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Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing – Which Is Better For Your B2B Company?

cute techsupport girl talking on the phone using headsetDo you ever get up in the morning dreading the day?

It’s tough to roll out of bed in the morning when you know you’re not doing as well as you could be.

Like if you’re dreading the day because you haven’t reached your revenue goal this month, and you have five days left until the end of the month, and you’re only 50% there? That’s rough.

Or maybe your business is suffering because you haven’t met your goal, and you’re dreading another day because you have to make another 50 cold calls, and no one seems to want to talk to you.

You keep saying to yourself, “There has to be a better way to get my message out!”

“With all of the technology out there today, there has to be a better way”.

Well, you’re right, there is.

And as a matter of fact, you have a myriad of ways to not only get your message out, but to actually get your message heard and acted upon.

Does this ring a bell about your company?

There has been a lot of debate recently about what is the best marketing for B2B companies – outbound or inbound, or a combination of the two methods.

So then, how does your company overcome this dilemma? And what is the best type of marketing for B2B companies – inbound or outbound?

And which one is better for lead and revenue generation?

And of the course the answer is – it depends.

So let’s define outbound and inbound marketing, and which one will suit your B2B business the best.

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is also sometimes referred to as interruption marketing. Outbound marketing occurs when you contact someone who isn’t expecting you to contact them, and therefore, you are “interrupting” them. In today’s connected world, it consists of these types of marketing.

  1. Referrals
  2. Emails
  3. Direct mailings
  4. Cold calling

Obviously, before the Internet, there were no emails. However, outbound marketing was used by B2B companies almost exclusively before the invention of the Internet, websites and social media.

Most of the outbound marketing was done with cold calls. And although it was successful, it took a lot of rejections before any headway was made. If you took rejection personally, you didn’t last very long as a sales person back then. And although I didn’t take the rejections personally, I hated every cold call I ever made.

The trouble with cold calls today is that people are inundated with them, both at home and at work. And people don’t want to be interrupted. All companies have call display and so people can see who is calling. If they don’t know them or recognize the phone number, the call is not answered.

Hubspot states that your average human today is inundated with over 2,000 outbound marketing interruptions per day, and people are figuring out more and more creative ways to block them out, including caller ID, voice mail, spam filtering, EA’s., etc.

After discussing cold calls with over 50 B2B executives, they do not accept them anymore. Nor do they return phone calls from people they don’t know. In fact, very few executives even listen to voice messages.

The biggest issue is that most cold calls are not very well prepared, and so do not get to the point very quickly. They try to sell something over the phone. And the problem is that almost all B2B products and services are a long sales cycle – from one month to several months, even years.

Direct mailings can work in today’s connected world. But they are still more used in B2C. However, in B2B, if you use mailings to have people ask for something, like a report or a white paper, then this direct response works best. Then they are showing their interest. And some people still like to receive something they can put their hands on, and possibly read somewhere else.

So, does outbound marketing ever work? Yes it does, when executed properly, and to the right audience.

These same executives stated that they do read emails from people unknown to them, if the email is worded to show an issue these executives are facing, and a possible solution for that issue.

However, you need to have done your research on their industry and their company, to show you understand what issues they may be facing. And of course, if you have been referred to them, then that even makes it more worthwhile for these executives to listen to you.

So outbound marketing can be very useful to any organization, if that organization understands its marketplace well, and if that marketplace is fairly finite, and you can easily find the prospects that would be interested in your product or service.

You must also keep in mind that outbound marketing will catch your prospect, many times, in the early phases of their buy cycle. So you must be aware of this, and be prepared to step them through their buy cycle with the right communication pieces. These communication pieces are discussed below in the inbound marketing description.

My recommendation for outbound marketing is to ensure you research each company you want to contact, and email them with a brief description of why they should listen to you. IE: what benefits they will receive from a problem you can resolve for them.

And in spite of what many marketers may say about outbound marketing, it can work, and it works best when you have been referred to a specific prospect.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing, or permission marketing, refers to customers finding you. And because they found you, and they asked you for some form of communication, like a white paper, download, phone call, etc., they have given you “permission” to keep communicating with them.

Current research shows that 89% of buyers use search engine queries to research purchase decisions. Buyers pin you down before you even know they are looking for the types of products and services you are selling.

The platforms for inbound marketing include first and foremost, your website. They also include all of the social media tools that you are familiar with. I particularly like LinkedIn for B2B, as it allows for both outbound and inbound marketing.

I have had two clients recently from each method. I found one client from LinkedIn, using its search capabilities. And the other client found me through LinkedIn. It’s interesting that the client, who found me on LinkedIn, also used my website to find out more about my services.

Inbound marketing is growing leaps and bounds every year. (See stats below) More and more companies are using inbound marketing to grow their lead generation process.

Other platforms for B2B marketing in particular, include blogs, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I have used my blog and especially Youtube to get clients over the past few months.

However, I maintain that your blog, as part of your website, is the most important marketing tool/platform you have.

Here are some interesting statistics about inbound marketing.

  • SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads such as direct mail or print advertising have a 1.7% close rate. (Source: @SEJournal, 2012)
  • 57% of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog. (Source: @HubSpot)
  • B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads per month than those who do not. (Source: @FactBrowser)
  • Social media has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing. (Source: @Hubspot, State of Inbound Marketing, 2012)
  • Companies that acquired customers from Facebook: B2C is 77% and B2B is 43%. (Source: @Hubspot, State of Inbound Marketing, 2012)
  • Inbound marketing delivers 54% more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound channels. (Source: @HubSpot)
  • The average cost to generate a lead through inbound marketing ($143) is less than half the average for outbound marketing ($373). (Source: Econsultancy)

As you can see, inbound marketing is less expensive than outbound marketing and delivers much better leads. A lead that finds you is much easier to close than the ones you find.

I closed one lead recently within an hour after the person had contacted me. And don’t forget, this is for a service, not a product.

The best inbound platforms, for B2B lead generation, include your website, blog, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Twitter. However, Google+ is becoming a big contender for B2B lead generation.

And you can probably guess why. Google likes people who use their platforms, especially Youtube and now Google+. And you tend to show up closer to the top of a Google search if you use Google’s platforms.

Your website is still your best marketing pal. People will search Google, which will send these visitors to your website. There are five major factors that are important for a marketing website.

  1. You need to be found on the first page of Google.
  2. You need to have an attractive website with easy navigation
  3. You need to engage visitors to keep them on your site. You do this with content, especially on your blog.
  4. You need to prove to them that you can do what you say you can do. You do this with social proof, usually in the form of case studies and testimonials.
  5. You need to get your visitors contact information to start a conversation and relationship with them.

I have written a white paper on this topic. Obviously, I have included the five major factors that are discussed above.

The key to inbound marketing is illustrated in the following graphic.

graphic-ian-dainty

These are the buying stages for your future clients. It is important that you understand that you must nurture your leads and prospects, because when they find you, they are probably not likely to buy from you right away. This is especially true in B2B because of the length of the buying process.

First, they must find your company website. And they do that through the items mentioned in the DISCOVERY balloon above. Second, they need to become AWARE of what you offer, and if it will help them and solve the issues they have. See how you can build their awareness with the tools mentioned in the AWARENESS balloon.

Third, they go into an EVALUATION phase, where they will evaluate and weigh the various alternatives. If you have been helping them all the way along through their buying process, then you will be at least on their short list. See the items you can use to help them with their evaluation process.

Finally, they will make a DECISION, and you can help them with that decision with the items listed in the DECISION balloon.

One of the biggest factors, executives told me, when evaluating the different short list of companies, is the Account Manager (AE) looking after their account. The more attentive the AE is and relates well to the prospect’s situation, the better the chance that company has of getting the business.

This is especially true with B2B companies, because of the length of the buy cycle, and the amount of interaction with prospective vendors.

Hybrid Marketing

There are other ways to market, and they really are a combination of both outbound and inbound marketing. These marketing methods include such methods as:

  • Pay per Click (PPC) ads
  • Seminars
  • Webinars
  • Teleseminars
  • Podcasts
  • TV and Radio ads
  • Public Relations
  • Public Speaking
  • Etc.

I call them a hybrid because you need to reach out to people (outbound), and then send them to a particular sign up page (landing page) to get their contact information (inbound). These methods need to be a very important part of your marketing, if you are truly serious about growing your business.

So that’s a summary of the differences between Inbound and Outbound marketing, as well as the hybrid methods. Which one is best for your business?

Well, as I stated earlier – It Depends!!

About Ian Dainty

Ian Dainty has 39 years of marketing and sales experience in the B2B marketplace. He has owned two companies; both sold successfully. He currently works with B2B companies helping them increase their revenue and client base. By visiting his site B2B Business Coach you can get many more marketing tips and ideas.

22 comments

  1. David Hooper says:

    Good info. SEO works so well because people are looking for what you have and, because of that, already warm to the idea. Depending on how you’re doing inbound marketing, you can get this advantage as well.

    Still, it’s great to have the control of outbound, even if it isn’t perfect…

    A lot of outbound success has to do with the skill of the marketer and the audience being marketed to. If you’re buying the right list/contacts and you’ve spent the time to truly understand the needs of your market, outbound is a great option for many businesses.

    1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks David for your comments. Although I don’t agree with list buying, especially emails. And almost all ISP’s won’t allow non-permission emails to be sent through their system.

      However, as you say, outbound marketing can still be very effctive when done properly. And of course, all inbound marketing is simply a way to start an email campaign, which of course, is outbound maketing.

      1. David Hooper says:

        I should clarify… I’m talking about buying a list of physical addresses from a list broker, not anything to do with email. Yeah, buying emails seems to be a shady business and may very well get you into trouble.

        1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

          Thanks David for clarifying that point. I must admit that I am not a real believer in list buying. Most companies, that do buy lists, usually don’t target the list enough, and when they do send mailings, most are general and ask for the order right away.

          This is vey difficult to do in B2B. You need to start building a relationship in B2B because of the length and complexity of the buying process. If this is done properly with the list, only then can it be effective.

          If you could let us know how you use your purchased lists, I’d be interested.

  2. Ian Dainty says:

    Thanks Andrew, I agree that most B2B companies believe their potential clients will beat a path to their door, because they believe they have built a better mousetrap.

    Most don’t understand the B2B buying cycle, or even why B2B companies buy. They want a short cut, but there is none.

    We do need to help educate many of these firms that B2B marketing and selling has changed dramatically, even in the past 3-5 years.

    You’re right, many of these companies would rather have a 1,000 names, because it’s easier, until they realize how useless most of those names are.

  3. Good article Ian

    The stats for inbound are staggering. I would never have put them so high.

    Certainly my B2B clients are highly sceptical about inbound but a lot of people’s reticence is the “macho numbers” of outbound compared tot he smaller but more responsive numbers for inbound. Do you want 1,000 names or 10 customers?

    Thanks again.

    Andrew

  4. Jamie says:

    Great overview Ian. I’m coming frim years of outbound marketing into the workd of online marketing, and I am excited about building relationships, and an actual audience vs building instant rapport for a quick sale over the phone. True connections and back & forth engagement was the missing piece, for me, that I hope to cultivate as I build my business online.

    1. Ian Dainty says:

      Thanks Jamie for your comments. As mentioned in the article, outbound can certainly be successful in certain situations, but if someone finds you first, you have a better chance of closing them sooner, and many times they are better customers.

      Building relationships, with either method, is of course the key to long term business results.

      Good luck with your business, and if I can help in any way, please let me know.

  5. Ian Dainty says:

    Thanks Bill for your comments. The theme is relatively general as the audience on this blog is quite broad based, so I wanted to give something to most of the group to at least think about.

    Hubspot does focus mostly on Inbound. I used their stats because they have a lot of good information on Inbound.

    A good company obviously needs products and/or services that meet their market’s need. But these oriducts and services don’t have to be earth shattering.

    I often cite two great examples of companies that have products/services that meet the market’s need, but neither one has ever been accused of leading the pack as far as product innovation is concerned.

    These two companies are IBM and Microsoft, probably the two most successful technology companies ever. They are leaders because they have world class marketing, and their products/services meet their market’s needs. GE, under Jack Welch, is another good example.

    Many great tech companies are long gone, because their marketing was very much less than world class. Blackberry is becoming one of those companies now.

    But you’re right about about bad products and servcies. They will never last long.

    1. Bill Alpert says:

      One can make the case that IBM and Microsoft are really companies in decline, and that Blackberry is a failure because its products failed to have that “earth shattering” quality. Even Apple may someday have to face becoming a consumer commodity company at some point, as other tech companies pump up their innovation.

      1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        Bill, I can’t agree that IBM and Microsoft are declining companies. I believe they are companies that have adapted very well to changing markets and economic variances.

        In January of 1985, IBM’s stock was at $136. Today, the stock is trading at $175. It also has given great dividends over the years, and the price is adjusted for splits. Of course there have been fluctuations, but nothing extreme.

        In March of 1986 MS stock was at $28. Today the stock is trading at $35, with also good dividends and adjusted for splits. Again, some fluctuations, but nothing extreme.

        Both companies enjoy a wide client base, and obviously are well liked by investors. I believe they are both going to be around for a long time yet.

        I also believe that if Blackberry sticks to its nitch, corporate buyers, then it also can have a very long life. But it does need much better marketing.

        1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

          Bill, thanks for sharing these reports. It is true that all companies go through good and bad times. it also shows how fickle consumers, and businesses are.

          Maybe they are in trouble. IBM seems to be recognizing that hardware is no longer viable and shifting course. I am sure MS will come out with a strategy soon about their future.

          However, both are still blue chip stocks and in many portfolios.

          But, it does get back to my initial point about how valuable marketing is, especially in today’s age. Companies need to be in front of buyers constantly to let them know what a good job they are doing for them, and what is coming next.

  6. Bill Alpert says:

    Ian – nice rundown, however a lot of generalizations are cited which may not apply across all industries or types of business. Some companies may find that outbound marketing creates cheaper or more useful leads. Remember, using information from sources such as Hubspot, you’ll have to consider they have an inherent bias towards the products and services they provide.

    Your key point “it depends” is certainly true. In many cases the quality of implementation is more important than the actual channel you use. To say nothing of the nature of your business itself. Create something that is remarkable and the marketing is already built-in. But no amount of inbound or outbound marketing is going to salvage a turd.

  7. wings says:

    Ian, that’s a lot of very helpful info for B2B businesses! I see why you so easily close your leads. 🙂

    However, I’m in a B2C business. Would you briefly describe the differences in such a business in the steps (in the graphic) you have outlined above?

    Obviously, I wouldn’t be submitting a proposal (I’m just selling products at retail to the customer) so how would you address this type of funnel?

    Thank you kindly in advance for your thoughts.

    1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hello wings, and thank you for your question. It is not a question that can be answered briefly, because I’d have to know more about your business, especially how you get customers now. But here are some ideas.

      In a B2C sale, the steps are concentrated into a much shorter timeframe, because you are usually only convincing one person, instead of 4+ people or committees in B2B. So, you should be selling to a specific persona, or ideal customer. Understand that persona fully, and all of your communications and marketing need to be specific to that persona.

      Since over 80% of consumers will usually find you through some sort of Internet search, you need to understand how social media works, and which platform are best for your business.

      In B2C, the best platforms are usually; your Website, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There are many others too numerous to list here, but those four will help immensely.

      You need to also ensure all of your platforms, especially your website, are mobile friendly, as many consumers, especially younger ones (under 30), buy using mobile now.

      If you would like to learn more, please email me at ian@b2bbusinesscoach.com and we can set up a time to chat about your business.

  8. Lacey says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of good data. So much to do, yet everything remains ever-changing. Working on ramping up case studies. Thanks for this post!

    1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks Lacey, you’re right case studies and testimonials are a great part of the social proof you need to help convince people to buy your products and services. People believe what other people say about you vs what you say about yourself in a ratio of 95% to 5%.

  9. Stephen Jeske says:

    Well written article Ian. Nothing like having statistics to back up your point! I agree with what you say, but I’ve noticed that many organizations have trouble implementing inbound marketing effectively. It takes a lot more time and effort to plan, create and execute than traditional outbound marketing. The investment is greater for inbound marketing that outbound and, unlike it’s old school cousin, you can’t just throw some money at it and see what happens.

    1. Ian Dainty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks Stephen, you’re absolutely right. Marketing does take time. It also takes experience and expertise, and I guess that’s why very few companies get it right. But it is the only way to grow your business.

      For almost all SMB B2B companies, marketing is a new phenomenon. They used to hire a sales person, give him/her a phone book, and say, get me some business. Now, they must adjust to inbound, and using the web platforms, including social media, is new for everyone.

      I just hope that more SMB’s see the light sooner rather than later so they can not just grow, but stay in business.

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