“Inbound” marketing is defined as marketers getting people to come to them, rather than marketers going out to get prospects’ attention. As practiced today, it relies heavily on content marketing (the production and distribution of content like videos, eBooks, blog posts, podcasts, and so on) and search engine optimization. Act-On defines it as “activities that are designed to attract the attention of customers and prospects with the purpose of giving them a reason to come to you.”
Inbound is an effective marketing tactic, but it’s not a replacement for a complete, balanced marketing strategy. It can be a terrific tactic for the first part of your buyer’s journey: buyers with pain points and needs do research, and inbound marketing gets your pages (and brand) found. But getting found is only the beginning.
The risks of inbound-only
The biggest risk in focusing solely on an inbound marketing strategy is that you put yourself more in a position to be chosen, and less in a position to choose. This sets you up to acquire a lot of customers who don’t fit your ideal customer profile. They consequently may not be able to utilize what you have to offer, may be expensive to service, and may not stay with you very long. This puts you into what finance professionals call “sloppy growth” (gaining lots of mis-fit customers, with attendant high churn levels) which is expensive in many ways – not least the opportunity cost of missing out on your likely best-fit, high-profit customers.
What is outbound marketing?
Historically, “outbound marketing” was programming that was pushed out, as in email marketing, direct mail, broadcast ads, pop-up and interstitial ads, and so on. In recent years, technology has changed outbound profoundly, allowing marketers to create and deploy increasingly targeted, personalized programs. This in turn greatly increased outbound’s effectiveness. Automating outbound marketing also meant that account-based marketing could be scaled for the mid-market, making it no longer the exclusive province of enterprise companies.
What outbound marketing tells your prospects about you
If you are selling an ongoing service or subscription (such as SaaS), or a high-value product that has a warranty or will need maintenance, it’s likely that at some point that buyer will need to evaluate how dependable and trustworthy a partner you will be. Will you proactively help them? Or will you be missing in action?
How you manage your outbound strategy and tactics will show them what it is like to work with you; it will set their expectations for how much attention you will pay and what your service will be like.
For some companies, and some products, and some services, this stage of outbound marketing is where you win, or lose, your buyer.
Where and how account-based marketing fits in
In some ways inbound marketing takes a bit of cost and time to get started. But once you get started, you’re not spending a lot of money on acquiring these customers, they’re coming to you. And that’s great, except … you’re then dependent on who’s coming in to you. Those people who are coming in to you may not be your ideal customer or your ideal target.
On the outbound side, it’s almost the reverse. You have to be strategic and define who is your target company, what do they look like, what are their characteristics, and how do you go find them.
Once you’ve defined your ideal customer company and identified your ideal accounts, you can think about who your target buyer is, what are their pain points, what are their challenges.
This is, in my opinion, where and why account-based marketing has become so popular and relevant. It’s tied to truly understanding which accounts, and which people inside those accounts, to market to. It relies on researching, and proactively connecting with, account contacts beyond the first one to fill out a form.
Account-based marketing is very effective and very proactive, and it relies almost entirely on outbound marketing to achieve your goals.
Making the case for balanced marketing in a B2B world
In most sales, inbound and outbound tactics are complementary and inextricable from the process, for a successful outcome. Here’s a B2B scenario, generalized to fit almost any company and simplified to fit this blog post.
It’s not a playbook, just a fictionalized representation. All the actions in green are inbound. All the actions in blue are outbound.
Here’s the point: while inbound helps attract new leads and introduce new products, that’s just the start of the buyer’s journey. A typical buyer prefers to begin the journey alone, and take it much of the way there alone. We’ve all seen the numbers about how far the buyer gets through the process before agreeing to connect with a sales person.
But helping that buyer complete the journey requires an outbound marketing strategy tailored to the persona or to the account, whichever is appropriate for the particular situation. You do need to reach out to them proactively with information and education. You should help the buyer learn what they need to know, so they can make the best buying decision for them.
After the sale, use outbound marketing tactics such as drip email programs for onboarding to help your customers become successful. Use outbound tactics to support satisfaction initiatives such as surveys.
Inbound or outbound? What real people think really drives business
At Act-On, we’re always interested in what actual people think. So we partnered with Demand Metric Research earlier this year to ask working marketers how they were using inbound marketing and outbound marketing, and what their results were.
Here’s what they told us:
- Most marketers (84%) say both inbound and outbound drive the business
- Some companies say inbound or outbound alone drives the business yet they still derive sizable chunks of revenue from both sources. Those who answer:
- “Inbound alone drives our business” still report 25% of revenue from outbound
“Outbound alone drives our business” still report 36% of revenue from inbound
- Budget allocated is tipped a bit toward outbound (48%) over inbound (44%)
- Revenue attributed to each is about equal (43% outbound, 41% inbound)
Beyond just lead acquisition to “brand, demand, expand”
Real life is a lot more complicated than just being an inbound marketer or an outbound marketer. We believe that the ideal is for marketers to take a holistic approach, and really build out a balanced marketing program.
The marketer who knows just when to deploy inbound or outbound marketing tactics will be more successful in the long term. They’ll be more successful because they’re thinking beyond just lead acquisition; they’re considering how to continually build the brand, and they’ve thinking about how to cement and expand those valuable customer relationships.
A marketer who is empowered with the tools to be successful in those three strategic areas of focus – demand, brand, expand – will be able to do the best work of their lives.
Balance is the answer
We have a number of regional events for customers and prospects, and at these a lot of people ask me questions like, “Should I really be practicing inbound marketing? Should I be doing outbound marketing?” My answer is usually some version of “You need to apply a balanced approach to marketing. Inbound marketing is effective. Outbound marketing is effective. At the end of the day it’s all about … marketing.” Balanced marketing.
You can, and should,integrate inbound and outbound tactics to serve the entwined goals of brand, demand, and expand, knowing that each tactic, and each stage, will complement the next.
To be an effective marketer you have to be really, really balanced. You need to be balanced in thinking about how you drive and build brand awareness, you need to be balanced in thinking about how you drive demand, and you have to be very balanced and thoughtful about how you retain your customers. And you need to balance the right amount of inbound marketing with the right amount of outbound marketing for your company, for your purposes.
Want to find out whether you lean toward inbound marketing or outbound marketing? Take our amusing (but insightful) 10-question assessment to discover your inner marketer.
In recent years inbound marketing has received much media attention as an effective stand-alone marketing strategy. While inbound surely is an efficient portion of an overall marketing strategy, we set out alongside Demand Metric Research to find out if inbound tactics alone are really enough to drive a business. Download now to get the inside scoop on our insights about the symbiotic relationship between inbound and outbound marketing.