Inbound or outbound: Which works best?

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fedcon trade show
We quite often do trade-outs for trade show participation. But do similar trades make sense for you if you are spending hard funds in time and materials?

After two days in Wilmington, NC, something strikes me about the unevenness and apparent unfairness of the marketing/business development process.

If I had travelled hoping to develop some new business, on the surface, the exercise would seem to have been a failure. I can’t attribute any new orders or even strong potential leads, which even with some careful cost management, still (pick your choice) set the company back or required an investment of about $1,000.

However, sitting in the hotel yesterday, the phone rang — out of the blue — from an individual in Florida interested in doing business with us. This call came I was exchanging emails and coordinating a project with a significant association in North Carolina, but based at the other end of the state, in Charlotte.

Of course, this business would have arisen whether or not I had reached out and elected to take the trip. It resulted from previous relationships/experience and our ongoing marketing/presence, especially with our websites and eletters.

So, on the surface, it seems we would have been better off if I had stayed home and simply took the calls that arrive and worked with existing clients. (And we had a new salesperson on trial this week who may have hoped to get a few of those calls/inquiries. He ended up with nothing, which means we won’t hire him.)

Yet I’ve been in business long enough to know there is an important place for forward-thinking business initiatives and here I think the trip proved to be valuable.

Instead of passively standing at my near-empty display table, I went around the room to the other companies marketing their services and took photos of every booth holder, and collected their business cards.

I haven’t counted the cards yet, but I think there are well more than 100.

Within the next few days, in a process that will require some hours of work, I will send the photos individually to everyone. I’ll also add their names (with permission) to the North Carolina Construction News email list. and I’ll extend a gentle invitation to do business with us perhaps with a feature profile or advertising.

There’s some give here — people generally like to see themselves — and there may be some business as well. Even if they don’t sign up, our eletter will have an expanded distribution and be more valuable to current and future advertisers.

The bigger thing, however, will be that I’m going to explore with the local community college and government agencies the idea of setting up a similar event in Canada. A real long-term initiative, and not one that I expect to generate any immediate commercial value. But I’ve learned that working on community service projects ultimately pays off, again, with those magical moments when people call and ask to do business, or when the naturally placed “ask” turns into an instant “yes”.

So the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is a bit tricky. Inbound obviously is easiest and most effective. No one likes to have stuff pushed on them, and when they call, they have made the choice. Yet, I think we still need to reach out and connect. Measuring ROI from this process can be a challenge, especially for long-cycle sales and marketing initiatives. However, I think we can discover more inbound results with strategic outbound initiatives.

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