Call It A Comeback: Outbound Takes On Inbound Marketing

Blog_ConquerOutboundMarketing“It’s a bit naïve to think that all your potential customers will come knocking at your door.”

The problem: Due to the emphasis on inbound marketing that has pervaded the discipline over the last several years, technological innovation has focused on bringing efficiency and new capabilities to inbound, while outbound marketing has remained stagnant. …but outbound is on the comeback trail.

Current Perceptions

Interestingly, if you search “inbound marketing” on Wikipedia, you get a full discussion on the subject and a clear-cut definition:

“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects' attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.” [Emboldened for emphasis]

If, on the other hand, you search “outbound marketing,” you get an uninspiring link to “interruption marketing,” the definition of which is:

“A pejorative term that refers to promoting a product through continued advertising, promotions, public relations and sales. It is considered to be an annoying version of the traditional way of doing marketing whereby companies focus on finding customers through advertising. (Confusingly, the ambiguous term outbound marketing is sometimes used as a label for interruption marketing.” [Emboldened for emphasis]

Quite clearly, outbound marketing has received some bad press in recent years while inbound has risen to dominate the space.

The Rise of Inbound Marketing

Marketing is currently in the midst of a domino effect that began a couple decades ago with the advent of the internet. As we all know, the web gave buyers far greater control in their proverbial “journey” for information.

Buyers can find products and services on their own terms and don’t need to be beat over the head by sales and so-called “interruption marketing.” Instead they have search engines for open information, customer and expert reviews for social proof, and websites, landing pages, and apps for on-demand experiences.

With this newfound responsibility to ensure that brand info, communications and experiences facilitated customer efforts (rather than coerced them), marketers needed to change their approach to audience engagement. Enter inbound marketing.

It’s as if customers got a driver’s license and keys to the car. Miss Daisy could drive herself around town now – she no longer needed Morgan Freeman (no matter how soothing his voice may be).

What Miss Daisy did need was proper road signs to get her where she was going and nice, beautiful store fronts to entice her interest (that is to say, blogs, websites, landing pages, social, search). And marketers have made great strides in this craft in recent years.

Inbound Marketing and the Law of Diminishing Returns

There’s a point in inbound marketing in which you start squeezing everything out of it that you can just to drive a bit more traffic or acquire a few more prospects. In these cases, it can come damn close to being as annoying to potential customers as the outbound marketing tactics of old. 

At this point, it’s often the right move for marketing orgs to divert resources back to what I’ll call “new school” outbound marketing methods; and by that I mean outbound methods that leverage the same persona-based, educational content concepts employed in inbound, but delivered via outbound channels, especially through the use of media partners that have niche, highly engaged audiences that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to attract.

I was on a call with an analyst from one of the big firms yesterday morning and one of his comments about inbound was more succinct than I ever could’ve phrased it:

“It’s a bit naïve to think that all your potential customers will come knocking at your door.”

These days, any company that’s seeking to scale and develop a predictable customer pipeline must construct a strong outbound demand marketing program to complement its inbound efforts.

As Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of ANNUITAS – a B2B Demand Generation Strategy firm – recently tweeted during Sirius Decisions Summit 2015, “#DemandGeneration is multi-channel, integrated inbound + outbound.”

And as always, Matt Heinz had a pithy reply as well: “@cahidalgo totally agree, it's not one or the other.  Allbound baby!”

Unfortunately, outbound done right isn’t easy.

Challenges of Outbound Marketing

The real issues with outbound aren’t about negative customer experience and annoying “beat you over the head with unsolicited messaging” tactics (these have been bad marketing practices for decades, not just the few years since inbound has been around). The real challenge to GOOD outbound demand marketing have to do with scalability and return on investment.

There are a lot of steps that go into good outbound demand marketing. And scaling outbound programs to increase demand while ensuring a great customer experience is incredibly difficult due to all these requisite steps, which are typically unnecessary when it comes to inbound:

  • Identifying, onboarding and managing numerous media partners
  • Gathering, scrubbing and normalizing third-party prospect data
  • Uploading all this refined data into marketing automation systems
  • Analyzing campaign, prospect and media source performance data and optimizing programs in flight

All these steps require a great deal of resources to scale.

And without scale, marketers can’t test new sources, tactics and content, and then optimize to effect a positive return on their outbound marketing investment. Thus, an effective outbound demand generation strategy is dependent on efficiency, which has been lacking in the industry.

Making Outbound More Like Inbound

Marketers have become very adept at inbound due to marketing automation and content marketing software. Outbound is still problematic because of the inefficient patchwork of manual processes and disjointed sources discussed above.

Here a few concepts to focus on that’ll allow you to make your outbound efforts just as effective as your inbound programs:

1. Centralize all of your outbound demand generation sources (otherwise known as third-party media sources). This first requires an understanding of where and how prospect data sources converge. This then enables you to focus on discovering, organizing and managing all the media/data sources that you currently or plan to work with.

For example, in B2B you’ll likely be working with content syndication partners, list providers, events, etc.  For B2C, it’s largely affiliates and media trading desks. The point here is to get all your sources on a level playing field in order to gain a holistic view of performance and standardize operations across the board to automate tasks on a one-to-many basis (as opposed to one-to-one) – which brings us to the next point…

2. Focus on standardization. Data delivered in multiple formats prevents the ease and quickness of getting prospects into nurture tracks, which undermines conversion rates. Unstandardized data also prevents the requisite analysis of source, content and channel performance to decide which outbound efforts are working and which need to be replaced.

Think of the difficulty involved with following a recipe that uses the metric system when you only have standard measuring cups – it requires a lot of extra calculation and slows everything down…which drains program ROI. Ensuring prospect data conforms to a standardized format also enables the next step…

3. Connect your systems. Integrating systems that capture, refine, leverage and analyze customer/prospect data eliminates a ton of manual processes that waste resources and further sap return on investment. Most marketers have integrations between their marketing automation and CRM systems, but these technologies are often still disconnected from third-party prospect data sources, which hamstrings your ability to utilize outbound techniques. Ensuring a smooth, automated flow of data all the way up the funnel to prospect data capture prevents bottlenecks that slow velocity and allow prospect interest to wane (i.e., bad customer experience).

4. Automate data verification and normalization processes. If you directly inject outbound marketing data from third-party prospect capture straight into a nurture track, you bypass the crucial data quality check process. Adopting software that automates lead verification, cleansing and normalization at the point of captured-data convergence (identified in step 1) is the best way to ensure clean data is imported into your marketing automation and CRM systems in a timely, scalable manner.

You’ve been at inbound for years. You’ve all but conquered it. It’s time to up your game. Outbound is back.

master-outbound-demand-generation

 

 

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