Think there's no difference between inbound and outbound leads? Guess again. Inbound and outbound leads are right and left, he and she, top and bottom ? all the difference that matters.

Most companies that are successful at converting inbound leads ? inquiries that result from media ads, the Internet, or mass mailings ? are often terrible at converting outbound leads, that is, inquiries generated by canvassing, shows/events, store demonstrators, or telemarketing. In many cases, to be good at one is to be bad, or really bad, at the other because companies tend to specialize in the thing they're good at, and that they are used to.

Here's how inbound and outbound leads differ. Inbound leads, where the customer is calling in response to your marketing, represent a customer at a different stage of the buying cycle. The inbound calls come from people who picked up the phone or logged on to a website because they are actively shopping and intend to make a purchase in the near future.

Outbound leads? Well, that prospect wasn't necessarily thinking of windows or siding when she came across your marketers at that strawberry festival or at Sam's Club or when a rep knocked on the door one night. You sought out those homeowners. They have expressed an interest, but no way is it going to be the same degree of interest as that of an inbound lead. And in fact, what often happens when a marketer generates a lead, in the field or over the phone, is that the consumer is taken off?guard and schedules an appointment to look at the home improvement company's product without having given it much thought prior to that interaction.

Treat those two types of inquiries the same and you're throwing away marketing dollars and wasting your time.

Qualify, Don't Crucify

There are a lot of good scripts out there for handling inbound callers. With outbound leads, it's another story. Handling the outbound lead in such a way that the inquiry becomes a confirmed appointment and the appointment a demo is trickier. Many companies, for instance, see canvass or show/event leads converting to demos well below 50%, whereas their inbound calls convert to appointments at 75% or 80%.

That's often due to a fundamental disconnect in the way an outbound lead is handled. If your confirmer is calling an inbound lead, he or she wants to know when the various parties who own the home can both be present, and whether or not they can set aside a minimum of 90 minutes so your rep can fully and professionally show them the product in order that they can determine whether or not yours is the company and product that best meets their needs.

And that's fine, for an inbound lead. But let's say that you put your confirmer on the line and had him explain all that to a homeowner who had answered the door when your canvasser knocked. Your canvasser at the door was Joe Friendly. "Hey," he'd said, "How are you doing? We just happened to be working in the neighborhood and wondered if you'd like somebody to come by and give you a free estimate on ..." The prospect had said, "Sure. What the heck ... why not?"

It's all been very casual ? until the phone rings.

When the phone rings, suddenly the homeowner's being asked all these very rigorous questions. Now your confirmer is insisting that both parties be there and that a minimum of 90 minutes be set aside. Your prospect smells a rat. Generally, the harder you try to confirm, the more likely it is that that demo is never going to happen.

That prospect will be alienated by the inconsistency of your approach. Don't be shocked if no one answers the door when your rep arrives with samples. The prospects are probably inside, hiding under the bed. All they did was to say that they might be interested in finding out something about windows or siding or roofing. And now they're into something they probably can't get out of without a lot of stress and pain.