Inbound marketing and outbound marketing have been a long-time debate for many marketers out there. Each method requires focusing on a different set of channels and media to pull prospects in, and if you work in B2B marketing, you have a budget to consider, goals to fill and stakes to make.
How do you find the best fit? Some experts claim that outbound marketing is dead, while others say that inbound marketing doesn’t work for B2B and outbound is your only option. All that information makes it hard to navigate, so let’s find out how inbound/outbound marketing can fit into your business.
How do B2B customers think?
Before we speak about inbound and outbound, we must outline the main things you should know about the B2B audience in general.
Selling to B2B buyers isn’t easy. If you come to the B2B field from B2C, you have to change a lot in your approach to sales, the way to speak with your prospects, write your cold emails, and plan sales campaigns. Also, the way to make B2B purchase decisions changes all the time, making it a must to keep track of B2B prospects’ behavior and preferences. The latest survey by Demand Gen Report highlights the following changes:
B2B buyers display consumer behavior patterns
Fact: There is a growing tendency with B2B buyers and the way they choose vendors. Nowadays, they do it in a digital way. The survey shows that 54% of B2B buyers check social media to learn about the vendor, their service, and the product. From those buyers, 42% of them prefer to explore products of interest through blogs, while 52% of buyers use LinkedIn for getting more data about the potential vendor and their services.
Also, around 65% of B2B buyers check online recommendations and review platforms before they are swayed towards a buying decision.
What does it mean for you? You can no longer ignore social media and digital marketing — at least not without major repercussions, such as losing a competitive edge and denying your sales teams the opportunity to be proactive and build a fuller, more detailed image of your B2B buyers.
What should you do? Explore the online space around your business and your industry. The internet has become a wider place for everyone, so there are many portals and sources that will help you know your prospective buyers better. If you need more directions, we spoke about social media and generating leads via social media here and here.
More people join the B2B buying process
Fact: According to the survey, up to six people can be involved in the process of making a purchase. Forty-four percent of the surveyed companies admitted to having special groups for overviewing this process specifically.
What does it mean for you? You’re not selling to just one person in B2B and it gets more obvious every year. You’re dealing with the entire group of prospective buyers and your only way to get the attention of this group is to find your lever (a.k.a. your decision-maker) and craft a unique value proposition that would be relevant to the interests of the company.
What should you do? Gather data. Explore each title in the company’s structure to find the most influential decision-maker that is both knowledgeable about your product and capable of conveying its importance to the rest of your team. Once you identify that decision-maker, rely on them as your main pressure point within the company.
B2B cycles take more time to complete
Fact: In general, it takes more time to convert a B2B prospect into a B2B buyer. But right now 61% of B2B companies state that the length of their sales cycle has increased within a year. The reason for that change is the direct result of more and more B2B buyers going digital, and therefore having more information to work with.
What does it mean for you? Your prospective buyers research your product more thoroughly than ever before. Before they provide you with a response, they will evaluate all the pros and cons by analyzing all the data they find about you online.
What should you do? Remember what we said about having to sell your product to a collective? That collective is researching you right now and every team member is interested in a different thing, from technology to cost. This is where your B2B content strategy comes into play. You must be sure that your prospects’ inquiries will be fully covered by compelling, informative content that highlights your content from every angle.
You still need to act quickly to prevail in B2B sales
Fact: At least 41% of survey participants admitted that the buying process can be sped up or postponed due to a change of priorities or lack of communication with the vendor.
What does it mean for you? Even if the sales cycle gets longer, it doesn’t mean you can relax. Two-thirds of B2B purchases can be accelerated if you respond to your B2B prospects’ inquiries quickly and informatively.
What should you do? Business priorities may change, and your prospects may take some time to make a decision, but one thing they must be sure of is that you’re always there for them.
How does it fit in with marketing?
In general, people are sick and tired of interruptions. Whether it’s media advertising, TV commercial breaks, or social media ads popping up in their feed, these messages are unwanted, uninvited, and therefore received negatively. The same can be said about cold calls.
- Eighty-four percent of millennials will not stay on a website if it’s too salesy and forceful with a product.
- By 2016, around 226 million Americans added their phone number to the Do Not Call Registry in order to stop receiving telemarketing calls.
- Cases of banner blindness have become increasingly common. According to DG MediaMind, 1/10 of users respond to media banner ads.
The conclusion we can make from this data is that your target audience has become more independent. Your average B2B prospect doesn’t want to be spoon-fed by your advertising, sales offers, and “BUY NOW” emails. In the era of online and mobile gadgets, they have everything they need to come and explore your service and product all by themselves.
Therefore, you must look at both inbound and outbound marketing from that perspective before you pick aside.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is defined as the system of techniques designed for naturally drawing your audiences to your product with the content that aligns with their needs and preferences. Inbound marketing relies heavily on organic growth and natural visibility, so it covers such directions as SEO and content marketing.
The main distinctive features of inbound marketing are the following:
- It’s permission-based
Inbound marketing subtly follows your prospects in their journey as they explore your brand and product. Whether they decide to subscribe to your blog, your email newsletter, or your social media page, they give you permission to supply them with content.
- It’s personalized
The content for inbound marketing is developed with the knowledge of your potential buyers, their concerns, and goals. Sometimes it’s even grouped into different types of content to appeal to the various age segments.
- It’s nurturing
We wouldn’t classify inbound marketing as an instant attention-grabber. Inbound marketing has an accumulative effect, offering something of value to the prospects who enter the first stage of the sales funnel.
Given the recent changes in B2B buyers’ behavior, one may think that inbound marketing is the best choice for promoting a B2B business. That’s not wrong.
Inbound marketing offers a better set of tools for building high-quality B2B relationships. Being heavily content-based, it allows you to demonstrate your empathy, connect with your prospects, and let them share their insights openly.
How can inbound marketing content help your B2B sales?
- Address your prospects’ problems: tutorials, blog posts, guides that outline the issue your audience is closely familiar with and showing the ways to solve it.
- Push them towards an informed decision: content describing your technology and experience, from ebooks and explainer videos to webinars.
- Guide them in their decision: case studies documenting your company’s experience with the issue that your prospects have encountered, demos, and white papers.
Nevertheless, if inbound marketing was that good, the cases of businesses that tried it and failed wouldn’t exist. But they do exist.
By 2019, inbound marketing went from a novelty to common practice. No longer a tool used by several chosen visionaries, inbound marketing is now facing a mature market, Google changes that affect previously successful SEO strategies, the growing distaste for mirage content, and businesses that treat it as a one-size-fits-all solution instead of looking back at their market niche, their competitors, and customer acquisition model.
That change implies that inbound marketing is no longer a strategy that helps you quickly generate leads and score a win. No matter how well you execute each method from the guidebook, if you do it in a small niche market while running a sales-driven company, you’re in for a disappointment.
It doesn’t mean that you should give up on inbound marketing entirely. Just accept that it won’t bring results regardless of your industry, your goals, and your target audience. It should be a process that flows in sync with your business and your long-term goals.
What about outbound marketing?
This more traditional type of marketing revolves around every media that is designed to attract attention and reach out to prospects.
Basically, outbound marketing is a direct counterpart of inbound marketing:
- It comes without permission
Unlike inbound marketing, outbound marketing finds you first. Prospects see ads while browsing the internet, watching YouTube videos, and generally minding their own business.
- It’s more costly
Since outbound marketing relies on advertising, you have to take a good chunk out of your budget to place your ads in the media channels of choice and then keep them there for all your prospects to see.
- It’s engaging
The goal of outbound marketing is to launch a unique commercial offer into the prospects’ microcosm and watch them respond. This is why outbound messages don’t usually reveal all the information, instead of inviting the prospects to go ahead and find everything out by themselves.
Does it work?
It may seem that outbound marketing is everything modern B2B buyers hate. It’s loud, it’s intrusive, and it’s interruptive. Why not just pick inbound marketing and go?
The thing is, B2B has always been about outbound.
At Belkins, we use outbound strategies all the time. We send cold emails that introduce us to our potential customers and address their pain points. We arrange calls and face-to-face meetings. We arrange meetings at trade shows. Yes, all of that is outbound marketing and it is vital to our success.
When considering outbound marketing and inbound marketing, you should keep in mind that things change.
- Due to software and web technologies going stronger, smarter, faster, and more functional, you now have more targeting tools at your disposal. Therefore, the better your targeting is, the higher chances you have of your message getting heard or seen.
- Outbound messages can speak about value too. It is possible to create a brief, yet informative message that would appeal to the right people.
- New technologies provide new customization options, allowing for more creativity in crafting unique value propositions and offers, so the days of generic messages and salesy loglines are indeed coming to an end.
Outbound marketing provides you with valuable benefits such as quick awareness, quick results, and if your targeting is fine-tuned, a quick response from your potential audience. If you need to get data on your sales campaigns as fast as possible, you shouldn’t treat outbound marketing lightly.
The ultimate showdown?
Some people will tell you to go for inbound marketing because outbound marketing is dead. Others will claim that outbound is your only way to succeed.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, of course. However, you should find your middle by taking a good look at the following:
- Company size. If you’re a startup, relying on outbound exclusively means investing in social media advertising, PPC, event participation, and many other activities that would strain your budget and make you put your most important plans on hold. Meanwhile, a bigger company with more funding can gain more by promoting a new product or service through outbound media channels.
- Target market size. If you’re targeting a niche market, an in-depth inbound marketing strategy shouldn’t be your priority. There is a potential for securing new leads with the right outreach tactics, so you should focus your efforts in that direction. If you work with a mass market, it means that you’re dealing with a bigger audience segment that is currently choosing between several competitors and would go for the most distinctive one.
- Market maturity. When dealing with an early market, you must introduce the problem before you introduce the solution. Your potential audience may not know why they need your product yet because they’re unaware that their long-time issues can be fixed. Therefore, you should do all the homework for them. Meanwhile, if you’re entering a mature market, you work with an audience that is closely familiar with the challenge. Your job is to show why your company is the best option.
- Your goals. Are you looking for long-term relationships? Then you must keep your prospects engaged all the time, fueling their interest with high-quality content. Need high-quality leads right here, right now? It’s time to explore outbound marketing channels ASAP.
The ultimate choice is highly individual. You can’t afford to wield an inbound/outbound hammer and to view each challenge like a nail. Use the data at your disposal to locate every weak link to define your strategy and how it’s going to shift as your business grows. Nothing will stay the same forever. Your company size will change, and so will your priorities. Therefore, you will have to adjust your sales campaigns, adding new elements to keep your business ahead of the game.
If you need more advice on how to launch your B2B messages and introduce your business to potential buyers, feel free to ask us for more content or a detailed discussion. Our mailbox is always open to you.