The short answer is no. But the short answer is never the complete answer.
Inbound marketing is a discipline, when used correctly, can solve your sales lead shortage, but by itself, it doesn’t solve the lead generation issue. Lets define a few things a bit more before we go further. Specifically inbound marketing and what a lead is.
Inbound marketing – Hubspot uses the graphic below to define the overall inbound marketing process. In their words, they say “Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.”
The reason we say that the short answer to “will inbound marketing solve my lead generation problem” is no, is because what we generally think of when we hear the word lead,
When I say “lead” to most business people and sales teams, what they hear (in their head) is “someone who wants me to talk to them and who probably wants to buy something”. The buying process for today’s customer is much cloudier than that. Prospective customers have so much information and so many choices at the click of a mouse or flick of their phone, that “leads” who engage in old-school sales processes are few and far between (they might even be extinct).
And as you can see in the diagram above, inbound marketing doesn’t even consider the most typical lead step of “qualify.” In traditional lead generation marketing, you interrupt a prospect until they engage with you, and then your first step is to qualify for interest. (Then budget, time frame, decision process, etc). With inbound, you skip that first qualification level entirely, as you know they're interested in a specific topic or problem – after all, they came INBOUND to your content.
Our goal with an inbound marketing approach is, first and foremost, to convert the anonymous to the known. What are the offers and calls to actions that we can take to get a visitor to our insightful content, to identify themselves to us. Once identified, the visitor becomes an asset to our business development efforts because they are known. From this point forward, you can begin to consider how inbound solves your sales lead shortage issues.
We’d tell our clients to think about conversions from their inbound marketing efforts as a clue. A clue you can give to your sales team that someone out there in the universe of ALL the businesses you could sell to, has an issue that you may be able to solve. And their job is to play detective and see if they can gather more clues and solve the issue.
If you sell a very complex product with a long sales cycle, the initial conversion is unlikely to be a hot lead (unless they are converting specifically for a price quote). For less complex products or shorter sales cycles, the conversion may be closer to the end of the buying cycle. Either way, a conversion is a clue. And you can now do something with that clue:
- Ignore it
- Call and try to sell something (not the best idea)
- Call and see if they want to further discuss the issue they converted on
- Nurture market to them and see if you can gather more clues based on what they react to.
The latter two bullets are the right approach. Yes, these are soft leads that still need to be engaged in a true qualification and sales process, but they are going to be a much higher quality conversation than you would have had if you simply picked up the phone and dialed.
In the end, the inbound marketing efforts don’t generate leads in the traditional sense. They create a clue, a filter, to enable your marketing and sales teams to focus on the most likely opportunities. Effectively implemented, an inbound strategy creates less friction between sales and marketing because everyone is finally working together in an end-to-end process that attracts prospects interested in buying solutions to their problems, from you, the company that has told them you have solutions to sell.
If you’d like to go deeper into inbound marketing, watch our webinar on demand for Inbound Marketing – A fishing story.