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Inbound vs. Outbound: The Great Debate Revisited

By Flora Felisberto

Inbound vs. Outbound

If you’re a B2B marketer, then you’re all too familiar with the Inbound vs. Outbound debate. There seems to be a misconception in the marketing world that outbound marketing is a thing of the past. In reality, traditional marketing or interruption marketing (as it’s also known) is alive and well.

Outbound marketing has simply shifted from traditional channels to digital ones. Think about the last time you listened to your favorite Pandora station. How many commercials did you have to listen to? How many times does your facebook feed get interrupted with irrelevant ads? Instagram anyone?

I see a lot of these statistics flying around and they give marketers the impression that their skills will soon be obsolete:

  • 86% of the population skips TV ads

  • 91% have unsubscribed from email lists

  • 44% of direct mail is never opened

  • Over 200 million phone numbers are on the Do Not Call List

But numbers below have given a whole new meaning to interruption marketing. They have also forced marketers to adapt and thrive in today’s wave of digital transformation.

  • 90 million: Monthly Instagram active users

  • 1.73 billion: Listener hours for Pandora for May 2014 ( 28% increase over May 2013)

  • 170 million: New facebook users in 2013 (14% increase year over year)

  • 67%: Facebook’s advertising revenue growth published at the end of Q2 2014

But let’s get to the point. In order to determine a healthy marketing mix you have to consider your audience and your product. Are you a B2B or B2C company? What industry do you sell to? How big is your marketing team? Outbound marketing is more expensive (though that’s debatable), but inbound marketing requires more time and resources.

It’s also important to plan for the long term while executing on the short term goals. This is where inbound and outbound work well together. It may make sense to purchase an email list while you build your inbound engine. SEO, Social Media and PPC take time to gain traction and these channels need a lot of experimenting and tweaking if you want to get them right. This means you'll likely need outbound programs to make your lead goal and keep your inside sales team busy.

When done right, events are also a great way to generate sales opportunities. It’s very difficult to tell a B2B marketer to stop doing events altogether because sales teams know the power of face-to-face interaction. In my experience, sales reps almost beg for events when we’re not doing enough of them. According to Google Ad Strategist, Matt McGowan, “Events are the original social experience. It's the immersive experience centered around a central topic, idea, or belief, shared between the collective audience and presenters, which makes events so central.”

All of this doesn’t even account for the fact that healthy sales organizations need to run their own outbound campaigns. A well-organized sales team has a list of target accounts to go after. This means cold email campaigns that are laser focused on specific job roles, industries and revenue range. Cold calling will also come into play here.

Another great idea is running “outbound to inbound” campaigns. In this example, inside sales teams will run their own outbound campaigns to companies that have come inbound. By using prospecting tools like LinkedIn and RainKing, they look for additional members of that organization’s target department and run outbound campaigns to them. This tactic can be very effective because someone in that organization has already expressed interest in your company or product.

When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. The best mix of channels and tactics is going to be different for every organization. Besides, creativity is not limited to inbound or outbound, neither is testing and optimizing. Most importantly, measuring the ROI of any channel is critical for the continued success of your marketing programs.


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