In sales organizations around the globe sales & marketing executives are debating the merits of inbound marketing versus outbound marketing B2B approaches. Unfortunately, many of the discussions are akin to hardcore democrats versus republicans with each side trying to paint the issue in black and white. While I wish it was that simple, it’s not. There is no silver bullet — you have to do the analysis to figure out the right digital sales strategy for you. So let’s take a quick look at a few of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to help you get started.
The Strengths of Outbound Prospecting
While overall I believe that traditional outbound prospecting is highly inefficient, it does have a few strengths that you shouldn’t ignore because they offset the weaknesses of inbound prospecting.
Cold Calls actually work. A phone call is the ultimate, uninvited interruption to our day. It’s a nagging noise that our human brain has been trained since birth to acknowledge. It’s almost like you can still hear your mom yelling from the other room, “Answer the phone please,” each and every time a phone rings. We can’t help ourselves, its Pavlovian. And that’s why sales organizations love the cold call. They continue under the misguided belief that if their sales person can just get you on the phone, then sales will happen. And while I can’t profess to agree with that point, the cold call does solve one big weakness of inbound marketing — it gets your brand in front of non-searching prospects and that has value.
Clutterbuster Direct Mail Gets Noticed. As I noted above one of the biggest weaknesses of inbound marketing is that it only works if a prospect is actively looking online for your brand or you have done a good job of optimizing your content for category keywords. But sometimes you don’t have the luxury of time to build up your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking. Further, sometimes you’re trying to sell to prospects before they even know they need you. In both cases, three-dimensional clutterbuster type direct mail can get your foot in the door more cost effectively than any other marketing tactic.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Again, inbound marketing’s biggest weakness is the prospect that doesn’t know they have a problem or they just simply aren’t finding your company online. Maybe you’re in a highly competitive keyword space or maybe the prospective buyer doesn’t search in the manner your research says they will (maybe they use different terminology or keywords for instance). If you wait for them to find you online, you might just lose a sale to a more aggressive traditionally minded competitor that is out there cold calling, direct mailing and leveraging the traditional tools of the trade.
The weakness of Outbound Prospecting
Nobody really likes cold calls. When your phone rings in the office, how often are you just sitting there daydreaming and hoping someone calls you to offer to sell you something or tell you how their company’s products can help you and your organization? So while yes, you have a Pavlovian need to answer that ringing phone or at least have your assistant answer it, the truth is the prospect is busy and unless you have an incredibly compelling point to make, you’re likely going to do little more than annoy the prospect.
Outbound marketing is blind. Unless a prospect acts on one of your ads, direct mail pieces, emails, etc., you don’t really know if they a) received the message or b) were affected by it. And without that information you can’t interpret their buying signals. Have you ever reclassified a “hot” or “A” prospect as “cold” or “B” prospect or worse, removed a prospect from your outbound marketing list due to lack of response?
You don’t know what you don’t know. When you’re living inside the database, as so many outbound B2B Marketers are each and every day, you can miss the invisible sale — the prospective buyer that hasn’t reached out to you, but none-the-less is looking to buy.
The Strengths of Inbound Marketing
Effective Inbound Marketing sees The Invisible Sale. This is probably the biggest single strength and most important argument in favor of establishing inbound marketing programs. DemandGen’s 2012 B2B Buyer Landscape study showed that 51% of B2B buyers said they formed a short-list of candidates BEFORE they contacted anyone. Thus, if your company isn’t actively producing online content that can be found by these self-educating buyers, you risk losing all of those invisible sales opportunities.
Inbound Marketing creates TOMP – Top of Mind Preference. Historically marketers focused on creating TOMA – Top of Mind Awareness. And while TOMA still has a place in today’s increasingly digitally centric world (it surely helps with search) TOMA simply gets you considered. With inbound content marketing programs, you can move beyond simple awareness to generate TOMP – to position your brand or solution as the preferred choice. While most, if not all buyers, will still go through the process of comparing your option against a subset of your competitors, you enter that process as the front runner.
Inbound Content Marketing is an investment versus an expense. Research shows you begin to forget an advertisement as soon as it finishes. You can even chart the awareness decay over time and depending on how much exposure you’ve had to a campaign, you basically have forgotten it within six to eight weeks. That’s why traditional advertising and sales tactics are expenses. Their value is consumed as they are consumed. However, online content lives forever. Google forgets nothing so once you’ve successfully indexed your content against your category search terms, that content can and will drive leads today, tomorrow and for many tomorrows. Thus, content marketing continues to drive awareness and leads for your business indefinitely — that’s why it’s an investment versus an expense.
THE Weakness of Inbound Marketing
You can’t sell to the person who isn’t looking. As I noted above, inbound marketing’s dirty little secret is that it only works if your prospect is actively searching for a solution or a continuous consumer of online content. If your prospective buyer still does business the old fashioned way or you’re selling a new solution to an old problem, all the inbound marketing in the world isn’t going to help you. This is especially true of companies selling those new solutions to old problems. Because they are new and often involve keywords that prospects don’t yet understand or know to use as search terms, inbound efforts can be far less effective than you might be led to believe by the content marketing gurus.
Should You Choose Inbound or Outbound Marketing
The simple answer is both. Like pretty much everything in marketing, there is no black and white answer here. There are no silver bullets, regardless of what you’re hearing at all the social media and content marketing conferences these days. Successful B2B (and B2C for that matter) marketing has and always will be about understanding your customer via research to uncover insights. Then using these insights to craft the right marketing mix for your company and brand. This may mean you should focus on traditional tool or digital tools or more likely a combination of both.
There are no shortcuts in marketing folks. Sorry, I wish there was because I’d sleep more and my golf game would improve greatly. But the truth is, if you’re looking to create and effective digital marketing strategy or the most cost effective B2B sales prospecting program, you need to find the smartest kids in the class and work with them to connect the dots in new ways to gain a competitive advantage.
But I could be wrong… if you think I am, let me know in the comments. I’m always up for a good debate!
photo by: Woody H1