I met recently with a friend and small business owner who wants to increase sales and profits. When I suggested email marketing, he said, “I don’t want to do outbound marketing. I want to do inbound marketing.”

I asked him to define the distinction.

“With inbound marketing, you use blogs, search engine marketing and other tactics that attract leads in, rather than direct mail, telemarketing and other methods that pitch your message out.”

I agreed that the inbound tactics he described can be very effective, “But after you attract all those leads with inbound tactics, what happens next?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean what do you do after you attract the leads?” I asked. “Do all those leads just magically become customers?”

Many business people, including my friend, have fallen prey to inbound marketing myths. Here are two of the myths — and the realities — about marketing that you must understand to grow your business.

Myth: Inbound is a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Reality: Inbound is a lead-attraction strategy, but marketing is much more than lead attraction. In a few rare occasions, leads become customers with little or no follow-up. But in most businesses, you need to nurture and engage leads so you can convert them from leads to warm prospects to customers.

Myth: Inbound is good. Outbound is bad.

Reality: To engage and convert leads, you need to reach out to them — by email, telephone, personal visits, and other tactics. The best marketers combine inbound lead attraction techniques with outbound engagement techniques (such as email marketing) to maximize growth.

Here’s an example: On my company’s blog, we offer a free report “10 Secrets to Write Subject Lines that Sell.” The blog (and the search engine marketing we do to attract visitors) represent inbound marketing tactics. We draw in people who want to market their businesses more effectively.

In order to get the free report, a visitor must enter an email address. We follow-up with an email that includes the report and that offers them a chance to receive additional emails from us moving forward. This email and the ones that follow represent outbound engagement tactics. We send emails out that keep people engaged and nurture them through the sales cycle.

In both cases, we offer people real value — content that will help them grow their businesses.

The real question for you then is not “inbound or outbound?” The real question is: “How can you provide value that draws people in and then continue to send out valuable content that engages and converts?”

This column first appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly for which Tom Ruwitch writes a monthly column.

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