What is inbound sales?

Lotte Nedergaard Lauridsen



7 min

Inbound sales is a process that puts the customer in focus and adapts to the modern B2B buyer’s preferences, needs, and behavior.

Today, the modern B2B buyer can find a lot of information online. They can conduct thorough research, educate themselves and compare solutions before contacting a salesperson.

This means that the modern customer has taken control of the sales process. In fact, a study by CEB concludes that the average B2B buyer has made as much as 57% of the purchase decision before reaching out to a relevant supplier.

In this article, we take a closer look at how you adapt your sales process to the modern B2B buyer, what defines a sales-qualified lead, and how you ensure that you reach out to the potential customer at exactly the right time.

The difference between outbound sales and inbound sales

Ok, let’s take it from the top.

You probably already know the outbound sales process, where you do the outreach yourself through cold calls or emails.

In this type of sales, you must first explain why the customer needs your product/service and what it can do for them. It’s often a long process with a fluctuating quality of leads.

With inbound sales, on the other hand, you only deal with leads who contact you themselves. Here, your potential buyers have already researched different options that might solve their problems, and they already know your product/service, recognizing you as a potential supplier.

This preparatory work often makes the sales dialogue more enjoyable because the quality of your leads improves. You only work with ‘hot’ leads.

The most significant difference between inbound and outbound sales is where you meet your leads in the buyer's journey. And, of course, that matters, because it’s all about timing.

A bridge between marketing and sales

When working with inbound, it’s important to build a bridge between sales and marketing, as it’s absolutely essential that the two departments collaborate and get the inbound machine up and running together.

Companies that work actively with inbound sales generate many of their leads through the content that marketing produces. Therefore, it is important that marketing and sales are aligned on which content needs to be produced so that it can be used to both attract leads and close sales.

Content is meant to attract leads, educate prospects and offer information about your product or service. According to research from FocusVision, the average B2B buyer consumes 13 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.

That’s right. 13 pieces of content. Content has a significant impact on how potential buyers perceive your brand. Much like with B2C buyers, B2B buyers seek out brands they can trust, that are helpful, and that can provide them value.

Read more: How to create a full-funnel B2B content strategy

Through content, you can build a trusting relationship with potential buyers. And that puts you in a strong position for the day they make their purchase decision. Your brand will be 'top of mind', and they already trust you.

Content also plays an important role in terms of how you process your leads. Each lead's interactions with your website, blog, newsletter, or social media determine how the lead is qualified and nurtured.

Let's take a look at how you crack the code to generate more digital leads.

The formula for generating digital leads

In short, a buyer’s journey is the stages your potential customers go through as they progress from strangers to leads to loyal customers.

When talking about inbound sales, the most important thing to remember is to focus on the customer at all stages. You must be customer-centric rather than product-centric. And what exactly does that mean?

This means that when you work with inbound sales, there are three elements that you must be aware of:

  • Who are you actually selling to? It is important to develop buyer personas to know who you are selling to, who is your perfect match (and who is not), to understand their challenges and how to communicate your solution to them.
  • When are your leads hot? You must adapt your sales process to your buyer’s journey - and not the other way around. This means that you must know how your leads interact with your website and your content so that you can optimize your conversion points and qualify leads based on their behavior.
  • How do you best convert your leads into customers? It’s absolutely essential to spend time and resources on educating your leads and customers so that you are perceived as a trustworthy source of knowledge. If you manage to create a trusting relationship, your leads will choose you as a supplier over your competitors, and they will also recommend you to others.

Now let’s take a look at how to qualify your leads to ensure that you only hand over hot and relevant leads to sales.

What defines a sales-qualified lead?

You have probably tried spending a lot of time on leads that aren’t actually a good fit, which is why it’s important to define what qualifies a good lead and what information your salespeople need before engaging with the lead.

The most effective way to define what constitutes a sales-qualified lead is by looking at what we call 'hard trigger' conversions on your website. These conversion points tell you that the lead is ready to talk to a salesperson.

Some of them are, of course, obvious. If a lead clicks on your website's 'book meeting' button, they are ‘hot’ and ready to talk to a salesperson immediately.

But they can also be sales-qualified if they download a price list or sign up for a free trial - in these cases, it’s important that sales also receive a notification to reach out to them.

It’s, of course, up to the individual company to assess precisely which conversions define a lead and which define a sales-qualified lead.

Marketing qualified or sales qualified?

In inbound marketing, we distinguish between sales-qualified leads (SQL) and marketing-qualified leads (MQL), which means that it’s important to have different types of conversions on your website to give the visitor more options for conversions.

All leads will not be ready to book a meeting the first time they visit your website. So how do you get them to convert, no matter where they are in their buyer’s journey?

Let's say a visitor downloads your e-book, and you get access to that person's email and perhaps a few other pieces of information; that doesn’t mean they are necessarily ready to talk to a salesperson.

We call this type of conversion point a 'soft trigger', which means that the person still needs to sniff around and educate themselves before deciding. This type of lead should not be sent directly to sales. Instead, marketing should nurture them until they become ready to buy.

With marketing-qualified leads, your most important task is to try to mature these leads with lead nurturing. You might send them a flow of emails that quietly pushes them further down the sales funnel and/or you might send them newsletters with relevant content that matches their behavior until they are ready to be handed over to sales.

Optimize your sales process with sales automation

You might have heard of sales automation which, as the name suggests, is a tool that can automate your sales process and minimize the need for manual tasks.

In an inbound sales process, sales automation plays an important role in ensuring a continuous follow-up with leads. You can set up notifications to remind you of specific tasks you need to perform at a certain time.

You can also automate lead rotation in your CRM, which ensures that all your inbound leads are automatically assigned an owner as soon as they are created in your CRM. That way, no leads fall through the cracks.

You can also automate a lead nurturing flow that works on your leads 24 hours a day. That way, you don't have to lift a finger while the flow quietly pushes them through the sales funnel until they’re eventually ready to get a call from a salesperson.

Of course, there are many more elements that you can automate, including triggers, sales sequences, lead scoring, etc. With a sales automation tool, you can structure and automate many processes that make your work easier. And most importantly, you can ensure that all leads receive the right communication at the right time.

A system that can automate your sales processes and set up trigger flows is, for example, HubSpot. With HubSpot Sales, you get several automation tools to help you scale your inbound machine and sales.

Inbound sales is an obvious match for those working with complex buyer’s journeys - those who sell a solution that buyers consider thoroughly and often for more than three months.

See how inbound can help you generate more leads

Would you like to know more about inbound sales and how you can generate more digital leads for your company? Check out our inbound services.

Build your inbound engine


Related posts

The ultimate guide to inbound for B2B companies


10 min



Read more

The difference between inbound marketing and content marketing


7 min



Read more