marketing management job description

Marketing in a digital world: Is inbound marketing really more valuable than outbound?

By: Mark Roberts, Chief Marketing Officer, ShoreTel

Bio_Mark Roberts

The marketing automation folks would have you believe the most important part of your program is focused on inbound marketing activities. They say this is because it proves your targeted content is resonating with potential buyers who are more likely to become marketing qualified leads because they have followed a call to action. Any potential impact from outbound marketing, they say, is at or even above the awareness level of the funnel – almost impossible to track and long before a need has even been identified. Better to spend your marketing budget only on those things that can be tracked and nurtured in order to prove the ROI of your programs.

The problem is this on/off thinking isn’t reality when it comes to today’s buyer’s journey. I believe one of the biggest injustices we have done to the marketing world is to drive a clear split between the two activities. I’ve yet to speak to a customer who has thought about their engagement with or decision about a brand in terms of inbound/outbound activities. The reality is much more complex than this simple distinction. When you artificially define the buyer’s journey and the value of a lead in this way it misses the simple truth that customers don’t engage with you and your brand in this fashion.

What’s far more likely to happen as buyers move through the funnel is less straightforward. Buyers do not move in a linear fashion from awareness to purchase. They may backtrack multiple times in their progress and repeatedly arrive at the different levels. The more touch points you can have with them during this journey, whether outbound or inbound, therefore the more likely you are to get them to the desired outcome. The best solution is to devise programs that offer buyers a mix of inbound/outbound touch points – or to use that dreadfully old-fashioned term an “integrated approach” to win the sale.

I’ve had many conversations with customers where their journey started at a baseball game when they saw a brand that started them on the journey to explore. Or it may have been a phone conversation or a conversation with a peer or word of mouth that started a digital engagement.

The problem for us as marketers is that we are focusing too much on that first engagement in the digital world and deciding that’s where the journey started. We’re missing the bigger picture of how a customer engages. In an excellent book from Forrester analysts Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine entitled, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, the authors discuss the critical importance of taking an outside-in or customer first view of your brand.  If we only look at track-able activities, we are taking a very inside-out approach. Much better to create a balanced program that sets the right experience and perspective for you and your brand.

The reality is there are as many courses through the funnel to your brand as there are potential customers. A smart, integrated approach will cast a wide net. I challenge you to go ask your customers how they found you. Don’t blindly follow a dashboard or value the difference between outbound (where you interrupt potential customers) and inbound (when they finally engage with you). It takes a balance of the two. Your mileage will always vary depending on the market and the needs of the buyer.

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