The "Push" and "Pull" of Lead Generation

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When it comes to generating leads, it appears that we are in a transitional period, moving away from outbound (“push“) to inbound (“pull“) lead generation. While it is tempting to classify outbound as “traditional” media (print ads, television ads, radio ads, direct mail, outdoor)vs. inbound as “non-traditional” media (online marketing, such as online advertising, email, search, podcasts, webcasts, mobile advertising, and social media; alternative media, such as in-store marketing, buzz marketing and event marketing), it is more complex than that.

Outbound lead generation generally refers to efforts by a marketer to “push” out marketing messages to prospects using print advertising, direct mail, television ads, radio spots, outbound telemarketing, outdoor billboards and the like. Under this definition, though, even some electronic media, such as online ads and unsolicited email, could be classified as outbound.

Inbound lead generation, on the other hand, centers around media that “pulls” prospects to the marketer, including the use of Web search engines, social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and so on), and content marketing (blogs, podcasts, webcasts, articles, reports, eBooks, etc.) Inbound also has an important viral referral element to it, since prospects who like something could discuss it and share it with others via email and social media.

There is a growing sentiment that inbound methods are increasingly found to be more effective than outbound methods. Current industry statistics suggest consumers are more responsive to inbound lead generation and inbound is more cost-effective.

HubSpot, a marketing software company, recently issued its “2012 State of Inbound Marketing” report. The company surveyed 972 business professionals, including marketers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives at companies of various sizes. A wide range of industries was represented, and 72 percent of the individuals worked in business-to-business. The survey found that inbound-marketing dominated companies had a 61 percent lower cost per lead than outbound-marketing dominated companies ($135 per lead vs. $346 per lead). This finding was consistent with surveys conducted in both 2011 and 2010. Of those companies that used closed-loop analytics to measure lead conversion, leads generated via inbound methods were more likely to become customers than leads generated via outbound methods. For example, inbound links (or referrals) were nearly five times more likely to become customers than outbound leads (9% vs. 2%).

With the rise of a connected, mobile empowered consumer, it makes sense that inbound marketing is becoming a more attractive alternative.

Abandoning outbound marketing altogether may be premature, however. It is likely a small business will benefit from using some combination of outbound and inbound, even though the emphasis should be on inbound. For example, a B2B marketer may find that online banner ads offering free high value information can be effective in generating traffic to a website or Facebook page, or that making outbound calls to invite a select group of prospects to a webinar results in higher overall attendance. Notice that these two examples are really an effective blend of outbound and inbound techniques.

You need to determine the best methods for your product and service, based on audience, offer, and creative elements. Understanding how your audience consumes information is a key part of the equation.

A smart strategy might be to establish a strong inbound lead generation program and overlay it with the use of outbound methods on a very selective basis. You could even establish a test to compare the quality of leads generated from outbound vs. inbound methods, as long as you isolate them to the extent possible for testing purposes.

You may find that outbound lead generation is appropriate in certain situations, but if the market shift is any indication, you are likely to discover that inbound methods are more cost-effective and productive – so inbound will ultimately become the core of your lead generation program.