Inbound Business: How To Succeed In An Age Of Buyer Control

Is your business stuck in 1999? Most leaders know the market has changed exponentially, yet their mindset and operations are decades out of date.

Are you running your business like it’s 1999? Most leaders know (in theory) that the market has changed exponentially, yet their mindset and structure are decades out of date.

Everybody wants to grow but nobody wants to change. It’s as true for companies as it is for people. Despite the fact that customers have changed everything about the way they buy—and have an endless array of sellers at their fingertips—too many businesses treat them like they exist in a pre-Internet time warp. This is not just short-sighted; it’s self-destructive. And it points to a massive collective blind spot that keeps leaders from seeing the disruptive forces flying up behind them.

“In a world where buyers now hold all the power, it makes no sense for companies to behave as though they still do,” says Dan Tyre, coauthor along with Todd Hockenberry of Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company’s Future Using Inbound Principles. “Yet so many continue to talk to customers the old, interruptive way.

“They’re still spamming customers with emails and unwanted calls, putting them through voicemail purgatory, and subjecting them to other poor service practices,” he adds. “They’re still treating employees badly—apparently blind to the fact that this poisons the customer experience. It’s as though they’ve missed the last couple of decades.”


Success in the age of buyer control

Pre-Internet, sellers controlled the information buyers needed to make a decision. Buyers had to rely completely on what sellers said about their products to evaluate their options. Now the balance of power has shifted. Customers just go online, do research, read online reviews, and compare your product (and its price) to the products (and prices) of your competitors. And if they have a bad experience, an hour later the story is on Yelp.


Photo: Rawpixel.com, Pexels
Photo: Rawpixel.com, YFS Magazine

We all know this, of course. In theory. But for many companies, this knowledge hasn’t affected how they reach and interact with their customers. Perhaps these companies underestimate how much has changed, or they believe they are somehow an exception. But there’s no arguing with statistics like the following. In the U.S:

  • 97% of consumers now use online media when researching products and services in their local market

  • 93% of all B2B purchases start with an Internet search

  • 84% of buyers engage in online information consumption and education

  • By a factor of 3 to 1, B2B buyers say that gathering information online on their own is superior to interacting with a sales representative

  • 74% of sales go to the first company that was helpful


The point is clear: The old “outbound” approach will not—cannot—serve you long-term. You must fix any misalignment between buyer expectations and your own business structure, mindset, and the company culture you’re creating. You must deliberately build an inbound organization—one that has the people, culture, and strategies in place to succeed in the age of buyer control. You must build strong relationships with employees, prospects, buyers, and partners and intentionally design a personalized experience to help customers reach their goals.

“Once you’ve changed the way you think, and everyone understands their new role, you’ll experience a massive shift in your culture,” says Hockenberry. “It will manifest in every aspect of your customer interaction. Your new inbound approach will be expressed everywhere—in the content on your website, in how your sales team interacts with prospects, and in how your service people connect with customers.”

You’ll know you’ve delivered a great customer experience when their reviews, comments, shares, and user-generated content show that you have. Delighted customers share their stories. So do not-so-delighted customers. It’s these stories that drive customers to buy—or not. Your success is determined not by what you say your brand is, but by what others say their experience with your brand was.


How to build an inbound business

So how do you become an inbound business? It all starts with a mind shift on the part of you and your leadership team. Follow these six steps:


Assess current capabilities and build your MSPOT

Quickly identify strengths and weaknesses inside your organization in relation to inbound principles. Then you’ll be ready to address gaps and areas for improvement. One tool that works well is an MSPOT. This format defines the mission, strategy, plays, omissions, and performance targets in one chart so leaders can structure and distribute it throughout the organization.

“HubSpot developed this format as a simple way to take complex organizational, operational, and financial goals and make them accessible to everyone,” says Tyre. “When you’re asking people to make a huge change, you absolutely must reduce uncertainty, deliver clarity, and drive alignment. The MSPOT helps you do that.”


Get clear on your mission

While many companies have vague, generic, or buzzword-ridden missions, inbound organizations are clear on the why of their business. A clear and inspiring mission does two things, says Hockenberry. One, it helps recruit the right employees who have the proper values, attitudes, and interest in working toward that purpose. And two, it helps buyers decide to choose you out of endless options.

“Buyers increasingly look to buy from companies that match their personal beliefs and that contribute to a mission that lines up with those beliefs. Millennials say they are 60 percent more likely to buy from socially conscious companies.”


Build a culture that reflects inbound values

Culture influences all business functions from the first touch, through customer acquisition to customer service, and impacts buyers’ expectations and goals. As the connected world evolves, culture has taken on a more important role, because a quality culture creates employee loyalty and loyal employees generate more value for customers.


Photo: Brooke Cagle, Unsplash
Photo: Brooke Cagle, YFS Magazine

“A negative company culture can be expensive, inefficient, and hard to mask from the outside world,” says Tyre. “To practice inbound with your clients, you need to build an inbound culture. An inbound culture creates an extraordinary employee experience.”


Adopt inbound decision making

Inbound companies solve problems with an emphasis on enterprise value (EV), which means you act in the best interest of the company as a whole and accept decisions that help the company mission, even if it makes your job harder. EV means solving problems for long-term success.

Let’s say your direct sales reps are working on a target account and forecasted a deal close date by the end of the quarter. In the final weeks before signing the contract, the prospect decides they would like to bring in a third-party partner do some of the services associated with the installation.

As the partner gets involved in the deal, they realize it is in the prospect’s best interest to delay the sale. Solving for EV means that your direct reps work with the partner in the best interest of the customer, which is in the best interest of the company. Even if it took the salesperson longer to close the deal and she made less commission, she does it because that decision solves for EV.


Create inbound operations

Inbound operations provide tools to support non-hierarchical communication, provide employee feedback, and give teams the data they need to be successful. It binds everyone together to function as one unit in pursuit of one mission.

“An inbound operating system is unique to each business, but there are a few consistent components,” explains Hockenberry. “These include open communication tools, employee feedback mechanisms, regularly scheduled and structured interactions, a culture code, and a regular review of the mission and goals.”


Find inbound people

As companies grow, culture changes. Hiring people who naturally embody your core values makes it easy to continue to scale. It is a challenge to retrain experienced workers if they don’t embrace the company’s values. You don’t want to find people who fit the culture; you want to find people who add to it. And this doesn’t happen quickly. If creating an inbound culture is a priority, recruiting is the single biggest time investment required to build it.


Final thoughts

Of course these six steps only scratch the surface of what it means to be an inbound organization. But they do create the foundation that allows the rest of it to happen.

“The companies that recognize and adopt inbound will be able to deliver amazing customer experiences,” says Hockenberry. “These companies will create differentiation, in some cases an insurmountable advantage, and establish first mover advantage in many, if not all, industries and market segments. The organizations that understand these ideas now have the best chance to be the winners in the future.”


Dan Tyre and Todd Hockenberry are coauthors of Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company’s Future Using Inbound Principles. Dan Tyre joined HubSpot as a member of the original start-up team in 2007, and has led the sales recruiting, sales training, leadership program, and managed national and international sales teams. Todd Hockenberry founded and runs Top Line Results, a management consulting firm specializing in helping companies change and grow with inbound marketing and sales, matching best practice inbound strategies to each company’s particular situation and goals.


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