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Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing for B2B: The Showdown

If you haven’t heard about inbound marketing, you have probably been living in a cave. But how do you decide whether to focus your efforts on bringing prospects in with the inbound approach or on reaching out proactively using outbound marketing techniques?

When it comes to B2B marketing, every marketer has different budgets to work with and various priorities to consider. Often the decision of inbound vs outbound boils down to the life stage of your company. Mature, well-established companies often have large marketing budgets at their disposal and heavily rely on outbound marketing techniques.

It is all well and good, but young innovative startups are often forced to spend a large chunk of their marketing budgets towards brand awareness and market education campaigns. The costs of such outbound marketing campaigns are often exorbitant and beyond the reach of most early stage startups. That is where inbound marketing truly shines- you can hit the ground running with a very modest budget. And, if the fit between your content and your target audience is right, you can see the results quickly.

Apart from high costs, potential customers actively dodge outbound advertising. And they are right to do so!

"No one likes being sold to. Stop selling. Start listening!" Jeff Pelliccio

People are doing everything they can to limit interruptive advertisements thrown at them throughout various media, be in on TV, the radio or on the web and social media. Here are some numbers to consider:

  • More than 226 million Americans have registered for the FTC's Do Not Call Registry to avoid cold calls
  • 84% of 25-to-34 year olds will leave a website if an ad they see is irrelevant or intrusive.
  • 91% of users have unsubscribed from corporate emails that they had previously registered for

As you can see, marketing is changing, so what is a marketer to do? Is targeting a well-defined audience and engaging with them on a personal level rather than broadcasting your message to the widest possible audience a more efficient approach for B2B marketing?

Outbound vs. Inbound: a refresher


What is outbound marketing?

Outbound is a new term that refers to most traditional forms of marketing. Hubspot defines it as any method such as “trade shows, seminar series, email blasts to purchased lists, internal cold calling, outsourced telemarketing, and advertising” that “pushes your message out far and wide hoping that it resonates with that needle in the haystack.”

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that draws people in toward your company and product. Aligning the content you publish with your audience’s interests attracts inbound traffic but what is even more important, it builds relationships with your audience over time. Inbound marketing is aligned with a buyer’s journey, based on the premise that if a person is not interested in your company or product at the moment, it doesn’t mean they won’t get interested if you provide more relevant information to them.  

Inbound marketing attracts specific audiences that are out there looking for information. By creating a wide variety of useful online marketing assets, you give interested people an opportunity to find you. When people are attracted to your marketing content, they readily give their permission to receive more information and promotional material from you. Score, enter the nurturing flows!

"Good Marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart" Joe Chernov 

What are the main differences?

  • Customer's come to you vs You come after your customers - At the very basic level, outbound marketing uses “push” tactics, and is mainly focused on sending your message out to the world, while inbound is focused on “pulling” your customer's in by providing something that they value. A big chunk of inbound marketing revolves around creating valuable content tailor-made for your audience. The goal is to attract the right people towards your company by giving them something of value.

    "Don't find customers for your products, find products for your customers.." Seth Godin

  • Interruptive vs Permission-Based - Outbound marketing is broadly targeted, and is often interruptive. By definition, inbound marketing is permission based and is only targeted towards people who showed some interest in your company. Nurturing flows are built specifically for this purpose. 

    "When someone hands you a flyer, it's like they're saying here you throw this away" Mitch Hedberg

  • Personalized vs Bulk - Inbound marketing is focused on knowing your audience, it is consumer-centric, data oriented and highly personalized. Inbound marketing the right way is data driven, whereby every metric is carefully measured and optimized, it segments audiences and gives marketers a variety of testing and monitoring tools that tailor messages according to user behavior. There are many tools available for monitoring your audience and your competitors, so you can make informed decisions when it comes to targeting and personalization, ultimately resulting in higher ROI when compared to marketing to everyone in the same way.

    "When you speak to everyone you speak to no one" Meredith Hill

Inbound Marketing and Generating Leads

Inbound marketing uses a variety of tools to reach its goals, but above all creating quality content is the key to building a relationship with your audience. In marketing, as generally in life, great relationships are built upon your ability to understand and empathize with the other person. Learning about your ideal customer and their needs as opposed to broadcasting your message is a key feature that differentiates the two approaches.

Based on his years of experience in the field, Zac Gregg from Vital Design notes some important distinctions:

  • Digital distribution made analysis highly measurable and results-oriented, showing that inbound marketing was exponentially more successful than outbound marketing, when done correctly.

  • The terms “digital marketing” or “traditional marketing” only spoke to the distribution aspect of the message, and “inbound marketing” included the new message itself. This new message was educational, it involved thought leadership, and was transparent and engaging.

The more deeply you understand your target audience, the easier and more cost effective it is to target them and stay focused on your messaging. The better you can tailor your messages to your audience, the better you can address your potential customer concerns.

There are three main elements to a successful inbound campaign: content creation, social media, and SEO.

Content Creation

Inbound approach is built on intimate knowledge of our target audience and understanding what they’re looking for. By leveraging that information, you can bring prospective clients closer to you by offering them exactly what they want, precisely when they’re ready to see it. The main goal of inbound marketing is that customers who search for a solution will find it.

Inbound approach requires a carefully crafted content strategy, whereby different types of content are created to fit the buyer's journey and take each lead down the marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to decision. Here are some examples:

  • Awareness: "How to" articles' infographics, blog posts. The idea is not to talk about your product but address specific pain-points and problems of your audience.

  • Consideration: content that will help the lead make an informed decision about the issue you presented in awareness. "the benefits of inbound marketing" "10 things inbound marketing does better than outbound" "Free inbound marketing checklist."

  • Decision: "Free demos" ,Case studies, “How inbound marketing with HubSpot can increase your ROI"

In the end, it is all the user experience, helping the user digest informative and visual content while enjoying the process. White papers are useful for explaining the innovative technology you’ve created in detail and the problems it solves. For leads who are eager to learn more about what you have to offer, creating eBooks and hosting webinars are effective for both identifying ideal sales leads and for educating existing customers about functionalities they might not know you offer.

Social Media

Social media is a great content distribution tool for your content. When your content is shared and commented on by real people and gains traction, it raises the level of trust and raises your profile as an industry expert, building confidence in your company. Social media is a great tool for showing your company's human side and engage with the relevant people on a personal level.


For prospects to find you, you’ll need a message that stands out from the crowd and further, to do a thorough keyword research and implement best practices for on-site and off-site SEO. But despite what you might think, SEO is much more than its technical aspects - it is a mind-reading tool, it shows you what your target audience is searching for and what they are thinking, and how they word their concerns. SEO and keyword research is, in essence, a peek into your audience’s mind.

Is Outbound Marketing Dead?

There are more media platforms than ever, and people are overwhelmed with data and information. As more people have chosen to avoid advertising, outbound marketing has become less effective than it once was. However, outbound marketing still has its place in any B2B marketers’ toolbox.

Outbound is still relevant, especially for high-end products that require personal outreach to decision makers, but it should always be supported by inbound, backed up by strong content strategy and consistent social media use. In the end, it is important to have a combination of both and to use data that you got from inbound efforts in your outbound methods, and vice versa.

Inbound and Outbound: Better Together

If inbound marketing is so effective at moving leads down the pipeline, and eventually converting them into customers,  you might be wondering how exactly outbound marketing fit into your marketing strategy. It is important to keep in mind, that it is often the combination of activities from both the inbound and outbound marketing that is the most effective.

As your startup grows, your marketing focus will continuously shift between branding, advertising, proactive outreach, SEO, content marketing and social media, as well as between inbound and outbound marketing approaches. Using all the tools available is crucial for B2B lead generation, and balancing your inbound and outbound ratio to get it “just right” takes fine tuning and a lot of trial and error.

To save you the hassle, we’ve compiled an excellent guide to tools and ideas that are proven to work. Now that we have made the case for inbound marketing, download our free eBook with some great tips on how to reduce the cost-per-lead while delivering quality leads to the sales team.

Learn from our experience and reach the customers you’re looking for: The CMO's Guide to SaaS & Cloud Tech Lead Generation eBook.

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