Inbound vs. Outbound... the debate over which leads are "better" has been a constant source of articles, blog posts, and general arguments amongst sales and marketing professionals. While this post, will spend a brief moment defining what makes a high quality lead, I don't feel the need to contribute to the debate anymore, since I have already written about this in the past. Instead, I want to spend a moment pointing out what so many articles have failed to do ... outbound leads and inbound leads are two different entities, so why are so many businesses treating them like they are the same thing?
Defining High Quality Leads
In order to establish how outbound and inbound are entirely different (and why they should be treated as such), we need to first look at how we define high quality leads. The four key characteristics to consider include:
- What was the cost of acquiring the lead (and eventually turning the lead into an actual paying customer. CAC has become a very important metric, especially in the SaaS market)?
- What was the time commitment involved in acquiring the lead? (Don't forget that time is often the most precious commodity, especially when you must consider that time is part of the overall cost of acquisition.)
- What is the volume and sustainability of the lead acquiring strategy (i.e. is the approach scalable / flexible and does it deliver consistent results over time)?
- How close is the lead to matching your Ideal Client Profile (ICP)? This determines the closing potential for the lead?
With the above four factors in mind, we can then begin to look at the nuances of inbound and outbound leads.
Understanding The Key Differences Between Inbound And Outbound Leads
By definition an inbound lead is one whereby a lead has followed a series of content creation pieces to inevitably reach out to your company. On the other hand, an outbound lead is acquired through your direct communication efforts (i.e. you reached out to the lead directly without receiving any prompting from the individual or business). With these definitions in mind, let's dig a little deeper into the key differences.
An inbound lead most often has a problem that they think you can solve. Whether they are interested in receiving a service or product from your business, they have a set solution in mind. Conversely, an outbound lead doesn't know that they have a problem. Alternatively, they might know that they have a problem, but not realize the enormity of the situation (that is until you come along with your solution).
The above key difference is incredibly important to remember as you approach inbound and outbound marketing. In this vein, we are not saying that one type of lead is inherently better; what we are saying is that due to their differences, they should be treated differently. Keep the following tips in mind as you approach your inbound and outbound leads.
- Inbound Leads Require Less Nurturing. -- By their very nature, inbound leads typically require less nurturing than an outbound lead. The reason is simple: inbound leads have already conducted their research and have typically moved onto the due diligence stage when they reach out to you. In fact, many inbound leads have already completed 80 percent of the buying process before they contact you. With this in mind, it is your job to help them complete the remaining 20 percent of their buying journey by clearly showing how your products or services can add value and solve their problem.
- Outbound Leads Need Guidance. -- Outbound leads must be guided through the buyer's journey. You will be doing yourself a great disservice if you think that you can reach out to an outbound lead and receive a quick "yes" to your product or service. Instead, to use a clichéd phrase, you might have "poked a sleeping bear." In other words, let's say that the outbound lead doesn't know that he has a problem. By informing him of his inherent problem, you have now provoked him into conducting research into possible solutions. In order to keep him from turning to your competitors, you must instead provide him with the tools, insights, and inevitable solutions (i.e. your products or services) that he needs.
- Inbound Leads Respond To Direct Tactics. -- Generally speaking, most inbound leads will respond to a more aggressive sales approach. The leads have reached out to you and are thus are already considering making a purchase. Not only have they reached out to you, but they have provided you with the value-add that you need to deliver. In other words, inbound leads have given you the tools you need to close the sale by a) clearly stating their problem, b) understanding that your company might have the solution, and c) making it clear that they want you to solve their problem. With this in mind, you must always remember that while inbound leads have given you all of the tools that you need to successfully close the sale, every person is different, which means that you must always adhere to their communication preferences and style. In other words, don't blow the sale by being too pushy or not clearly articulating that you understand their problem and feel their pain.
- Outbound Leads Require Tact. -- Most people don't like being told that their company has a "problem," even if it is true. With this in mind, you must tread carefully with outbound leads. You have to gently guide them through the sales funnel without adopting the "used car salesman mentality." Once again, you have to read the person carefully to determine a) their communication preferences, b) their communication style, and c) their interest level. Remember that it will take time for an outbound lead to work their way through the sales funnel, and while you don't want the process to be too long, you also don't want to rush them and thus lose the lead to a competitor.
The Bottom Line: All Leads Are Not Created Equally
The moral of the story is simple, outbound and inbound leads are not created equally. For many companies, inbound leads are actively chased due to the inherent "value" that they immediately offer. However, while outbound leads are often tougher to close, they do offer value to companies. Recognizing their value is only made possible if you don't treat an outbound lead like an inbound lead. In the end, all leads are not created equally, and as such should not be treated in the same way.