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What Is Inbound Lead Generation?

Have you ever heard the terms inbound and outbound lead generation and wondered exactly what they mean? Understanding the difference between inbound and outbound lead generation can help your local business put your marketing dollars where they'll do the most good. Here's what you should know.

  • Lead generation is the process of turning a prospect (someone who fits into your target market) into a lead (someone who has expressed an interest in your business, product or service).
  • Outbound lead generation means reaching out to prospects to generate leads. Making cold calls, telemarketing, sending direct mail or sending a marketing email are all examples of outbound lead generation tactics.
  • Inbound lead generation lets prospects decide when they want to connect with your business. For example, online search, social media, online marketing and content marketing are all inbound lead generation tactics.

Outbound lead generation is sometimes referred to as "interruptive,” because you're essentially interrupting the prospect in whatever they're doing to get their attention. You’re in control of the interaction.

Inbound lead generation, in contrast, puts the prospect in control of contacting your company at the time and in the way they choose.

If you've ever had your dinner interrupted by a telemarketing call or door-to-door salesperson, you can see why inbound lead generation is much more customer-friendly.

Inbound lead generation also tends to be less expensive, less time-consuming and more effective than outbound lead generation.

That’s because consumers increasingly go online to search for businesses, products and services. Think about it: If you're looking for a local auto body shop, do you sit around and wait for one to call you, reach for the phone book, or dig through your mail hoping to find a flyer from an auto body business? No, you grab your smartphone or sit down at your computer and do a search for auto body shop or auto repair.

Your customers are searching for businesses like yours in exactly the same way. So how can you put the power of inbound lead generation to work for your business? Try these tips:

  1. Optimize your business website for search. By finding out which keywords prospects are most likely to use when they search for businesses like yours, you can use SEO to attract them to your website. 
  2. Add paid search advertising to the mix. Boost the chances of prospects discovering your business by using paid search advertising in addition to organic SEO. 
  3. Create strong calls to action. To get visitors to click on your search result or online ad, you need to offer them something of value. Provide a discount; a special offer, such as a free consultation; useful information, such as a webinar or white paper; or just ask them to sign up to receive emails from your business. Each CTA hyperlink should go to a dedicated landing page for that offer, not just to your homepage. If you already have landing pages that are very successful at converting visitors to leads, use those links in your inbound lead generation content.
  4. Get help. There's a lot to learn and keep track of when you're dealing with inbound lead generation.