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Why consultative B2B sales need inbound marketing

The consultative B2B sales process is about educating potential buyers. It involves highly skilled and knowledgeable salespeople teaching customers how to solve their problems, how to choose the right product and configuration, and how they work. Subject matter experts, referred to as application engineers or application scientists in the analytical equipment industry, also often interact with customers to help the sales process.

The best teachers always win

The best teachers always win the order. Customers trust them and will buy from them. The consultative sales process is consultative because customers don’t know what to buy, how to choose the right solution, or how to configure a product. They need a consultation to make the purchase.

Think about how you choose car insurance. If you are unfamiliar with all the insurance coverage, regulations, laws, etc., as most of us are, how do you know which insurance works best for you? How do you choose the right package and options?

Imagine two insurance salespeople: One is very friendly, offers you coffee and cookies in a meeting, and tells you he has the best offer for you. The other asks you what kind of car you have, whether or not you want your spouse’s and kids’ cars insured, your budget, how often you drive your car, etc. Then she explains possible options and their pros and cons, gives you tips on how to save on insurance, and recommends good car repair shops.

If the price was similar, which salesperson would you buy insurance from? The latter, right?

Products and services in B2B business are more complicated than car insurance, so education is even more critical. That is why the best teacher wins the order in consultative B2B business.

Why inbound marketing?

What does this have anything to do with inbound marketing? According to HubSpot:

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.

What Is Inbound Marketing? –

“Valuable content” in consultative B2B business is educational content. Why do we need it? Why isn’t it enough that our salespeople talk to customers and educate them?

That was enough in the past. But in the 2010s, the way people buy things has changed, as Google’s 2011 study “Zero Moment of Truth” shows, for example.

When you start thinking about buying something relatively expensive or for B2B, what do you do first? Most of us go to Google and ask questions like “What is the best XRD system?” “How does SEM work?” or “How much does a CT scanner cost?” They find answers to their questions in blog articles and YouTube videos, find manufacturers, and research products, way before contacting a salesperson.

If customers find a company that provides tons of educational content for free without asking for their contact information in exchange, they consume lots of their content, keep coming back to their website, and start trusting the company.

By the time your salesperson meets the customer, the customer has formed an opinion about which company they trust and want to work with. In other words, it is too late by that time for the salesperson to educate the customer, shape their opinions, and close the deal.

The consultative sales process needs to start on the Internet. You need to become the best teacher in your space. Because people ask questions as they enter the buying cycle. They do it on Google. When they start Googling their questions, your website needs to be there, on the first page of the search results, to answer their questions. That’s how you meet the customers and start the trust-building process.

Why I believe this

I learned the power of inbound marketing from Marcus Sheridan’s book “They Ask You Answer.” As a pool company owner, he wrote numerous articles and made videos to answer the questions his customers often asked about pools. His inbound approach led his company to exceed its peak revenue during the 2008 recession while cutting the spending on advertising. His story was featured in New York Times. (Further reading: What is They Ask You Answer?)

One day, he visited a new customer’s home for a sales call. When he rang the doorbell, a kid appeared at the door. Then before Marcus had said anything, the kid yelled, “Mom! Marcus is here!” The mother had been watching his videos about pools all day, so the kid knew who he was even before he met the mother, the potential buyer. Do you think she trusted Marcus? I bet. And this trust was built before they met.

After practicing the They Ask You Answer framework, I started experiencing the same thing. My colleague and I present webinars and workshops monthly purely to educate people about X-ray CT technology, not to promote our products. Over a hundred people regularly come to the live presentation, and over a thousand watched the recordings on YouTube. Now when we meet customers for the first time at conferences or in sales calls, they know us already. They say, “We love your webinars. We learned so much!” Do they trust us? I believe so. And this all happens before our salespeople, or I meet them.

Inbound marketing is not an option for consultative B2B businesses anymore. You might not see it in the scientific equipment industry. But it is going to happen. Executing inbound marketing and building a digital presence takes time. If you don’t start now, you will be left behind.

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