within seconds, you can perform a quick search to find the features, pros, and cons of almost any type of product or service in the world. Consumers are no longer dependent on salespeople to gather the information they need to make a buying decision.

Instead, today’s salespeople have to function more as advisors and problem solvers. They still need vast knowledge of what they are selling, but these days they also need the ability to map their offering to the unique needs of modern consumers. This shift in the nature of selling is a big reason why the world of sales and marketing today is heavily emphasizing personalization.

If your sales team isn’t already accounting for this shift, it could spell trouble for your business.

Think back to the last time you received a cold call from a telemarketer, or a visit from a door-to-door salesman. What kind of reception did you give them? If you’re like most people, you probably turned them away before they even got a chance to get into their pitch. The reason for this is pretty simple – it’s not that society suddenly decided that telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen were annoying, it’s that these salesmen are trying to sell customers without any kind of qualification or interest shown. A telemarketer has no idea if you are really interested in the magazine subscription or fancy widget they are trying to sell; to them, you are just a number on a list.

Research shows that nearly two out of every three business buyers prefer to learn about a new product or service using a search engine. In today’s economy, people simply don’t want to deal with a salesperson until they are sure they want to buy something to solve their problem.

The Difference Between Inbound Sales and Outbound Sales

There’s a very simple distinction between inbound and outbound sales. Outbound sales are initiated by your sales team: someone makes a call, sends an email, or visits a business in person to speak with a prospect. Inbound sales are initiated by the prospect. They fill out a contact form, call your sales team, or stop by your location to learn more. 

Outbound sales are predominantly interruptive, while inbound sales are based on the prospect’s timetable, needs, and desire to engage with your business on their terms.

The Connection Between Inbound Sales and Inbound Marketing

As mentioned, more and more companies are emphasizing inbound sales instead of outbound. Correspondingly, companies are also increasing the frequency of their inbound marketing.

You can think of inbound marketing as a step that happens prior to the inbound selling process. Inbound marketing is designed to attract strangers to your brand and turn them into prospects by creating dynamic, remarkable, easily shareable content and showing them that you understand their problems and can help solve them.

Inbound sales is the process that begins once someone has signaled an interest in your company by responding to your inbound marketing efforts.

A Quick Rundown on Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

The difference between inbound and outbound marketing is similar to the difference between inbound and outbound sales. Inbound marketing involves attracting people to your brand, typically in the form of blog posts, social media updates, and quality website pages written for both Google and your prospects to inform them and help solve their need.

Outbound marketing involves sending your brand’s message out to those who would be a good fit for your company. Typical outbound marketing practices include print mailers, television commercials, and unsolicited phone calls and emails.

Outbound Sales Has A Different Perspective of What a Lead Is

Traditionally, it takes much less qualification for someone to be considered an outbound sales lead than it does for them to be an inbound sales lead. For example, an outbound salesperson working for a luxury brand may have a list of prospects that make a certain amount of money per year, or live in an upscale neighborhood. That might be all it takes for someone to be considered an outbound lead.

Inbound Sales Aligns Much More Closely with Inbound Marketing’s Lead System

On the other hand, for someone to be considered an inbound lead, they need to have shown a specific interest in your company’s products or services. Some marketers refer to this action as “raising your hand.” Unlike outbound leads, there is a continuum for inbound leads. They are typically categorized as follows, from coldest to hottest:


These are people who know your company and its offerings, but you don’t know their names or who they are.


These people have filled out a form on your website or subscribed to your email newsletter. You have information about them, but only surface-level: their name, email address, and sometimes a phone number.

Marketing Qualified Leads

Marketing qualified leads (abbreviated as MQLs) are people who have shown an interest in your offering. They have signed up for a free trial or giveaway, attended a webinar, or taken advantage of another similar offer above just giving you their contact information. They have also provided you with information about themselves that lends you to believe they are an appropriate fit to do business with you.

Sales Qualified Leads

A sales qualified lead is a person who has shown interest in your offering and has been vetted by a sales rep as being a good fit for what you sell. An MQL typically converts to an SQL after even more qualifying information has been gathered surrounding areas of Budget, Authority, Need & Timing (BANT).


Many sales reps use the traditional BANT formula: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. Whatever the specific criteria you use to classify them, an SQL becomes an opportunity when your company has a realistic chance at winning their business and can point to defined information regarding Budget, Authority, Need and Timing to make the purchase and close the deal.

Inbound Sales is About Responding to a Lead Who Already Knows Your Company

The easiest way to define inbound sales and an inbound lead? An inbound lead comes to you, and the inbound sales process is about nurturing those leads to make a purchase. That’s why so much of inbound sales relates to personalization. Even if you sell a relatively commoditized product or service, each of your buyers has their own unique set of problems, needs, and challenges.

A Greater Focus Becomes Needs Analysis and Solution Creation

In addition to personalization, another essential skill required for success in inbound sales is problem-solving. The first part of this skill requires analyzing the problem and defining a need. A good inbound salesperson will listen to what the prospect is telling them, but a great inbound salesperson will listen and analyze, using their own knowledge to better understand the problem and begin to define the solution with the lead. This can get tricky, because in many industries, prospects have one idea of what they need, when their actual problem may be something totally different. A skilled salesperson knows how to empathize with the prospect about their concerns, while gently pointing them in the direction they actually need to go.

Your Entire Inbound Sales System is Aligned with Your Marketing Team

The other big thing to know about the rise of inbound sales is that, for better or worse, it has linked sales and marketing departments much more closely than they were in previous years. 

For many companies, inbound sales leads are generated almost exclusively by inbound marketing activities. This means that if a business wants to hit their desired revenue targets, sales and marketing have to be working in sync as a cohesive unit. When there are discrepancies between the two departments, it can lead to a breakdown. For example, take a common problem we see in lots of companies – their marketing campaigns generate a healthy number of leads, but the sales department closes fewer leads than expected. At first glance, this appears to be a problem with the sales team – but what if the leads generated by marketing activities aren’t up to the level of quality the salespeople were expecting?

Problems like these are impossible to solve without a tight link between sales and marketing departments. In fact, the significant need today for a strong relationship between sales and marketing has led to the emergence of a new system for aligning sales and marketing, known as ‘smarketing.’

An Introduction to the System Known as Smarketing 

In addition to personalization, another essential skill required for success in inbound sales is problem-solving. What this label lacks in creativity, it makes up for in importance. The companies that place a strong emphasis on smarketing are typically the ones who successfully hit their revenue goals. Salesforce identifies three keys to smarketing

  • communication between the two departments so they can keep each other abreast of important details
  • coordination between the work of the two departments in the form of regular meetings between department heads
  • collaboration, where sales and marketing help each other on the same tasks

The Way Business Is Conducted Will Keep Changing The Nature Of Sales

As long as society’s current protocol of exchanging money for a product or service prevails, there will always be a need for sales. But that doesn’t mean things will remain the same. Our current era of inbound sales and marketing is proof enough that the world of sales is always changing. If you’re interested in realigning your current sales system to match the way people buy in 2019 and beyond, reach out to one of our consultants to schedule an appointment today.

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