The Latest Buzzword in Our Industry is ‘Inbound’ — But What Is It?

by Lindsay Kelley and Brian Signorelli

“Inbound” is a term being used more and more frequently in our industry. If you haven’t heard about it, just ask any of the $100 million+ dealerships and they can give you a good idea, because almost all of them are using it — to varying degrees of effectiveness.

So let’s clarify what inbound marketing and inbound sales are so you’re crystal clear. 

In a world where sales reps struggle to connect with potential customers, what can you do to help them make a connection with a prospect? What can you do to help them get more sales leads? First off, as a leader inside your organization, take a step back and consider this: when you’re sitting at your desk and deep in thought over how to find a solution to a problem, how excited do you get when your phone rings, you answer it, and it’s a sales rep wanting you to consider purchasing new furniture for your office? You’re elated, right? You’re thinking, “Well, geez, I was just thinking I needed a new chair for my office and you must have read my mind, Mr. Sales Rep.” 

Nope. That’s probably not your thought at all. Let’s be real. You get annoyed. You were in a groove getting stuff done and all of a sudden, your mood is broken and you’re off track. You’re highly agitated at the sales rep. Are we right?

So why do you ask your sales reps to do the same thing — make more calls, get to the CEO, who is the decision maker? Keep calling them! 

This model is broken. 

Let’s look at a better model: Inbound marketing and sales. 

Is it a buzzword? Yes. But when you peel back the layers of what inbound marketing and inbound sales are, you’ll find that some of the traditional, outbound tactics you’ve been using will continue to work in an inbound context — the biggest difference is to explicitly put the customer first and focus on their needs, not yours.  

Here are the top eight questions dealers are asking about this new world of inbound sales and marketing:

There are four stages of inbound marketing — attract, convert, close and delight. Each is a step in the buyer’s journey.

1. What is inbound marketing? 

There are four stages of inbound marketing — attract, convert, close and delight. Each stage is a step in the buyer’s journey, and the goal is to create useful and educational content online that pulls an unknown person through the journey to becoming your customer. Content is a core piece of inbound and can be anything — a blog, an ebook or white paper, a how-to video series, an infographic, etc. — that your potential customer finds useful. First you build trust. Then you create leads — and sales.  

2. What is inbound sales?

It’s changing the way you sell today to match how the buyers buy. The inbound sales methodology begins with identifying buyers in an active buying cycle, connecting with them and building trust, exploring with them what their buying interests are, then advising them with a personalized presentation matched to the buyer’s timeline.

3. What do inbound sales and marketing mean for your dealership’s growth? 

Today, the number of calls needed to connect has more than doubled from an average of three attempts to almost seven attempts to connect with a prospect. Buyers don’t want to be interrupted and gatekeepers are keeping reps from finding their intended target person. You need to be providing these prospects something of value to attract their attention. Inbound marketing provides content to be shared with these prospects whether they find it through a search engine, a social network, or through a well-crafted email from a sales rep. These two methodologies are the way in which buyers do business today, so your dealership needs to pivot and begin to infuse these ideas into your sales reps’ activities and your marketing department’s responsibilities. 

4. Where do I put all of this stuff? 

You can put your content directly on your website. Most times, dealership’s websites are on a WordPress or Drupal platform, both of which have blogging modules. Start there. If you have the budget and are ready to give your marketers and reps the right tools for the job, you can use a marketing automation platform like HubSpot, Marketo or Pardot. These platforms can host blogs, send campaign emails, monitor social activity, and much more. 

5. What isn’t marketing and why? 

Marketing isn’t graphic design. For decades, the marketing department has been seen as the folks who design nice, pretty brochures. While this has been a great asset to many dealerships and continues to be a piece of marketing, marketing is needed for more than proposal creation and PowerPoint presentations. Marketing is responsible for lead generation. Marketing isn’t about just making things pretty. Marketing is about generating revenue. 

6. Why aren’t we getting qualified leads from our website? 

Primarily because most dealers focus on paying the least they can for a website and don’t understand how important this 24×7 storefront (or 24×7 sales rep) is to today’s buyer. If your website focuses on you and not your customer, it will fail. Today’s websites need to provide answers to a prospect’s questions. If you don’t have the answer, they’ll look somewhere else. Your website needs to clearly explain what you offer and why it’s good for the prospect. It needs to take them by the hand and lead them through the buying process until they’re ready to complete a form or request a demo or more information. Do that, and you’ll begin generating qualified leads for sales. Don’t, and your website is just there for your vanity.  

7. Should I stop all other efforts if I’m doing inbound? 

No. Phone calls, email marketing, even leave-behinds will still have a place in your marketing strategy. Over time, the types of conversations you’ll have with prospects will change because you’ll know more about them — no more ice-cold calls.  In the “old” days, you’d cut out and mail a newspaper article to a prospect with a congratulatory note. You’d follow up with a call a few days later. You can do the same thing today, just online. Find articles about your prospects and clients and send them LinkedIn messages, or comment on the article on LinkedIn or email them a link with a congratulatory message. And keep calling on them — just warm them up with some of the digital tactics discussed throughout this article. Inbound is another layer to your sales efforts, not a replacement. Become a trusted resource, not just the “copier sales guy.”

8. How much time does all of this take? 

It can vary, from as quickly as three months to nine months before leads start coming in. Our industry generally takes longer, partly because so many websites just aren’t up to par, and partly because copier sales reps are too set in their ways. Inbound marketing relies on a strong web presence and it takes time to build your website’s authority by putting quality content on your site. Google’s algorithm is getting good at context and content, and if you’re not giving Google’s users the information that they’re looking for, then you won’t be seen as relevant, and you won’t rank well in the search engine results page. And if your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, Google will ignore you. Our industry is typically behind many others from an online perspective and so it takes a little longer — 18 months is when we’re seeing a pretty decent return for our folks and it’s a lot of work to get there. 

Contributors: Lindsay Kelley and Brian Signorelli co-host the podcast “The Yin and Yang Show — A Sales and Marketing Conversation” ( Lindsay is the president of Prospect Builder, an inbound marketing agency, and Brian is a sales leader at HubSpot, a marketing automation platform for lead generation. You can find Lindsay at or Brian at

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel