Inbound marketing was once all the rage. Companies bet big on search and social media to put them on the map and counted on content marketing to draw attention. But today, inbound marketing is hardly the end all. On the contrary, it's one small piece of a larger puzzle.

Recently, my company partnered with Demand Metric to survey B2B marketers at North American companies to understand how they are growing their business, what marketing tactics and programs they are deploying, and what resources they are investing in. Right away, we learned that prevailing perceptions of inbound are imprecise at best. When asked about preferred inbound tactics, many respondents volunteered outbound methods, such as email and digital advertising.

Moreover, the majority of marketers (84%) relied on a blend of inbound and outbound tactics to drive their business. It appears as though marketers are moving away from yesteryear's inbound-only approach to a balanced approach of inbound and outbound to prove significant growth.

Practically speaking, here's what a balanced approach might look like:

  • Your company may tweet to promote content you recently crafted (e.g., a blog post that speaks to a recent product you've launched). That's an inbound communication. Yet, more and more marketers are using outbound marketing tactics to reach out to target prospects first. That's the benefit of adding account-based marketing to your marketing mix.
  • A prospect sees the tweet and clicks on it to learn more. That's an inbound engagement.
  • After reading the post, the prospect may feel compelled to download the asset linked within it and fills out a form. That's another inbound engagement.
  • Armed with the prospect's personal details, your company reaches out to offer thanks. This outbound communication is made possible by the prospect's permission.
  • Your company takes a step further by inviting the prospect to an upcoming webcast or webinar, which the prospect registers for and attends. An outbound engagement.
  • After the webcast, your prospect may ask for a demo. Your sales team may oblige—knowing that, with this last hurdle cleared, the prospect happens to be warmer than others and amenable to potentially purchasing your product. A final outbound engagement.
  • An offer is made and accepted, and the prospect converted to a paying customer. Outbound closes the loop that inbound started.

Today, buyers prefer to go through their discovery process alone, without the help from a sales person. Buyers are autonomous and choose to access information on demand. That's what makes inbound crucial as a means of attracting new leads and introducing new products.

But outbound marketing is another effective strategy. By knowing your target market and target buyer, marketers can proactively reach out to the typical buyer (even before he or she starts the buying process). And you need an outbound strategy to support the buyer throughout or even before the purchasing process. You need proactive efforts at information and education, so that your buyer is armed with information needed to make the most informed decisions.

The long-term steps are straightforward enough:

  • Know the "who." Clearly identify your ideal prospects. Too often, marketers are too general. Get as specific as you can. Start by finding groups of your most successful customers, identify their common characteristics, and then build out an ideal customer profile. Find out where those ideal customers are (market segments, industries, geographies, etc.).
  • Create your buyer persona. Understand who buys your product, how they make purchase decisions, and where to locate them. Then really understand what problems or pain points you solve for your customers. The easiest path to creating great personas is having conversations with your best customers and your team that sells and services them.
  • Develop a clear, consistent messaging strategy. After you've invested in identifying your target market and target buyer, you'll find it much easier to craft targeted, relevant messaging that will be helpful for inbound, top-of-funnel content and outbound middle-to-bottom-of-funnel outreach.
  • Plan your content carefully. Give some thought to who your buyers are and how they come to find you. For instance, if they hail from a particular industry or prefer a set kind of content, structure your content accordingly. For example, offer general information as they research what you offer and give more specialized information like pricing as they near a final decision.
  • Develop an integrated mindset. A balanced approach is a community effort. Work as best you can to align your front-office departments, so everyone is on the same page.

Effective marketers prioritize balance and strive for a mix of inbound and outbound tactics in their efforts at brand awareness, their processes for driving demand, and their programs for retaining customers.

Marketers who are more successful in the long term look beyond any one stage of the purchasing process or mode of outreach. They're invested in expanding valuable customer relationships, they're constantly on the lookout for ways to enrich the brand they serve, and they're confident in the process to do some of the best work of their lives.

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What a Balanced Approach to Marketing Looks Like

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Kevin Bobowski is interim chief marketing officer at Act-On Software, a marketing automation provider.

LinkedIn: Kevin Bobowski