Outbound vs. Inbound Marketing: What’s the Right Lead Generation Mix?

Posted by Dan McDade

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on Apr 23, 2010 1:08:00 PM

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Outbound vs. inbound marketing—what's the right mix? 80/20 outbound? The reverse? A 50/50 split?

Pie ChartMy answer: some of the time it depends, but the answer in one specific situation is clear.

Inbound marketing is simple conceptually. Distributed widely through social media, great content attracts interested contacts who digitally raise their hands in blog conversations, find optimized sites, and download white papers. Educating and qualifying themselves as they travel down an ideal company profile conversion path, they move to that point in the funnel where they are sales-ready buyers and warrant attention from a representative.

It sounds like the Holy Grail: a ready-to-buy lead appears just in time to hand off to sales. But it's not that simple.

First, let me say that I'm a firm believer in the value of inbound marketing. We work with clients and their prospects in high-growth technology, healthcare and business services sectors, and we incorporate inbound marketing components into their sales lead generation programs—as well as our own internal programs.

But inbound marketing isn't a panacea. The right outbound/inbound balance depends heavily on variables like company size. Indeed, recent surveys show larger companies continue to emphasize outbound marketing as shown in HubSpot's The State of Inbound Marketing 2010 survey of its customers.

The survey found large companies (50+ employees) spending 37% of their 2010 demand generation budgets on outbound marketing (telemarketing, direct marketing and trade shows) while small companies (1 - 10 employees) spent 15%. Priorities were reversed for inbound marketing (blogs, social media, SEO and PPC) with small companies spending 44% and large companies spending 31%. The survey points to the ability of small companies to level the playing field with using inbound marketing. I think, too, that large companies can't depend on longer time-to-leads cycles of inbound—they have to proactively assure market coverage and seek out opportunities for their pipelines.

OneSource's 2010 B2B Sales Pulse Survey also confirms the ongoing importance of outbound marketing among sales professionals who were asked to rank qualified opportunity sources on a scale of 5 (delivering the most opportunities) to 1 (delivering the least). The responses: outbound prospecting (3.7); website (2.9), inbound calls (2.6), email campaigns (2.6), events/tradeshows (2.5), social networking sites (2.1), direct mail (2.1) and webinars (1.8).

The survey also noted that 59% report sales cycles were either significantly longer or somewhat longer than last year. Heaven forbid that the self-educating prospect now driving the buying process is contributing to longer sales cycles.

But by far the most critical factor determining the right outbound/inbound mix is the type of solution offered. In an earlier blog, I described Complex/Long/High situations characterized by complex decision making processes, long sales cycles and high solution investments. This is where it remains critical to ground core strategies in outbound marketing.


Executive work styles and late adopters—Many C-level decision makers have not yet embraced—and may never—the role of self-education via social media. See another earlier blog on the chief executive of a large utility who finally responded positively on the 42nd touch and later signed off on a $1 billion deal for one of our customers. His was not a self-educating work style, and there was no way he was going to search blogs or websites to download white papers. He responded to a proven outbound methodology driven by an experienced prospect development professional.

Timely market coverage—Because inbound marketing generates contacts and supports self-education over a period of time, it's easy to miss opportunities that could be deep in the current pipeline. We consistently find 5% of the market in an active buying stage and narrowing the list of competitive solutions. Many times, we've interrupted these scenarios to secure wins for our clients. I might also point out that betting too heavily on inbound marketing providing 100% market coverage is a risk not worth taking.

Complex internal buying landscapes—Outbound marketing and its emphasis on personal, direct and regular contact with prospects assures correct assessment of decision maker roles and influence early on. Evaluation and buying dynamics are constantly in flux, and a personal relationship generated and maintained with outbound efforts provides immediate response to shifting prospect landscapes. Selling tactics can be immediately tailored to reinforce the laser-like relevance of a solution.

The return on Complex/Long/High wins is too high to place the care and feeding of potential high-value opportunities anywhere but in the hands of a skilled professional employing a proven outbound regimen of multiple touches using multiple media across multiple buying cycles.

For those of you engaged in Complex/High/Long solution selling, I'm interested in hearing your take. How are you balancing your outbound and inbound marketing spends? How is that working for you?


By Dan McDade

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Topics: Lead Generation, B2B Sales, Prospect Development, Demand Generation, Inbound Marketing, Outbound Marketing

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