In a world where buyers now hold all the power, it makes no sense for companies to behave as though they still do. 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. 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.
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, 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.
The old “outbound” approach will not—cannot—serve you long-term. You must fix any misalignment between buyer expectations and your own corporate structure, mindset, and the 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. 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.
So how do you become inbound? It all starts with a mind shift on the part of your leadership team. You must follow these six steps:
Get clear on your mission.
Don’t skimp on this step. It’s vital. While many companies have vague, generic, or buzzword-ridden missions, inbound organizations are very clear on the why of their business. A clear and inspiring mission does two things. 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 the endless options they could choose instead.
A modern buyer values a relationship with a company that shares her values, without sacrificing any quality or utility. 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.
A negative company culture can be expensive, inefficient, and hard to mask from the outside world. 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 organizations solve problems with an emphasis on enterprise value (EV), which means acting in the best interest of the company as a whole and accepting decisions that help the company mission, even if it makes your job harder. EV means solving for the long-term success of the organization so it delivers value to customers. Allow me to offer the following example:
Let’s say you are a direct sales rep working on a target account and you are forecasting a deal close date by the end of the quarter. In the final weeks before signing the contract, the prospect decides that they would like to have a partner do some of the services associated with the installation. As the partner gets involved in the deal, they realize that it is in the prospect’s best interest to delay the sale. Solving for EV means that the direct rep works 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 an inbound operating system.
An inbound operating system provides tools to support non-hierarchical communication, provides employee feedback, and gives teams the data they need to be successful. It binds everyone together to function as one unit in pursuit of the organization’s mission.
An inbound operating system serves as an early warning system for potential problems or bottlenecks. When teams are meeting their goals, leaders don’t need to spend much time inspecting their progress. The operating system identifies potential issues, so leaders can get a pulse on how teams are progressing and help keep them in alignment with the organizational mission and strategies.
An inbound operating system is unique to each business, but there are a few consistent components. 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 naturally 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.
Smart companies share their inbound culture as the most important attribute of the job responsibilities. They tout a culture that supports the opportunity for meaningful work, a positive environment, open communications, individual and team growth, and opportunities to develop and advance. They also build a process to attract, engage, and hire top candidates and promote their inbound culture as a prime attraction, sometimes years before someone becomes an active candidate in the recruiting funnel.
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. 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.