There was a not too distant time when virtually all B2B demand generation was outbound. (You millennials won’t remember this.) You rented a list and pushed your message to that list. But then inbound marketing happened. And the pundits said: no, no, the buyer is in control, he or she will decide when to respond, and B2B marketing is about being in the right place at the right time. (Cue the advent of search marketing and Google AdWords.)
Well now the pendulum has swung yet again, and the same experts are all waving the flag of outbound marketing. Who has time for inbound marketing, they say. Be aggressive! Be proactive! Find the people ready to buy and go after them!
So, is inbound marketing dead? No, it’s not. And though there’s merit in a more proactive, targeted approach to demand generation, especially in light of the technologies (e.g. Account-Based Marketing (ABM), Predictive Analytics) that now allow us to 1) find prospective customers with a higher propensity to buy, and 2) target those prospects, at scale, in a tightly orchestrated fashion, it would be a mistake to rely exclusively on outbound tactics.
Why? Because, guess what: the buyer is still in control, and he or she will respond, and engage, and buy, when he/she decides the time is right, and when he/she perceives that the relevant business pain or opportunity merits action.
Even the best, most creative, most tightly orchestrated outbound campaign succeeds on an accident of timing. That is to say: you have to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, namely a time when that message resonates with a particular business pain or need. And if you place all your bets on outbound, you can have done everything right – the right list, the right creative, the right call to action – and your campaign may still fail because on that particular day, at that particular time, the prospect just isn’t ready for your message.
Instead, the most effective B2B demand generation today is an integrated mix of yes: targeted, outbound campaigns, but with a foundation of “always on” inbound marketing. Think Google AdWords, paid social advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook, Content Syndication, account-targeted display ads. By employing this air cover, if you’ll forgive the military metaphor, you accomplish two things:
1. you generate a greater awareness, familiarity, and credibility for your brand, making your outbound campaign more likely to succeed, and
2. you ensure that a prospect feeling the pain that you can solve is more likely to engage with your company, even if he/she wasn’t scheduled to hear from you on that day, or (just as likely) that particular individual didn’t happen to make it onto your contact list.
Lastly, it’s important to stress that “outbound marketing” and “ABM” are not synonymous. Though most marketers think of ABM as an outbound tactic, in the let’s-mail-something-dramatic-to-our-top-accounts-to-get-them-to-meet-with-us way, ABM is also more effective if it employs a strategic mix of both outbound and inbound channels. And these days, most every inbound channel – search, paid social, content syndication, display – can be executed in a very targeted, account-specific fashion.