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Finding Customers Who Aren’t Looking

by David Brock on March 24th, 2016

There’s no doubt that digital media, rich content, search and other technique drive huge demand.  Ideally, these create inbound leads which are wonderful for everyone.

With inbound, we have some level of awareness and possible interest.  We have some context in which to engage.  It’s compelling–both for the customer and for the sales person.

If you generate sufficient volume to fill your pipelines and make your numbers, I suppose you don’t need to go any further.  Probably, marketing and sales can do their “High Five’s,” congratulate each other and move on.

But there are problems with this approach.  First, I think I can count on one hand the number of organizations I encounter that are generating enough high quality inbound demand to consistently make their numbers.  A good argument is to crank up those programs to generate more inbound demand.

Even if that does generate the necessary demand, I don’t think that’s enough.  We are still leaving opportunity on the table, there is still far more we can do.

Remember, my mantra is that it’s my God-given right to 100% share of customer and 100% share of territory—but it’s my job to find it and earn it.

The problem with the things that focus on inbound is that it requires that people are looking.  It requires they let their fingers do the walking through Google, or they are reading the blogs with a particular interest in learning about something.

Of course there’s, the other approach too many people take–flooding the channels with so much volume and noise that a person can’t possibly miss what you are shouting about. But the noise level from everyone adopting these tactics tends to neutralize everything.

The problem is, how do you reach the people who aren’t looking.

For those who are still unconvinced that content and search and sheer volume aren’t sufficient, a quick example.

Every evening, my wife and I are absorbed in reading newspapers and catching up on things.  We both sit with our IPads going through the news.  Last night, Kookie said, “Did you see that article on in the main section of the New York Times?  We were talking about that just the other day.”  I had “seen” it but it hadn’t registered–I really hadn’t been looking for it.  Yes, I saw the headline in the main section.  It was also in the 20 most popular articles section, I usually pay a lot of attention to those.  But it never registered with me because I wasn’t looking for it.

Shift gears to today’s business climate.  Organizations are lean, people are overwhelmed with work, suffering from information overload, distracted, and unable to focus.  The abundance of articles focusing on doing less, mindfulness, and so forth are an indicator of the problem everyone faces in day to day performance on the job.

For the time they do spend looking at content, reading unsolicited emails (which I suspect is small to nonexistent), even if they “see” it, it doesn’t register because they aren’t looking for it.  Pumping up the volume of activity doesn’t help, partly because your messages are being drowned out by everyone doing the same thing.

Even if they don’t see “it,” even if they aren’t looking for a change or for how you can help them, it doesn’t mean they don’t need “it.”  In fact, if they are so overwhelmed with day to day survival, their “need” may be quite profound.

The fundamental flaw to many social, content and strategies to drive inbound leads is it requires someone to be looking, it requires someone to be paying attention.

The challenge is, how do we reach those people that should be paying attention, that should be looking, but are simply too busy or unaware or may not even care?

This is why I believe so strongly in aggressive outbound prospecting!

The majority of the opportunity, the real growth for our companies is finding and disrupting the customers who aren’t looking!

But we need to be smart about it–and most of the time we aren’t.

We need to ferret out those people and organizations that “must” be looking.  Those are the one’s that are underperforming, or missing opportunities, or aren’t as efficient/effective/productive as they should be.  They are the companies whose customers may be disgruntled–or even not unhappy, but not happy.  These aren’t difficult to find–we just have to know our markets, do our research and reach out to engage.  Plus there are plenty of analytic and research tools that help us do this.

We are cheating them, because of the opportunities they are missing, and ourselves, because it adds to our pipelines and growth by not aggressively finding and engaging these customers.

Every company should have an aggressive outbound strategy–looking for those customers who aren’t looking, the sheer volume of these customers is far greater than those that are.

Postscript:  In part, this post was inspired by a brilliant post Pete Caputa, VP of Sales at Hubspot wrote, be sure to read it:  Also be sure to read Pete’s inspired observations in the comments to this post.

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  1. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for sending me the link to your article and I’m glad my article could provoke your thoughts.

    Here’s my two cents in response:

    I think we need to stop thinking of inbound and outbound as two binary methods. And of course, by definition, they are. But, I don’t think they have to be.

    Here are the generally accepted descriptions of the two:

    Inbound: There’s the version of inbound where marketing blogs, optimizes content for search, promotes in social, builds a subscription list, captures more information about the leads via offers and landing page forms, nurtures these leads with email…. until finally, finally, finally, they are “marketing qualified” enough to pass to sales teams. Then, the sales teams cherry pick the best ones and start to reach out.

    I agree that this is a very passive form of inbound marketing and pretends that “buying” is a very, prospect-controlled, permission based, linear process. It is also exactly the process we created and still teach at HubSpot. It works, but it requires patience and effort.

    Unfortunately, most orgs that want to grow fast, don’t have the patience or put in the effort. Agree with you there 100%.

    Now, let’s look at the current state of outbound “aggressive” prospecting. In this world, salespeople compile a list of contacts and basically spam the crap out of them. As you perfectly pointed out, most prospects ignore this, but a very small percentage respond because they are ‘in-market’.

    Those are very black and white views of these methods. But, they are also the current state of affairs or the soon to be current one .

    But, what if wasn’t so black and white? What if there was a method that dropped the aggressiveness of outbound, but left the proactive part in there. What if there was a method for inbound that engage prospects in content creation, market research and discovery, not just created stuff that might be found? What if salespeople weren’t trying to reach out and pitch, but instead, we’re reaching out to provoke thought and collaboration?

    That’s what I’m working on. I don’t have it all worked out, but I have the pieces and a bunch of experiments going on. More coming soon. But, I think we’re on the verge of ending this debate. Welcome any feedback or collaboration of course, David.


    PS. I linked to the original article that you said provoked this post. If someone wants to read it, they can click my name above.

    • Pete, I could never have been as articulate as you, this is awesome! Too often the discussion is wrong, we position it as Inbound OR Outbound. It must be both, and they are perfectly complementary. Each can and has been perverted by laziness, sloppy thinking or execution. That’s how we get spammed both with Inbound/Outbound.

      The real discussion is not either/or, but how we leverage each in the most impactful/effective ways we could. Thanks for taking the time for such an insightful comment!

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