Don’t Believe ALL the Hype: Where Inbound Marketing Falls Short

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Inbound marketing is a highly effective strategy for companies seeking to reach and connect with prospective buyers, but in isolation it will fail for most companies. Two of the most critical limitations are:

  1. It’s hard to target specific audiences with inbound marketing. If you want to reach a specific set of contacts – for example, decision makers at a list of target accounts – then inbound won’t let you do so efficiently. The same is true for targeting executives; most CxOs are not spending their time reading blogs and watching YouTube videos, so you’re not going to reach them by producing content meant to be found online. To use a military analogy, inbound marketing is like an “air war” – it allows you to be very efficient by carpet-bombing broad areas, but makes it hard to hit specific targets. In contrast, you need “ground war” tactics (think marines and snipers) to target specific objectives and hold territory.
  2. Inbound marketing doesn’t drive people to action. With inbound marketing, you wait for buyers to take action when they feel ready. While it’s generally a good idea to let the buyer control the momentum, there are times when you need someone to act – for example, signing up for an executive roundtable. Similarly, all good marketers know that inertia is a very real effect and sometimes people need a push, not a pull, to take action. This is especially true for targeting pragmatists and late adopters who don’t actively seek out alternatives and new solutions.

Because of the limitations of inbound marketing, a complete B2B marketing strategy needs to incorporate a full portfolio of lead-generation approaches, including events, webinars, email, and advertising as well as inbound tactics. Put another way, to extract maximum value from inbound marketing, companies need to combine it with lead nurturing, lead scoring, and other components of marketing automation. We call this the Inbound Marketing Multiplier. (For more, see the Marketo whitepaper Amplify Your Impact: How to Multiply the Effects of Your Inbound Marketing Program.)

How does marketing automation fit in?

Vendors who promote inbound technology like to pit inbound marketing and marketing automation against each other, vilifying marketing automation and all outbound marketing as unwanted spam. This “good” vs. “evil” debate may make good copy, but it oversimplifies the problem in favor of a single agenda.

The reality is that marketing automation and outbound tactics are tools that can be used for good marketing that people love or bad marketing that people hate – how you use it is up to you. As Greg Head, CMO of InfusionSoft (a provider of sales and marketing software for small business) writes, “The reality is the best marketers are using both inbound marketing and marketing automation together, and they are getting great returns.”

Marketing automation enhances inbound marketing in a few key ways:

Develop relationships with inbound leads that aren’t ready to buy. According to the MarketingSherpa 2012 B2B Benchmark Report, 73% of B2B leads are not sales-ready when they first come in. If you send those leads to sales prematurely, you’ll annoy the buyer and perpetuate the perception that marketing-generated leads are no good. So even if inbound efforts generate the right kind of leads for your business, you still need a disciplined process to nurture these leads until they are sales ready. This is more than a monthly newsletter, or a single nurture track. You need multiple tracks for each buyer persona and buying stage that listen to what the prospect says and how he behaves, and adjust accordingly – just like a real-world relationship. Don’t settle for basic “one-size fits-all” lead nurturing.

Identify who’s hot – and who’s not. Success with inbound marketing implies a very wide top of the funnel. You’ll have lots of names coming in from people who respond to your content – but in all likelihood many of those people will not be true potential buyers for your products. You need what’s known as demographic lead scoring to separate the wheat from the chaff, e.g. the prospects who best fit your ideal profile. You also need “behavioral lead scoring” to track what prospects do and find the hot prospects that show buying behaviors that indicate they are ready for sales. These scoring rules should be customizable to your business; don’t rely on generic rules. And finally you need a good way to let the sales team identify who’s hot, without necessarily making them wade through all the detail of every page view and open click.

Ensure no lead gets left behind. Once you’ve identified a lead as “hot”, you want to make sure they get a relevant and timely follow-up. This means deep integration with your CRM system – the deeper the better. And it means creating and enforcing “service level agreement” for how leads are followed-up. With automation integrated to CRM, you can ensure every lead is flowing through the system properly –without making the sales team do anything differently. (Always a good idea.)

Prove – and improve – marketing ROI. Marketing automation should go beyond process automation to help marketing executives get much needed insight into which marketing programs are working (and which aren’t) – and to give the CMO the metrics he or she needs to speak with confidence to the C-suite about marketing’s revenue impact. Inbound marketing solutions can tell you which programs generate leads, but you need marketing automation to understand the dynamics of how potential buyers move through the revenue cycle to turn into qualified leads, opportunities, and ultimately customers. These analytics should be powered by a time-series data mart to provide stable data and more importantly insights into trends over time. (For more, see my book The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and ROI.)

Inbound marketing is clearly a strategy that works and should be part of every marketing portfolio. But it’s critical to remember that inbound marketing is a strategy and not a technology. There are lots of technology solutions that can help with inbound marketing, including SEO, blog software, social media monitoring, and content management. These can sit alongside any marketing automation solution. My advice? Pick the right inbound marketing tools for your business and pick the right marketing automation solution for your business, but don’t compromise by thinking it’s an either/or proposition.

For more info on the marketing executive’s role in shaping a successful inbound marketing strategy download The CMO Guide to Inbound Marketing today.

Have you experienced limitations using inbound marketing techniques? Are you utilizing both inbound and outbound techniques in your B2B marketing strategy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is good and important information, but I think many inbound marketers consider automation and lead nurturing to be part of an inbound marketing strategy. If you’re not nurturing leads and developing relationships, it’s just content creation.

  2. Great post Jon. I wrote a complementary peice (http://bit.ly/A2tFdo) pointing out the perils to the Marketing Profession when professional marketers and agencies lose credibility by hyping the urgency and return of doing ANYTHING social.

    Social is something like any other marketing initiative that must be founded in the core marketing processes and basics, tested, measured, revised and run…, just as any other marketing campaign or initiative.

    We marketers have a great opportunity to be the CEO’s trusted advisor on strategy as the speed of communication and the size of market places provide great potential for business, growth and profits.

    Who else bu Marketing can take this leadership role? More on this: http://bit.ly/yu7UNW

  3. There is definitely too much hype about inbound marketing. Even though I use this approach for gaining clients myself to some degree, there are other proven effective strategies for gaining new business – it is not the answer for everybody although sometimes, the most vocal advocates of IM imply it is!

    Thanks for the article-it is good to see some different opinions being put forward on what marketing approaches SMEs should consider.

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