There’s been a fair amount of buzz lately about inbound vs. outbound marketing …but what do these terms really mean, anyway?  Is there a train here leaving the station that B2Bs should be on?

Posting on The Customer Collective, Mike Frichol was good enough to provide us with some useful definitions:

  • Outbound = “the traditional push style of marketing of sending messages to the masses to attract the attention of those who may have a need for a product/service/solution.”  Typical examples include TV or print advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.
  • Inbound = “a pull style of marketing focused on being found by prospective buyers.”  Typical examples include…websites, search-engine marketing (SEM) and social media.

OK, now we can feel a bit better, since many of us have been talking about push vs. pull for awhile now.  Among quite a bit of similar research, Mike references a recent Forrester study of B2B marketing budget allocations, which reveals a strong shift from outbound to inbound modes (2008 to 2009).  By way of explanation, he cites a number of factors;  first, the problems with outbound:

  • Buyers are increasingly tuning these channels out (look at declining TV viewership, newspaper sales, trade show attendance) or blocking the intrusions altogether (with do-not-call lists, call blocking, Tivo, spam filters, etc.)
  • The outbound channels are relatively high cost with low yield …and it’s difficult or impossible to measure their ROI

And over against that, the advantages of inbound:

  • It’s where buyers now go to find what they need;  when someone finds you, they’re already self-qualified as a potential buyer
  • Costs are lower and more directly scalable to results
  • Extensive tracking and measurement data is available, with the ability to fine-tune in real time
  • Much of inbound marketing is a lasting investment with long-term returns

This is all very congruent with much research focusing on the other side of the coin – buyer behavior – as summarized by Adam Needles over on the Demand Generation Blog, finding that today’s buyers:

  • are turning to online sources – earlier than ever in the process – to better understand their business problem and research potential solutions, before ever speaking with a sales rep
  • are increasingly leveraging social media – and especially peer communication – in their information-collection phase
  • manifest themselves more than ever as a complex, savvy “buying team” rather than as a single decision-maker

What are the major implications of all this for B2B marketers (assuming that you’re part of the outbound-to-inbound shift, and not fighting it)?  Here are two…

  • Perhaps the biggest change required of Marketing is to proactively engage with prospects early in their information-gathering phase, and on their terms …which means mastering the social-media vehicles where much of that dialog occurs.  This gives you the chance to become part of their universe of knowledgeable and trusted advisors, which is likely to stand you in good stead down the road.
  • Far from tolerating the chasm that all too frequently arises between Sales and Marketing, the rules of inbound marketing demand team play between the two functions like never before.  Sales will probably come into the picture much later than previously, which will require Marketing to ensure continuity and arm Sales with the insights gleaned over all those “touches” during the upstream dialogue.  And it increases the pressure on Sales to get it right the first time, since there will be less time with the buyer to rework any missteps.

As Jeff Ogden (President, Find New Customers) put it in a comment to Adam’s piece:

“Buyers are in control and no longer need to engage with sales until very late in the process.  That means businesses must find new ways to engage early and build trust.”