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.

Prospecting to IT Buyers: How Nine Data Vendors Stack Up

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

We asked twenty companies who supply prospecting data to business marketers to share with us statistics about the quantity and quality of the data they have on IT buyers in the U.S. Nine vendors graciously participated in our study-specifically, Data.com, D&B, Harte-Hanks, Infogroup, Mardev-DM2, NetProspex, Stirista, Worldata and ZoomInfo. Our thanks to them for letting us poke around under their hoods.

We asked each participating vendor to report to us on the number of companies on their databases in ten industries, by SIC code. We also asked for the numbers of contacts with IT titles in a sampling of twenty firms in those SICs, ten large enterprises and ten small businesses. Finally, we sent them the names and addresses of ten actual IT professionals (people whom Bernice and I happen to know, and were able to persuade to let us submit their names), and we asked the vendors to share with us the exact record they have on those individuals. The results of our study can be downloaded here.

This is the same methodology we have used in past studies on prospecting data available to business marketers—although this was the first study we have done on a particular industry vertical. Our objective is, first, to get at the question of coverage, meaning, the extent to which a business marketer can gain access to all the companies and contacts in the target market. And second, we want to show marketers the level of accuracy in the data available for prospecting-for example, is Joe Schmoe still the CIO at Acme Widgets, and can I get his correct phone number and email address?

The answers to these questions, in general, was YES. The data reported was surprisingly accurate, especially given how much business marketers complain about the data they get from vendors. And the coverage was wide, meaning there seem to be plenty of IT names in a variety of industries for us to contact.

But the data also revealed some interesting trends in business marketing in general and tech marketing in specific.

  • Prospecting data is being sold these days out of massive databases, which makes it far easier for marketers to select exactly the targets they want, by such criteria as title, company size and industry, irrespective of whether a “compiled” or a “response” name.
  • Company counts by SIC varied widely among the vendors, reminding us that data providers may have their own proprietary systems for flagging a company by industry code.
  • Job titles are getting fuzzier than ever. We found real IT professionals using titles such as Platform Manager and Reporting Manager-which makes it tough to know what they really do.

Given these developments, we urge our fellow marketers to probe carefully on data sourcing and categorizing practices, and to specify in great detail exactly what targets you’re going after, when buying data for new customer acquisition. And we suggest that you source from multiple vendors, in order to expand your market coverage potential. Happy prospecting to all.