Inbound Marketing Definition

Updated on June 8, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.

What is inbound marketing and how is it the paradigm of the future? Find out!
What is inbound marketing and how is it the paradigm of the future? Find out! | Source

What Is Inbound Marketing?

The Golden Age of Cold Calling is over! Welcome to the brave new world of inbound marketing! "Brave" is no understatement. This new sales and marketing paradigm takes courage and patience because it puts customers and prospects in charge of the sales process.

Essentially, inbound marketing means that sales personnel field inquiries from interested prospects, as opposed to contacting potential prospects by unsolicited phone calls and text messages, unannounced in-person visits, direct mail, or unsolicited emails. All of these would be considered outbound marketing. Unsolicited automated or "robo" phone calls and text messages for marketing purposes are now even illegal under FCC (Federal Communications Commission) TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) requirements that went into effect October 16, 2013.

Therefore, the primary goal of inbound marketing is to fill the top of the business' sales funnel with a sufficient amount of qualified prospects to meet sales and profit goals. This is accomplished through a variety of efforts including:

  • Broadcast advertising
  • Newspaper advertising
  • Internet advertising
  • Native advertising
  • Social media
  • SEO (search engine optimization) strategies
  • Blogging and guest blogging
  • Content marketing (articles, reports, videos, and other helpful or entertaining material)
  • Public relations (including press releases)
  • Trade shows, conferences, and networking events
  • Public speaking

As can be seen in the above list, many of these efforts are Internet-based. So inbound marketing also represents challenges for many businesses that have traditionally been sold and serviced offline.

Inbound, Not Impound

Though there are exceptions, car dealers often use an inbound marketing strategy because they wait for shoppers to wander into their showrooms.

However, on this one occasion, the inbound marketing methods went out the window once my husband and I got to a dealership.

We had seen a newspaper ad for a vehicle that was pretty close to our price range and specs. Wandered over to the dealership. We weren't terribly serious, but the salesman absolutely was!

He asked us if the dealer could meet our requirements would we be interested in doing a deal with them. Sure, why not? So the salesman asked for the keys to our current vehicle for a trade-in evaluation.

After what seemed to be an eternity, we were shuttled into the office of the "finance guy." The salesman returns with "the verdict." It was okay, but, again, we weren't that seriously looking. So we said that we'll need to consider it further. Finance guy was not happy. And salesman went nuts saying that we committed to buying today. What??? We asked for our keys back so we could leave. And they made us wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . essentially holding us and our vehicle hostage. I felt like calling the police.

Inbound does not mean "impound!" Consumers are increasingly sensitive to manipulative sales techniques. Don't destroy the positive effects that newer inbound marketing provides by using older, negative tactics after prospects have connected.

Hunting, Gathering, Farming and Fishing for Sales

The analogy of sales to hunting has been used for decades. And as hunters, salespeople became known for their sometimes predatory approach to dealing with customers and prospects. As more consumer protection laws and movements have taken hold, these hunting type tactics are losing favor. Some of these methods even appear laughable in today's inbound marketing environment.

But this doesn't mean that the sales profession is dead. In fact, today, as economist Daniel Pink notes in his book, To Sell is Human, everyone does some sort of selling in business and life.

While yesterday's salesperson may have been more of a hunter, today's sales professionals are more like gatherers, farmers and fishermen.

  • Gatherers. Today's sales professionals are in search of viable communities. Through vehicles such as social media and offline networking, salespeople gather valuable new connections that may, or may not, ultimately lead to a sale. Connections, regardless of their sales potential, are viewed as referral sources.
  • Farmers. During their gathering efforts, salespeople plant seeds about the company's expertise and offerings subtly interwoven into social media, articles, videos, and other valuable information.
  • Fishermen. Seeds planted while in farming mode act as lures on a fisherman's hook, attracting customer prospects and helpful connections. The key to this is planting the right seeds to provide a suitable lure for the target customer species. And if the sales fisherman catches contacts that are not viable or desired, they'll throw them back into the community gathering pool. Maybe they'll be right for the next time.

As noted earlier, inbound marketing takes patience, further supporting the fishermen analogy. Fishermen can wait for hours and hours, hoping for a bite. They don't dive into the water in an attempt to hunt down and grab fish! (Only bears do that. But then they're hunters!) Not only is it unproductive, but it's also not sustainable over the long term. Hunting like that would take a huge amount of energy and resources. And only one or a few fish at a time could be chased.

Contrast this with perching multiple baited sales fishing poles. Those poles can sit there for hours, only requiring occasional monitoring and attention when a sales inquiry is hooked.

This is difficult for many business owners and sales managers who are charged with forecasting and achieving sales results. This makes knowledge of the business' sales funnel very important to determine progress. But even more important is to develop patience and strategies for dealing with today's longer sales cycles and slumps.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello, informationshelte! You are so right! The population of those marketing goods and services online and offline is staggering. And, yes, they ALL have access to the same tools. So the real trick is how marketers use those tools to their advantage. Tailoring marketing for specific and well defined niches is an absolute necessity in the inbound marketing era. While it is no guarantee, it can help break through the noise. Thanks so much for reading and your insight!

  • informationshelte profile image


    6 years ago

    Hi heidithorne,

    The image on the right top corner of your article shows exactly what inbound marketing is all about: opening a door for customers to find your business.

    Nowadays the rules of the marketing game have been reversed and as you correctly pointed out, it is rather the customer being directed to the business through a search engine or other media, rather than the marketer launching a cold call campaign.

    Of course, with such a huge number of suppliers and marketers aiming for the same pool of consumers and having access to the same tools (e.g. content marketing or email marketing), it has become increasingly hard to be successful in inbound marketing.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Yes, epbooks/Elizabeth, the robo calls must die! Hope they don't find some loophole that'll let 'em go through. But we are definitely in a more positive and consumer-friendly era of marketing than we've ever been, which is encouraging. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Have a great day!

  • epbooks profile image

    Elizabeth Parker 

    6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

    Wonderful hub, Heidi! I'm glad that the robo calls have been made illegal too!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Yes, FlourishAnyway, inbound marketing brings together many different marketing techniques that were often viewed as separate efforts. Viewing them as one complete concept makes sense and helps them all work together. Yep, glad we got our keys back. Lucky for us, this breed of salesperson is going extinct. Have a lovely day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, I know, I'm a distraction. :) Thanks for taking time to read and comment, as always. Have a terrific Tuesday!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    6 years ago from USA

    Very interesting article, especially because it ties together so many of the other topics that you have written on. You have a great niche and are truly an expert in the area. I enjoyed reading your unfortunate story about having your keys held hostage. Some salespeople just don't get it.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I was just signing off for the day when this popped up, and I'm late for an appointment....excellent job as always...gotta run. :)


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