Sell to Win

How B2B sellers can close inbound leads more effectively

Ayomide Joseph A.
Contributor, Sell to Win
Ayomide Joseph A.
Contributor, Sell to Win
A crumpled piece of paper (symbolizing inbound leads) being uncrumpled and transformed into a paper airplane.

“Who made the first move?”

It's a common question couples often get when interacting with other people.

But why are people so curious about who made the first move? Well, here’s my take: “The first move preludes what will become of the relationship.”

This could start with a date leading to more dates and possibly marriage. It could also go the other way, with both parties parting ways after the first encounter.

And in a B2B sales relationship involving you and a lead, it’s very much the same:

  • There’s you: Sales professional at a B2B company
  • There’s the lead: A potential customer reaching out to solve a problem.

But who makes the first move here?

Well, reports say 90% of B2B buyers start their buying journey through an online search—so it’s safe to say inbound leads make the first move

And when this happens, two scenarios are likely to occur:

  1. You either close this inbound lead = go on more dates and establish a relationship. Or...
  1. You lose the inbound lead = they didn’t like what you said, then ghosted you or gave you a blatant “NO.”

The second scenario is more discouraging to sellers than it needs to be. Marketing Donut reports that: 

“92% of salespeople give up on leads after hearing “no” four times, leaving only 8% of salespeople asking the fifth time. 

When you consider that 80% of prospects say “no” four times before saying “yes”, the inference is that 8% of salespeople are getting 80% of the sales."

With these stats, it’s safe to argue that the problem is not with you; instead, B2B buyers have a complex buying journey.

b2b buying journey flowchart from gartner
Source: Gartner

However, this argument holds no ground as B2B buyers are 57% into the buying decision process before contacting sales.

So, where’s the problem?

For starters, not every lead reaching out to you is ready to buy. In fact, reports from Gleanster say 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy.

So, it all falls back to you as a salesperson to answer these questions: 

  • Are you attempting to close the wrong inbound lead? 
  • Are you using the same closing approach for every lead?
  • Do you segment all your inbound leads? 

Curious to see how you can successfully close more inbound leads? Great! Then this article is for you. 

The Concept of B2B Sales With Inbound Leads


The concept of B2B sales allows for B2B decision-makers to have a completely different buying process. 

This concept redefines selling to inbound leads through the traditional “immediate close” common in outbound, to nurturing the leads. 

Pavel Beinia, CEO of BuzzGuru, explains the reason for this:

“Inbound leads are frequently considered “easy” ones because they are warmed up in advance and pre-interested in your product/service. This may be true, but it makes some salespeople too relaxed, and, as a result, not focused and attentive enough. Such an approach can lead to losing seemingly easy leads fast. Attention and preparation are equally vital for closing all leads.”

This means the average B2B decision maker can see through your sales pitch from a distance. And this is a mistake most sales professionals make when they transition from cold to warm approach in closing leads.

And although these leads are inbound, 79% of them will never convert to sales, and 73% are not even sales-ready

Which begs the question—why did they go through 50% of your inbound acquisition process if they're not sales-ready?

b2b sales customer journey attract convert close delight

Selling to inbound leads sales rely heavily B2B buyers fulfilling three stages in their customer journey: 

  • Solution: Does the product solve the buyer’s existing problem?
  • Personalization: Is the product meant for this type of buyer?
  • Usability: Is the product easy to use in solving the existing problem?

Scaling through all these stages puts you in a tight spot not knowing whether or not to go for the sale.

So, how do you sell?

Simple, you don’t go for the sell—yet. Instead, you get to know and understand the buyer. 

Understand that B2B inbound leads are sales-oriented decision-makers. Therefore, deceptive sales tactics to initiate impulse decisions won’t work on them. 

Instead, knowing the elements of value for B2B decision-makers let you know how to approach the sale. 

Eric Almquist et al. of Bain Consulting firms explain the elements of B2B value as this: 

“As B2B offerings become more commoditized, the subjective, sometimes quite personal considerations of business customers are increasingly important in purchases.”

He further supports this statement by placing B2B buyers on an elements of value pyramid

elements of value pyramid bain consulting harvard business review
Source: Harvard Business Review

The concept of the pyramid follows this rule: 

“...the 40 distinct kinds of value that B2B offerings provide customers into a pyramid with five levels. The most objective kinds of value are found at the base, and the higher a level is, the more subjective and personal the types of value it contains.”

Now, irrespective of your B2B offering, there are only two B2B decision makers you can sell to. They include:

  • B2B Professionals
  • B2B Executives

B2B Professionals

Selling to B2B professionals is like selling to yourself. This is because most salespeople like you are looking to get the best product to make their work easier. 

With this, it becomes easy to pinpoint their element of value. And in this case, they occupy only half of the pyramid, focusing on purpose, career, personal, productivity, access, and relationship. 

The hierarchy of sales value.

So, their motive for buying your product/service falls on how they can gain the most advantage in their respective businesses. 

B2B Executives

Selling to B2B executives is slightly difficult because of two reasons:

  • Most are sales-savvy.

B2B executives looking to purchase a product/service are either previously B2B professionals or have sales experience. 

  • They are extremely busy. 

Due to their position, B2B executives don’t have time to chit-chat with you—and are extremely cautious of time. So, to avoid losing a potential customer, get straight to the point. 

Both of these characteristics place B2B executives in the second half of the element of value pyramid. 

The hierarchy of sales value (cont)

Their core interest is the operational, strategic, performance, and economic part of the pyramid. They love easy solutions that integrate smoothly with their existing system. 

When you get on a call or chat with them, be sure to point out three things: 

  • Profitability: Show how your solution will help improve their bottom line. 
  • Ease of use: Discuss how easy it is to use your solution. 
  • Scalability: Communicate how your solution can adapt easily to increased workload or market demands. 

If you hit all three,  you’re more likely to close the deal with them. And one of the perks of inbound leads on the B2B side is they’re “high-intent leads.” Meaning, they’re reaching out to you—but not for you to sell to them. Rather, it’s to talk to you. 

They’re curious about how you can solve their problem and hardly care much about the solution's price. And although this might look like a straightforward process, it’s not. 

For you to successfully close more inbound leads, you need to take them through three phases: 

  • First Phase: Qualifying your inbound leads
  • Second Phase: Aligning your inbound leads with your solution
  • Third Phase: Closing your inbound leads
DOWNLOAD

16 sales process templates for B2B pipelines

Whether you’re building your first sales process or overhauling an existing one, these Nutshell-approved templates will give you a great head-start.

FREE DOWNLOAD
16 sales process templates for B2B pipelines

First phase: Qualifying your inbound leads

Here’s a sad truth: not all inbound leads are worth selling to. In fact, reports say 79% of leads will never convert to sales. 

To operate efficiently, sales teams need to focus their efforts on the leads that are most likely to close. That’s why creating a qualification process early on will save you time and help you determine who’s a better fit in contributing to the business’s growth.

If done right, you should have answers to these questions: 

  • How important is what you’re selling to them? 

Your goal of selling should be to help B2B leads move from where they are to where they want to be. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure your proposed solution solves the current problem of the lead without causing drawbacks to the lead's current process of doing things. 

  • Have they shown any interest in your product? 

Reaching out to a website visitor because they simply downloaded your content, e.g., whitepaper or ebook, isn’t likely to yield positive results. Chances are, the constant pop-ups on the screen made them download it, not that they were interested—instead they were forced. A proper way is understanding their level of interaction with your content once they enter the MQL stage. 

  • Does the lead have the purchasing power?

Unlike B2C, where every inbound lead is a potential customer, in B2B, not every lead has the purchasing power for your product/service. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you’re reaching out to the right person. 

  • Is their budget a fit? 

Yes, you might hit all the right buttons, and the lead is qualified to close—but do they have the budget? 

For instance, let’s say a B2B lead works at a startup with an annual revenue of $100K. Selling a product/service of $2k per month isn't in the best interest of the lead. So, your chances of closing that lead is low. In this case, it’s best to disqualify the lead. 

Now, to set yourself up for success when qualifying leads, here’s a three-step process you need to follow: 

1. Decide who’s a fit

Before deciding to sell to leads, you need to decide who’s a fit in accordance to the growth of the business. And you don’t want to ignore this part of the process, irrespective of the data you get from the marketing team.

A great way to help determine who’s a good fit is to break it down into two levels: 

  • Company Level 
  • Individual Level

a. Company level 

At this level, you’re collecting data on the account (company) to know if they fit right in with your business’s customer base. 

For this, you’ll need to cross-check your ICP (ideal customer profile) with the lead’s data. 

Here’s a quick rundown of what your ICP should have: 

  • Decision maker
  • Company size 
  • Number of employees 
  • ARR or MRR 
  • Current challenges
  • Current solution

b. Individual level 

In this level, you’re collecting personal data on the lead—not the business. This data helps you know if the lead in your funnel is the right one. And a good way to get this information would be to drill down on their behavior. 

You can use the DISC model to understand your leads' different behaviors. 

DISC stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance.

  • “D” type people are highly driven, active, assertive, fast-paced, and result-oriented.
  • “I” type people are personality-driven, accepting, and agreeable. 
  • “S” type people are thoughtful, moderate, methodical, and patient. 
  • “C” type people are questioning, skeptical, careful, logical, and questioning. 

Bringing it all together, you’ll have a four-part behavior model for every inbound lead. 

DISC model: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance
Source: Macro Recruitment

Now, when you get an inbound lead, here’s what to do to determine whether they’re a fit or not:

  • Check the company level and see if it matches your company’s ICP. If they don’t, disqualify them. If they qualify, move the lead to the individual level. 
  • Use the DISC model in qualifying who would be the best fit as a customer for your business. For example, If your product/service takes time before delivering results, it’ll be hard selling it to a D-type person. 

2. Analyze who’s sales ready

Some inbound leads go through your entire qualification processes and show all signs of interest in your product/service—but are never going to convert. 

At the end of the day, you’ll end up with a large database of MQLs and not SQLs. And while you might be doing everything right in driving more inbound leads to your business, you need to segment your leads based on who’s interested in buying and who’s just there to gather information or consume your content. 

Doing this requires digging into your CRM to find which lead segment had the highest close rate closing, and which leads were most likely to become losses. 

For example, when you navigate to the Losses report in Nutshell, you can compare the value of your lost business based on individual outcomes.

A Nutshell CRM report analyzing which leads are ready for sales.

The idea behind digging into this data is to understand the actions of sales-ready leads and content-focused leads. Some other things you’ll want to look at in your CRM include: 

  • Channels where you had the most success
  • Customer journey before and after purchase
  • The number of interactions before purchase

3. Use a lead scoring system

All through your sales qualification process, it’s recommended you use a lead scoring system for every lead in your customer acquisition funnel. 

Lead scoring
is the process of assigning values to leads based on a predetermined set of criteria. 

The concept of this scoring system is simple—the higher the score, the higher the chances of closing the lead. 

Scoring inbound leads can spread over a thousand data points depending on the sales process. However, the basic scoring criteria of every inbound lead falls into two main categories: 

  • Explicit criteria
  • Implicit criteria

a. Explicit criteria 

This is based on measurable and reportable information the inbound lead provides to you. 

Some of these include: 

  • Company size 
  • Industry size 
  • Annual revenue 
  • Job title/role of primary contact. 
  • BANT: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline. 

b. Implicit criteria

This is based on the information you infer about the lead. In this case, you’re taking information from their interaction with your product/service. 

Some of these include: 

  • Email clicks
  • Website visits 
  • Ebook downloads 
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Social media follows 

Note: Using a lead scoring system should be based on the weight each of the data points contributes to the chances of closing the lead. 

According to Aura VP of Marketing Gaetano DiNardi: “For inbound, it's crucial to consider the source of the lead. A pricing page conversion will be in a totally different mindset than leads from other traffic sources.”

And this is true when you consider the intent of every lead during the acquisition process. Someone visiting your pricing page implies more sales-readiness than a visit to your blog post, or the company’s “about us” page. 

In addition, your lead scoring metrics should assign points based on lead opportunity. 

“Next, consider the size of the opportunity,” DiNardi added. “Larger whales should not be treated the same way as small fish. You need different flows to accommodate different types of customers.”

Take for instance; you’re selling an Enterprise Digital Security solution to fortune 500 companies. Trying to close the Marketing Assistant would most likely prove futile compared to closing the Chief Security Officer or Chief Technology Officer of the same company. 

Second phase: Aligning your inbound leads with your solution

A common thing with salespeople is trying to align leads with the acquisition funnel, i.e., forcing them from one part of the funnel to the other. 

Here’s the problem with that—the B2B sales cycle is a long and complicated one. 

So, at any point, the lead can decide to opt-out of the cycle, making it a waste of all the time you’ve spent trying to move them. 

In addition to this, it takes 74.6% of B2B companies at least 4 months to close a lead, with almost half (46.4%) taking seven months or more. 

b2b sales cycle length new vs existing customers
Source: Marketing Charts

In those four months, leads can completely change their minds and opt-out or abandon your company as a whole. 

However, aligning leads based on your solution is the better approach. This way, you’re guiding leads on how to solve their problem and leaving them to decide without forcing them. 

And the best way to successfully do this is by nurturing leads at every pipeline stage

Nurturing your inbound leads

The concept of lead nurturing involves developing relationships with potential customers—in this case, leads. Essentially, you’re putting the lead first by continuously giving them value over and over again.

Now the goal for this is to generate sales, and since your leads are inbound, you’ll want to decide three things: 

  • The current stage they’re in (awareness, consideration, or decision stage). Since you’re in sales, the consideration and decision stage would be your forte, while the marketing team handles the awareness stage. 
  • The appropriate channel to reach them (social media, email drip sequences, etc.) 
  • The best content to nurture them with (blogs, case studies, whitepapers, etc.)

Best practices in nurturing inbound leads

Nurturing inbound leads means something slightly different for sellers than it does for marketers. Using the same approach for your leads would mean having them repeat the acquisition funnel—and leads don’t want that. 

Instead, employ some of these practices next time you engage with a sales-qualified lead: 

a. Address their challenges

Half the time, when leads contact sales, they’re not looking to buy. Instead, they’re contacting you to know whether you have the right solution for their problems.

As a result, it’s best to start by addressing their challenges with questions like: 

  • What are your current challenges in solving X? 
  • Do you have problems solving X with X product/service? 
  • What’s your experience solving X? 

Once you get your answers, move on to sharing your expertise. 

b. Share your expertise

You’ll lose out on the sale if leads aren’t convinced you have the right solution to their problem. However, you can change that by offering your in-depth knowledge of the product/service they’re interested in. 

You can start by inferring their challenges, as mentioned earlier, and using your expertise to offer genuine advice. Most B2B inbound leads are actively looking to learn about the product and trust the person behind it, so don’t be salesy just yet.

c. Ensure you’re communicating and not responding

Communication is the trickiest part of nurturing leads. You need to make sure you’re not simply responding to the lead’s questions but also ensure they understand you. Avoid using unrecognized terms or slang to sound smart—you’ll only confuse your lead. 

Overall, all you’re trying to do is align your inbound leads with a good solution rather than forcing a sell on them. 

Third phase: Closing your inbound leads

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. 

Now that you’re 100% sure your lead is ready for the sale, it’s time to talk about money.

When it comes to purchasing, B2B leads are always evaluating if the cost justifies the solution. 

Your key to making the sale is to justify the cost. And to do this you need to tackle one thing: 

Addressing the current cost of their existing problem

When your leads are deliberating about the cost of your solution, you’ll want to know exactly how much the current problem is costing them. 

The emphasis is on “how much” because quantifying the problem makes it easy to sell your solution. 

Let’s say the existing problem for an inbound lead costs them $26k annually. Meanwhile, your solution costs $5k annually, and it completely solves the lead’s problem. This means, for a $5k investment, they’ll be saving $21k every year. It’s quite hard for a lead to say no to saving that much.

When you approach talking about money from this angle, closing your leads is easier. In addition, there are a few strategies you can employ in your approach.

I interviewed Pavel Beinia, CEO of BuzzGuru, to share some of the strategies they use in closing inbounds leads at BuzzGuru, and here’s what he had to say: 

A strong strategy is good, but a flexible one is better. Our strategy is the latter, we use a personal approach to each client and consider each case individually. But we sure have a conversation framework that helps us make every meeting and call as efficient as possible. Here are some basic points we never miss when communicating with potential partners…

  • A nice greeting and a small talk that naturally leads to the main topic of the conversation–that’s a good start. We need to set a proper atmosphere at the very beginning to make our clients feel at ease and at the same time be focused on us, on what we say. Neatly tailored small talk helps.
  • The focus is always on the clients. Companies come to us because they have problems and goals, and we are here only to solve the problems and help achieve the goals. A good salesperson is always a good listener who can also thoroughly analyze the client’s words and highlight their real needs. So every meeting is a research process: we ask, we listen, we analyze, and we suggest solutions.
  • The more information, the more profit for the client. That’s why we always insist on showing our product in its glory and explaining how its features can help the client in detail. If it’s not an option, we share our knowledge base full of useful information that helps users understand our tools and our platform’s logic, and shows some use cases.
  • At the end of any call it is important to implement a clear call-to-action. For example, you might ask them when you should expect to hear back from them, or set up a new meeting when the whole team finishes testing your product. This puts an idea into their mind that you're expecting particular steps from them. A salesperson must create a sense of urgency with any potential client. Meaning that they will be missing out on the value of our product if they don't act soon.
  • Stay in touch. A call or a meeting is not the end of our communication with clients. We don’t just drop it and wait for them to make a decision. It’s vital to stay in contact, answer the questions that may follow, and help your contact person explain the product/service to their teammates. Our salespeople become personal assistants of a kind.

Overall, the final phase of closing inbound leads is the simplest—provided you took them through the first two phases. 

Key takeaways

  1. Handle B2B professionals and executives differently.
  2. Qualify all inbound leads based on interest, importance, purchasing power, and budget. 
  3. Decide who’s a fit based on company and individual level. 
  4. Use the DISC model in understanding your lead’s behaviors.
  5. Assign scores to every lead based on implicit and explicit criteria.
  6. Nurture your leads by addressing their challenges, sharing your expertise, and communicating properly.
  7. Address the current cost of their current problem. 

On a final note... 

Behind every inbound lead is a person. Therefore, your approach toward B2B sales should go beyond ticking your customer acquisition checklist. Because when you do that, you stray away from understanding the lead’s problems, making you miss out on valuable opportunities. 

Instead, try to personalize your approach to leads to show you care about solving their problem. This will help you build a long-lasting connection and a loyal customer base. 

On the other hand, personalizing the approach for every inbound lead isn’t scalable without a robust CRM system to handle all the information. 

With Nutshell, you can integrate every part of your inbound marketing and sales process without losing touch with any of your leads.

--

Big shoutout to Matt Ridley for the cool paper airplane pic. 📃✈✌

NO CREDIT CARD REQUIRED

Not a Nutshell customer? Try us free for 14 days!

GET STARTED
Free Trial [Not a Nutshell customer?]