Many people have asked me recently what the difference is between inbound marketing and outbound marketing – and how it affects lead flow and business generation. So I thought I’d share a few experiences and thoughts.

Here at Huddle we have been on a journey – from being 100% focused on inbound marketing, to a mixture of inbound marketing and outbound execution. The reason for having done this is reflective of our focus on larger enterprises.

In an inbound marketing model, marketing is dominant. Leads are delivered primarily through digital marketing activities that cause someone to engage with you, fill-in a form and give you a lead. The basic principle is to attract someone when they are looking to solve a problem – and the art (or science) is in connecting their searching with your solution. On the surface, it is a relatively simple process involving content, web skills, some SEO skills, budget for PPC and something called “social media marketing”. However, when drilling in more, one sees that you need greater skills:

  1. A clean web design with a clear message helps (otherwise people find you confusing).
  2. A scalable content delivery engine (to ensure regular fresh content is being created, deployed and disseminated).
  3. Content that is optimized for your relevant SEO terms (simple to do, but harder if you want the document to read right).
  4. Link-backs from other sites to drive SEO (only achievable by influencing others to post and reference elsewhere).
  5. Funded PPC for your key terms (aligning with your desired SEO terms and geographies).

In fact, one could say that for inbound marketing it is “content” that is dominant, and marketing are simply the function responsible for creating and leveraging that content. Obviously, all of the above should be aligned and work together. But, that said, inbound marketing is really all about optimizing these capabilities to drive a broad inbound lead flow.

The difficulty, in my opinion, of relying only on an inbound marketing engine comes when you want to focus on specific company sizes, specific roles or specific geographies. I have found that inbound marketing generally drives the largest volume towards smaller companies. This is wonderful if that is who you target, but not so good if your are targeting specific industries, specific geographies or specific sizes of companies. For example, in the world of small business someone does a search, they find something, they look, they evaluate, they decide, they buy – all in the space of a month or so. It’s a single lead becoming a single decision maker becoming a single order.

In the enterprise space, decision making is more complex and does not work the same way. Here, we see researchers living online, with groups of influencers and decision makers working together. Meanwhile IT becomes much more involved in the purchasing decision.

As such, inbound marketing alone is not enough. While it helps and can engage a certain number of decision makers, it is designed as a reactive strategy for when people happen to look for something. We need to augment (but not replace) the inbound focus with an outbound strategy. This means working out multi-channel and multi-touch strategies for delivering the right content to the right people at the right time – and driving that engagement to influence the buying group at our pace and not their pace! This also means working very closely with our sales colleagues.

Together, we are trying to find the people who need our solution, getting in front of them and convincing them of our solution. To do this requires:

A very clear message with a clear and compelling value proposition (no different to inbound marketing).

  1. A clear understanding of the roles and industries where you can win, which is slightly more focused than inbound marketing
  2. Endorsements from other customers who have done it before and will support your message (since researchers are looking for proof that your solution really works).
  3. Analyst commentary about your company and solution in supporting that use case – this is particularly useful when dealing with IT
  4. Supporting materials to win over naysayers (e.g. security docs for IT)
  5. A methodical and systematic execution of process to deliver the right content in front of the right person in the right industry at the right time

This is the aspiration of all marketers in how digital engagement, infrastructure, events and sales come together. This is not just about emailing everyone – it is about building a battle plan that uses relevant events such as executive dinners and seminars, or attending relevant trade shows in support of a sophisticated electronic nurturing and calling program.

Our job as marketers is more complex than ever before, but is aided by sophisticated and very capable technologies. If you have that compelling message, a clear target audience, customer endorsements and analyst support, then you have more than enough to be dangerous.

Here at Huddle we have been embarking on such a program – we have found that our inbound marketing lead flow is directly correlated to content delivery. Our focus is on continuing to drive inbound marketing, while expanding the outbound execution into very specific verticals and to very specific roles with our compelling use cases. The subtle change we are driving is to focus both strategies on the same message, role and industries. Our inbound marketing funnel still delivers a long tail of leads which are not core to our business, while our outbound funnel is steadily focusing in on the right target audience.

I’d be interested in your views on this shift – are you making the same move? Or are you going the other way?

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