A number of Marketing folks would have you believe that inbound leads (or sales opportunities) are superior to outbound.

(They generally are.)

And that inbound (or content) marketing is virtuous and outbound is primitive and disreputable.

(This position is pretty much as silly as it sounds!)

I’ve pointed to problems with the definition of “inbound” in the past. And to problems with the inbound “religion”.

But here’s another angle on this popular subject.

You may be better off with fewer inbound opportunities

Turns out that, even if inbound opportunities are superior to outbound ones—even if they’re vastly superior—you should probably ensure that inbound opportunities represent less than 30% of your opportunity flow.

The only exception is if you are in the fortunate position where you can comfortably generate 100% of your opportunity flow from inbound campaigns.

That’s right. I’m suggesting that you might be better off with fewer inbound opportunities, even if we assume that the inbound opportunities are higher quality than outbound ones.

Let me restate my (counter-intuitive) position before I explain it.

If you can comfortably generate 100% of the opportunities you need to keep your sales team fully activated, then you should go ahead and do so.

However, if you are not confident that you can consistently (and indefinitely) generate 100% of the necessary opportunity flow from inbound then you should ensure that inbound opportunities represent less than 30% of your total opportunity mix.

Human nature

It becomes quite obvious why this is the case when we consider the perspective of the salesperson.

Imagine that you are an inside salesperson. You are sitting on a queue of 90 sales opportunities, replenished daily by your organization’s marketing team.

You have 15-20 conversations a day, performed against this queue of opportunities. Over time you come to realize that there are two classes of opportunities in your queue.

There are some opportunities where the prospect is keen to talk to you, where they have an obvious and pressing requirement for your product, and where the odds of a win are clearly high. These opportunities represent about 80% of your total queue. They originate from inbound inquiries.

But in amongst those high-class opportunities, there are some decidedly lower-class ones. These originate from outbound campaigns. The prospects associated with these opportunities are not at all keen to talk to you and require some genuine skill in order to even get a conversation started. Where this class of opportunity is concerned, the odds of a win are clearly lower. These opportunities’ only redeeming quality is that they make up only 20% of your total opportunity mix.

Now, if you were in this situation, I don’t know what you’d do. But I do know what virtually every other salesperson on the planet would do. They would ignore the outbound opportunities! They would structure their day so that by the time they were done performing activities against the lucrative 80% of inbound opportunities there would be no time left to perform activities against those less-lucrative outbound ones.

And, I also know that if you were this salesperson’s supervisor, there is absolutely nothing you could do about this. There’s simply no point trying to fight human nature!

So, the bottom line is, if you feed your salespeople a mix of 80% inbound and 20% outbound opportunities, you may as well not feed them outbound opportunities at all. In this situation, if you don’t have a sufficient inbound flow to fully activate your salespeople, you better get used to seeing them less than fully activated. And if you’re serious about growth, this should drive you crazy!

Flip the mix

The solution is simple: flip the mix.

If you feed your salespeople a mix of 80% outbound and 20% inbound opportunities, it’s a whole different story. Your salespeople will treasure the inbound opportunities, but because there are only a few of them they will come to regard them as the icing on the cake, rather than as the cake itself.

There are two ways to flip the mix.

One way is to spend less money on inbound campaigns. With fewer inbound opportunities, your marketing team will be forced to make up the shortfall with outbound opportunities.

The other approach is to spend as much as you can on inbound (until the point of diminishing returns) and then increase the size of your sales team to the point where your inbound opportunities represent only 20% of your total opportunity requirement.

In my experience, there are very few organizations that can meet their growth requirements if they rely exclusively on inbound opportunities.

If you are one of those organizations, then congratulations. You best make hay while the sun shines.

But if you’re not, tread carefully. The siren song of the inbound marketers may be alluring but commercial realities—and human nature—dictate that inbound opportunities can only be a small percentage of your mix (less than 30%, is my advice).

So, always start with outbound campaigns. If you can supplement outbound opportunities with some inbound ones, that’s great. But not if inbound starts to distract your marketing team from outbound (remember, outbound done right is really hard).

It’s important you all remember what’s the cake. And what’s the icing!