Inbound Versus Outbound Marketing – The Big Debate and How to Bridge The Gap
Inbound and outbound marketing appear to be intent on giving each other a good kicking.
In one corner we have the tried and tested outbound approach encompassing direct mail, advertising, email and telesales and in the other, the new inbound techniques featuring content, social and search.
Here, we aim to dispel the myths and contradictions around each and cover the following key areas:
- What is inbound marketing and what are the pros and cons
- How inbound marketing compares with traditional outbound approaches
- The importance of the psychology behind sales when choosing the right approach for you
- How the gap can be bridged enabling inbound and outbound to work effectively together
As a new business agency, Alchemis are advocates of the telephone as a prospecting and sales tool. However, as an agency working with creative and communications clients, including search, social and content marketing agencies, we understand the value of inbound marketing, successfully integrating this into our campaigns for our clients and for ourselves.
Inbound practitioners readily proclaim to develop leads and new business more effectively and for less cost. The world is changing and there is a big role for inbound marketing, but as yet the evidence is not compelling enough to put your total faith (and budget) in it. Outbound marketing works. It has proof of working and it will continue to work. Our perspective of outbound marketing is the telephone, so the defence of outbound techniques in this article is somewhat slanted towards this, but what we reveal is how to blend the phone and inbound marketing together.
To date, bridging that gap has been hard, but recently CANDDi has emerged as one solution. CANDDi is a platform providing the tool for the two strands to work seamlessly together and this is explained in more detail later.
What is inbound marketing?
The term was coined around 2009 and was used to describe a radically changing and new way that marketing would work in the internet age.
As with all great research, it starts at Wikipedia!! It is as good a place as any for a simple definition:
“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get a prospect’s attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content”.
It’s a marketing Utopia, but is it a reality? Anyone running a marketing or advertising agency in the 80s and early 90s will reminisce of a bygone age where the phone never stopped ringing. Inbound marketing is an attempt to re-create this via the internet.
Certainly, this is the analogy that Brian Halligan of Hubspot uses when he says:
“Traditional marketers looking to garner interest from new potential customers are like lions hunting in the jungle for elephants. The elephants used to be in the jungle in the ’80s and ’90s when they learned their trade, but they don’t seem to be there anymore. They have all migrated to the watering holes on the savannah (the internet). So, rather than continuing to hunt in the jungle, I recommend setting up shop at the watering hole or turning your website into its own watering hole”.
The benefits of inbound marketing:
The following infographic demonstrates the basic arguments for inbound versus outbound marketing:
There are compelling statistics to back up inbound marketing:
- B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that don’t
- 8 out of 10 people identify themselves as blog readers, and 23% of all time spent online is spent on social media sites
- Blogs give websites 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links
- 200 million Americans have registered themselves on the Do Not Contact list
- 91% of email users have unsubscribed to a company email they previously opted into
- 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results
- Inbound leads cost 60% less than outbound leads
- People spend only 10 seconds on your homepage before leaving if they don’t immediately connect with your marketing messages
- 61% of consumers say they feel better about a company that delivers custom content and are more likely to buy from that company
- 82% of consumers like reading content from brands when it is relevant
- Companies that spend more than 50% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing report a significantly lower cost-per-lead
Why the statistical “evidence” should be treated with caution:
To create successful marketing you need to understand how and why people think and act the way they do. There are many statistics on the merits of both inbound and outbound marketing, but statistics in this kind of debate should be treated with caution. They can easily be manipulated and presented to back up either viewpoint.
The various channels to businesses/consumers are now much wider than they were and potential clients/customers are much more in control of the marketing messages they receive and which channels they receive them through. Inbound marketing has many beneficial elements of finding and nurturing a prospect, but some of the facts above are just common sense rather than a compelling argument. Prospects do consume a vast amount of information via online channels and providing interesting and quality content to the right people will only ever help if the right people are reading it, but it does not guarantee you are front of mind at the right time in the buying cycle.
Human nature dictates that people don’t like to feel intruded or invaded by marketing or sales calls and any survey would certainly put sales calls as the most unpopular way to be approached, but that does not mean they are not effective and they are certainly invaluable for:
- Lead qualification
- Need identification
The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) has been around for years and, yes, those that have registered have reduced the lead pool for outbound sales and as such inbound can be important to plug that gap. However, if you know who is on TPS and who isn’t, you can hone and target prospects more effectively and those you do speak to are open to having a conversation. Those that aren’t can be approached via a different channel or medium.
Cost and Effectiveness:
Hubspot claims that “your average human in 2014 is inundated with over 2000 outbound marketing interruptions per day”. The rationale for inbound being that if the prospect finds you, they will be more engaged, timing will be right and they are more likely to become customers. There is no doubt that inbound marketing can be very effective, but the key word here is “can”. To do it well requires expertise to create great content and tie that in with the dark art of SEO. To actually get noticed online is hugely challenging, particularly in the face of an ever growing ocean of online content. Targeted outbound marketing will hit the right people and through the effective use of telephone sales is instant. There is no build up. You can compile a list of appropriate targets and instantly contact them, qualify them and establish an interest and need.
Done well, inbound marketing works, but can take an eternity to start delivering and it is becoming tougher, given the incredible rate of competitiveness. Outbound marketing is fast, targeted, social and if done correctly enormously effective.
“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” (Guy Kawasaki)
Is inbound marketing more cost effective? Hubspot reported that inbound marketing can save companies 61% per lead, but what is the quality of those leads? The double edged sword of inbound marketing is that everyone can see your content and as such could become a client or customer. However, this also means that you don’t have control over the prospects that find you. It is very hard to target specific audiences. Getting 500 leads is great, but not when only 15 are qualified. Another consideration when analysing cost is that content creation is time and labour based. Somebody has to do it. It may be that it can be handled internally across a team or an individual, but at what cost? The opportunity cost of producing content is significant, not to mention that most people are not experts. So unless you pay to employ an expert via an agency or internally, the chances are that it won’t be effective. Anything that takes time and resource, but does not deliver results can be deemed as expensive.
Equally, there is no call to action with inbound marketing. Brian Honigman of Jumplead states that “Inbound marketing turns strangers into customers by generating demand for your goods or services”. It doesn’t generate demand. Marketing and sales is about making sure that if the demand is there, your product or service is known, visible and available. You have more chance of that being the case if inbound and outbound are used together.
Why the phone still works:
Outbound sales, and in particular, telephone-based approaches allow you to build a picture of your market. Say a direct marketing agency with a specialism in the financial sector ran a new business campaign. They produce a list of the top 200 direct marketing spenders and call them. The insight received from this activity is invaluable. It allows that company to:
- Understand their market and it’s potential for business
- Understand the prospect’s current activity and future requirements
- Pick up any immediate opportunities
- Promote their offer as an alternative to an incumbent (remember, going back to the psychology of human behaviour, often buying something new is perceived to be more of an upheaval and risky than utilising something you have used before, even if you are not that happy with it. To persuade otherwise takes a skilled approach)
- Understand prospect challenges (which can drive content themes and messages)
- Have a grasp of current agency relationships
- Establish a rapport
- Build a pipeline/timeline of review dates and future needs and enter that into a CRM system
This would never be possible through any other marketing technique. The beauty of this is:
- It can feed into other outbound activities, such as email marketing
- It can drive the content and strategy for inbound marketing
- It provides a genuine understanding of the target audience
- It gives a picture of the potential value of a target company
The basic psychology of prospects and sales:
Psychology plays a large role in sales, whether it is inbound or outbound. Talking to another person is part of a human’s basic nature, but within sales and marketing it is important to be able to identify and understand personalities (as per the above diagram). Each person is different and dynamic and whether inbound or outbound their profile should be identified quickly. If you can identify that personality type, you can adapt your approach to best suit that particular prospect.
The only way to have true flexibility and be able to adapt to these personality types is with human interaction. This is a key fallibility of inbound marketing. You will never know how to communicate to an individual even if you are producing the most insightful and interesting content.
Debate over the merits of inbound versus outbound could go on forever. Simply put, they can both provide huge value for business development. Despite the furore and volume of content over the internet, inbound marketing is realistically still in its infancy, and as such is unable to really quantify ROI in a way that outbound marketing can. That said, outbound marketing can be expensive and if done badly, very expensive. Like it or not, outbound is tried and tested and the logic and thinking behind inbound is undeniably sound, so if we assume as a business that you have good inbound and outbound platforms, strategies and skills, how can the gap between the two be bridged to get them working together?
Bridging the Gap:
To keep it simple, this is a service that lets you know who has visited your website.
Traditional ISP lookup companies such as Lead Forensics will provide details of the company visiting the site, but CANDDi will focus on the individual and that is new business gold.
Alchemis combine outbound activities (emails and calls) with blogging and content creation. We generate a lot of business for ourselves through telesales, but also receive a lot of incoming leads and referrals, partly due to our blogs and papers.
However, there has always been that proportion (and quite a high proportion) of prospects who visit our website (we can see the stats through Google Analytics), but don’t call or email us directly. They have shown an interest (and this could be for a number of reasons) but we don’t know who they are.
CANDDi allows us to identify the individual who has visited our website
On a basic level, the platform will show you the name of the company that has visited the site. However, the really smart element is that it can be integrated with outbound email campaigns and through a code attached to the email, instantly start capturing individual’s names.
Our email system Campaign Monitor will supply us with the details of people who instantly click and open the email, but we know that most people who click the email and read a blog article are not, as yet, ready to buy. They are just interested in the content.
The real benefit of CANDDi is that when those contacts are ready to buy and they visit our website through their own volition (as opposed to a prompt from an email), we know instantly that they have been to the site and can then follow up with a phone call.
Our competitors are out there selling themselves as much as we are, but a prospect’s natural due diligence when selecting an agency will be to look at the market and get comparisons of cost, approach and service. Hence, if a visit to our site has been prompted by conversations with a competitor, we want to identify and speak to that prospect as they are at a decision making point.
We can see how they have found us, how many times they have visited before, what they are looking at and with the various streams or filters you can build, we can organise and prioritise our visitors.
It has helped build our database of prospects as well as make timely calls when the propensity to buy is higher.
There are several scenarios in which it is highly valuable for Alchemis.
- If we approach someone via the phone who then visits the site
- Identifying new companies to add to our database
- Identifying repeat visitors when returning through an unprompted route
What does it mean for our clients?
Due to the success we have experienced, we have now integrated this approach into some of our client campaigns. It does not replace the cold calling process, but it enhances it and where clients are spending time, money and effort on inbound and outbound marketing, it is enabling us to identify actual responders and then follow up by phone.
Follow up is the key ingredient. Your content may well be driving people to the site, but what then? By integrating responses from inbound marketing with the phone, we are able to grade prospects and build a pipeline of leads with recall dates. We can find out what content was of value and what they would like to see moving forwards and we can use that intelligence to feed back to our clients to help drive their inbound strategy as well as emails and other outbound approaches.
It is a very simple, yet very effective formula.
So what have we really learned from all of this?
The debate around the merits of outbound and inbound will continue and no doubt, new technologies and changes in attitudes and perceptions will continue to evolve. That is half the battle and also half the fun of new business, but you would be crazy to view outbound techniques as old hat and relics of a pre-internet age. Advertising, traditional marketing and telesales have been around for generations. Mistakes have been made and learned from and while there is always a desire to invest in new methods, inbound marketing really mustn’t be viewed as something that can sit in isolation and replace traditional activities. The reality is with a wave of enthusiasm for inbound and content generation, the market has become saturated extremely quickly. It is the same with sales calls. We know that marketing professionals get numerous approaches over the phone, so creating a story around a proposition and getting that across in a compelling manner is crucial to success. Creating great content is also an art form, but you are reliant on someone finding it among the clutter of other companies also producing interesting content. Sometimes you just have to be direct.
Inbound techniques can be a smokescreen for not doing much work. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but it is often an excuse for not picking up the phone. Good sales people are hard to find and are worth their weight in gold, but if it is not your interest or skill set, it is easier to look at softer approaches. The answer to that dilemma is to use specialists in each area. We would not pretend to be experts in inbound marketing or allude to practicing it on behalf of our clients, and it is important to use the right people for the right elements of your marketing. The real skill is to get them working together.
Companies who get the balance right between inbound and outbound marketing will be the ones who succeed.