inbound trains
PHOTO: Eric Kilby

Inbound marketing efforts play an important role in B2B marketing success. But inbound alone won’t achieve the goals being placed on most B2B marketing organizations today — for three reasons.

Marketing Is Increasingly Accountable for Pipeline and Revenue

First, a greater number of marketing teams are now on the hook for specific sales pipeline or even revenue goals. In fact, Demand Gen's 2018 Demand Generation Benchmark Survey Report found:

  • 28 percent of marketers state having specific revenue-based quotas.
  • 30 percent of marketers claim marketing-influenced pipeline is the primary metric they’re measured against.

And if you look at average demand funnel conversion rates — roughly 4 percent marketing-qualified leads, 55 percent sales-qualified leads, 45 percent opportunity, 25 percent closed-won (according to combined SiriusDecisions and CEB benchmarks) — that requires a very large number of your target audience to find your website or landing pages through a relatively few number of inbound channels.

As Dawn Colossi, CMO at FocusVision, said while discussing how the demand gen team at her former company Commvault effectively scaled results:

“We needed to extend our hard work beyond our website. Paying attention to other sites and treating them like our own — thoughtful of the content we put on them, what they were doing and how they are performing — is key to our strategy’s success.”

Colossi and her team understood that buyer research occurs in many places. Vendor websites and social profiles represent only a small portion buyer-research watering holes.

Related Articles: Top of Funnel Inefficiencies Are Draining Your Sales Pipeline Value and Revenue

Account-Based Marketing Strategies Constrict Inbound Marketing Results

Second, the rise of account-based marketing (ABM) strategies has exasperated the problem of inbound marketing’s inability to scale. With ABM, you’re now limiting the size of your target audience even further, making it more difficult to drive the volume of top-funnel engagement (e.g., content downloads) needed to convert to sales pipeline and revenue.  

Granted, with ABM, your conversion rates should go up as you focus your efforts and increase marketing efficiencies. However, that doesn’t matter if you fail to get your content and offers in front of the buying committees at the accounts you’re targeting. Fifty percent of 10 is less than six percent of 100.

Jennifer Pockell Dimas, CMO at Egnyte, put it best when she said:

“It’s crazy to think all your target accounts are just going to show up to your website. With ABM, you must go where your prospects are.”

As B2B marketing organizations prioritize account-based strategies, traditional inbound tactics aren’t providing the quantity or quality of decision-makers needed to convert target accounts. You simply can’t wait for your shrinking number of targets to find you through inbound marketing tactics.

Related Article: Account Based Marketing: Digging Into Facts, Uprooting Myths

Inbound Marketing Programs Costs Have Increased Significantly

Third, the costs of developing and executing effective inbound strategies continue to rise. Every marketing team has been using the same inbound techniques for years – this creates saturation. Target audiences are inundated with similar messaging across search and social channels and have become largely desensitized to the inbound marketing methods that were working so well five years ago.

To cut through the noise, marketers must invest greater resources (e.g., new and varied content) and budget (e.g., increasing paid search and social ads) to gain an edge. Obviously, this has caused a spike in the costs of customer acquisition (which is reflected in Google/Alphabet stock prices).

Where Should You Go When Inbound Efforts Plateau?

Inbound efforts will always be important. At Integrate, we place great importance on the role our blog, social and search strategies play in our integrated marketing programs.

Yet, just like other high-growth marketing organizations, we allocate serious time, budget and effort to executing a sophisticated third-party demand gen strategy (sometimes referred to as, or included under the umbrella of, outbound marketing strategies).

When I speak of third-party demand, I’m referring to any demand (i.e., leads, contacts, inquires, etc.) that’s initiated via a third-party channel or source. This is opposed to demand created through your own website, landing pages or social profiles. Some of the more common sources include:

  • Content Syndication: Distributing your content (typically branded) to target audiences via third-party sites and purchasing leads on a cost-per-lead (CPL) basis.  
  • High-Quality Lead (HQL) Campaigns: Buying leads (often generated via content syndication campaigns) that have been further qualified by a third-party service.
  • External Webinars: Sponsoring webinars on third-party sites to acquire leads on a CPL basis.
  • Shared-Lead Campaigns: Running lead gen campaigns with partner brands/channels (where leads are captured on third-party landing pages).
  • Product- or Service-Review Sites: Buying leads on a CPL basis from sites that capture contact info from individuals researching relevant products and/or services.

These channels are often very useful for ABM strategies, because third-party demand sources/partners usually have established relationships with specific personas at particular accounts, allowing you to design customized campaigns that target only those individuals with your branded content.

Further, more than just initiating demand among target accounts, third-party demand programs compliment your inbound efforts. Pamela Guyton-Micheles, senior manager of demand generation marketing and international programs at Avalara, explains content syndication’s role in ABM this way:

“Content syndication feeds ABM. If you have contacts that have a high-heat index and are repeatedly downloading your content from numerous sources, it really signifies intent, and gives you the ability to add another group to your ABM program.” 

If you’re relying on inbound alone, you’re basically fighting your competition with one hand behind your back.

Third-Party Demand Gen Has Challenges Too

Let's be clear: third-party demand gen isn't a cure-all, guaranteed to magically solve all your demand creation issues. In fact, it can be very difficult to execute well. Just a few of the more common challenges with third-party demand include:

  • Sub-Par Contact Data Quality: Duplicates, invalid or incomplete data and incorrect targeting are just a few quality issues that frequently arise.
  • Resource-Draining Tasks: Identifying the right sources, managing partners and campaigns, aggregating, scrubbing, deduping and uploading lead lists, and compiling performance reports across numerous external sources often translate to late, late hours at the office.
  • Difficult to Measure Performance: When you have many campaigns, using various pieces of content, running across numerous third-party sources, precise measurement can be challenging, to say the least.
  • Data-Privacy Regulations Present Risk: If a third-party partner breaks GDPR regulations while running a campaign for you in the EU, your company could be liable.

These are valid and important concerns. The good news is, advances in marketing tactics and technology have greatly increased the efficiency, effectiveness and even security of third-party demand gen — if you know how to apply them correctly.

Related Article: How Will the GDPR Impact Third-Party Lead Generation?

7 Tips For Third-Party Demand Gen Success

A lot of steps go into planning and executing a successful third-party demand gen strategy. Here’s a list of the big ones.

Benchmark current metrics and set goals

Identify your current state or benchmarks. It’s difficult to understand whether your third-party programs are working if you don’t know where you started. Then, set program goals — both long and short. Such goals will differ by team and organization, but here are a few examples:

  • Target-accounts engaged
  • Funnel conversion rates
  • Influenced pipeline
  • Influenced revenue

Focus on initial engagement

Third-party demand gen is all about expanding your reach so you can engage with target audiences that otherwise wouldn’t easily find you. Keep in mind that you’re looking for “introductions” not “handshakes” — those come later.

Use high-value, top-funnel content

This typically means content that is educational and/or prescriptive in nature, rather than product-focused.

Leverage a diverse range of accountable sources/partners

The more you can diversify your sources, the more you can optimize campaigns based on performance and scale results. Of course, your ability to expand sources depends on efficiency, which often necessitates technology investments. Further, using tech to centralize all these sources will become increasing valuable as you scale your programs.

Govern your contact data

As I mentioned earlier, poor data quality is rampant. You’ll want a well-structured process for ensuring all contact data is standardized, complete, valid and compliant with your duplicate rules before uploading to your database. You can get a contact data processing template here. Also, tech is a good way to automate data governance processes and improve the overall quality of your database.

Implement high-touch outreach/nurture

The initial lead/inquiry is just the start. You’ll need to put much thought and effort into nurturing these leads into opportunities.

Test, measure and optimize

Don’t expect every campaign or source to work out. Just like with any marketing tactic (e.g., channel, content asset, etc.), there are those that work, and those that don’t. Very often, certain sources work better when using certain content types via specific channels to engage a particular audience. Be sure to ask your partners and sources what they find works the best for your types of campaigns, but also be a bit skeptical. Regularly testing and optimizing programs is the best way to ensure big returns on your third-party investments. And again, adopting closed-loop reporting software will help you identify which combinations of sources, content and targets are generating the best results.