The Perils of Inbound Marketing and the Trap of Dependency


This past week I had a conversation about inbound vs outbound marketing with a few CEOs and it got me to thinking that while plenty of marketers leverage an inbound approach to generate leads, many are blind to the perils of relying solely on inbound, I certainly was several years back.

And what do I mean by perils? Check the dictionary…exposure to serious and immediate danger.

But the journey to developing a mixed approach to lead generation that includes a balance of inbound and outbound programs can be painful. For a number of reasons:

  • Outbound programs are more expensive. You need more people to get them up and running and you don’t get the economies of scale that exists when you reach out to larger groups of people at the same time.
  • They take longer to bear fruit. The first time I ran an outbound program it took over a year to land our first deal and that year was filled with anguish over the hundreds of opportunities that didn’t pan out.
  • You need sales and marketing alignment like you never did before. I know, I know, sales and marketing need to be closely aligned always, but the truth is with inbound programs, the relationship doesn’t need to be as persistent and symbiotic as it needs to be with outbound. Sales and marketing need to work together to develop the strategy on who to go after and how to do it, without this connection the program will struggle.
  • It requires more a more seasoned team. To ensure outbound works, your team needs to be able to effectively craft the strategy and supporting talk track and materials that set it up for success. Putting a junior team on a more complicated program is dangerous.

So when does an inbound marketing approach start to fall down? It’s hard to define precisely when you will run into trouble, but there are some flags that could indicate you should start your outbound program sooner rather than later.

  • Cost per lead is going up and overall CAC is being effected (for a great article on SaaS metrics like CAC and LTV check out David Skok’s blog on the topic – SaaS Metrics 2.0). Btw, if this is the case for you, you’re going to start having inbound lead flow issues if you’re on an aggressive growth path and are scaling sales to catch inbound lead generation activities.
  • Your buyers leverage analyst reports to make purchasing decisions. If you have buyers that are reaching out to Gartner, Forrester, IDC or whatever niche analysts exist in your space, there is a more complicated sales cycle in play and you need the supporting deal strategy and marketing programs to win.
  • Average deal size is going up. This may be due to an increase in cross-sell/upsell opportunities that are the byproduct of your business or market maturing, or you are on your way up-market with larger and more complex companies looking for your products and services. In either case, deal velocity will slow and the number of influencers in the sales cycle will increase. Be ready for it. The earlier you inject yourself in the decision making process, the better chance you have of owning the narrative on how your company can fix the pain the buyer is feeling – you have better control over this with outbound.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It makes sense for inbound programs to be the backbone of marketing for many businesses. Done well, inbound will ensure you have market exposure, that your brand and solution are top of mind when your buyer is ready and offer a predictable flow of leads to feed the sales engine. The point here is that you need both – with different goals and objectives and team members with different skill sets to drive their success.

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