Outbound Marketing is Dead! All Hail Inbound Marketing

inbound and outbound marketingGuest Post from John Tabita

In their book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?: Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing, Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg say that …

…customers want to enter into dialogs with businesses, to establish relationships, participate in the conversations, and be more in control of the exchange. They expect a level of personal communication tailored to their needs and wants—relevance and context are their top priorities. (p 41)

That sums up the philosophy behind inbound marketing in a nutshell. Customers are in control. They TiVo past commercials, subscribe to commercial-free satellite radio, circumvent pop-up ads with pop-up blockers, opt out of receiving phone books, and use caller ID or the “do not call” registry to avoid telemarketers.

I’m not disputing anything of this. In fact, I admit to doing many of the above. I haven’t listened to a traditional radio station in years. Why should I? I have an iPod and Pandora.

I get it. I’m in control. So what happens when I need a service like, say, having my lawn fertilized and sprayed for weeds? Now, as the former owner of a web marketing company, you’d think I’d be all over the inbound marketing craze. (After all, before there was such a thing as “social media,” my two partners and I used inbound marketing to help many of our clients achieve top search engine ranking.) Yet, despite that, I have no desire to engage with lawn care companies on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else. With all due respect to the Eisenberg brothers (whom I greatly admire), I do not want to “enter into a dialog,” “establish a relationship,” or “participate in conversations” with my lawn care company. I just want my grass to be green and weed-free.

What’s more, I would welcome a cold-call from them. Yes, you heard right. You see, my lawn needs aerated, and when a company rep called, we decided to have it done. But he never called back to get our final decision. That was three years ago, and, unless another rep calls, I’ll probably never get it done. (Are you listening, TruGreen?) Fact is, I’m just too busy to make it a priority. But, with a small nudge from an “outbound” marketer, I’d be an easy sell.

Are you crazy, John? You actually want a cold-call? If I have a need, then yes. When we started our web business, we needed a private-label hosting company so we could provide that service to our clients. Sure, I could scour the Internet, looking for such a company, but the one who called me out of the blue got my attention: “Wow, they had the nerve to cold-call me. They must really want business bad enough to prospect for it.” This actually made them stand out over the company who took the easy route by putting up a website, expect that I navigate through it to find what I’m looking for, and then fill out their contact form in order to get a call from them. If they’re too lazy to prospect, what kind of service will I get from them? Maybe I’m crazy (or just lazy) but that’s how I look at it.

It’s become quite vogue to characterize outbound marketing as old school. But is traditional marketing really as dead or ineffective as the “inbound only” crowd would have you believe? How would you advise the person who just opened his own carpet cleaning business? Build a website and hope people find it? Create a Facebook page or Twitter account and look for people to ‘like’ it or follow him? Blog about carpet cleaning? For this new business owner, engaging in social media is putting the cart before the horse.

The best strategy would be a combination of old school: Yellow Pages, direct mail, and cold-calling. That’s what will get him customers right away. Once he’s built up a sufficient client base, he can begin using social media to engage them, offer discounts and incentives, and generate marketing gravity.

For other businesses, a combination of inbound and outbound marketing may be the best option. Since I ran my own web business, you’d think I’d be singing along with the “inbound only” marketing tune. But I’ve found that the ones preaching that message have an agenda—to sell their own inbound marketing services. And what better way to accomplish that than to vilify their “outbound” competition and steal their customers?


Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently the Telemarketing Sales Manager & Sales Trainer at Haines Publishing, Inc., a company providing a mix of advertising solutions to SMB’s, including print advertising, Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and search marketing. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks and at Sitepoint.com.