Inbound, Outbound or Allbound Marketing to Generate B2B Leads?

Blog128_InboundOutbound.docx-1Many heated discussions surround whether inbound or outbound marketing is the most effective strategy for lead generation.

Few businesses and marketing/sales managers understand the difference between the two and how to use that difference to their advantage.

For this discussion, I am only going to address B2B in a complex sales environment. First, let’s agree on the basics: What is inbound and outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing: Where the marketer or salesperson initiates a conversation, in the hope that his message will resonate with the prospect.

Inbound marketing: Promotes a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, newsletters, whitepapers, SEO, and other forms of content marketing with the intent to attract customers through different stages of the buying process.

In support of the argument that inbound marketing is better, we hear that over the last ten years, the way people work, live, shop, and buy has fundamentally changed. We hear that buyers are armed with more tools and mental barriers than ever to block out interruptive marketing and sales messages.

The most telling stat in this power shift─nearly 60 percent of the buying decision occurs before talking to a sales rep, according to Corporate Executive Board. That’s right. The buyer is more than halfway sure whether or not she is going to be your customer based solely on information she has discovered online.

Both Gartner and Forrester research suggests that by 2020, 80 percent of the buying process will occur without any direct human-to-human interaction. This prediction means your website, education tools and content will continue to play a very important role in your overall sales process.

Blog128_InboundOutbound.docx-2Forrester research also shows that today’s B2B buyer will find three pieces of content about a vendor for every one piece that marketing can publish or sales can deliver.

Prospects find this content in an ever-expanding number and variety of channels.  And they are accessing these channels from an increasingly diverse array of devices. Without debate, the business-from-business buyer is already much more multichannel than the business-to-business sellers.

Circular Buyer Journey

Buyers of business products and services are online, on social channels, on YouTube, going to events, and evaluating options on their iPads and smartphones. The buyer’s journey isn’t as linear as we see it in our sales funnel. It’s much more circular.

We have also heard a counterclaim from some companies which have built outbound marketing strategies, and targeted prospects with a proactive outreach.

Consider these contradictory research findings. Sales Benchmark Index indicates that nearly 60 percent of all qualified sales pipeline opportunities end up in “no decision.” So more than half of the deals you’re working on won’t lead to anything different at the end of the process.

Also, according to Forrester Research, 65 percent of executive buyers admit they prefer to buy from a company that “first helps them establish the buying vision.

A steady decline in the lead-to-conversion rate combined with the fact that six out of 10 prospects make no decision offers further evidence that the so-called educated buyer either isn’t educated enough, or sales reps aren’t trained well enough to close the deal.

Once your salesperson receives the name of a prospect who’s 57 percent along his decision, what does your sales team still need to accomplish?  And have we looked at the whole picture?

More Decision Makers

Has anybody thought about what still has to happen? It isn’t just finishing the last 43 percent of the process. According to the MHI Global Best Practices study, we are seeing an increase in the average number of decision makers involved in the B2B sale, now 4.6 versus 4.37 in the previous study.

So if it involves these other 4.6 decision makers—potentially some of whom are at zero and some ready to raise their hands—the challenge is getting them all over the line together.

Blog128_InboundOutbound.docx-4It’s wrong to assume that a sales development team can just book an appointment, and the invited buyer (or buyers) will be fully educated on what problems they’re going to solve, and know what value they’re going to get out of the deal.

 It is a misconception that the prospect is better educated today, and the sale is much easier. When you look at the data in the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Behaviors Study, you see that good sales reps are good because they’re exceptional at the follow-ups and engagement through their sales processes. They do all of the right things and prove the art of selling is alive and well.

Inbound vs. Outbound

The most extreme inbound marketers argue that “interrupting buyers doesn’t work anymore,” while the most proactive outbound people counter with, “you need to create the opportunity by helping prospects see the status quo as unsafe.” Sometimes these two camps are so passionate about their stances and become unwilling to give an inch.

Here’s my take on the situation:  I use both inbound and outbound strategies. Growing my business and helping clients with inbound leads is a wonderful thing. However, the reality is that a large percentage of the inbound opportunities don’t meet our ideal client profile. It’s been great for me to sell books around the world and build brand awareness, but not all inquiries are qualified leads.

In my experience, the majority of companies I work with source less than half their pipeline from leads generated from marketing. Most leads generate from sales, albeit using content generated from marketing and other resources. Only a small percentage of companies can source three-quarters of the pipeline from inbound marketing.

The chart produced by Inside Sales Metrics indicates even with great marketing, inbound leads still leave a fair bit of pipeline that needs to be filled by other means.

Marketing-Sourced Pipeline by Company Revenue


Allbound Marketing

So my observation is this, to have an effective sales and marketing strategy, you need both inbound and outbound marketing. While I don’t know who coined the phrase, it’s described as “allbound marketing.

Most salespeople take an agnostic position on how to generate qualified leads. They simply want high-quality opportunities to work on; they all agree that an inbound lead is valuable.

For companies, there’s a large percentage of inbound inquiries that are small and don’t meet the ideal prospect profile. And that’s a challenge. In most cases, landing an ideal prospect is more about “causing the sale, not catching one.” That’s why we need to determine how we can use inbound and outbound more effectively. I do believe that in certain situations, one is likely more appropriate than the other.

Effective sales development means maximizing the productivity of the sales rep. So you need to decide first who’s nurturing the lead and what’s the initial action. Selling, especially inbound inquiries, too fast will send that lead into never-never land.

You need a well-thought out strategy when that lead is first developed. Your action plan could have marketing setting the introductory meeting or generating qualified leads for the sales reps to follow-up on.

Having the right action plan for the right situation is key, though prospects don’t care about your coverage plan; they only want to understand how you meet their business objectives. The right coverage model, aligned to your strategy, maximizes your chances of turning prospects into customers/clients.

Blog128_InboundOutbound.docx-6The first thing we need to understand is where the prospect is in his buying journey. If they are in the beginning, then through education you can help them form their buying vision or concept for a solution.

I don’t consider one model or action plan, introductory meeting or qualified lead handed off, better than the other. I do believe that in certain situations, one is likely more appropriate than the other. When you have an innovation or solution to the market, and introductory meeting approach seems to work better.

When you have a more mature market, qualified lead handoffs seem to work better. Here’s an example. Today, retirement plan advisors offering asset allocation models represent a mature market.

Most (if not all) companies already have at least a 401(k) plan in place. Those companies have existing relationships with advisors, and many may be under contract, too. In this instance, if your marketing department or even a third-party lead generation firm sets introductory meetings for your sales reps or advisors, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Everyone Frustrated

The prospects will be frustrated, thinking, “Why are they trying to sell me services I already have? I told them I was happy with my current provider.” The advisor/sales rep will be frustrated thinking, “Why am I here? They have zero chance of buying, and if I share my ways to improve their plan, they will simply take those ideas to the incumbent.” The marketing folks will be frustrated too thinking “I am setting all of these quality appointments─it’s not my fault the advisors/sales reps aren’t closing them.”

Compare that to the market for cash balance pension plans. That market is still immature, as the concept itself is new to many prospects. Firms in the retirement space face doing the work of educating the market on the problem they solve.

Rather closing on meetings at full speed in this situation, marketing would spend more time educating and qualifying the opportunity. Regarding qualification for introductory meetings, you can’t get much beyond right profile, right person, and right high-level pain.

If your marketing people book meetings with the right types of companies, the right people within them, and the prospects are at least curious about addressing a potential pain point, then marketing or your lead generation people have done their job.

Regardless of who sets up the introductory meetings or takes a prospect through the qualifying process, you need a plan that’s targeted and well conceived. And that begins with a call plan.

Pre-Plan Every Call

In short, do your homework and pre-plan. Pre-planning to lead development and appointment setting is the equivalent of a map to a treasure hunt; you’re not going to find anything without it. The ingredients in your pre-planning should include:

  • Present solid, unassailable reasons for them to want to meet with you.

  • Find relevant information to present. Pique their interest.

  • Attract the attention of decision makers with data-driven information.

  • Know their business. Know the challenges they face.

  • Pinpoint the need they want to fix, accomplish or avoid.

  • Demonstrate how you can solve the problem.

  • Show your business acumen.

  • Add value wherever you can: a new perspective, key insight.

  • Be intriguing and create a sense of urgency.

  • Mention references to build credibility.

The art of pre-planning is all spelled out in one of our recent eBooks, How to Secure Executive Appointments Under Favorable Conditions.

So whether you’re in the inbound camp or the outbound camp, I submit it’s time to join the allbound camp, and to outfit it for different needs of different campers. And while you’re there, you might just catch a fish or, best of all, cause it to jump out of the river.


For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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