Marketing Center

Lead generation: Inbound vs. outbound strategies

Gain new customers by learning to identify the best strategy for reaching prospects.

Published: July 19, 2017

To continue growing your business over time, you’ll need to implement systems that will regularly generate leads and help convert interested buyers into loyal customers. To make the most of this effort, you’ll need to determine which lead-generation approach makes the most sense for your business: inbound or outbound.

To do so, start by seeking to understand how your customers spend their time. How do buyers in your industry typically research their questions and seek out information about new products and services? When they are ready to buy, where do they go: online, or to a physical distribution center or retail store? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can better assess whether you should focus on outbound or inbound strategies.

Outbound marketing: The push

What it is: Outbound marketing is when you “push” your sales message out to the world and aim to attract customers who will buy from you. It can look like magazine advertisements, sales calls, emails, or putting up a billboard to catch the attention of drivers.

How it can work: Outbound lead generation can be equally effective when you have a broad customer base, because many of the people you reach could be potential buyers, or when you wish to pinpoint a group of your targeted customers who will see it. For instance, you might want to place an ad in a magazine tailored to your industry, air a commercial during a television program viewed by your target demographic, or sponsor a trade show.

What to consider: With outbound lead generation, you may target a large audience, but they may not become loyal customers right away. “You have no idea whether or not these people need you,” says Jon Borg-Breen, co-founder of Symbiont Group, a B2B lead generation agency in Chicago. “From the perspective of a sales pipeline, it’s a faster, shorter-term thing. Once you stop selling or sending stuff proactively, you are done. It’s a beast you constantly have to feed.” In other words, once you stop paying for that billboard, it comes down, and hasn’t left a lasting impact.

Outbound lead generation can also be expensive to pursue, depending on the medium you choose, and its returns can be difficult to measure. For example, you might generate 100 sales, but may not be able to tell if they come from the billboard or how many people even saw it.

Inbound marketing: The pull

What it is: With inbound marketing, you provide specific content that attracts potential customers — “pulling” the customers toward your brand. You might publish an article that provides news and information about your industry with the goal of leading prospective buyers to your company.

How it can work: A prime example of an inbound strategy is content marketing. When you publish content that “pulls” people toward your company, you are generating leads by making it easier for people to find your business when they’re looking for relevant information and products. “A blog is a good way to build up your organic search presence,” says Kayli Kunkel, a growth strategist with Ironpaper, a digital marketing agency in New York City. “Organic traffic is usually the most qualified, because people are already looking for solutions when they’re searching through Google.”

The benefit of inbound lead generation is that people coming to your website may already be interested in your business’s offerings, but to convert an information-seeker into a buyer, you’ll need to make your sales pitch.

What to consider: Inbound marketing requires “lots of content and lots of time,” Borg-Breen advises. Blogs need to be updated regularly with fresh ideas, and it can take six to nine months before your content gains enough traction to generate valuable leads.

Once that content is in place, though, it keeps working for you. “If you do a good job, you can continually distribute the same information in a lot of different places,” Borg-Breen adds. “The management and support of that is much less than what it takes for that outbound push.”

You will likely want to test both types of marketing and find a combination that works for you. Whichever approach you choose, you can always add strategies as your time and budget allow. The most important consideration is tailoring them to your potential buyers — how they research questions, seek information, and ultimately make a purchase.