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Inbound sales: from traditional to modern selling

Are your account managers still reeling off their standard sales patter or do you give them time to properly help customers? It’s high time you set the sales course by which to steer your organisation.


Bart Kuiper and Hans van Dijk. Their names may not mean much to you but the advertising slogan they created for the ‘WC-eend’ [Toilet Duck – a brand of toilet cleaner in a duck-shaped bottle] became famous in the Netherlands. “And that’s why we at WC-eend recommend... WC-eend” was even pronounced to be the best advertising slogan of all times in 2007. A bit of fun, for sure. But unfortunately this is still how many companies today set up their sales. With account managers who put their own product centre-stage, who get kudos for taking people out for coffee and who roam networking events seeking that one lucky deal.


Written byEmiel Kanters

Co-founder & Account Director

The mismatch between sellers 'tactics and buyers' expectations can be solved. 67% of buyers have already done their research before contacting Sales. Establishing a relationship in that period is a game-winning tactic.

Change can be hard and uncomfortable. But when it's done with intention, it can be a beautiful force. Our journey to becoming a customer-centric organization is a testament to its own willingness to embrace change for the benefit of its people and the business.

Sales without actually selling anything

Are you a CEO, director or sales manager in charge of an entire department? Ask yourself out loud: how well are things working in your organisation? Is sales still set up in the traditional way or are you switching to a more modern approach – the so-called inbound sales? You’ve probably heard the term but what does it mean again? 

Inbound sales is sales that makes customers happy to buy from you. Selling without trying to sell, in effect. It may sound a little contradictory but this is how it works: it’s not your product or service, targets or surrounding sales process that are centre-stage; in the first instance, everything revolves around the customer. Although this feels like stating the obvious, just watch how soon into a conversation the average salesperson starts talking about his or her solution. They can’t help themselves. But the main topic of the conversation should be the customer’s problems, ambitions and objectives. Inbound sales means that you begin by getting a clear sense of those aspects. If you do this well and fairly early on, it can happen that you and your customer discover there is no ‘match’. Disappointing, perhaps – but effective qualification at the outset will ultimately lead to a more sustainable relationship. 

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Talking with customers

Let me give you an example of something that we at Webs deal with almost every day. Someone phones us to ask about a new website. Traditionally, you might have said: “absolutely fine, we can do that for you”. Inbound sales, by contrast, means your first move is to get the customer round the table to unpack that question layer by layer. Here’s an ultra concise version of how this chat might go: “So how come you need a new website?”... “Why is this one no longer up to date?”... “Which new products do you want to start offering then?”... “Oh, but that’s interesting. In essence, it’s not just a website but much more about the services around it. Perhaps I could show you something we developed for another client? Because I think this could solve many of your problems and align very well with your organisation’s objectives.”

A buyer’s age

The steady rise of inbound sales did not come about by chance. It’s a logical response to how people buy products and services these days. We live in what you might call a real buyer’s age. Even before your account manager starts chatting with a customer, that customer will have done their homework thoroughly. Long live the internet, we’d say. His or her level of knowledge is far greater than it used to be and an account manager won’t get far by just reeling off the traditional sales pitch. Even a large dose of enthusiasm doesn’t cut it any more. It’s all about listening, asking questions, offering help and sharing knowledge. Your customer wants valuable answers that really help them on.

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Getting started with inbound sales

Account managers will need to have a measure of seniority, courage, autonomy and genuine interest in the other party. You as commander in chief will need to be able to give these colleagues space to do their jobs well. And time too. Quick wins are likely to be scarce but, over the longer term, inbound sales almost always leads to additional sales. Commitment from the MT is clearly an essential precondition for a successful start to an inbound sales strategy.

As you read this article, are you reluctantly reaching the conclusion that your sales organisation may still be somewhat conservative? And do you want to become more inbound? Don’t go big bang – try baby steps. For instance, rather than appointing yet another account manager, add a business developer to the team. Give that person room to operate, evaluate regularly but don’t measure them against hard targets from the outset. Take stock after a year. Evidence of success (read: X new customers with X times revenue) will enthuse the rest of the team and you can then roll the approach out further. Do things this way and your account managers will never again sound like that famous slogan from the 1980s.