The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing.  “Outbound is bad,” she said.  What?  Well, I guess her feeling is understandable.  Inbound marketing is all the rage today.  Hubspot promotes it.  Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it.  With the new popularity of pull marketing, B2B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be.  How wrong they are.  And here’s why.

Simply put, B2B marketers need a mix of push and pull.  Limiting your strategy to pull alone will reduce your market, and limit your ability to identify all the prospective buyers who might need your solution to their problems.

In B2B, pull marketing generally means making yourself visible, or being helpful, and hoping that people will get the idea that they should visit your website or otherwise reach out to find out more about you and your offerings.  The theory is a good one.  And it works great for luring prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, especially when they have already identified a need and are researching potential solutions.  Bingo, with pull marketing tactics like providing educational content, you have a good chance of snagging a fairly qualified prospect.

Typical pull tactics in B2B include:

  • Developing informative, non-salesy content, to educate all comers on how to solve their problems, and what a great partner you can be in helping them.  This can be in the form of blogging, downloadable white papers, videos, infographics, and others.
  • SEO and SEM, which will pull them to your site and your content when prospects are looking for particular information.
  • PR, or media relations, to persuade others to write interesting and favorable things about your products, or highlight your expertise and experience.
  • Social media, for distributing your content to followers, and inviting them to share it with their networks.
  • Speaking engagements, whether online or in person, where your expertise is on vivid display.

But what about prospects who don’t even know they have a problem?  Or who haven’t defined the problem yet, not to mention considered a solution?  Or maybe you have a solution that is so new, prospects don’t even know how to research it.   To get all the business you deserve, this is where push marketing is essential.

In B2B, push marketing includes all the outbound messaging that have proven themselves for decades, most notably:

  • Direct mail, including dimensional mail.  Keep in mind that the list business in the U.S. is so mature, and so sophisticated, you can find just about every prospect using mailing lists, no matter how narrowly you may target.
  • Telephone calls, using the same lists, when the list owner gives you permission to call.
  • Advertising, online and offline, with a strong call to action to generate a response.
  • Event marketing, such as trade shows and conferences, where you can not only kick off relationships with new prospects, you can also convey your expertise through speaking engagements.

Sure, these methods may be intrusive—and unfashionable.  But this is what we marketers do.  To fulfill our mission of market coverage, scalable lead generation, and profitable sales growth, the modern B2B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this?  You can comment or you can take issue with me in person.

Ruth StevensAbout the Author:  Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, teaches marketing at Columbia Business School.  She is a member of the BIIA Board of Directors and BIIA’s contributing editor on the subjects of B2B marketing and eMarketing Strategy.

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