Historically, B2B Marketing tactics changed at a much slower rate than in B2C. However, the game is changing, and it is clear B2B strategies that worked well just a few years ago fail to deliver results today. Businesses are moving away from traditional outbound marketing and embracing B2B inbound marketing as an alternative, but how does B2B inbound marketing compare with outbound? Where is the evidence inbound is more effective? What are the main problems associated with inbound marketing?
Obsolete B2B Marketing Practice
Many manufacturing and other businesses in B2B markets waste significant time and resources on outdated sales processes. Most sales value tends to come from long established customers with minimal new customer acquisition. This may be fine if the vast majority of those existing customers continue to grow but can be real issue in a market downturn.
Winning new customers is too often a problem solved (on a short term basis) by hiring sales people from competitors or with an industry background that have a chance of bringing some customers with them. Although this can work in the short term it is not, in general, a long term solution.
Sales directors still persist in playing the numbers game by setting directives on the number of calls and visits in the hope a small percentage will result in securing a new customer. This only tends to result in visits to reluctant prospects with no current demand or with no real intention of buying the product just to achieve the specified numbers.
Prospects that turn down the initial opportunity to meet are routinely discarded in the chase for immediate sales, seriously reducing the available market in the process. Research from Sirius research shows that over 80% of leads discarded by sales go on to make a purchase (from the supplier or competitor) within 24 months.
The Rise Of Inbound Marketing
A survey by BaseOne across four of the major European economies (including the UK) found 87% of B2B buyers look for advice before making a purchase and of those 71% used the web as their primary source. The key secondary source,not surprisingly, was word of mouth (read more here ). Research from Knowledge Storm/Marketing Sherpa shows 85% of technical buyers said they need to encounter at least three pieces of content before engaging with a solution provider.
Today, inbound marketing is widely accepted as the best (and lowest cost) way to generate sales. It is based on developing a way to keep touching prospects (in a non-aggressive non-intrusive way) with relevant, current information (content) and to stay front of mind until either a potential customer is ready to engage or the time to purchase arrives.
Inbound v Outbound Marketing – A Comparison
So what are the main differences between inbound and outbound? As noted by Eric Wittlake in his post on the subject the primary difference is friction. Outbound, be it telemarketing or traditional advertising, is based on interruption, The marketer takes it upon themselves to stop whatever the prospect may be doing to present their message. For many years this process worked but prospects are increasingly resistant to this process.
Inbound is based on delivering relevant and useful information to the prospect that they may consume at their leisure. Not pushy sales messages but information that builds credibility and delivers what the prospect may need at various stages in the sales process.
Inbound Marketing – The Supporting Evidence
There is a mass of information, surveys and research online promoting the virtues of inbound marketing. Although it is often difficult to find fault with the research methodology I personally tend to avoid the research published by those with a vested interest in promoting the virtues of inbound.
Although CMI and Hubspot are excellent organisations publishing a mass of credible information their businesses are based on promoting inbound marketing. I have therefore avoided their data and will quote instead from Gartner ‘Skilfully executed inbound marketing is 10x more effective at conversion than traditional outbound marketing‘. Although outbound marketing still has a place in the mix there is nothing credible I have found (please correct me if I am wrong) to discredit this statement.
The Problem With Inbound Marketing
Perhaps the greatest issue is change itself (read more in this great post from Ardath Albee) but if that hurdle may be overcome there are several other issues to address. To deliver results any inbound marketing process must be fed with content, and lots of it. That content needs to be of high quality, engaging and relevant to the appropriate point in the sales cycle.
For marketing departments brought up on outbound marketing processes building a content plan and creating (or sourcing) the required content can be a real challenge. To be blunt, many B2B businesses are involved with products and services that, on the face of it, are not too exciting and this adds to the problem. Building content is a resource intensive process and it is difficult to show an immediate return on this investment in the short term so higher management support for the process is vital
There is little point creating content if it cannot be delivered to the required prospects and customers. Delivery issues are often overlooked but are vital to success. An intimate understanding of online (and offline) delivery channels is required together with highly developed internet marketing skills and this can often be beyond the current skill sets of in house teams.
To find new customers in today’s B2B markets requires strategies designed to keep touching prospects and existing customers on a regular basis until they are ready to buy. The evidence shows that for most (not all) B2B businesses inbound marketing is increasingly more effective than outbound. However, the challenges associated with inbound are far from trivial and should be considered with care before making any decisions on the medium to long term marketing strategy for a business.