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Outside-in: common points of friction in the commercial process

In collaboration with Emerce - Many companies want an ‘outside-in’ or customer-centred commercial process. Yet these often fall short. Why? For most firms, outside-in thinking is a means, not an end. While they do make personas and content, and practise social selling, their marketing, sales and service professionals work inside-out, based on leads, turnover and processing time. In this article, I walk you through some of these common points of friction and offer possible solutions.

Why go from inside-out to outside-in?

Why exactly is outside-in thinking better? Because buying is often harder than selling. Think about your last major purchase as an individual. How much time did it take you? And the salesperson? For every hour the salesperson spent, you likely spent at least a day on your own research.

For B2B, this means if you want to sell more, you should focus mainly on streamlining the buying process – not the sales process.

Outside-in metrics

One caveat: everyone needs to report on their business. So the first step is always to get your inside-out metrics in order. My advice: keep it simple. The table below shows some common inside-out metrics for B2B.

Next, you drill down with your outside-in metrics. You can model this in all kinds of ways, but for a clear overview, I start from the buyer’s key questions: who, what, where, why and how? You can link a number of useful outside-in metric to these. Below is a non-exhaustive list.

Business

Inside-out

Outside-in

Customer

Marketing

Sessions

Thought leadership reach: e.g. blog visitors

Why: Research the problem

 

Leads

Engagement with educational content: e.g. whitepaper downloads

How: Determine solution

Sales

MQLs/SQLs

Product selection effort: e.g. buyer guide downloads or time to meaningful contact

What: comparison of problem-relevant characteristics

 

Opp/turnover

Effort to purchase: e.g. no. of calls, no. of meetings, time to signature

Who: Make and defend choice

Service

Retention

Customer satisfaction: e.g. customer rating, self-service usage, NPS or CES

Where: where can I go for maintenance and questions?

Marketing metrics

More sessions and leads are always great. But how many actually result in new business? That’s why, thinking outside-in, you want to know how many fact-finding buyers you are reaching. Buyers looking for the ‘why’ and ‘how’: Why: why should I take action, and is my problem urgent enough?, and How: how should I approach it, and what all is involved organisationally? 

For the former, you can write thought leadership content, typically blogs. For the latter, you make educational content, often downloadable whitepapers, guides or benchmarks.

Example: A microscope producer wrote blogs on the problem of analysis speed for busy lab operators, with plenty of links to educational downloads. In a couple of years, the blog grew to 20,000 readers a month. That rivals the reach of a modest trade journal. The number of educational content downloads nearly reached 400 a month. Using these metrics, they achieved substantial growth for their business.

Sales metrics

We all laugh at the film Glengarry Glen Ross (‘always be closing’), but then end up focusing purely on the close rate or turnover. But just ‘getting to close’ doesn’t always land you the right (profitable) customers. With outside-in thinking, you want to help customers find the right answer as quickly as possible for their What: what exactly do I need for my problem, and what are the main features to consider in my choice? As well as their Who: who is the provider that best fits my needs? 

So one metric you’ll want is: how many hoops does the buyer have to jump through to understand and buy my product or service?

Example 1: A major forklift supplier was making a web store, including buyer guides. This way, customers could order the products themselves, without having to jump through all kinds of hoops. The buyer guides helped them make the right choice for them. With answers to questions like: what mast do I need for different ranges? And: what wheels do I need for my floor?

Example 2: An Industry 4.0 software firm has SDRs working based on metrics like ‘Time to meaningful call’. How long does a prospect have to wait for a meaningful discussion of his or her problem?

Service metrics

Years ago, Bain & Company discovered the 80/8 rule. 80% of companies think they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree. If you only look at your retention, this problem will stay under the radar. That’s why it’s vital to think outside-in and measure whether customers actually feel helped with their Where questions: where can I go with questions or concerns, and will I be satisfied with this help?

Example: As a commercial consulting firm, we are in daily contact with our clients. However, we must also carefully measure if we are still adding enough value to keep the customer satisfied. That’s why we ask every client to rate us on the HubSpot Partner Portal: we send an NPS every quarter and follow up on anything less than an 8.

Conclusion

Your commercial growth bottleneck lies with your buyers. This means growth requires an outside-in approach. You also have to gear your metrics to this. Implementation naturally depends on your situation. But we hope you find some inspiration above.

Picture of Ruud Verstraeten
Ruud Verstraeten

Business Growth Consultant