One of the reasons most people are reluctant to move into sales is they consider it nothing short of selling one’s soul, submitting to the dark side of human nature. I’m no psychiatrist, but perhaps there’s an irrational fear of appearing like a sleazy and disingenuous pariah who blights the corporate landscape through deception and greed. It’s a genuine concern and somewhat steeped in tradition. Indeed, the classic view of the role is a dishonest pressure seller who foists on unsuspecting buyers a product or service that they don’t really need, interrupting their busy day with a lot of fast talk, a lot of hooey. With inbound sales, the pitch is slightly different.

The distinguishing feature of the inbound sales model is the direction of travel of that first contact. There’s no cold calling or telemarketing going out to the unwilling. Prospective buyers initiate the process, usually after Google searches lead them to the vendor’s site where they can research what they offer, download white papers, read up on industry-related articles they’ve posted. Only if all seems relevant to their business requirements do they succumb to the inevitable and reach out to sales. That’s inbound. It’s the prospective client deliberately contacting a salesperson who attempts to fulfill a need.

Most inbound salespeople are completely frank when a prospective client’s requirements aren’t a good fit. No matter how good the extra lead looks on a sales funnel, it’s usually not in their best interest to waste either party’s time pursuing an unrealistic solution that’s out of budget. If there is a match, an effective inbound sales rep will work diligently on crafting a solution. The rep asks numerous qualifying questions, learns about the lead’s business goals, and delivers timely proposals on demand.

In the service desk outsourcing business, the sales rep collaborates with the prospective client’s input to define tasks, tools used, applications supported, and determine which staffing model maximizes utilization and service quality. With the prospective client’s input, the rep establishes measurable service level targets, ascribes contractual consequences to lapses in performance, and eventually calculate a fair price given a complex list of variables. Every point, every line item is in writing, reviewed, and revised so there is little opportunity for misalignment of expectations and deliverables. An experienced inbound sales rep knows that building trust is a small step in a long journey.

Inbound reps welcome a rigorous, well-defined RFP vetting process including presentations, site visits, conference calls, demos, project plans, and participates in operational Q & A sessions, always happy to engage prospective buyers and educate them on industry best practices as with any true consultative sale. There are plenty of teaching opportunities when asked 50 questions, even more, when the salesperson uncovers some incorrect assumptions in the course of the dialogue. Then there are client references, certification checks, and a thorough review of data security policies and procedures. The inbound sales rep pulls in operational resources for a final meeting with a prospective client’s IT department and reviews incident management or other operational scenarios, network connectivity, and implementation project management. No matter how time-consuming or in-depth the consultative sales process, even inbound reps understand that in the final analysis, prospective clients may replicate what they’ve learned for an internal solution. There are no strings attached to the lesson.

As part of the consultative process, the inbound sales rep is interested in filling in the support gaps where it makes the most sense. In service desk outsourcing terms, that involves complementing the current IT solution, not replacing it with the full package deal. Internal IT fully staffed for core hours and only need after-hours support? Sure. Only need overflow support when the lines are busy? Done. Only need Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 support? Take your pick. To an inbound sales rep, an all or nothing ultimatum shortchanges the consultative sales process and applies undue pressure that benefits neither party. Opportunities to start small and be time tested are welcome.

All pricing is subject to approval in writing based on a unique scope of services before it is sent to prospective clients. This can be a challenge when they expect same-day turnaround in a revised proposal. Nonetheless, a seasoned inbound salesperson is expected to come through on urgent deadlines, knowing those efforts are rarely rewarded with an immediate signature. It’s an understood double standard in the vendor-client relationship, a one-way street that only favors the buyer. RFP deadlines are strict and often subject to rejection if late, but client decision timelines are often vague or behind schedule, if posted at all. And that’s a perfectly understandable position though not wholly embraced by the heavy closers. The rare instances of buyer’s side urgency stem from a need for a solution that either doesn’t exist or is being grossly mishandled by a current provider. Then it’s the inbound salesperson comes to the rescue, engages all solution development contributors where necessary to deliver a smooth transition ASAP. Bearing all this in mind and living it every day, I can’t think of a more honorable profession than getting people what they want when they want it, going about it openly and ethically, and even keeping everyone in business. It may not be easy, but it’s certainly not sleazy.

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