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Outbound vs. Inbound Marketing

Cain & Company
August 27, 2019

I often speak with business owners who are frustrated that they’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and budget on their marketing and are still not getting the results they expected. They tell me time and again that they’ve redesigned their website, performed search engine optimization, invested in digital ads, poked around on Facebook, or sent occasional email blasts, but they still don’t generate enough leads and can’t tie all of their marketing efforts together to understand what’s working and what’s not. Does this resonate with your situation, too?

It’s rare these days for a company not to have a website. But few give their website the attention it requires to be successful. Be honest. Have you updated your website with new content in the past week? How about the past month? I promise you’ll get no judgment from me. Owners and marketers at industrial and manufacturing companies know they should update their website, but they’re busy running all the other parts of their business. Keeping the website up to date with fresh, relevant content often gets pushed to the back burner.

When I talk with marketers and owners of manufacturing companies, they frequently mention two of their biggest challenges:

  1. It’s more difficult to connect with buyers and generate enough new sales leads.
  2. The ways they’ve always marketed their business in the past aren’t working as well as they used to.

Times have changed, and the way people buy has evolved. Information about any product is readily available on the Internet for buyers to find, so they do most of their prepurchase research online on their own.

This is especially true for buyers of OEM industrial equipment and machine parts, where big price tags and long sales cycles are the norm. Where only a few years ago, buyers had to call a sales rep or distributor to request technical specs, case studies, and pricing, today they can self-educate by simply comparing the websites of a few competing suppliers.

See our Essential Guide to B2B Marketing for Manufacturers.

According to a study by Google, nearly two thirds of the buying process is complete before a buyer ever contacts a vendor or supplier. This means fewer opportunities for your sales reps to have a personal interaction that influences the buyer’s decision. To stay successful and grow, businesses need to adapt their approach from the traditional “outbound” marketing tactics that are quickly becoming less effective at producing qualified leads and focus instead on creating more “inbound” content like blogs, eBooks, and social media posts that prospects can find online to guide them through their buyer journey as they’re doing their online prepurchasing research.

You’re familiar with “outbound” marketing – pushing out your message and interrupting your audience to “get the word out.” It’s the way traditional marketing has always been done. Examples of outbound marketing activities include:

  • Cold calling
  • Direct postal mail
  • Print, radio, and TV ads
  • Sales fliers
  • Trade shows
  • Email blasts (read: spam)
  • Telemarketing

Only 18% of marketers say outbound practices provide the highest quality leads for sales, according to HubSpot.

By contrast, “inbound” marketing is based on the concept of earning the attention of your prospects, using your online content to show up in their search engine results and attract them to your website. Examples of common inbound marketing activities include:

  • Website (optimized and content-rich)
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Online videos
  • eBooks and whitepapers
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media marketing
  • Targeted email marketing
  • Marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) software

Inbound marketing is a modern approach to marketing that reaches today’s consumer. There are three main pillars to an inbound marketing program.


Instead of ads, email lists, and cold calling, inbound marketing centers around creating educational content like website pages, blog articles, and social messages that are optimized for search engines so qualified leads can find them online. This content pulls people toward your website where they can learn more about what you sell on their own. Your content also builds trust, allowing for long-term growth for both your customers and your business.


Inbound marketing encourages in-depth market research with potential and current customers to develop a clear picture of your ideal buyer personas, so you can get a better sense of who you’re trying to reach with your marketing content. Your buyer personas give you the information you need to understand what motivates your buyers through each stage of the buyer’s journey. Use that context to personalize your marketing content at scale.


The inbound marketing process is powered by marketing automation software, often tied to sales CRM software for managing contact data, personalizing marketing messages, and automating the marketing and sales processes.

The Internet has empowered today’s consumers by providing tools and information that enable them to dodge interruptive brand messages and instead seek out the information they want when they’re ready. The result is a revolutionary shift to customers, not advertisers, defining their own buying process. While this presents new challenges, an inbound marketing approach helps companies connect with prospects earlier in their buying cycle while they’re doing their online research.

Read the Essential Guide to B2B Marketing for Manufacturers

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