Inbound V Outbound – Which Really Works?

There are hundreds of articles online proclaiming ‘Outbound is dead’ or that ‘Inbound is a fad’, each tearing the other methodology apart. However, there are pros and cons to both methodologies, and this article aims to give both an honest appraisal so that you can make the right choice for your market and business objectives.

High-level definitions

Inbound and Outbound methodologies are marketing & sales methodologies ultimately aiming to generate leads and drive sales.

The clue to the difference between the two is in the name:

  • OUTbound is where you send a message, or messages, OUT to your prospects. This could include email outreach, telemarketing, banner advertising etc. Any marketing where you are actively pursuing a prospect
  • INbound is where, by producing informative and engaging content, prospects come IN to your site or mailing list of their own volition. This could be through your blog, to download an ebook, signing up for a newsletter or webinar etc.

I will now break down each methodology in more detail, and give you an honest list of the benefits and limitations of both.

Outbound Marketing Methodology

Outbound marketing and lead generation is hard to label as ‘outdated and ineffective’ as it has grown to encompass so much. Traditional outbound strategies include radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, direct-mail, billboards, and event sponsorships.

Because outbound marketing has such a long history, it is key we note that the methodology has progressed and diversified along with advancements in technology, marketing strategy, business objectives, and behavioural insights. Email marketing and outreach, social media outreach, PPC campaigns and banner campaigns all fall under outbound marketing and are vastly different from offline strategies.

Many of the articles you’ll find from Inbound agencies and Inbound-leaning marketing consultancies don’t make that distinction. The top ranking result when you search ‘Inbound v Outbound’ in Google is this article by Duct Tape Marketing, where guest writer Jolynn Oblak sums up Outbound as expensive because “printing and mailing materials or spreading your message through television, radio or other media, making it [Outbound marketing] out of reach for smaller businesses.”

One reason we have to make the distinction is that email, despite numerous pronouncements of email outreach being dead and audiences hating SPAM, has the highest ROI in the B2B space. Research shows that email is the top lead- and revenue-producing vehicle for B2B marketers, and this study from Chief Marketer reveals that email is also the channel producing the highest ROI leads in the B2B space. Conducted across more than 200 B2B marketers in mid-2016, the survey indicates that email tops live events and SEO as the channel delivering leads with the best ROI.

Benefits of Outbound Marketing

In defence of Outbound Marketing, and particularly for a B2B focused company such as ourselves, it is the surest way businesses and brands that don’t normally attract interest or a following can ensure they are still getting their offering in front of the people they need to generate business.

There are also more respectful ways of conducting outbound campaigns that don’t irritate – one of which is to ensure you are targeting a relevant segment (and indeed have the right leads for your target segment – if you want to talk to one of our lead generation experts contact us here).

  • Gets your message in front of the person of your choice and you control the means by which they interact with that message. You can choose the best opportunity and means of approaching your prospect, and as mentioned before, can also choose frequency and relevancy of your messaging so as not to annoy.
  • Provides certainty that your prospect has seen or interacted with your messaging in some way (how much they have engaged with it is a different story).
  • Acts as a direct form of market research because you are getting in front of your target audience and getting their reaction first hand.
  • Email has the highest ROI of any digital channel for B2B companies and the sales funnel is far shorter.
  • Offline advertising like TV, radio and OOH, and banner campaigns and social media sponsorship, keep your name and brand in front of people and increase brand awareness. Of course, this is also dependent on the quality of your campaign and the relevance of your targeting.

Limitations of Outbound Marketing

It is fair to say outbound is unpopular – Jeff Rosemblum of Questus labels Outbound messaging as “inherently obfuscated, duplicitous and full of shit.”

Receiving sales messaging can be frustrating, particularly given how many businesses there are selling today. Outbound is inherently intrusive and interruptive, and with large quantities of advertising being served to individuals, the results are prospects are frustrated and campaigns are less and less effective. The average American is exposed to around4,000 to 10,000 messages per day but less than 100 of those messages will be remembered.

  • Cold contacting people in any format frustrates people and can yield negative replies and results – although let the record state that some formats are more interruptive than others.
  • Quality of lists and leads greatly impacts the response you get, and sourcing good quality leads yourself or in-house can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Offline advertising expensive and limited ROI:
    – 45% of direct mail never gets opened (CMO Council)
    – 200 million people are on the national Do Not Call Registry (Federal Trade Commission)
    – 85% of people fast forward through commercials (Federal Trade Commission)
    – 84% of 25­–35 year-olds are likely to click off a website with excessive advertising (Vital)
  • Approaching a prospect who isn’t sales-ready can mean a missed opportunity – which is very difficult to accurately gage from the outside of a company. Although monitoring for trigger events can help with a more strategic approach. Read about how to leverage a trigger event sales strategy here. If you are not sure where to start looking for trigger events, there could be some lurking in your own CRM.

Inbound Marketing Methodology

Inbound marketing is a relatively new player compared to Outbound marketing. Coined by Hubspot co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan, inbound marketing has grown along with Hubspot since its founding in 2006.

Who better to define inbound then than the founders themselves. Here is the Hubspot official definition of Inbound Marketing:

“Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.”

So what does that mean?

Inbound is the reverse of outbound. Instead of reaching out to prospects, you entice them with free advice and information so that your prospects come to you. It is a combination of content marketing, social media marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and front-end website design that ultimately aims to collect entirely consensual and interested leads, that will later, hopefully, be converted to customers. Examples of inbound marketing would be your company website and landing pages, your blog, any content you produce, lead nurturing (newsletters), your social media presence, webinars, podcasts, even your LinkedIn profile.

Another term that describes many inbound methods is ‘permission marketing’ – which again is the reverse of ‘interruption marketing’. As Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers, puts it in his blog: “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” Whether you are sending a newsletter or ebook to someone’s inbox, or whether they are interacting with your blog or a freemium version of your product online, prospects have chosen to receive or see your messaging.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is about building up long-lasting authority in an area and garnering trust and respect within a marketplace.

  • Inbound is cheaper in the sense that setting up a website, writing content, and using social media can all be very inexpensive (if you have the time and the skill however). According to studies, the average cost per lead drops by 80% after five months of consistent Inbound Marketing.
  • While the funnel is longer, and SEO, SSM and Content Marketing take time to build a following and achieve results, the effects are long-lasting. Build a following on Facebook is investing in a future audience, for example.
  • Inbound does frustrate or irritate your prospect, indeed the mantra of Inbound marketers is to ‘delight’ prospects.
  • Inbound messaging provides a platform for two-way communication – encouraging prospects to actively engage with your messaging.
  • Inbound marketing draws people in – meaning the leads you collect via Inbound are more receptive to messaging as they have already signalled interest and intent.
  • Modern buyers want control over their buying process – preferring to conduct their own research and choosing to engage with suppliers when ready to make a purchase decision.
  • Inbound marketing has compound returns – according to Tomasz Tunguz, venture capitalist at Redpoint, a typical blog post will generate 1-2 times as much traffic, as the graph below shows.(Image credit: Tomasz Tunguz)

Limitations of Inbound Marketing

Intent-based strategies make sense on one level – but what about applying that to services prospects don’t know they need? Take Taskeater as an example – some of our data processing services help with inefficiencies and problems companies don’t even realise they can outsource. How do we break through to a prospect who isn’t looking for something we know they need?

  • The prerequisite to Inbound being cheap is ‘with the right skillset’ – if you aren’t a writer, or a developer or a marketer you are going to have to look to outsource tasks which can become expensive, particularly if you want to maintain high standards. Smaller companies with tiny marketing departments or startups trying to get off the ground will be faced with this problem as it is rare to find a CEO or a singular person with that diverse a skill-set.
  • Inbound campaigns require a consistent time investment to produce content of a high enough quality to build this highly sought after thought leadership.
  • How effective your inbound marketing campaign is can be hard to measure as the process is inherently longer – it can take months to generate solid business from content and the effects on brand awareness or sentiment are hard to analyse with any accuracy.
  • Tracking return on investment can be difficult even with web analytics as drawing an accurate picture of behaviour from the collected data is a skill-set in itself and can never be fully accurate. With a longer funnel measuring success is even harder.

It shouldn’t have to be either or…

So you have probably noticed I haven’t made a clear case for either – and that is because I am not sure there is one that objectively works the ‘best’. That kind of argument is inherently going to project an opinion of ‘best’ that just might not be the case for your company.

A catch-all recommendation of marketing and sales strategy is nothing short of a gimmick. There are things that work well, yes, and there are things that have a higher statistical probability of working in your field or industry, yes, but there isn’t a single article online that is going to tell you how to be either an Inbound or Outbound success story. You have to find what works for your customer and your marketplace.

One of the things I wanted to avoid in writing this article was pitting one methodology against another – because fundamentally elements of both work and can be combined to drive results.

This image on Zac Gregg from Vital’s article comparing Inbound to Outbound, while a great article on Inbound, does indicate a level of bias:

Inbound Vs Outbound

Image Credit: Vital

You don’t need to decide Inbound OR Outbound, in fact, to drive results from either, you need elements of the other to support campaigns and activities. For example: Outbound email marketing does better when paired with video content or white papers and Inbound content marketing can drum up readership with email outreach.

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