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Marketing in a Digital World. Is Inbound Marketing Really More Valuable than Outbound?

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Mark Roberts ShoreTel Chief Marketing Officer

The companies that produce marketing automation would have you believe the most important part of your program should be focused on inbound marketing activities. They believe marketing automation proves your targeted content resonates with potential buyers, or marketing qualified leads, since they have followed a call to action from some marketing asset. Any potential impact from outbound marketing, they often say, is at or above the awareness level of the funnel – which is almost impossible to track. Because of this, organizations often believe it’s better to spend marketing budgets only on those things that can be tracked and nurtured in order to prove the ROI of marketing campaigns.

The problem is this on/off thinking doesn’t accurately reflect 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 touchpoints you can have with them during this journey, whether outbound or inbound, 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, “integrated approach,” to win the sale.

I’ve had many conversations with customers who have said their journey started at a neutral place, such as 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 activities that can be tracked, we are taking a very inside-out approach. It’s much more effective 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.