Is inbound marketing really less expensive?

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It's hard not to be attracted to inbound marketing and auto-e-mailing. They're generating a lot of attention and, if we're to believe the avalanche of blogs and articles, inbound costs only a third of outbound.

But a look under the hood might surprise you. While many marketers feel that an inbound contact is more valuable and less expensive, the reality is that these marketers aren't recognizing the fully loaded costs. There's an elephant in the room: Inbound's lower cost-per-lead doesn't address several critical factors.

Regarding inbound's e-mail component, many point to cost savings around mass blasts and auto-nurturing. Yet these, too, have significant costs that are not being included. Let's look at the full cost equation.

  • Qualifying costs. Inbound contacts aren't qualified leads. Best practices dictate strict criteria for qualifying leads; for example, outbound qualifying is needed to warrant sales engagement.
  • Resource and media costs. Inbound is a hungry beast that craves content (blogs, articles and white papers) and events (trade shows and webinars). Cost estimates must factor in full-time equivalents of resources with expertise in many areas: strategy, design, SEO, promotion and management.
  • Infrastructure costs. Costs should include inbound and social media infrastructure such as hardware, hosting and applications/SaaS subscriptions for SEO tools, blogs and lead management.
  • Lost opportunity costs. More resources than just marketing drive inbound. For example, executives write blogs and participate in such b-to-b communities as LinkedIn. There is actually a cost doubling factor here. Time spent engaging in social media is time taken away from other revenue-driving duties.
Contrasting inbound marketing's lower cost-per-lead to outbound marketing is misleading and not a true “apples-to-apples” comparison. Only when the factors addressed here are rolled into the cost equation can marketers make an objective evaluation.

Dan McDade is president-CEO of PointClear (, a prospect-development firm.

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