Don’t get your knickers in a knot about inbound and outbound marketing strategy. The ‘revolving door’ metaphor isn’t suggesting that your prospects and customers will be coming and going. It is a nod to the types of messages and tactics you should be using as a B2B marketer these days. Your department’s revolving door should be spinning off its hinges with simultaneous inbound and outbound marketing activities to acquire and nurture new prospects.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re either:
There are so many new marketing automation tools out there tackling pieces of the puzzle, and none that I’ve found are doing a great job of the entire picture yet. Given the sheer number of new and old tools out there, I know I haven’t seen all of them. But I *have* done months worth of searching, so the ones I haven’t found yet aren’t doing a very good job of making themselves easy to find. (As the avid Twitter users might say, #fail)
What’s more, pricing seems to be all over the map, and I think the industry is in for a bit of a shake-up as small and medium businesses become key target market segments for these vendors. For some of the long-time (i.e. 3-5 years) leaders in the space, sky-high implementation fees and per-seat user fees have priced them out of the SME business as they have built their revenue model around the enterprise customer opportunity.
This post is not an evaluation of marketing automation solution providers. That’s what we pay the industry analysts for. This is one B2B marketer’s perspective on where the solution vendors should be aiming their product roadmaps and pricing strategies based on the needs of the small and medium business segments that have massive appetite for smart, value-priced, on-demand marketing automation tools.
The first important recognition is that most small and medium businesses that are marketing and selling to other businesses need to do both inbound and outbound marketing strategy. In fact, doing one without the other usually doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Outbound marketing strategy is essential for any company that needs to nurture leads as a key marketing activity. There are very few companies that could successfully make the case for every new lead being a sales-ready lead. The nature of B2B buyers is such that they do a lot of research and analysis prior to making a purchase decision, and the buying cycle can be weeks or months. So if you’re doing a good job of capturing leads, you should be capturing them at various stages of the buying cycle, and probably 70-80% of them aren’t ready (or interested) in talking to a salesperson. That means your salespeople aren’t interested in talking to them either. Outbound Marketing is also critical for companies that expand their footprint and revenue potential inside existing customers over time. Mining your accounts for new selling opportunities is something that can be executed far more efficiently with well-planned marketing campaigns that identify new revenue opportunities for your account managers to pursue.
Inbound marketing strategy feeds the funnel. If you aren’t generating and capturing enough new leads, you have nothing to nurture. Today’s business reality is that B2B buyers aren’t traveling to trade shows like they used to, nor are they answering their phones as much. They aren’t even reading very many unsolicited emails, because many don’t make it through the junk filters, and the ones that do still sink to the bottom of the inbox. So the lead generation tactics of old are far less effective than they were even 5 years ago. Most buyers and researchers are doing their homework online. Forrester recently reported that 91% of B2B buyers are using social media tools. Inbound marketing tool vendor HubSpot recently published an interesting report on the The State of Inbound Marketing [PDF] that digs into the shift in marketing spend towards more inbound lead generating programs. B2B marketers are looking for ways to participate and add value in the B2B buyer’s research process. What tools, content, and advice will strike a chord with B2B buyers who are considering your offering? How do you get in front of them, into the information stores that they consider credible? Then, when you do, how do you turn them into leads. That’s where the new Inbound Marketing tools come in.
I think the solution vendors know deep down that they need to offer both inbound and outbound capabilities, and there’s some evidence of this knowledge in their existing feature sets.
Leading inbound marketing automation solutions focus their features on SEO and SEM marketing activities with tools for keyword analysis, page ranking analysis, link analysis, and content optimization. The good tools also include a lead capture capability that sits on top of a marketing database. Once that’s included, it is a no brainer to also include on-site activity logging for prospects such as pageviews, form completions, search history, and more. Secondarily, the inbound marketing focused solutions typically include some very (VERY) basic outbound functionality. They may have a notification email blast feature so that prospects can ask to be notified by email of new content and resources that become available. They may have a rudimentary broadcast email function that allows the administrator to send a generic, untargeted message to all prospects in the database. So there is clearly recognition that the marketer using their system has the need to a) build a prospect database, and b) communicate with that prospect universe after Lead Capture and prior to passing to a Salesperson as an Opportunity.
On the other hand, leading outbound marketing automation solutions focus their features on profiling and segmenting prospects that are loaded into the marketing database, then running very targeted outbound campaigns to nurture, activate, or cross-sell/up-sell those prospects. There is significant feature overlap of some outbound marketing solutions with inbound marketing solutions in the areas of lead capture and activity tracking. Secondary features for these outbound marketing solutions consist of basic keyword analysis from your website data, sometimes integrated with a web analytics tool. But there’s very little in the way of useful reports, metrics, or tools for identifying SEO and SEM opportunities, or for optimizing your existing and new content to win those SEO and SEM results. It’s largely up to you to sift through other tools like web analytics and SEO analytics software to figure out for yourself how to get more new leads into the database so you can nurture them too.
There are a handful of service providers and agencies who have listened to the market and evolved their engagement models to better meet the needs of B2B marketers in search of expertise and outsourced manpower. The big PR firms have started to roll out Social Media practices, some more productive than others. Some boutique PR and marketing shops have beefed up their content creation capabilities and added social media and search engine expertise, but their industry-specific experience is limited to that of their client roster since it is expensive to bring in good content producers before you win the business.
Some of the marquee agencies seem to have more holistic offerings, but they’re far too overpriced for most small and medium businesses. Many of them won’t even pick up the phone for less than $100k/month over a minimum 1 year period. They have tooled themselves to serve the big budget B2C clients who need to interact with millions of target customers who will each spend $1-$10,000, not the B2B clients looking to build relationships with hundreds or thousands of target customers who will each spend $10,000-$1,000,000.
However, the majority of agencies and service providers I’ve come across so far are still focused on one or two pieces of the puzzle and have yet to pull it all together in a meaningful way: SEO, content creation, interactive development and design, traditional PR, social media monitoring and participation, etc.
In a perfect world, I would be able to find all of these tools and services playing nicely together with a minimum number of vendor relationships to manage. Perhaps one technology vendor and one service provider, but even more ideally would be a service provider who has done the homework on the tools and comes to me with an informed recommendation.
Please add your thoughts in the Comments as to requirements and factors I have overlooked. The sooner these tools and services become readily available, the sooner we can get back to focusing on marketing programs.