The process of helping potential customers find your company – often before they are even looking to make a purchase – and then turning that early awareness into brand preference and, ultimately, into leads.
With inbound marketing, companies build their own audience and attract their own attention. They do this by creating relevant and compelling content to attract and convert leads. In the world of inbound marketing, the marketer’s job is not to find leads; it is to help leads find you. Done well, it can deliver increased brand awareness, better brand preference, and more leads for less investment.
Meanwhile, the definition of marketing automation is:
A technology that streamlines and automates marketing tasks so companies can increase operational efficiency and grow revenue faster.
Friend or Foe
Vendors who promote inbound marketing technology like to pit inbound marketing and marketing automation against each other, vilifying marketing automation as a source of robotic communications and unwanted spam. This “good” vs. “evil” debate may make good copy, but it oversimplifies the problem in favor of a single agenda.
The reality is more complicated. Marketing automation is a tool that can be used for good marketing that people love or bad marketing that people hate; it’s not the tool itself but how it’s used that matters. At the same time, inbound marketing is a business process that works best when used in conjunction with marketing automation to turn inbound responders into qualified leads, opportunities, and customers.
Where Inbound Marketing Falls Short
Inbound marketing is a highly effective strategy, but in isolation it will fail for most companies. Some of the most critical limitations are:
- Inbound leads are typically not ready to buy. On average, only 20% of B2B leads are sales-ready when they first come in. This means you need a disciplined process to develop qualified leads until they are sales-ready, aka lead nurturing. Done well, nurturing can result in 50% more sales leads at 33% lower cost per lead. Note that nurturing is more than sending a monthly newsletter. Download Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing to learn all about this important process.
- Inbound cannot identify who’s hot – and who’s not. Many of the so-called “leads” you generate with inbound will not be true potential buyers for your products. You need “demographic lead scoring” to find the prospects that fit your target profile. You also need “behavioral lead scoring” to find the hot prospects displaying buying behaviors that indicate that they are ready to engage with sales. According to the Marketo Benchmark on Revenue Performance, companies that implement this kind of lead scoring enjoy 28% better sales productivity and 33% higher revenue growth than companies without lead scoring. Learn more by downloading our Definitive Guide to Lead Scoring.
- It’s hard to target specific audiences with inbound marketing. If you want to reach a specific set of contacts – for example, decision makers at a list of target accounts – inbound won’t do so effectively. To use a military analogy, inbound marketing is like an “air war” – it allows you to be very efficient by carpet-bombing broad areas, but it makes it hard to hit specific targets. In contrast, you need “ground war” tactics (think marines and snipers) to target specific objectives and hold territory.
- Inbound marketing doesn’t drive people to action. With inbound marketing, you wait for buyers to take action when they feel ready. But there are times when you need someone to act – for example, signing up for an event. Similarly, all good marketers know that inertia is a very real effect and sometimes people need a push, not a pull, to take action. This is especially true for targeting pragmatists and late adopters who don’t actively seek out alternatives and new solutions.
- Inbound can’t help you prove – and improve – marketing ROI. Marketing automation goes beyond process automation to help marketing executives get much-needed insight into which marketing programs are working and which aren’t. It gives the CMO the metrics he or she needs to speak confidently to the C-suite about marketing’s revenue impact. For more, check out The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and ROI.
Marketing Automation + Inbound Marketing Together
Because of the limitations of inbound marketing, a complete B2B marketing strategy needs to incorporate a full portfolio of lead-generation approaches, including events, webinars, email, and advertising as well as inbound tactics.
To extract the maximum value from inbound marketing, companies need to combine it with lead nurturing, lead scoring, and other components of marketing automation. We call this the Inbound Marketing Multiplier. Without it, you are just generating raw names for your business – and not turning those names into leads and customers.
“The best marketers are using both inbound marketing and marketing automation together, and they are getting great returns.” – Greg Head, CMO of InfusionSoft (a provider of sales and marketing software for small business).
Inbound marketing is clearly a strategy that works and should be part of every marketing portfolio. But it’s critical to remember that inbound marketing is a strategy and not a technology. Many technology solutions can help with inbound marketing, including SEO, blog software, social media monitoring, and content management. These can sit alongside a marketing automation solution. So, pick the right inbound marketing tools and the right marketing automation platform for your business, but don’t compromise by thinking it’s an either/or proposition.