Push vs. Pull Marketing: In B-to-B, You Need Both

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, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why

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, B-to-B 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, B-to-B 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 B-to-B, 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 B-to-B 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 prospects to your site and your content when they 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 B-to-B, 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 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, but 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 B-to-B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this? Let’s discuss!

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Author: Ruth P. Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.

Ruth is a guest blogger at Biznology, the digital marketing blog. Email Ruth at ruth@ruthstevens.com, follow her on Twitter at @RuthPStevens, or visit her website, www.ruthstevens.com.

5 thoughts on “Push vs. Pull Marketing: In B-to-B, You Need Both”

  1. So what are we non-sales business owners supposed to do with the sales call management concepts that start with "Thanks for having me in I don’t know if I can help you. What leads you to think you have an issue? etc, etc." They automatically expect you to be found and invited in, i.e. via inbound marketing. The big argument is that otherwise you’re a disempowered supplicant at the prospects” feet. Gotta be more to the story.

  2. No argument with me, Ruth.

    Pull allows you to position your brand in a thought leadership role, so when a company is doing their due diligence on trying to solve a problem, there you are, evangelizing intelligent ideas around the solution.

    Push is like that tap on the shoulder when you say "And what about you? Perhaps you need some help because this is a problem many businesses like yours have and we’ve provided the solution."

    You need both because you can never afford to just sit back and just wait for the phone to ring!

  3. Ruth – You hit a home run! The folks who don’t know they have a problem need to be educated. Pull, or passive, marketing does not address this group at all. Who in their right minds would ignore an opportunity just because they haven’t come calling?

    Cheers,
    Marc

  4. Finding the proper mix of push and pull strategies are the keys to increasing conversions. These strategies work together like instruments in a band and shouldn’t be thought of as competing with one another.

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