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Inbound Works—Until It Doesn’t

by David Brock on April 27th, 2016

I’m a great fan of inbound marketing/demand gen approaches.  What sales person wouldn’t be?

It’s great to be able to talk to someone who actually is interested in your products and services!  Before the first conversation, you have a context of their interests.  You know marketing programs they’ve responded to, you know the content, which provides an indication of their interest.  If you do your homework, quickly researching them and their company, you can engage them in meaningful conversations about their problems and challenges.  Some will have a need to buy, we qualify them move them into the pipeline and start working the deal.

Hopefully, the math works—you have enough inbound activity, you qualify your fair share, you compete and win your fair share, and you make your number!  What could be better?

None of this stuff about prospecting!  No time wasted trying to find or create new opportunities!  What could be easier than the customer coming to you?

There are some great business models, focused on volume/velocity, that work brilliantly.  They know the dials to turn–increase SEO, Adwords, drive marketing programs……

But not all businesses are tuned to the volume/velocity model, particularly those in which the customer buying process is highly complex.

Yes, inbound does contribute a huge amount to those types of companies, but what happens if it isn’t enough?  Virtually every complex B2B sales organization I work with is opportunity starved–that is they don’t have enough qualified pipeline opportunities to meet their goals.  I’ve never encountered a sales executive saying, “Dave, we simply have too many qualified opportunities.”  Usually, it’s the opposite, “Dave, how do I get my sales people prospecting to get more opportunities in the pipeline?”

Yes marketing is doing everything it can to generate more.  But most research studies still say sales people for Complex B2B Buying Processes,  find and qualify a significant number of opportunities on their own (with help from programs from marketing).  Depending on the study, it’s anywhere from 40-60% of the deals that ultimately find their way into the pipeline.

There’s another problem with strictly inbound.  We have to wait for the customer!

Is that right for them?  What about those that don’t know there may be better ways of doing things–they aren’t looking/searching, they aren’t consuming content, because they are happy with the status quo.  Yet their businesses may be underperforming.  Or those that are simply too busy to do something.  If I’m fighting the alligators every day, I may forget or not have the time to Google “What’s the best pump to drain a swamp?”

What about those who frame their problem in a certain way?  But if they changed it, they might consider entirely different solutions–including ours?  They may have been researching for a while, but they may not be asking the right questions, they might gain more if they shifted their perspective.  They may have defined their problem/solution in a way that doesn’t allow them to capture as much value as possible?  Of course, we do everything we can to shift their views, but if they are toward the end of their process, they may not be willing to listen.

From our own selfish internal point of view, what if we aren’t getting enough inbound activity to achieve our goals?  We are still accountable for making the numbers!  If we aren’t getting enough inbound activity, sure we can beat marketing up for more, but we have to make up the deficit!  It is unacceptable to walk into your manager saying, “Boss, I missed my numbers this quarter and next quarter is a little sketchy—we don’t have enough inbound activity…..”

Inbound activity is fantastic, as long as it works, as long as it is producing the volume and quality of opportunities we need to maximize our value and make our numbers.

But when it stops working, we have to hunt down our own opportunities to fill the gap!

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  1. Right on Dave! We miss so many potential buyers by waiting. And getting in early gives us the best chance to influence. Kind of reminds me of your “Laziness and the 57%” post!

  2. David, another really interesting post. I’ve actually worked with organizations (as an internal team member or consultant) where inbound lead flow, married with an effective lead qualification process, produced the vast majority (80-90) percent of pipeline opportunities. This is an optimized lead-to-revenue model that isn’t created overnight. But as you suggest – if inbound leads are not filling the top of the funnel – strong salespeople do indeed make up the deficit.

    • Christopher, ideally marketing provides us enough leads to fill our pipelines. However, if they don’t we still are obligated to prospect and fill our pipelines! Thanks for the great comments.

  3. This article won as Reader’s Choice Award from the Franchise-Info audience this week for most read! Congratulations.

  4. Ken Rutsky permalink

    Good stuff. I’ll be down that way, well almost, in Santa Monica at an event that might be of interest. Ping me and I’ll explain. Saw this post via Hank Barnes share on LinkedIn

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