Note: Last week, we uploaded a somewhat controversial post called The Truth About Content Marketing that Nobody Else Will Tell You. Today’s post is a continuation of that same theme.

Over the past few years, outbound marketing strategies like cold calling, mail campaigns and online ad buys have played second fiddle to the more contemporary inbound marketing approach. But, the shift from “old school” push marketing toward content-based strategies has proved quite challenging for many marketers, and for some, has failed to live up to its much-hyped expectations.

Now, many marketers have realized that turning their back on tried and true outbound strategies leaves far too many stones unturned. As it turns out, the right approach is a smart mix of both inbound and outbound tactics—including even “throwback” programs like cold calling. But with the added leverage of modern technology and techniques to refine targeting, companies of all sizes are seeing their sales success explode by as much as 400% by adding “retro” tactics back into the mix.

Here’s what they’ve learned in the process, and how your company can harness these same strategies to fill your sales funnel with a modern take on traditional tactics.

If You Build it, They will come. Really?

As Inbound Marketing burst onto the scene, marketers saw the new approach as their proverbial Field of Dreams—the ideal alternative to conventional push marketing in which the typical strategy was simply to pour money into buying email lists, cold calling, executing mass mail campaigns and buying online ads. While those practices were certainly predictable, measurable and easy to control, conversion rates were also surprisingly low, cost was high and there was zero long-term value—the moment you turned off the spending tap, the leads stopped flowing in.

Inbound strategies offered a way to overcome those difficulties, luring audiences into actually wanting to receive our messages. So, marketers began churning out copious amounts of content—educational e-books, “how to” videos, buyer guides, whitepapers, presentations, free webinars—and audiences lapped it up. Because consumers tend to trust editorial content more so than paid advertising, many valued the content as educational and useful—a factor that has been a driving force in social media engagement.

As an added bonus, inbound audiences even self-segment, sometimes telling us exactly how, why and when they are interested in our product. Perhaps even better, not only have they consumed the content themselves, but they’ve also forwarded and shared it with their friends and colleagues. This socialization of content has given inbound marketing a long-life advantage over most outbound strategies – the content remains out there in the social web, and when done right, leads continue to flow in even if you stop doing anything new.

As marketers saw the potential of having audiences come to them, budgets began shifting toward content marketing initiatives. In fact, the proportion of budget allocated to inbound marketing has grown steadily over the last two years, up to 35% for 2012, with just 23% reserved for outbound tactics. Driving the spending growth, nearly 50% of marketers increased their inbound budgets for 2013.

However, like all breakout trends, inbound marketing has failed to live up to the hype in several aspects. In fact, most marketers have discovered that successful inbound marketing is way harder than it sounds. First, producing enough good content is extremely difficult and costly. Marketers must generate regular valuable content to orchestrate an effective campaign. But, developing interesting, varied and engaging material is a primary hurdle for some 64% of B2B content marketers, and more than half of B2C marketers say lack of content budget is their biggest challenge.

It’s also difficult to measure ROI for inbound efforts. Less than half of marketers can confidently report a positive ROI on inbound tactics. It turns out that finding the right measurement tools and gathering “clean” data—information that’s accurate and up to date—is not as simple as measuring click-thrus, page views and other conventional outbound metrics.

Finally, it is hard to predict both the number and quality of results. Many marketers have come under fire for not meeting qualified lead targets, driving website traffic that doesn’t convert, and delivering leads that take no genuine interest in the company’s products.

Finding the Right Mix with Social Lead Targeting

Like most all-or-nothing strategies, savvy marketers have discovered that putting all of your eggs—and budget—into the inbound basket is not the wisest approach. While modern content-based marketing certainly has its place, some of the most successful companies have woven conventional outbound strategies back into the marketing mix, fueled by new social lead targeting techniques that can deliver more highly targeted lists to make even old-school tactics like cold calling economical—and successful—once again.

Going beyond the conventional customer database, social lead targeting allows companies to tap into the goldmine of valuable data about their target audience that exists in the social web to better understand their ideal customers, prioritize and segment leads. Using an automated system, companies can cross-check their existing customer databases against social network sites in real time, to uncover current contextual data beyond basic contact information.

With the ability to understand the challenges their audience members’ face, what topics are of interest, the tools they use and the events and forums they participate in, marketers can harness this data to find and connect with only those leads who are the most likely candidates for their offering, and avoid wasting time and effort on those who simply don’t fit the model.

Plus, with real-time, automated access to a multitude of data sources, marketers can keep their lead records up-to-date and complete—all with zero manual effort and at the velocity required to make that all-important early first contact and out-pace the competition.

Here are just a few ways social lead targeting can supercharge the sales funnel:

  • Identify your ideal buyer. Do you really know who to target? Do you battle with sales over who you should be going after? Start by analyzing your existing customer database against social profiles to identify commonalities, discover what topics they’re interested in and determine who’s a decision maker or influencer. Learn where these key target personas congregate online and mine as much data as you can from their behaviors in these online communities.
  • Build better lists. Instead of relying only on conventional databases, use contextual clues to refine campaign lists for outreach efforts to drive better results. While the VP may be the decision maker, perhaps it’s really the project manager you need to connect with. Scrub lists based on social data, rather than focusing on job title alone. This will ensure your mailings, cold calls and other outreach efforts sail not only through the right ballpark, but precisely across home plate.
  • Craft your messages accordingly. A one-size-fits-all approach only dilutes your message and your budget, so be sure to spend your time and money efficiently. Before spending a dime on direct mail or pay-per-click, listen carefully to your audiences’ needs and segment your database based on job functions, tools used and areas of interest. Then craft targeted messages and choose tactics accordingly.

Success Stories from the Pros

As social targeting techniques expand access to this valuable data, outbound marketing tactics are reprising their role as a highly manageable way to grow top-of-funnel in companies of all sizes, some with tremendous results.

A leader in the booming gamification space, Badgeville’s sales team had traditionally relied mostly on inbound leads generated through marketing or partner referrals. While it did initiate some outbound prospecting, lead volume was low, and the company needed a better way to accelerate market growth to maintain leadership in the burgeoning industry. The company began by modeling its ideal buyer—identifying that perfect target persona based on its current customer metrics.

Armed with this information, the sales team was able to fine-tune its prospecting to find higher-value targets that matched its ideal buyer profile. In addition, Badgeville could more precisely target cross-sale opportunities inside its current customer base to penetrate further into some of its existing large enterprise clients. As a result, Badgeville has seen the number of live opportunities in its sales pipeline skyrocket by 267%, with a 400% surge in overall qualified top-of-funnel leads.

Social lead targeting has also proven to be exceptionally successful for Visually, a marketplace that connects infographic designers with companies looking for engaging artwork to communicate data.

The company’s purely inbound approach—creating and publishing stunning infographics that drove prospects to inquire how they might have similar visualizations created for themselves—was working, but failed to deliver the volume Visually needed to support its rapid growth. The company’s outbound prospecting was based purely on intuition and educated guesses at who the ideal buyer might be. They could be anywhere, in any role: marketing, IT, R&D or product development.

Like Badgeville, Visually began by first identifying their ideal buyer profile, extracting information on the work areas, job functions and buying practices of targets inside its existing database. Rather than acting on intuition, the company could then use this data-based approach to search for more companies and individuals inside those companies with similar characteristics.

At the same time, they could quickly compare lead lists against specific criteria, to hone in on the most likely, valuable prospects and prioritize their efforts. This shift away from inbound tactics generated leads that “appear in our inbox like magic,” according to Visually’s VP of Product Adam Breckler, driving outbound sales up 250%.

With results like these, and many others, outbound marketing is—and always will be—a key component in any smart marketing and sales strategy. While the outbound approach may have been around for years, the social web and modern technology is breathing new life into this mainstay of the marketing toolkit.

About the Author: Ran Gishri is VP of marketing for Leadspace, a pioneer in social lead targeting. Ran has helped introduce social lead targeting to some of the most recognized B2B brands in the world, like Marketo, Jive, Badgeville, and Stylesight to increase sales and marketing ROI and optimize outbound and inbound lead generation. For more information, visit or connect with Ran on Twitter @rgishri.