Don’t Just Follow the Trend; Find a Balanced Approach
I read with interest the recent HubSpot report on The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing. The key takeaways come as no surprise:
- Organizations that focus more on inbound marketing incur a lower cost per lead—this is a typical scenario we see all the time where research studies sweep B2B and B2C marketers with the same brush. Lead qualification in the two markets is not the same process; B2B leads start off as informational touchpoints whereas B2C leads are more transactional. One must remember that a cost per web visit or cost per inquiry is not the same as cost per lead! Yes, for sure, a web visit costs much less than being able to book a phone or in-person appointment, but the end results are also vastly different in terms of conversion and revenue potential. Do not mistake B2B processes to be the same as B2C— the engagement mechanisms are unique, the conversion engine is different and the sales cycle is longer and more complex.
- Companies continue to allocate more of their marketing budgets to inbound marketing—why would they not? As a percentage of marketing budgets it’s easy to do that; plus the main inbound marketing mechanisms that are increasingly finding favour are inexpensive because they are Internet-based. I agree that inbound web marketing is the last frontier for many marketers but unless there is a clear understanding of what qualifies as a lead and a process is defined to move a lead through the sales cycle to conversion, there is no sense in blindly following a trend. Again, B2C follows a transactional-model rather than a B2B informational model. Hence, B2B marketers need to take a more measured approach that will allow their complex sales cycle to deliver the right results.
- Spurt in social media activity across the board—so what? Does increased activity mean more leads and will it bring greater conversion? A golden goose at the top of the beanstalk is a fairy tale; the reality is quite different. You can’t rely on magic beans; you have to till and sow and nurture the fields to harvest a good crop. B2B is a different playing field than B2C.
- New kid on the block, Google+ is already being touted as a “useful” marketing tool—yet another example of flocking to a new social tool where no proven method or engine has been devised to monetize social plays. Let’s not get carried away with a “useful” tool and forget traditional, time tested tools and techniques that are still very much needed in the B2B world.
- Blogging is gaining importance as a valuable component of marketing—I like that this is happening. Companies are realizing that in order to differentiate themselves, especially in the closely competitive B2B space, they need to be credible, they need strong branding and they need to demonstrate thought leadership so that buyers may look to them as valuable sources of reliable industry knowledge. Blogging can help you do this. It can add the essential nutrients to make your lead generation field more productive. Blogging cannot bring you increased leads nor can it lower your cost of lead acquisition. It will facilitate and accelerate your lead generation initiatives, but the process of progression does not go out the window just because blogging is a social media platform; the same process still applies.
I felt it was important to put the above findings in perspective; without which the HubSport report does a great disservice to B2B organizations. It surprises me that there is this ongoing and unending intrigue associated with “cost per lead”. As I’ve said here before on my blog, the debate rages on because organizations have diverse definitions of a lead. With the varying criteria that exist out there, it’s inevitable that the comparison is apples to oranges rather than apples to apples. I am against this very general approach to lead generation. Let us go back to the true definition of a qualified lead: one that is “actionable” – a marketer can use the lead to engage a prospect into a meaningful dialogue or interaction that has a greater chance to move towards conversion and sales closure.
With the emphasis being on engagement, I am a big advocate of PULL versus PUSH marketing. Once again, as this study has shown, small businesses will keep focusing on inbound marketing because it can be very powerful and relatively inexpensive. I definitely think we will see some breakthroughs in 2012 in terms of how organizations can monetize inbound plays, particularly social media. The important thing to remember about smaller organizations is that while they may not have the budget and muscle of their bigger counterparts, they have the flexibility and speed to adapt to market dynamics. This nimbleness allows them to make changes and see the results quicker when compared with the slow moving machinery of a big corporation.
However, while the trend may show a definite move towards more inbound marketing over outbound, the reality is that a good, steady flow and consistent quality of leads can only come from a cross-channel effect. Simply focusing on the lead generation tools will not yield the desired results. Your marketing play needs to be a coordinated strike using multiple channels both inbound and outbound. Organizations need to find a balance between their inbound and outbound marketing activities in order to engage more prospects and convert more leads into sales.
What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment.