Inbound vs outbound marketing: what’s best for b2b?

Posted on: February 19, 2021

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Category: B2B marketing

Inbound vs outbound marketing: What’s best for B2B?

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B2B lead generation can be split into two main categories; inbound marketing and outbound marketing. Is one better than the other? Which is the better marketing tactic in the B2B world?

A lot of online content assumes all worthwhile marketing efforts are inbound. And while inbound marketing is undoubtedly great for many, the flood of content covering only this solution makes a key mistake. 

It misrepresents outbound, assuming ancient practices: sticking an ad in a magazine and cold calling a list bought from a dodgy data dealer.

This post will look at both methods, and reveal how they can work in harmony to produce the perfect marketing mix.

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

We’ll get into a detailed explanation of each shortly. For now, the difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing can be summed up as follows:

Inbound marketing aims to produce content that positions a brand in front of relevant consumers. The audience discovers the brand when they research a solution. Outbound marketing aims to discover and research relevant people, and initiate the conversation by sending messages out to that audience.

One simple way of explaining the difference between inbound and outbound marketing focuses on who initiates the conversation. Outbound content is said to interrupt, while inbound is discovered by the audience.

Another way of explaining the difference is by focusing on who does the research. For inbound marketing, the audience researches their solution and finds the content. For outbound marketing, the brand researches the audience and presents them with the solution.

Where do you find inbound and outbound content?

Because of the different approach, inbound and outbound content is often found in different channels.

Inbound marketing channels

  • Websites & blogs
  • Gated content (whitepapers and eBooks)
  • Email newsletters
  • Social media
  • Online events
  • Digital media
  • Search engine optimization

Outbound marketing channels

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing aims to attract customers to a brand with engaging content or experiences. The content needs to offer something of value. It can be educational, inspirational or entertaining.

Inbound marketing starts with research into an audience and the different profiles within that target market. By understanding your audience, you can create content aimed at those specific audiences. This is vital because this content marketing relies on knowing what the prospects are searching for. 

As well as content aimed at each persona, you need to create content that appeals to different stages in the buyer journey. Potential customers will conduct different research at each stage of the buyer journey.

Inbound marketing customer journey

Many won’t be ready to buy, but these leads can be nurtured until they are ready. By using content to consistently add value, a brand positions itself to be an authority in that particular area. In this way, the brand becomes part of the consideration set when a prospect enters the bottom of the funnel to make a purchase 

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing aims to deliver the marketing message to customers directly. Research of the target audience is vital to ensure the content resonates. 

The outbound approach is more direct than inbound, in two different ways. 

First, instead of creating content that is available for everyone to consume, it focuses the message only on ideal customers. 

A market map can be created which identifies relevant prospects who fit the ideal customer profile. This market map will reveal the size and composition of the audience. Further research verifies their contact details, so the prospects can be messaged directly.

Second, outbound marketing is also more direct in its messaging. It aims to introduce somebody with a problem to somebody with a solution (or to put it another way, a prospect with a sales agent).

Once that connection is made, the prospect enters the same sales funnel they would if they had come via inbound marketing.

Outbound marketing customer journey

The advantage of outbound is that it cuts through the 5,000 to 10,000 adverts we are estimated to see each day to deliver your message directly to relevant people.

A brief history of outbound vs inbound

Before the digital age, there was only outbound. Billboards, TV ads, magazine spreads… all broadcasting a brand’s message to the audience. 

This type of traditional outbound marketing is also known as interruption marketing. It forces the message in front of the audience regardless of whether the message is relevant to them, or if it’s the right time.

The rise of the internet, social media giants and Google acting as the gatekeeper to the world’s information, all led to the rise of inbound. Marketers the world over decided it was great, content became king, and marketing budgets were repositioned.

How has outbound marketing changed?

Recently, however, outbound marketing has been changing.

Video On Demand means that even TV advertising can now include simple targeting. The rise of podcasts over radio means that niche audiences can now be reached, increasing focus in a previously mass-market medium.

Cold calling… well, that’s still cold calling. Maybe give that one a miss, or look for some alternatives.

Email prospecting uses social media and clever use of data to zero in on the relevant audience. Smart data variables allow large scale email campaigns that feel personal – a one-to-one introduction is key.

In addition, electronic direct mail marketing campaign techniques – where multi-channel touchpoints are used to support prospecting – can enhance results even further.

There is no shortage of outbound sales tools to help add to your current efforts.

To illustrate the new outbound marketing, let’s look at a typical Sopro outbound email campaign:

  • Full market assessment – A segmented market breakdown, with locations, industries, company sizes, job titles and keywords.
  • Prospect identification – Source and verify contact details live (not using static databases)
  • Clever tech setup – Technical wizardry and testing ensure high delivery rates and low spam scores.
  • Great messaging – Award-winning, personalised email introductions with informalised data points.
  • Daily outreach – 50-100 prospects contacted each day, to ensure a manageable flow of leads.
  • Follow-ups Up to three follow-up emails increase the success rate of the campaign by over 80%
  • Reporting and CRM – Full integration into CRMs, and a live reporting dashboard give full control.
  • Continual optimisation – With a team of experts working on your behalf, campaign messaging and targeting are continually optimised

Inbound or outbound? What’s best for my business?

So which works best, inbound or outbound? Ultimately the answer will depend on your specific circumstances.

Small businesses need to pick the channel that delivers a consistent flow of leads and strong ROI. I happen to know a lot of small companies that have found prospecting transformative, but then considering I work for the leading prospecting agency, that makes sense.

For many brands, including medium and large companies, the best strategy is a mix of marketing channels. This way you are not overly reliant on one channel which can be taken away – either by a Google algorithm update or by a virus intent on disrupting modern life.

It shouldn’t be a matter of pitching inbound vs outbound. Imagine the two working in perfect harmony… raising brand awareness through content marketing, nurturing leads with email and social, keeping front of mind with remarketing display ads, and then cutting through the noise to reach decision-makers with an introductory prospecting email.

If you want to know more about how prospecting works, watch our video below or get in touch and have a chat with our team.

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