The Unseen Problem with Inbound Leads and How to Fix It

IKO 1 As you’ve probably noticed, inbound lead generation strategies are in vogue.  Influencers and inbound solutions themselves are singing the praises of these strategies from the rooftops, including their purported superior ROI and their ability to generate high quality, easily converted leads. What’s hiding just around the corner, however, are inbound’s inevitable shortcomings. What most sales teams will come to realize sooner or later is that, when trying to meet monthly or quarterly sales goals, inbound simply won’t be enough. Adding outbound lead generation tactics can be a good way to create a steady sales pipeline. Ultimately, a proper balance of the two is ideal. The allure of the highly nurtured, high-converting lead has left many businesses sitting on their haunches, waiting for low hanging fruit to arrive. But with budgets shifting to inbound, congestion increases and conversions drop off in the short term. Despite the hype, we live in a multi-channel marketing world. By using a savvy balance of outbound lead generation with inbound proficiencies, organizations can increase qualified leads and their conversions in short order. 

Inbound Lead Limit #1: Nurturing Takes a Long Time

 The use of SEO optimization, blogging, social media, and content are a must for any lead generation strategy. When leads raise their hand for premium content or subscribe to your email, they’re in it for the long haul. And it’s true, a trusting relationship does lead to increased rates of conversion. But the question you really need to ask is, just how long does it take for these leads to convert into a sale? While 54% of leads are generated through inbound methods like blogs, whitepapers, and social media, these leads are likely not ready to buy. In this case, the buying journey may have just begun. You’ll need many touch points before striking up an outbound conversation and making a sale. Bringing a lead along the buyer journey up to the point of sale can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months – and this doesn’t even take into account the time needed to create the infrastructure needed for an inbound strategy (purchasing and implementing marketing automation solutions, designing a content marketing strategy and producing that content, etc). It can take as long as 18 – 24 months to pay down this process from A to Z. A OneSource Sales Pulse Survey shows that sales cycles have become either longer or significantly longer than in previous years. In total, 59% of companies report longer sales cycles. This is a direct result of the self-educated consumer who, thanks to the internet, can peruse product reviews, click through case studies and read educational content at the click of a button. All in all, it’s safe to say that companies 100% reliant upon inbound lead generation have little control over their growth rate and the consistency of this growth over time. There’s also less control over the quality of inbound prospects, but we’ll touch on that later. For these companies, instead of just waiting for the phone to ring with a good lead on the other end, picking up the phone and making something happen, in addition to treating incoming leads, is almost certainly preferable. 

Take Action on Inbound

 By contrast, it takes very little time to pick up a phone or send an email. While conversion rates are much lower for cold calls or cold emails, it cannot be denied: being able to make a sale now instead of many months down the line can be the difference between making or missing your target. Inbound is an especially good approach for attracting all those who are seeking your expertise. And outbound is best at  hyper-targeting those leads you think are ready to convert now. David Greschler, CEO of real-time content engagement platform PaperShare, relates: “You need to break out and discover new prospects who may be interested in your product but haven’t had the opportunity to learn about it. Finding these new leads is a crucial step in feeding the sales pipeline.” 

How to: Accelerate Inbound with Outbound Practices


  1. Test and tweak your content strategy until it attracts the right customer
  2. Come to understand everything about the prospects your inbound approach attracts
  3. Employ the sales team to move deeply into social networks – dig into customer needs and pain points even further
  4. Let salespeople start leveraging and personalizing content assets to make smart cold calls, or “warm calls”
  5. Refine your advertising approach to bring in more leads
  6. Continue to test and refine
  7. Re-engage customers to measure results and enable referrals


For example…

 At IKO System, 25% to 50% of our leads come from inbound – but of course we don’t rely solely on this: we compliment our inbound leads with an outbound strategy in order to give regularity, predictability and a mechanical dimension  to  sales pipeline.   In order to make sure our sales reps are as efficient as possible, we always first engage via automated email scenarios using our own, in-house solution.  Prospects appreciate the soft approach, and only those who engage with these emails receive a ‘warm call’ later on (if they hadn’t responded already!). What’s more, you can even reuse content used to generate inbound in our outbound emails.  This makes a more relevant and engaging experience for the prospect. 

Inbound Limit #2: Inbound is Competitive

 For many businesses, the mainstream content market can be a prohibitively difficult arena in which to compete, especially for small businesses and startups trying to rank content on social media marketing, SEO, CRM, etc. This uphill battle is better fought over time… And with assistance. If the ideal customers tend to be young or tech-savvy, then inbound is a necessity. But if typical buyers have been reading industry publications, attending trade shows, are older, are other businesses, or are in the market for a higher ticket item, outbound will shine. Many executives aren’t the self-educating type. They’re not going to respond to white papers, but they will take a phone call with a diligent, well-informed sales rep speaking directly to their issues.

Inbound Limit #3: You’re Not Getting the Right Prospects

 Inbound is great for accumulating lots of leads. But statistically speaking, most of these leads won’t be very helpful. Instead, the volume of your new leads will only confound efforts to predict your sales pipeline. The latest numbers show that 30% of prospects are just curious and 30% are not decision-makers. This leaves 30% to work with. And of this 30%, are the leads able to buy? Are they decision makers? There’s a deeper issue to be addressed about inbound: predictability is fickle within inbound leads. Inbound may not always attract the desired profiles with the content created. Sales reps can come up against real issues in these circumstances, including struggling to meet their  quotas. In the face of these natural limitations, the benefits of outbound become even more evident. For example, as we can see below, direct mail even eeks out free content as an effect way for a company to attract business:MOZ InfographicsEven after the inbound craze, outbound is still a necessary factor in building a successful lead generation strategy. Here are some other outbound lead gen processes that assist with validating and pursuing the quality inbound leads:


Smart Engagement Solutions

 For all the reasons inbound lead generation has become so popular, lead scoring and automated email engagement become great assets when paired with outbound tactics. The issue people have with outbound is that conversion rates tend to be lower – after all, the lead has never heard of you and may not necessarily need your services today. But with better lead generation and better prospecting through lead scoring and automated engagement, ROI increases and the sales team becomes more effective. It also has the added benefit of filling the sales pipeline immediately.Automated engagement solutions allows sales reps both the time and the options to pursue leads efficiently. Freed from the tedious side of prospecting work, reps can send automated and targeted email engagement scenarios to qualified leads. Or they might engage leads throughout the entire funnel with channel-specific, multi-touch strategies to further buying relationships. What’s more, reps can make warm calls to leads that show immediate promise, schedule a demo, and move towards a sales opportunity directly. 


 When it comes to creating leads for the sales funnel, a balance of inbound and outbound tactics will overcome the limitations of either by itself. Whereas inbound can deliver a plethora of good leads over many months, the number and quality of the leads returned is questionable. It can be painful to see how few results come of such a long investment. Outbound means your sales reps will more often speak to the right people, but the conversion rates may be lower. However, companies can always marry the targeting potential of outbound and the nurturing capabilities of inbound. This way, there can be significant gains in their sales growth, and within a reasonable time frame.