Few companies carry grand missions like HubSpot’s “to make the world more inbound,” and even fewer have founders like Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan who literally wrote the book on their industry. Given Wall Street’s enthusiastic bell ringing for Hubspot (20% jump post IPO), you’re excused for thinking you may be hearing the death knell for outbound.
The storyline advocating inbound is quite real and it’s grounded in math. The average cost remains considerably higher for generating a lead from an outbound channel compared to inbound (according to some estimates as much as two to three times more). The traditional understanding is simple. Namely that inbound marketing is more aligned with the behaviors of the savvy modern consumer. In the case of the B2B buyer, do they really respond to cold emails and calls any more? The thinking is no, buyers are just too smart, and with the advent of modern technologies (email spam filters, caller id) they are now equipped to skip or ignore your marketing messages easily.
Belying this story are the actual reasons that make inbound marketing more cost effective than outbound. SEO, SEM and social media (the top three inbound tactics) all have in common one incredibly powerful marketing attribute: knowledge of the customer. With the intent profiling capabilities of SEO/SEM and social profiling capabilities of social media, generating better rates of return on lead generation in these channels is simply an inevitability when compared to the “information vacuum” associated with outbound tactics (cold calls), alluding the common trope: “It’s the data, stupid!”
But this information vacuum is precisely what is beginning to change in the aggressive hustle of the outbound marketing game. Just as data made inbound marketing… it’s turning the tide for outbound, and the change is being led by LinkedIn and social media.
A recent survey of 1,000 IT executives, at firms from Fortune-ranked companies to small and medium-sized businesses offered these insights: 60% said outbound calls or emails have directly led to an IT vendor evaluation. 75% said they’d decided to attend an event or take an appointment after having received a call or email. What’s happening?
First, with the increased adoption of marketing automation tools and processes (e.g. Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot), sales operations is also shifting towards both automation and specialization. The result is affording reps more time to employ tailored modes of selling, namely social ones.
Social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook now represent some of the most commonly used methods of lead generation. In the B2B domain, customizing sales emails and even calls based on lead profile information derived from social networks is quickly becoming commonplace.
Social networks are used to mine valuable information on leads and prospects that help in the qualification process, and to target outbound sales communications in ways that harken inbound. For instance, a business article shared by a lead in a tweet can indicate buying intent, major life events like birthdays discovered from Facebook serve as opportunities to generate awareness and to rekindle a cold lead, and promotions announced on LinkedIn indicate new stakeholders in the buying process. Sophisticated sales teams use this data to refine and target their outbound sales messages, and just as with inbound, the net result is driving down the cost of acquiring those leads.
Nevertheless, there’s still significant innovation needed within the outbound channel to reach efficiencies of scale present within its counterpart, inbound. On that end companies like HubSpot have already created an entire industry bringing tools to help make inbound more efficient. It’s time for outbound to follow.
What’s holding it up?
Put broadly, it’s innovation that will create the next generation of enabling technologies that will automate outbound sales processes. Startups like ToutApp, Yesware and Refresh.io are all beginning to provide value in this regard. However beyond innovation, there’s a chasm slowly emerging between the two incumbents, LinkedIn and Salesforce, which will have to be bridged. As it turns out LinkedIn and CRMs don’t play nice with each other. That must change. If outbound is ever to gather up enough data on leads to reach a level of automation, targeting and CPL (cost per lead) that’s on par with inbound… That will change.
For most this isn’t a surprise. One provides most of the lead profiling data that’s needed to scale outbound B2B marketing, and the other controls the CRM to house it. LinkedIn’s overtly strict API guidelines has shuttered all too many a startup seeking to use its data for “CRM” purposes, so much so the pun LinkedOut was coined. The current LinkedIn – Salesforce integrations lack any ability to trigger email campaigns off that data in scale, primarily because those integrations are merely cosmetic (viewable by the salesperson in the CRM but not actionable for campaigns).
When it comes to abiding by major social platform’s terms of services, like LinkedIn’s, I have a profound respect for the challenges faced by these platforms and developers. My last company (Social Amp, acquired by Merkle) was a Facebook preferred marketing developer. Our software powered onsite personalization leveraging the tremendous depth of the Open Graph for big retail brands. Our relative success in making our clients happy was ultimately Facebook’s own success. They provided open and transparent guidelines for use of their API, and in turn we helped fill the innovation gaps retailers needed that Facebook was simply not able to fill.
Where Facebook thrived balancing on the one hand users’ privacy concerns, and on the other hand businesses’ desires for ease and automation, I believe LinkedIn is unfortunately failing.
Here too, on the heels of the Dreamforce conference, where nearly 25,000 developers attended (and Bruno Mars performed no less) we’re reminded of the community and platform economy that can be unleashed when developers are partnered with to fill the gaps that businesses desire to be filled. LinkedIn should be taking notes.
It may be that LinkedIn is planning for its own CRM product in the not so near future. If that’s the case, the need to bridge the aforementioned chasm present between LinkedIn and traditional CRMs will become arguably even more necessary, and particularly for mature businesses. Until then, outbound sales teams – for all their vaunted aggressiveness – will find themselves in an uneven playing field. The rise of automation across marketing and inbound channels will put pressure on their own, while their sales CRMs will fail to provide the technology needed to automate outbound prospecting in a cost effective way. Outbound is here to stay, but until LinkedIn and CRMs play nice, it will continue playing the laggard to inbound.